What causes overweight?

Image from Aeon magazine, photo by Karen Kasmauski

Image from Aeon magazine, photo by Karen Kasmauski

We have wrongly been led to believe that our body weight is determined by calories eaten and calorie expended. For years there has been an incorrect assertion that losing weight is simple: eat less, move more and you’ll lose weight! Of course the extension of this, is that if you aren’t successful at managing your weight, it is your own fault. Get back to the gym! Put down the fork!

This is an absurd way to view body weight.

As a nutrition professional I know that weight management is not entirely a matter of eating less and moving more. If it were that easy, we would not be having this discussion. In reality, our bodies are much more complex. Weight management cannot be narrowed down to a simple calorie equation.

An excellent article was published back in June that briefly described many factors that have been scientifically explored to affect body weight. Take a look at the article. It’s a long one, but so interesting!

What makes us gain weight?

Read the article and summary below. However, this article fails to include a discussion of metabolic factors that influence how calories are used:

  • High levels of inflammation
  • Altered gut bacteria
  • Hormonal imbalances

These factors influence metabolism, energy level, hunger, satiety and appetite. Asking yourself to eat less when inflammation is high and your diet is high in sugar and refined grains that cause altered gut flora and skewed hunger hormones is unreasonable. First you must correct these imbalances. Consider what you are eating first, then determine how much you need. By addressing these imbalances, how much you eat will often take care of itself.

Here are some take-home points from the article by David Berreby:

The causes of obesity have yet to be determined

  • Some researchers believe that overeating and sedentary lifestyle cannot be the entire explanation for global overweight trends
  • Gender equality, education and socioeconomic status influence body weight

All calories are not equal

  • Research clearly demonstrates that the types of foods you eat play a role in appetite, satiety and hunger
  • Diets high in meat, fat, sugar or alcohol alter fat storage and expenditure, as well as, negatively affect insulin function and carbohydrate metabolism

Lifestyle factors influence how the calories we eat are used

  • Stress, poor sleep, chemicals (e.g. BPA), heavy metals (e.g. mercury or lead) change the way calories are used and negatively impact hormones that influence hunger, satiety and appetite

Developing fetuses are affected 

  • Fetal imprinting occurs during pregnancy and sets the stage for body weight regulation and hormone function later in life

Other factors

  • Light, air-conditioning and viruses have also been associated with body weight

Bottom Line:

Broaden your view. It’s not all about how much you eat and how much you move. There are many other variables to consider. Our current environment and culture is one of inflammatory foods, addictive foods, stress, sleeplessness, chemicals and altered gut function. In this environment body weight will not be well-managed solely using the tired, old mantra of “calories in and calories out”, we must consider how we live and what we eat.

Material on this blog is provided for informational purposes only. It is general information that may not apply to you as an individual, and is not a substitute for personalized nutrition or health advice or healthcare. Never disregard medical advice or delay seeking medical care because of something you have read or accessed through this website.

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