Often in my practice I come across young girls who don’t want to look at themselves in the mirror because they feel they are fat (when they are just beautifully chubby)! It’s such a shame that even today, in a world so connected and informed, we are still experiencing weight stigmatization!
All too often we focus on the wrong detail like the number on the scale rather than our genuine mental & physical health and lifestyle. The scale is a machine and it cannot define your health or how fit you are. It can’t tell you how much weight you can lift or how far you can run. Instead of focusing on the number on the scale, it’s much more interesting to pay attention to numbers like waist circumference, blood sugar level, lipid profile, number of steps, sleeping time, screen time, water consumption, alcohol amount, blood pressure and number of cigarettes per day.
We all have that one friend who always indulges in burgers, ice cream and chocolate yet never puts on any weight, while others deprive themselves of the food they love and follow strict dieting plans yet still seem to gain weight. Why is this the case? Is nature really so unfair? What is it that allows someone to remain thin effortlessly but demands that another struggle to avoid gaining weight?
Science shows that your weight depends on the number of calories you consume, store, and burn up which are all influenced by a combination of genes and environmental factors affecting your physiology (such as how fast you burn calories) as well as your behaviour (the types of foods you choose to eat, for instance). The interplay between all these factors begins at the moment of your conception and continues throughout your life.
It’s true that obesity is one of the biggest health problems worldwide and there are a lot of weight loss campaigns to protect against diseases. But that doesn’t mean we should all lose weight drastically. It’s sad that the societal desire for thinness and fatphobia (bias against fat) still seem to prevail. We are all unique and our bodies respond differently to change. Many people often associate weight gain and obesity with laziness, a lack of willpower, or overeating. Although weight gain is largely a result of eating behaviour and lifestyle, there are other factors which have nothing to do with willpower that can lead to weight gain.
Let’s dive deeper into five different causes of unintentional weight gain.
Hormones affect various body functions, and several hormone related conditions can lead to weight gain. Conditions such as underactive thyroid (hypothyroidism), PCOS or menopause all have a direct impact on an individual’s weight. Hormonal changes at a certain age, especially in midlife, can also slow down the body metabolism, thus also contributing to an increase in weight.
We are all unique! Two people of the same sex and body weight may look completely diff erent from each other simply because they have a different body composition. Body composition describes the amount of fat, bone, water and muscle in the body. For example, muscle is more compact than fat, meaning it weighs more. However, the scale cannot distinguish between muscle and fat weight, only the total amount of weight gained or lost. If you gained muscle and lost fat, your clothes will likely fit better, even though the scale would not reflect this success.
Studies have identified the specific genes that determine both the number of fat cells we have, as well as where they are stored. While this isn’t something we can change, looking at parents and family members can give us some foresight about where we may tend to store excess fat!
Medicine-related weight gain is very common, especially with certain types of medicines like certain antidepressants and birth control pills. Some medicines might stimulate your appetite causing you to eat more and gain extra weight, others might affect your body’s metabolism thus causing your body to burn calories at a slower rate. Some might also cause water retention and thus make you weigh more, even if you don’t put on extra fat. Other medicines might affect how your body stores and absorbs sugars and other nutrients. Side effects of many medicines can also make you feel tired or have shortness of breath, thus making it difficult for you to move and exercise.
Studies have shown that stress and lack of sleep can cause a cascade of hormonal changes that affect the body’s metabolism, thus impacting our sense of hunger and fullness. Stress stimulates the secretion of 2 key hormones: ghrelin and cortisol. The increased level of these hormones in turn increases your appetite and promotes emotional eating which can include craving for more refined carbohydrates. Simultaneously, stress decreases the production of the hormone leptin which normally helps you feel full and thus, disturbing the appetite control mechanism. Moreover, when stressed, some people tend to skip meals. Starving the body will send a signal to the brain to store fat next time we eat.
Engineered junk food
We are surrounded by heavily processed foods which are often little more than just refined ingredients mixed with additives. These products are designed to be cheap, have a long shelf life and be addictive; to taste so incredibly good that they are hard to resist. Food manufacturers are using the strategy of pushing more tasty foods (sweet, salty) towards the consumer and indirectly promoting overeating. Not to forget, most ultra processed foods today do not resemble whole foods at all. These are highly engineered products, designed to get people hooked.
It’s normal for anyone trying to lose weight to want to lose it very quickly, but healthy weight loss isn’t just about following a diet or a weight loss program. It’s an ongoing lifestyle approach that includes long-term changes in daily eating and exercising habits. Often the major challenge is that, due to the widespread emphasis on weight and weight loss for health above all else, when people make beneficial behaviour changes and don’t see weight loss on the scale, they think that their efforts are in vain and become discouraged from practicing these beneficial behaviours.
Weight management should be seen as a journey rather than just a final destination. Learn new eating and physical activity habits that will help you live a healthier lifestyle. These habits may help you maintain your weight loss over time. And do not forget that your weight does not define who you are and what you can achieve in life.
Here are some habits to help you manage your weight healthily:
- Understand your current eating and exercise habits – work with a dietitian to recognize habits that lead to weight gain and work on a plan on how to lose weight healthily.
- Do not skip meals to avoid cravings during the day and overeat during your next meal.
- Eat plenty of fruits, vegetables and wholegrain cereals.
- Get more active.
- Drink plenty of water instead of soda and juices.
- No food restrictions: banning foods will only make you crave them more. There’s no reason you cannot enjoy the occasional treat as long as it is in moderation
- Plan your meals: meal planning will avoid you running to fast food when you do not have time to cook.
It’s always best to work on yourself to create healthy habits and not restrictions. Weight is just a number and cannot define your health. It can’t tell you about your increased self-esteem, as you begin taking steps towards a healthier lifestyle. It does not define your worthiness.
You are beautiful the way you are, you just need to focus on nourishing your body smartly 🙂