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25 Bad Eating Habits That Make You Fat

There’s an old saying: If you find yourself standing in a deep hole with a shovel in your hands, stop digging. Yet when it comes to our rapid weight loss, most of us dig ourselves a little deeper into the hole every single day.

In fact, as much as we may guilt-trip ourselves over a couple of innocent indulgences–the decadent dessert we broke down and ordered, or the extra helping we took from the buffet–it’s not the occasional extravagances we should focus on. An extra 500 or even 1,000 calories a week isn’t going to make dent in the bathroom scale. Instead, it’s the little things we do, day in and day out, things that we barely notice we’re doing, which determine whether our waistlines are trending upward or downward.

And that’s great news, because if you can suss out your own sneaky weight-gain habits, you can completely change your life without have to, well, change your life. The editors of Eat This, Not That! have identified these 26 bad habits that make you fat. Tweak just a few of these everyday rote routines and you could be on your way to a leaner belly in no time!

1

You Eat ‘Low-Fat’

It sounds crazy, but stop buying foods marketed as low-fat or fat-free, even weight-loss smoothies. Typically, they save you only a few calories and, in doing so, they replace harmless fats with low-performing carbohydrates that digest quickly—causing a sugar rush and, immediately afterward, rebound hunger. Researchers from the University of Alabama at Birmingham found that meals that limited carbohydrates to 43 percent were more filling and had a milder effect on blood sugar than meals with 55 percent carbohydrates. That means you’ll store less body fat and be less likely to eat more later.

2

You Ignore Nutrition Advice

Good news here: By reading this, you’re already forming habits that can help you shed pounds. When Canadian researchers sent diet and exercise advice to more than 1,000 people, they found that the recipients began eating smarter and working more physical activity into their daily routines. Not surprisingly, the habits of the non-recipients didn’t budge.

3

You Sleeping Too Little Or Too Much

According to Wake Forest researchers, dieters who sleep five hours or less put on 2½ times more belly fat, while those who sleep more than eight hours pack on only slightly less than that. Shoot for an average of six to seven hours of sleep per night—the optimal amount for weight control. And burn calories overnight with these 8 Ways to Lose Weight While You Sleep!

4

You Eat Free Restaurant Food

Breadsticks, biscuits, and chips and salsa may be complimentary at some restaurants, but that doesn’t mean you won’t pay for them. Every time you eat one of Olive Garden’s free breadsticks or Red Lobster’s Cheddar Bay Biscuits, you’re adding an additional 150 calories to your meal. Eat three over the course of dinner and that’s 450 calories. That’s also roughly the number of calories you can expect for every basket of tortilla chips you get at your local Mexican restaurant. What’s worse, none of these calories comes paired with any redeeming nutritional value. Consider them junk food on steroids.

5

You Drink Soda —Even Diet

The average American guzzles nearly a full gallon of soda every week. Why is that so bad? Because a 2005 study found that drinking one to two sodas per day increases your chances of being overweight or obese by nearly 33 percent. And diet soda is no better. When researchers in San Antonio tracked a group of elderly subjects for nearly a decade, they found that compared to nondrinkers, those who drank two or more diet sodas a day watched their waistlines increase five times faster. The researchers theorize that the artificial sweeteners trigger appetite cues, causing you to unconsciously eat more at subsequent meals. !

6

You Skip Meals

In a 2011 national survey from the Calorie Control Council, 17 percent of Americans admitted to skipping meals to lose weight. The problem is, skipping meals actually increases your odds of obesity, especially when it comes to breakfast. A study from the American Journal of Epidemiology found that people who cut out the morning meal were 4.5 times more likely to be obese. Why? Skipping meals slows your metabolism and boosts your hunger. That puts your body in prime fat-storage mode and increases your odds of overeating at the next meal. And don’t say you don’t have time for breakfast; it’s easy if you make these overnight oats!

7

You Eat Too Quickly

If your body has one major flaw, this is it: It takes 20 minutes for your stomach to tell your brain that it’s had enough. A study in the Journal of the American Dietetic Association found that slow eaters took in 66 fewer calories per meal, but compared to their fast-eating peers, they felt like they had eaten more. What’s 66 calories, you ask? If you can do that at every meal, you’ll lose more than 20 pounds a year! To lose even more weight, don’t miss this essential list of 24 Nutrition Myths—Busted!

