Monday, January 21, 2013

Why We Gain Weight

As sad as it sounds, America has been named the “Fast Food Nation”. A book has even been written, with that title, by Eric Schlosser. It’s available on Amazon. The obesity factor in America hit a high note in 2001 when a Surgeon General's report called obesity in America an "epidemic."

In 2012 the CDC (Center for Disease Control) issued a report stating that more than two-thirds (68%) of Americans adults are either overweight or obese. The numbers can be staggering when you look at the reports. In 2009, about 2.4 million more adults were obese than in 2007. Now in every state, more than 15% of adults are obese, and in 9 states, over 30% of the adults are obese! Two states, Hawaii and Colorado use to be exempt from the statistics but now, they too, join the ranks with over 15% of adults being obese.

My focus today is not about the food industry and how it impacts our choices but rather why we gain weight.

Why Do We Gain Weight?

We eat more calories than what our body needs
Our bodies are designed in such a way that in times when it was harder to find food, our bodies could be prepared by having stored extra calories as fat. Now, with the convenience of food on every corner, and the tendency to eat on-the-run which in turn causes us to overeat, we are storing fat for an entirely different reason. This is a severe problem that causes many to become overweight or obese. 

• Genes play a factor
People have a greater risk of being obese if one parent is and an even greater risk if both parents are. However, genes only determine a tendency towards a higher or lower metabolic efficiency, not what your actual body metabolism will be. You are in control of what determines that factor.

Eating patterns
A person’s eating habits make a huge difference in determining their weight. When foods high in fat or sugars are eaten, this of course can cause much weight gain. Also, how you serve the food, i.e. do you bring it all to the table and serve it the food family style where everyone can take as much as they want and as many servings as they want? Portion size is one of the main reasons people eat too much. It is too easy to keep taking more when the food is sitting right in front of you. Also, how have you learned to eat? If you are a fast eater, you may not even realize the cues your stomach gives you that it is full.

Your metabolic rate
Besides genetics, your metabolic rate depends on how active you are. It is said that every ten years past our mid-twenties we lose about 10% of our metabolic rate. This probably does not have to do completely with age, however, but instead with how active we are. The more active we are, the more muscle mass we can retain, or even build, and in turn the more fit we are because muscle tissue is metabolically active whereas fat is not. On the other hand, if we lead a basically sedentary life, we are much more likely to be able to gain weight as we lose muscle mass.

Larger portion sizes
Over time, larger portions of food have become the norm, especially at many restaurants. A large majority of people have seen an increase in their waist sizes for this reason. Weight has also gone up because of this. I was asked to do a presentation on the Take Shape For Life program for a group of care-givers last year. The restaurant where the event took place was a very popular local Mexican restaurant. I had ask each attendee to make a fist and hold it out in front of themselves, over their plates. I’ll never forget the look on their faces when I told them to imagine that their fist was approximately the size of their stomach when empty. Portion size matters!

Exercise is essential
Exercise is essential to a healthy lifestyle and to maintaining a healthy weight and a sense of confidence. When you exercise, especially when you include strength training in your workouts, you gain muscle mass and raise your metabolism and in turn the muscle helps to burn more fat. In turn, you will weigh less and you will look leaner and firmer because muscle takes up less space than fat. Movement of any kind is better than doing nothing. Start out slow. I have clients that have simple started out by walking to the end of their street and back. Pretty soon they were walking an entire block, then two. Some have even become marathon runners after they lost their weight.

There are several different ways for you to determine if you are overweight or obese and need the help of a healthcare professional or the support of a health coach. The most common method used is the Body Mass Index Chart. An online tool to determine your Body Mass is available here.


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