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When weight gain sneaks up, look at it as an opportunity to take control.

The belt has to go up a notch; your underwear elastic is forming a geometric pattern on your waist; the dryer seems to be shrinking everything. It's weight gain!

And if you're like many folks, the scale can tip as much as 10 pounds before you even realize it's happening.

"Some people gain weight any time there is a change in their normal routine. Whatever they are doing just isn't allowing them to eat the way they did before, so the extra pounds start to creep up," says Susan Kraus, MS, RD, a clinical nutritionist at Hackensack University Medical Center in New Jersey.

But whether it's the result of overdoing restaurant dinners, a few too many laps around the cruise ship pastry table, or because you've been sidelined with a fitness injury, if you eat more or move less, weight gain will result.

And, experts say, if you don't lose those extra pounds right away, you could be in for an even bigger surprise down the road.

"People wonder how they gained 50 pounds between age 20 and age 50. But if you add just two or three pounds a year, every year -- there are those extra pounds, and you don't even realize how it happened," Kraus tells WebMD.

Another point in favor of catching that weight gain early? The longer you keep it on, the harder it is to take it off.

"The longer you are at a certain weight, the greater chance your body will perceive that weight as normal -- so when you try to diet it's going to perceive that as abnormal and send signals to correct it, like hunger and cravings," says Robert Yanagisawa, MD, director of the Weight Management Program at Mt. Sinai School of Medicine in New York.

Even if your weight gain doesn't spiral out of control, sometimes adding just five or 10 extra pounds is enough to put your health at risk, Yanagisawa says.

"It all depends on where you are at when you gain the weight," he says. "If your BMI (body mass index) is already high; if you have high blood pressure, or diabetes, for example; if the gain causes a jump in your waist size; then even a small amount of extra weight could jeopardize your health."

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