8

You Watch Too Much TV

A University of Vermont study found that overweight participants who reduced their TV time by just 50 percent burned an additional 119 calories a day on average. That’s an automatic 12-pound annual loss! Maximize those results by multitasking while you watch—even light household tasks will further bump up your caloric burn. Plus, if your hands are occupied with dishes or laundry, you’ll be less likely to mindlessly snack—the other main occupational hazard associated with tube time.

9

You Order The Combo Meal

A study in the *Journal of Public Policy & Marketing8 shows that compared to ordering a la carte, you pick up a hundred or more extra calories by opting for the “combo” or “value meal.” Why? Because when you order items bundled together, you’re likely to buy more food than you want. You’re better off ordering your food piecemeal. That way you won’t be influenced by pricing schemes designed to hustle a few more cents out of your pocket. Click here to see What 8 Diet Experts Eat at McDonald’s!

10

You Face The Buffet

Cornell researchers found that when eating at a buffet-style restaurant, obese diners were 15 percent more likely to choose seats with a clear view of the food. Your move: Choose a seat that places your back toward the spread. It will help you avoid fixating on the food.

11

You Drink Out of Plastic

You know how important it is to stay hydrated, which is why you’re never seen without a bottle of Poland Spring by your side. While we commend you for getting your daily dose of H20, you should seriously consider trading your throw-away bottle for the reusable, BPA-free variety. Bisphenol A, commonly referred to as BPA, can negatively impact fertility in both men and women and has also been been linked to obesity. Don’t believe it? The science doesn’t lie: A 2011 Harvard study found that adults with the highest concentration of BPA in their urine had significantly larger waists and chance of being obese than those in the lowest quartile. Fill your new BPA-free bottle up with these 14 Detox Waters That Banish Bloat!

12

You Don’t Let Off Steam

You manage to avoid the office candy bowl, which is pretty impressive—especially on super stressful days—but you’ve got to let off some steam somehow. If you don’t, it could lead to chronically elevated cortisol levels, causing sleep and immunity problems, blood-sugar abnormalities and weight gain. How should you chillax? Lori Zanini, RD, CDE, Spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics says stress relief is very individualized, so what helps your BFF relax may not work for you. Give a few different tactics a try and see what works best for you. Practicing yoga, meeting up with friends and unplugging from technology for an evening are all things Zanini says are worth a shot.

13

You Don’t Moderate Your Diet

If you’ve just hopped on the Paleo or low-carb bandwagon, proceed with caution! “Often diets that cut out entire food groups do not allow for the balance and moderation we need to follow a healthy, lifelong eating plan,” warns Zanini. “Plus, dieters who follow these plans may be prone to potentially dangerous nutritional deficiencies. Or they may simply get bored with their restricted plan and end up overeating down the road,” warns Zanini. For the best diet ever, click here to Lose 14 Pounds in 14 Days!

14

You Cook Too Much

Just because your meal is healthy doesn’t mean you don’t have to practice portion control. Remember, even virtuous foods have calories! Half of your plate should be filled with veggies and the remaining half should hold a cellphone-sized serving of lean protein, a fist-sized serving of grains and a bit of fat no larger than the size of your pointer finger.

15

You Don’t Get Tested

Although you may get scanned for high cholesterol or diabetes at your annual exam, M.D.s don’t typically test or look for physical signs of nutritional deficiencies—which can be dangerous! Michelle Loy, MPH, MS, CSSD, Registered Dietitian Nutritionist and owner of Go Wellness in Orange County, California suggests having your vitamin D levels checked if nothing else. “Many people are deficient and don’t even know it—and not getting enough may increase the risk of osteoporosis, heart disease and certain types of cancer,” she warns. Click here to discover the Vitamins You’re Not Getting Enough Of.

