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Understanding the Causes of Obesity

December 17, 2015

Nearly 79 million Americans — or about one-third of the country — is obese. In the medical community, we define obesity as having a Body Mass Index (BMI) of 30 or higher. An example of this would be someone who is 5’9” weighing at least 203 pounds.

Obesity is an epidemic in this country. It increases your risk for several health conditions, including diabetes, heart disease and stroke. According to the National Institutes of Health, obesity is the second leading cause of preventable death in the U.S. We need to do something to stop this, and that begins with arming everyone with the right knowledge. Unfortunately, many people don’t understand what leads to weight gain and obesity in the first place.

Eating Disorders

When we talk about eating disorders, anorexia and bulimia come to mind for most people. But eating disorders also can involve eating excessive amounts of food. About 4 million Americans have binge eating disorder, which involves eating even when you are uncomfortably full or eating when you aren’t hungry. At their core, eating disorders signal an underlying emotional issue. Some people may eat more than they need to because it’s comforting, but when someone binges, those feelings are often followed by embarrassment or guilt about overeating. Many people try to deal with chronic weight problems on their own, yo-yo dieting to the point where they have an unhealthy relationship with food. Not losing weight in a healthy way can cause many people to gain even more weight because their metabolism slows and they tend to overeat because they’ve been deprived.

Frequency of eating

Research has shown that certain eating patterns may lead to obesity. Many weight loss programs advise people to eat 4-6 small meals a day, which helps to control hunger and insulin levels, as blood sugar that your body doesn’t use for energy gets stored as fat.

However, if you frequently eat throughout the day and have a diet that consists of large portions and unhealthy foods filled with salt, sugar and saturated fat, then you’ll likely gain weight. Studies show that regularly eating breakfast or dinner away from home can lead to weight gain. This isn’t surprising — we do better at controlling what we eat when we make it ourselves. If you want to maintain a healthy weight, it’s important to examine what you eat and how much of it. If dinner is always takeout or something you pick up in the drive-thru window or if you find yourself snacking on junk food throughout the day, that may be the reason for your weight gain. Paying attention to and adjusting these behaviors will help you improve your diet and maintain a healthy weight.

Poor Understanding of Food

Many of us don’t read the labels on the food we buy or don’t know the recommended daily requirements for sodium, sugar or certain nutrients. An understanding of food is critical to having a healthy relationship with it. We all grew up eating certain foods, and often these habits carry over to adulthood. If the food you grew up eating is high in saturated fat and sodium, you may not be fully aware of how unhealthy it is. However, understanding the elements of a balanced diet can help you stay healthy, as some studies have shown a strong link between nutrition knowledge and a healthier diet. Other research has indicated that confusion about the nutritional value of certain foods is a factor, too, and that this may play a role in childhood obesity.

High-Carb Diets

Carbs are a necessary part of a balanced diet, but eating too much of them — or the wrong ones — can have a negative impact on your weight.

Complex carbs, which include whole grains, nuts, fruits and vegetables, are good for weight loss. They keep you fuller for longer, helping you avoid unhealthy snacking or overeating that can lead to weight gain. Simple or refined carbs, like desserts, white bread, white sugar and juice concentrates, contain very few nutrients. There’s little fiber or antioxidants in these foods and they are usually processed. The carbs you eat should have nutritional value, so stick to complex carbs, rather than simple ones.

Obesity is a serious condition that can lead to long-term health issues like heart disease and stroke. It may also increase your risk for certain cancers. If you need help maintaining your weight, proper diet and exercise are the best ways to do it. However, some people may need weight loss surgery to achieve and maintain long-term weight loss.

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