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Six reasons why we gain weight

Different factors may influence a person’s risk for gaining weight, but often it’s possible to change those factors.

There’s a simple reason why people gain weight: They take in more calories than they use up. But the reasons a person’s calories get out of balance may be complex. Many factors can come into play. Understanding them can be important for successful weight loss.

Why the weight?

According to the U.S. Surgeon General, body weight is a result of a combination of six factors:

  1. Metabolism. Your metabolic rate is the rate at which your body burns energy. That can vary from one person to the next, but generally metabolism slows during each decade of adulthood.
  2. Genetics. The genes you inherit can influence how your body burns calories and stores fat, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
  3. Environment. Your environment may affect both the food you take in and the calories you burn off. Say there’s a tray of irresistible doughnuts in your employee lounge each morning. A doughnut a day can certainly contribute to weight gain. And if your neighborhood isn’t entirely safe or doesn’t have sidewalks, you may be less likely to walk or be active outdoors. As a result, you’ll burn fewer calories.
  4. Behaviors. Do you pull out a bag of chips and snack when you get home from work or school? Or do you spend hours glued to your TV or computer screen? These are behaviors that can help you pack on pounds.
  5. Culture. Certain foods—possibly calorie-laden foods—may be part of your traditions. For example, crispy fried tortillas and cheese may be found in traditional Mexican foods, while breads with butter or olive oil may be part of Italian traditions.
  6. Economics. Eating well and exercising might seem challenging when money is tight. It’s possible, for example, that you’ll select unhealthy foods because you think they’re cheaper. You might also think that without money for exercise equipment or a gym membership, exercise will be impossible.

The power of knowledge

If you need motivation to study up on the reasons for weight gain, here it is: Once you recognize what might be behind your tendency to put on the pounds, it may be easier to take steps to slow weight gain or stop it altogether. Often, simple things can make a difference—in each of the areas outlined above. Consider the following:

Metabolism. While metabolism slows with age, you can give it a boost by exercising more. Increased physical activity raises the rate at which your body uses energy for even basic activities, such as breathing and pumping your heart.

Genetics. While a family history of obesity may predispose you to being overweight, it doesn’t guarantee it. Both genes and behavior may interact to cause weight gain, according to the CDC. Paying more careful attention to what you eat and how much physical activity you get may therefore help you keep your weight in check.

Environment. If you’re tempted to eat unwisely in certain places—such as the employee lounge—avoid those places.

And if your environment poses challenges for exercise, try some alternative ways to be active. For instance, instead of exercising outdoors, look for an indoor activity, such as taking an exercise class at a community center or walking in a nearby mall.

Behavior. To learn more about your eating habits, keep a food diary. The National Institute of Diabetes, and Digestive and Kidney Diseases advises writing down what you eat, when you eat and how you feel at the time. Looking over the diary may help you find ways to improve your eating habits.

For instance, if chips are your snack of choice when you walk in the door, you might try having some fresh fruits and veggies on hand instead.

You can also change behaviors to encourage more exercise. Limit your computer time, for example. Or take a walk after dinner instead of watching TV.

Culture. Traditional foods don’t have to be off limits. Just be smart about how you eat them. Tell yourself you’ll only have one slice of bread with your meal and then go easy on the butter or olive oil. If Mexican foods are your foods of choice, go easy on cheese and fried tortillas. Instead, choose baked or grilled foods and soft tacos.

Economics. It really isn’t more expensive to eat healthfully, according to theAcademy of Nutrition and Dietetics. But even so, there are ways to save money on shopping trips:

  • Make a list of healthful foods and stick to it.
  • Compare prices and watch for sales.
  • Clip coupons.
  • If you find that fresh produce spoils before you can use it, consider buying canned or frozen products as an alternative.

Finally, forget the idea that exercise has to be expensive. The American Diabetes Association recommends that instead of joining a gym, you try walking more or using cans of food for weights.

The right strategy

Talk to your doctor about what may be behind your weight gain. Then work together to change your eating and exercise habits. With a little insight and some guidance, you may be well on your way to achieving and maintaining a healthy weight.

reviewed 11/19/2013

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