16

You Avoid All Fats

You know that eating trans fats can increase your risk of heart disease, weight gain and stroke, so you’re smart to stay away. But not all fats need to make your “do not eat” list. Consuming healthy fats like flax seeds and nuts can actually help you slim down and stay healthy. “Fats not only help us absorb many of the vitamins from our diets, but they also help keep us fuller longer, which can aid weight loss efforts,” explains Zanini. She suggests consuming one serving of healthy fats each time you sit down to eat. This could be 1/4 cup of almonds or walnuts, some sautéed veggies cooked with a tablespoon of olive oil or a few slices of avocado.

17

You Don’t Ask How It’s Cooked

Chefs often add fat and salt to make meals taste better—but these ingredients aren’t necessarily something they advertise on the menu. Since you’ve already taken such care to choose a meal that sounds healthy, take the extra step and ask your server if there is any cream or butter in your dish. If these is, ask for your veggies and meats to be cooked dry and have sauces come on the side so you control how much ends up on your plate. After crunching the numbers, we discovered that no matter what kind of restaurant you’re dining at, you can save up to 1,000 calories at each meal by making this simple request! And read up on all your favorite places using this exclusive report: Top Chain Restaurants in America Graded By Health!

18

You Ignore Sodium Counts

Your favorite trail mix only has 150-calories, but did you check to see how much sodium is lurking inside the package? All too often, those who aren’t suffering from a health condition overlook that part of the nutrition label. “Americans consume, on average, about 50 percent more than the daily recommended intake of salt, and most of the excess sodium is coming from processed foods like frozen waffles, bagels, cheese cottage cheese, veggie burgers and salad dressings,” says Loy. Sticking to The Institute of Medicine’s daily recommendation of 2,300 milligrams per day or less can help you keep a bloated belly, high blood pressure and other health conditions at bay. Click here to uncover The Saltiest Meals in America!

19

You Eat Off Large Plates

One study found that when given an option, a whopping 98.6 percent of obese individuals opt for larger plates. Translation: More food, more calories, and more body fat. Keep your portions in check by choosing smaller serving dishes. If need be, you can always go back for seconds.

20

You Serve From the Table

Resist setting out foods buffet- or family-style, and opt instead to serve them from the kitchen. A study in the journal Obesity found that when food is served from the dinner table, people consume 35 percent more over the course of the meal. When an additional helping requires leaving the table, people hesitate to go back for more.

21

You Don’t Drink Enough Water

Adequate water intake is essential for all your body’s functions, and the more you drink, the better your chances of staying thin. In one University of Utah study, dieting participants who were instructed to drink two cups of water before each meal lost 30 percent more weight than their thirsty peers. And you can magnify the effect by adding ice. German researchers found that six cups of cold water a day could prompt a metabolic boost that incinerates 50 daily calories. That’s enough to shed five pounds a year!

22

You Hang Out with Unhealthy Friends

Research from the New England Journal of Medicine indicates that when a friend becomes obese, it ups your chance of obesity by 57 percent. This probably has to do with the social norms that you’re exposed to. Rather than ditch a friend who starts to put on a few extra pounds though, suggest healthy activities that you can do together, and avoid letting him or her dictate the meal (“Let’s split the cheesecake!”).

23

You Use a Scale

Looking at your body weight reinforces weight-loss goals and makes it difficult to cheat your diet. When University of Minnesota researchers observed dieters who weighed themselves daily, they discovered that the routine of stepping on a scale helped those people lose twice as much weight as those who weighed themselves less frequently. Avoid being thrown off by natural fluctuations in body weight by stepping onto the scale at the same time every day.

24

You Drink the Fruity Stuff

Most restaurants and bars have ditched their fresh-fruit recipes in favor of viscous syrups made mostly from high fructose corn syrup and thickening agents. As a general rule, the more garnishes a drink has hanging from its rim, the worse it is for your waistline. Instead, choose any of these 16 Brand-Name Wines for Weight Loss!

25

You Eat When Emotional

A study from the University of Alabama found that emotional eaters—those who admitted eating in response to emotional stress—were 13 times more likely to be overweight or obese. If you feel the urge to eat in response to stress, try chewing a piece of gum, chugging a glass of water, or taking a walk around the block. Create an automatic response that doesn’t involve food and you’ll prevent yourself from overloading on calories.

