58% of women and 65% of men in England were overweight or obese in 2014 and 1 in 3 children in Year 61. These statistics are frightening considering that obesity is a major risk factor for developing cardiovascular disease, Type 2 Diabetes and cancer.
In today’s blog post I want to try and help you understand what triggers weight gain & then how to address these issues.
So, what makes us get fat?
Firstly, the amount of physical activity you do. Sitting all day leads to a decrease in your metabolic rate (the rate at which your body burns calories).
Yo-yo dieting - constantly going on a diet & losing weight only to go back to your old way of eating and putting it all back on with some more besides -leads to a decrease in the amount of lean muscle mass you have. Lean muscle mass raises your metabolic rate (i.e. increases the rate at which calories are consumed).
Your eating habits can make you gain weight – skipping breakfast, overeating, eating fast foods & overly processed foods high in bad fats, salt and sugar as well as not eating the nutrients your body needs - such as fibre. Fibre increases the secretion of several hormones in your gut which are hugely important in appetite control, namely Cholecystokinin (CCK) and peptide YY (PYY3-36). Along with the hormone Leptin (which is secreted in our stomachs) when CCK & PYY3-36 are secreted in the upper small intestine it sends a signal to our brains that we are full and need to stop eating. Fibre also decreases the expression of the hormone Ghrelin which is secreted when our stomachs are empty and sends our brain the message that we need to eat. If these hormones are out of whack the signalling becomes distorted and this can lead to overeating and weight gain. Fruits & vegetables are high in fibre. Other high fibre foods include oats and nuts & seeds.
Another important reason as to why obesity is so prevalent these days is the effect that stress can have on weight gain. Stress leads to an increase in the hormone cortisol (see my post on Developing Resilience for more on stress). Cortisol leads to an increase in the amount of glucose released in our bloodstreams as your body thinks you need lots of energy to run away from whatever’s threatening you. But we don’t run away and so the excess glucose is stored abdominally due to increased cortisol receptors in the abdominal cells with resultant obesity 2. Stress may also lead to decreased sleep and decreased sleep leads to an increase in the secretion of Ghrelin.
An interesting new perspective on obesity is the issue of ‘obesogens’. Obesogens are chemicals and pesticides which are found in increasing levels in our food, water, household products and environment which are toxic to our bodies3. When we ingest them our body stores them in fat cells (usually the fat around our middle called visceral fat) to keep them out of harm’s way. Exposure to obesogens during pregnancy is now thought to predispose people to gain weight3. We can't avoid them altogether but opting to buy organic food & natural personal care & household cleaning products wherever possible can help to reduce your toxic load.
One thing I want you to know is that lasting weight loss can be yours no matter what size or shape you are in right now.
Begin today by implementing some of the following strategies into your lifestyle:
Try keeping a food diary for a week to really get an insight into your food habits and eating patterns. Think you’re hardly eating anything? This exercise can be very enlightening!
Stop dieting! Eat 3 meals a day. Ensure each meal contains good quality protein (a palmful) & fat (an index fingerful) to keep you going until your next meal so you don't feel like snacking. Avoid refined carbohydrates & sugar & focus on increasing your intake of fruit & vegetables. Avoid all processed foods which are always higher in salt, fat & sugar. See my post on Developing Resilience for specific nutrients to include to support your body if you are stressed.
Get active! Move around as much as you can during the day. Get up from your desk every 20 minutes. Aim for a 30 minute walk each day. Try different types of exercise until you find one that you enjoy.
Address your stress – make sure you have some downtime each day & aim for 7 - 8½ hours of uninterrupted sleep each night. See my post on Developing Resilience for more on stress.
Keep an eye on portion control. Nuts, for example, are a great source of healthy protein & fat – a small handful that is - polishing off a whole bag of them isn’t.
Have a goal. Establishing your ‘why’ can be a powerful motivator in your weight loss journey.
NHS Digital (28th April 2016) Statistics on Obesity, Physical Activity and Diet - England, 2016. Accessed: http://digital.nhs.uk/searchcatalogue?productid=20797&topics=0%2fPublic+health&infotype=0%2fOfficial+statistics&sort=Relevance&size=10&page=1#top, 7th September 2016.
Vicennati V, Pasqui F, Cavazza C, Pagotto U, Pasquali R (2009) Stress-related development of obesity and cortisol in women. Obesity,17(9):1678-1683. [Online] John Wiley & Sons, Inc. (http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com). Accessed: 7th September 2016.
Holtcamp W (2012) Obesogens: An Environmental Link to Obesity. Environmental Health Perspectives, 120(2): a62–a68. [Online] Pub Med Central (http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc ). Accessed: 7th September 2016.