What causes body fat? 5 Factors you might not know about

When it comes to understanding body fat, most of us think about diet and exercise. These are undoubtedly key factors, but there’s more to the story.

Surprisingly, several less-known elements play a significant role in how our bodies store fat. This blog aims to shed light on these often-overlooked aspects.  Understanding these can be a game-changer in managing your body weight.

What are 5 factors that influence body fat?

Understanding what causes body fat extends beyond the common knowledge of diet and exercise. There are various factors, often overlooked, that play a significant role in how our bodies store fat. 

1. Sleep patterns

Have you ever thought about how your sleep affects your weight? It’s not just about feeling rested; your sleep patterns have a direct impact on your body’s ability to manage fat [1]. 

  • Metabolism and sleep: A good night’s sleep keeps your metabolism in check. When you skimp on sleep, your metabolic rate slows down as your body tries to conserve energy. This means fewer calories burned even during rest.
  • Hunger hormones: Sleep deprivation throws off the balance of hunger hormones like ghrelin and leptin. The result? You might feel hungrier and have stronger cravings for high-calorie, unhealthy foods.
  • Insulin sensitivity: Not getting enough sleep can make your body less responsive to insulin, the hormone that regulates blood sugar. Increased blood sugar levels and fat buildup, particularly around the waist, may result from this.
  • Stress and weight gain: Poor sleep can increase stress levels, which in turn can lead to weight gain. Elevated stress hormones like cortisol are notorious for encouraging fat storage in the abdominal area.

To maintain a healthy body weight, it is important to get 7-8 hours of high-quality sleep every night [2]. It’s not just about quantity but also the quality of sleep that matters. 

Maintaining a regular sleep pattern promotes good weight control by assisting in the regulation of your body’s internal clock and enhancing overall sleep quality.

sleep patterns

2. Stress and hormonal imbalances

Stress can be a silent factor contributing to weight gain, and it’s all about the hormonal imbalances it creates. When we’re stressed, our body’s response isn’t just emotional; it’s deeply physical. 

Under stress, our bodies release cortisol, known as the stress hormone. This isn’t just about feeling on edge; cortisol can increase your appetite.

It frequently results in a desire for fatty or sugary meals, which makes it more difficult to maintain a healthy diet.

Elevated cortisol levels can instruct your body to store fat, particularly around the abdomen. This isn’t just about appearance; abdominal fat is linked to greater health risks than fat stored in other areas of the body.

Stress doesn’t only raise cortisol. It can disrupt other hormones, like thyroid hormones, which regulate metabolism.

When you experience this, your metabolism tends to slow down, which in turn can make it more difficult to burn calories.

Stress often leads to poor sleep quality, which, as we’ve seen, can further disrupt hormonal balance and contribute to weight gain [3].

Reducing stress levels is important for maintaining a healthy weight. Techniques like meditation, yoga, deep breathing, and physical activity can help.

It’s not just about feeling less stressed; it’s about helping your body maintain a healthy hormonal balance, which is crucial for weight management.

3. Environmental toxins and weight gain

You might be surprised to learn that the environment we live in can influence our weight. Environmental toxins, some of which we encounter daily without even realizing, can subtly contribute to weight gain. Let’s uncover how this happens:

  • Metabolic disruption: Certain toxins can disrupt our body’s natural metabolic processes. They can interfere with how our bodies process and store calories, leading to increased fat storage.
  • Hormonal effects: Some environmental toxins can mimic hormones in the body, throwing off our natural hormonal balance. This can lead to changes in appetite, metabolism, and fat storage patterns.
  • Toxin accumulation: These toxins can build up in our bodies over time as a result of exposure. The more we’re exposed, the higher the risk of these toxins interfering with our weight management efforts [4].
  • Common toxins: It’s not just about exotic chemicals; common substances like BPA in plastics, certain pesticides in food, and even pollutants in the air can contribute to toxin exposure.

Reducing your exposure to these toxins is a proactive step in managing your weight. Opt for glass or stainless steel containers instead of plastic. Choose organic produce to reduce pesticide exposure. 

Consider air purifiers for your home if you live in areas with high pollution levels. Small changes can add up to a healthier environment for your body to thrive in.

4. Gut health and its influence on body fat

Your gut health might not be the first thing that comes to mind when thinking about weight management, but it plays a pivotal role in how our bodies process food and store fat [5]. 

Effective nutrition absorption requires a healthy stomach. When your gut is in good shape, it can extract the maximum nutrition from the food you eat, supporting your overall health and metabolism.

The microbiome is a diverse community of microorganisms residing in your gut. These little helpers play a significant role in how you process food.

They aid in the digestion of complex carbohydrates, produce vital vitamins, and impact metabolism.

Believe it or not, your gut communicates with your brain. It’s not just about digestion; it’s about appetite and eating behaviors.