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Why are Americans Obese?

To understand the true size of the American obesity epidemic, we first need to understand what it really means to be overweight. Generally, doctors and nutritionists classify people as either underweight, healthy weight, overweight, or obese. These different classifications are determined by body mass index (BMI), or a measure of body fat based on your height and weight. To get a basic idea, this chart from the CDC approximates what that means for someone who is 5’9″ tall.

CDC approximates for BMI.

Height Weight Range BMI Considered
Source: CDC
5′ 9″ 124 lbs or less Below 18.5 Underweight
125 lbs to 168 lbs 18.5 to 24.9 Healthy weight
169 lbs to 202 lbs 25.0 to 29.9 Overweight
203 lbs or more 30 or higher Obese

As for what is driving America’s chronic weight problem, there are no definite answers. Scientific studies often reach conflicting conclusions, meaning many theories are out there, but the preponderance of evidence points to the two causes most people already suspect: too much food and too little exercise.

Bigger Portions

The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) reports that the average American ate almost 20% more calories in the year 2000 than they did in 1983, thanks, in part, to a boom in meat consumption. Today, each American puts away an average of 195lbs of meat every year, compared to just 138lbs in the 1950’s. Consumption of added fats also shot up by around two thirds over the same period, and grain consumption rose 45% since 1970.

Research published by the World Health Organization found that a rise in fast food sales correlated to a rise in body mass index, and Americans are notorious for their fast-food consumption ― such food makes up about 11% of the average American diet. Another study demonstrates the full effect added sugars from soda and energy drinks are wreaking havoc on American waistlines. So it is not just how much we eat, but what we eat.

Confusing “Diet” for “Nutrition”

The role of diet in the U.S. obesity epidemic is obviously major, but it’s also complex. Consumers are sent wildly mixed messages when it comes to what to eat and how much. One one hand, larger portions, processed packaged food, and drive-thru meals are branded as almost classically American — fast, cheap, filling and delicious. On the other hand, we spend over $20 billion annually on weight loss schemes, from diet books and pills all the way up to last-resort surgeries like lap-bands and liposuction. It’s no wonder we’re looking for fast food and fast weight loss options, we spend more time at work and less time in our homes and kitchens than our parents did. Sometimes you only have time to pack a leftover pizza slice and a slim-fast for lunch, irony be damned.

This schizophrenic relationship with food is easy to explain in terms of marketing schemes. As decades of soda and tv dinners caught up with our waistlines, the U.S. diet industry grew bigger, faster and smarter. Since the 1970s, popular nutrition wisdom and fad diets have flamed in and out just as quickly as the Arch Deluxe or the McRib. In the 1990s, our big enemy was fat. Low-fat and fat-free products flew off supermarket shelves. It took us decades to learn that when something is fat-free and full-flavored, it’s probably too good to be true.

As it turns out, most food companies were just swapping hydrogenated oils and sugar in for the animal fats they removed from low-fat products. Hydrogenated oils are restructured vegetable oils that carry high levels of trans-fats, an amazingly evil type of fat that can raise your bad cholesterol, lower your good cholesterol and increase your risks of developing heart disease, stroke and diabetes. While somewhat less sinister, added sugar can also wreak major damage on a diet. Technically low in calories, high-quantities of sugar disrupts our metabolisms, causing surges in insulin and energy levels and ultimately contributing to weight gain and diabetes.

Inactivity is the New Normal

Lack of exercise is also a major culprit in the obesity epidemic. It’s been decades since most Americans worked in fields and on factory floors, a far greater majority of us are sitting throughout our workday. This means less exercise each day. According to one study, only 20% of today’s jobs require at least moderate physical activity, as opposed to 50% of jobs in 1960. Other research suggests Americans burn 120 to 140 fewer calories a day than they did 50 years ago. Add this to the higher amount of calories we are packing in, and we get a perfect recipe for weight gain.

But lethargy goes well beyond the workplace. It is also how we get to work and what we do after. Americans walk less than people in any other industrialized country, preferring to sit in cars to get around. And at the end of the day, 80% of Americans don’t get enough exercise, according to the CDC.

