In the United States, almost 70% of people are considered to be overweight or obese. Obviously, America has a serious problem with obesity. This problem can not be combated, however, until people truly understand what causes obesity.
Calories In Vs. Calories Out
At its most simplistic level, being overweight or obese simply means that you are taking in more calories than your body needs. In other words, you are taking in more calories than you can burn off.
Calories are simply a measure of energy, and all food has them. Calories are a good thing because your body needs them to function and to take care of daily tasks. However, when you take in more calories than your body needs, it stores them as fat.
The good news is that you can burn off any excess calories that you eat through exercise. When you are overweight or obese, though, it means that you are taking in more calories than you are burning off.
Really, when you look at it that way, it’s pretty simple.
Burn off the same number of excess calories you consume, and your weight will stay the same.
Take in more calories than you burn, and you will gain weight.
Use up more calories than you consume, and you’ll lose weight.
Not Enough Exercise
Based on the “equation” discussed above, it is obvious that overweight or obese people are not burning nearly enough calories during the day.
While it is true that your body requires a certain amount of calories (usually around 3,500) just to maintain itself from day to day, it’s also true that most people who are not carefully watching what they eat consume a lot more than that.
The problem isn’t always in the overeating, however. More often than not, it’s just because people are not physically active enough. If you spend the vast majority of your time at a desk, behind a computer, and/or just relaxing, there’s a really good chance you’re burning a minimum amount of calories.
We’re all somewhat guilty of being lazier than we should. However, making an effort to be more active, whether it’s hitting the gym, playing sports, or just going for a walk, can help people to significantly reduce their chances of being overweight or obese.
It’s also important to remember that being obese isn’t just unattractive. It’s also dangerous. It can lead to heart disease, hypertension, diabetes, and even certain types of cancer. Those risks alone should be incentive enough to get up and get active.
It’s Not All Your Fault!
If you are overweight or obese, it’s important to take at least some responsibility for your actions. However, you shouldn’t beat yourself up. Our American culture really doesn’t lend itself to leading a healthy and active lifestyle.
In fact, consider these common ways in which the American lifestyle doesn’t promote fitness:
- There are very few walking areas. Most places are much safer and easier to get to via car or public transportation.
- Americans work longer workdays than just about any other culture, and for most, their work is not physical in nature. In fact, most jobs involve a lot of sitting and desk work.
- Portion sizes are out of control. Many restaurant meals contain more than the average person needs to sustain himself, calorie-wise, for an entire day!
- Healthy, natural foods are a lot more expensive than fast foods, processed foods, and other unhealthy, calorie-laden options.
- Unhealthy foods are marketed constantly. Turn on the television, and you’re likely to see several tempting ads for fast food, many of which are marketed toward children!
Your Genes Could Play a Role
As if living in a “fat” culture isn’t bad enough, there’s also the problem of genes. Some people are, unfortunately, genetically pre-dispositioned toward being overweight or obese.
Those who have one or two parents who are overweight are much more likely to be overweight themselves.
Furthermore, some people’s genes are biologically programmed to store more fat than others and to store it in certain areas.
Of course, nurture also comes into play. Children learn from their parents, and if you learned unhealthy eating and activity habits from your parents, it can be very hard to change what you were raised with and are used to/comfortable with.
Being overweight or obese can also sometimes be blamed, either fully or in part, on certain health conditions. The following health conditions are all known to play a role in carrying excess weight:
- Underactive thyroid: When the thyroid gland doesn’t make enough of the necessary thyroid hormone, sufferers have to contend with a slower metabolism (i.e. Not burning calories as efficiently) and with constant fatigue, which can make it difficult to exercise/be active.
- Cushing’s Syndrome: People who suffer with this syndrome have adrenal glands that produce too much Cortisol, leading to weight gain, especially in the upper-body, and excess fat storage. To make matters worse, medications that are commonly used to treat the symptoms of Cushing’s Syndrome, such as Prednisone, can also contribute to weight gain and fat storage.
- Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS): PCOS is a condition that affects approximately 10% of women. It can lead to obesity and other health problems due to an overabundance of androgens, a type of hormone.
As mentioned above, medications like Prednisone, a steroid, can easily lead to weight gain. Unfortunately, it’s not the only medication that can have this side effect. Others like it can include:
- Seizure medications
All of these medications can lead to weight gain by negatively affecting metabolism, causing water retention, and increasing hunger.
Sadly, many people use food to deal with negative emotions. For a lot of people, it has become a conditioned response to eat when they’re sad, angry, lonely, or depressed.
While it’s easy to cast fault on people who manage their emotions through food, this learned behavior can be extremely difficult to overcome. Some people even have true addictions to food, much the same way a smoker is addicted to smoking or a heroin addict is addicted to heroin.
Most people would agree that quitting smoking is a positive step for one’s health. Sadly, though, it can sometimes lead to weight gain.
To begin with, regular smoking can dull the taste-buds, making eating and tasting a less pleasurable experience. Therefore, when a person stops smoking and his taste-buds begin working normally, the person is so pleasured by food that his or her eating becomes out of control.
Also, nicotine, while unhealthy and damaging to the body, is great at raising metabolism. When people stop smoking, though, their calorie-burn rate is reduced, so even if they continue eating normally, they will not burn calories as efficiently as they used to.
There’s also the fact that many people replace their smoking, an oral fixation, with eating, another oral fixation. Regardless of the weight gain risk, however, quitting smoking is still a good choice.
Life comes with many wonderful changes. Unfortunately, though, some of these changes can easily lead to weight gain.
For women, for example, pregnancy is a huge contributor to weight gain. Women have to gain weight during pregnancy to support the fetus growing inside of them. However, losing that weight after the child is born can be difficult.
Aging, which nobody can avoid, is another huge contributor to weight gain. People naturally lose muscle as they age, causing them to burn fewer calories. Also, for women, menopause, a natural and unavoidable part of life, can lead to weight gain.
Not Getting Enough Sleep
Finally, not sleeping enough can increase the risk of obesity. When you don’t sleep, your hormones, the ones that control appetite and satiation (feeling full), get out of balance.
This can lead to hunger, which, of course, can lead to weight gain and to a higher blood sugar level, which can also lead to weight gain and an increased risk of diabetes.
As you can see, all kinds of factors can contribute to obesity. The important thing, if you are obese or overweight, is to pinpoint which cause is affecting your life and, if possible, to take steps to change it.