An imbalanced gut can send confusing signals to your brain, leading to overeating or cravings for unhealthy foods.

To support your gut health and, in turn, your weight management efforts, focus on a diet rich in fiber, whole foods, and fermented foods like yogurt and kimchi. 

These can help maintain a healthy microbiome and ensure your gut is working in harmony with your body’s natural processes [6].

5. Medications and medical conditions

Medications and medical conditions can be unexpected factors influencing body weight. From certain medications’ side effects to underlying medical conditions, understanding these contributors is essential for effective weight management. 

Some common medications, including antidepressants, antipsychotics, and corticosteroids, can lead to weight gain. These drugs can affect your metabolism, appetite, or even cause fluid retention. 

It’s important to discuss any concerns about medication-related weight gain with your healthcare provider, as they can provide guidance on potential alternatives or strategies to mitigate this effect.

Weight gain and weight loss can be facilitated by hypothyroidism, an underactive thyroid that slows down metabolism.

To get a complete evaluation and treatment plan if you suspect thyroid problems, speak with your healthcare professional.

A common hormonal condition affecting many women is PCOS. It may result in insulin resistance, which facilitates weight gain, especially in the abdominal area. Managing PCOS often involves a combination of lifestyle changes and medications [7].

Your cells don’t respond to insulin as well if you have insulin resistance. Increased fat storage and blood sugar levels may result from this. It’s often associated with type 2 diabetes but can occur without diabetes as well.

Understanding the potential impact of medications and medical conditions on your weight is crucial for effective weight management [8].

If you suspect that any of these factors might be contributing to weight gain, don’t hesitate to reach out to a healthcare professional for guidance and support tailored to your specific needs.

Each of these factors contributes to body fat in unique ways, and understanding them can empower you to take a more holistic approach to managing your weight.

By considering these lesser-known factors, you can develop a more effective strategy for maintaining a healthy body weight. 

Tackling body fat isn’t just about diet and exercise; it’s about understanding and managing a range of factors that affect your body’s natural balance.

medications and medical conditions

How can I reduce my body fat percentage?

Reducing your body fat percentage involves a combination of lifestyle changes, dietary adjustments, and regular physical activity. Here are some practical steps to help you achieve your goals:

  1. Balanced diet: Focus on a balanced diet that includes a variety of whole foods like fruits, vegetables, lean proteins, whole grains, and healthy fats. 
  2. Portion control: Be mindful of portion sizes to prevent overeating. Use smaller plates and listen to your body’s hunger and fullness cues.
  3. Regular exercise: Incorporate both cardiovascular exercises and strength training into your routine. 
  4. Hydration: Stay well-hydrated by drinking plenty of water throughout the day. 
  5. Adequate sleep: Aim for 7-8 hours of quality sleep each night.
  6. Consistency: Be consistent with your healthy habits. Sustainable small changes over time are more effective than crash diets or extreme workouts.
  7. Consult a professional: If you’re struggling to reduce your body fat percentage, consider consulting with a registered dietitian or personal trainer for personalized guidance and support.

Remember that reducing body fat is a gradual process, and it’s essential to focus on overall health and well-being rather than just the numbers on the scale.

Closing thoughts

Body fat is influenced by a multitude of factors beyond the commonly known diet and exercise.

Sleep patterns, stress, environmental toxins, gut health, medications, and medical conditions all play a significant role in how our bodies store fat.

Recognizing these less-obvious contributors empowers you to take a holistic approach to weight management.

You can make decisions that support your weight control objectives by taking care of these issues and adopting healthy habits.

Always keep in mind that being well and feeling good about yourself is more important than the numbers on the scale.


What are the main causes of body fat?

The main causes of body fat include an imbalance between calorie intake and expenditure, genetics, hormonal factors, and lifestyle choices such as diet and physical activity.

What are 5 factors that influence body fat?

Five factors that influence body fat include sleep patterns, stress, exposure to environmental toxins, gut health, and the effects of certain medications and medical conditions.

Can being stressed cause weight gain?

Yes, being stressed can cause weight gain. Stress triggers the release of cortisol, which can increase appetite and encourage fat storage, making it a potential contributor to weight gain.

[1] https://www.sleepfoundation.org/physical-health/weight-loss-and-sleep
[2] https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/10-reasons-why-good-sleep-is-important
[3] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4377487/
[4] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4427717/
[5] https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/how-gut-bacteria-help-make-us-fat-and-thin/
[6] https://www.hsph.harvard.edu/nutritionsource/microbiome/
[7] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6734597/
[8] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK221839/

The information included in this article is for informational purposes only. The purpose of this webpage is to promote broad consumer understanding and knowledge of various health topics. It is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health care provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition or treatment and before undertaking a new health care regimen, and never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website.