A number of other factors are thought to play a role in the obesity epidemic, such as the in utero effects of smoking and excessive weight gain in pregnant mothers. Poor sleep, stress, and lower rates of breastfeeding are also thought to contribute to a child’s long term obesity risk. Of course, these factors are not explicit or solitary causes of obesity, but they are reliable indicators of the kinds of systemic healthcare failures contributing to this crisis.

In the end, though, we can’t lose sight of the big picture. Over the past years, diet fads have come and gone, with people rushing to blame red meat, dairy, wheat, fat, sugar, etc. for making them fat, but in reality, the problem is much simpler. Genetics and age do strongly influence metabolism, but as the CDC points out, weight gain and loss is primarily a formula of total calories consumed versus total calories used.

If you think Americans are getting fatter, the feds say: ‘You’re right, all of us are’

Anne Saker and Jayne O’Donnell, USA TODAY Network Published 2:36 PM EST Dec 20, 2018

Corrections and clarifications: A previous version of this story incorrectly stated the growth in men’s waist sizes.

Americans have gotten heavier and thicker in the 21st century, with the numbers on the scale going up for men and women of all ages, according to a new federal report released Thursday.

Waistlines have ballooned, too, the National Center for Health Statistics said. In general, women’s waists grew more than 2 inches, from 36.3 in 1999-2000 to 38.6 inches in 2015-16. By comparison, men’s middles increased just over an inch, from 39.0 to 40.2 inches during the same period.

The new report offers hard data for a phenomenon plainly visible on city streets, schoolyards and workplaces: In the past 30 years, obesity has risen to epidemic levels in the United States, but the nation still hasn’t been able to correct the problem. Being overweight can contribute to a cascade of other health problems, including diabetes, heart disease and cancer.

Dana Duffie of Orlando, Fla. says she developed bad eating habits as a child. Courtesy of Dana Duffie

Dana Duffie of Orlando, Florida, learned that firsthand. She had been comforting herself with food since she was little and then wound up with Type II diabetes after her daughter developed cancer in the 1990s. After her daughter died at 16 in 2002, stress eating became an even bigger problem. She hopes talking about it will encourage her to address it.

“My father was an alcoholic, and as an adult I had a light-bulb moment when I realized I had learned some unhealthy things from watching him: I was hiding empty family-size candy bags or empty Little Debbie boxes or even the wrapper of that second sub that was supposed to be tomorrow’s lunch, all went underneath the other trash in the kitchen trash can after everyone else went to bed,” Duffie says. “It’s what got me where I am today, which is insulin dependent.”

The report was based on data gathered through the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey, which looked at weight, height, waist circumference and body-mass index in about 45,000 Americans 20 and older.

Dr. Shailendra Patel at the University of Cincinnati College of Medicine studies endocrinology and diabetes. The nation is getting heavier, and we need better diets and exercise regimens. Provided

“It’s what your grandma would have told you, and hearing it from a professor now is no less important,” said Dr. Shailendra Patel, chairman of the division of endocrinology, diabetes and metabolism at the University of Cincinnati College of Medicine. “You need a varied diet, a balanced diet, with smaller portions. Your plate should look colorful, and you need to be exercising at least three times a week.”

Christine Rufkahr of St. Louis is just trying to do her own version of that, in a transition she describes as going from a “junk food vegan diet to a whole food plant-based diet.” This diet has no meat, eggs or dairy but also eliminates most processed foods, added sugars or sweeteners and fats including olive oil.

Rufkahr believes many, like herself, “self medicate” for her mental health, which wouldn’t happen “if people had access to effective treatment.”

Christine Rufkahr, a sales manager in St. Louis, who is hoping to lose weight through a “whole food plant-based diet.” Christine Rufkahr

The waistline news is particularly grim for women.

In a March study in the Journal of the American Heart Association, women who carried more weight around their middles had a 10 to 20 percent greater risk of heart attack than women who were just heavier over all. This weight was measured by waist circumference, waist-to-hip ratio, or waist-to-height ratio. The study involved about 500,000 people (55 percent of them women), ages 40 to 69, in the United Kingdom. The researchers took body measurements of the participants and then kept track of who had heart attacks over the next seven years.

