What Can Cause the Body to Hold Onto Fat?

The body responds to many substances and circumstances by holding onto fat.
The body responds to many substances and circumstances by holding onto fat. (Image: Jupiterimages/Polka Dot/Getty Images)

A certain amount of body fat is necessary to provide energy, insulation, organ protection and maintenance of body functions. The problems begin when people take in more calories than they can use and are compounded when substances in food supplies cause the body to hold onto excess fat. Circumstances that disrupt normal functions, such as stress or lack of sleep, add to the problem by causing levels of certain hormones to become too high or too low, encouraging cells to retain fat.


Hormone imbalances often cause weight gains that lead to obesity. When estrogen or cortisol levels become too high they cause the body to hold onto fat. Many processed foods include high levels of estrogen that disrupt normal body functions. Lack of nutrients can make the body produce extra hormones, too. When the body doesn't get enough calcium the hormone calcitrol, which causes the body to hold onto fat, is released.

Excessive Dieting

Many dieters find that they lose weight in the beginning but soon hit a plateau. No matter how little they eat, they don’t lose any more weight. This is caused by the body's response to starvation. When the body doesn’t take in enough nutrients it holds onto the fat it already has so it can continue to provide energy. Skipping meals and severely restricting food intake for extended periods of time initiate this response and encourage the body to retain fat.

Western Diet

The Western diet contains too much processed food with ingredients that interfere with the normal functions of enzymes in the body. Many people eat too many carbohydrates that are nutrition-deficient; though we need blood glucose produced by carbohydrates in order to survive, the body converts the excess glucose into extra fat. Eating too much white sugar makes the pancreas release more insulin to break it down, and high insulin levels encourage fat storage. Food additives, chemicals, pesticides and other toxins found in processed foods cause the body to hold onto excess fat in order to dilute the toxins.


Alcohol offers no nutritional value to the body but it enters the bloodstream fast and is burned before the fat, carbohydrates and protein from food. This causes the food to be stored as fat along with any excess alcohol. Intoxication from excess alcohol also causes the body to produce higher levels of the stress hormone cortisol which will hold onto fat, particularly in the belly area.

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