Roland Whitsell, 80, lost weight in the last decade by eating more protein and exercising more, including backpacking. Family photo

More: ‘Toxic stress’ on children can harm their lifelong learning, mental and physical health

The analysis showed that compared with body mass index (BMI) – a calculation of weight in relation to height – a waist-to-hip ratio was 18 percent stronger as a heart attack predictor in women compared to 6 percent stronger in men.

Roland Whitsell, a former business school professor in Gallatin, Tennessee, says excess weight crept up on him over the years as he would gain when he was experiencing depression but wouldn’t lose it when he wasn’t depressed. He says he’s 5-foot-10 and weighed 233 pounds when he retired 10 years ago at age 70. He says he has finally lost 20 pounds by increasing both his protein intake and his exercise, especially through backpacking, which he took up a couple years after his retirement.

He’s even still hoping to hike the Pacific Crest Trail in 2021. His last attempt was cut short.

More: Federal government announces new physical fitness guidelines; fewer than one in three Americans meet standards

“I learn something each time that makes me better at backpacking,” he says. “I am getting in better shape and working to have a lighter base weight.”

Whitsell has also lost at least a half-inch since he got out of the Army in 1956. That’s in line with what middle-aged men lost in height since 1999.

Dr. Malti Vij of the University of Cincinnati Health Weight Loss Center in West Chester, Ohi, said studies such as Thursday’s present the overall bad news about the nation’s weight problem. But “these kinds of surveys are helpful at least when they are dividing by race and by age group and gender. They tell us where to focus our efforts. Looking at the data, it looks like we have to focus everywhere.”

If you are interested in connecting with people online who have overcome or are struggling with health problems mentioned in this story, join USA TODAY’s “I Survived It” Facebook support group.

Published 2:36 PM EST Dec 20, 2018

The study found that the percentage of youths who are obese and severely obese rose slightly from the 2007-2008 time frame, but not enough to be statistically significant.

Dr. Craig Hales, co-author of the survey research, said the small increase in childhood obesity “could be due to sampling error,” and that the upshot was “no increasing or decreasing trends over the last 10 years.”

“Something different is happening with adults and youth,” he said, adding that he wasn’t able to explain the reasons.

One group of youths that has seen statistically significant weight gain are the youngest children, ages 2 to 5. Obesity rates in this group rose to 13.9 percent in 2015 and 2016 from 10.1 percent in 2007 and 2008.

Scholars who study childhood obesity disagree about whether childhood obesity has plateaued or is increasing.

“We haven’t turned the tide. If anything, rates are continuing to climb upwards.” said Dr. David Ludwig, a nutrition professor at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health. The 18.5 percent youth obesity rate in 2015-2016 marked an uptick following earlier years dating back to 2007 and 2008 when it had held steady at about 17 percent.

Dr. William Dietz, director of the Stop Obesity Alliance at George Washington University, said that it is premature to reach any conclusions about the trend in childhood obesity.

“I’m worried about it for sure, but we need two more years of data,” he said. Still, he called the overall report “dismal,” given that the high rates of obesity mean high rates of disease and premature death.

‘My boyfriend kept feeding me … and then I realised he had a fat fetish’

ALEX thought John was perfect — until she realised he wanted her to change her body.

“In 2012, I was 18 and had just completed Year 12.

Here, she tells her story.

As I waited to hear whether I’d made it onto a physiotherapy course at university, I was working in a coffee shop. Over a period of six weeks, I had a frequent customer: a tall lanky guy, with a thick crop of dark hair and the most startling bright blue eyes. We’d often have little chats, and then he’d disappear again, leaving me wanting to know more about him.

Finally, one day, he called me over to the other side of the counter and nervously asked me whether I’d go on a date with him. I readily agreed. We went for a coffee, and the conversation flowed. John was 25 and studying for a degree in science at university. He was an outdoors type that loved exercising. Despite the seven-year age gap, we became instantaneously inseparable and fell in love. I’d had some sexual encounters and casual boyfriends in my teens, but I’d never had a proper relationship.

A couple of months later, John started a conversation about what we were both attracted to physically. “You know that I like girls with curves, right?” he said. At the time, I was 65 kilos and 173cm tall. However, I wasn’t skinny. I had always had a rounded bottom and decent sized C cup breasts. Then he explained that not only did he like curvy women, but he also loved the act of making them curvier. He said he’d always wanted to be thicker himself, but no matter what he did, he just couldn’t put on weight.

I didn’t understand what he meant at the time, or what was in store. I never had any body issues, although like most teenage girls I had wanted to be skinnier. I used to do a lot of sit-ups in pursuit of a flat tummy. In some ways, it felt liberating to be with a guy that liked his women a little curvier. I thought, ‘Great, I can eat whatever I want, and he’s still going to find me attractive.’

media_camera Picture: iStock

Seconds and chocolate

At first, he made little changes. If we went out to dinner, he’d encourage me to eat dessert. If he cooked, he’d invite me to have extras. Or he’d buy a big block of chocolate, specifically for me. Then he told me that he would find it very sexy for us to grow my belly. He seemed so excited by the prospect that I went along with it. If I’d gained a few kilos, I wouldn’t mind because he’d find me more attractive. I reasoned it would be easy to lose the weight, and most importantly, it would make him happy. So I agreed.

media_camera Picture: iStock

John did all the cooking. We ate pretty healthily, lots of veggies, meat and not many carbs. However, the big thing was portion size and dessert. He’d eat a reasonably sized portion while mine was massive. It was hard at the beginning, but then eating a lot became a habit.

John kept photos of the growth of my stomach. Every shot was captioned with my increasing weight. He praised me for each kilo gained. If we’d had a big dinner, he’d rub my belly as I ate. Sometimes he’d even weigh me before and after a meal to see if I’d gained anything. When I weighed in at 75 kilos, one of my friend’s mothers said that I looked better with a little more weight. She used the expression “womanly” so I didn’t think it was a problem.

“You are so hot and sexy”

The bigger my stomach got, the more turned on he was. During sex, he’d jiggle my belly and wobble my thighs. “Look at how big you’re getting!” he’d exclaim. “God, you are so hot and sexy.” I was trained to equate being full with being horny, and getting fatter, as being more attractive. John loved me to wear super tight clothes. I had a red and white shirt I wore when I was sixteen. He’d like me to wear it during sex. It was so tight my boobs bulged over the top. Then he’d grab my love handles that splayed out and pat my belly. I started to enjoy the pressure of the tight clothes, and became turned on by it too.

media_camera Picture: iStock

After a year, we moved in together. We’d often be naked at home because we were both so comfortable with each other. He’d be full of admiration for my body. He’d cook, and we’d eat in front of the television. Then he’d fill up my plate again, without asking.

As university became more stressful, I started comfort eating. However because John gave me so much positive reinforcement, it wasn’t a problem. ‘Who cares what I look like,’ I thought to myself, ‘the person I love, loves my body.’

Despite the fact I was replacing my clothes with bigger sizes, I never realised that I was technically overweight. I was living away from home, and your friends don’t say, “Holy crap, you’ve gotten fat since the last time I saw you.”

Reality sets in

Then the depression started. I’m not sure it was directly related, but I began to feel ugly. In three years from 2012, I’d gone from 65 to 95 kilos. John started to feel guilty and encouraged me to exercise. But then I’d have a stressful period at university, and I’d overeat.

Then we went to visit his family in northern New South Wales. The family decided to climb a mountain together. However, I had to stop every few steps, as I was so overweight and unfit. I felt embarrassed. Everyone was overtaking me, including his sixty-year-mother. Then John told me that his dad had said to him, “Oh, I see you like big girls.” It annoyed me that they didn’t comment on my personality.

In hindsight, John was controlling in other ways, I had to do the dishes in a certain way, or he instructed me how he liked me to shower. It further impacted my mental health. When I was stressed, the facade in my confidence in my body would break and couldn’t be fixed by him saying that I looked beautiful. At those points, I didn’t want to be attractive to him, I wanted to be attractive to everybody else.

media_camera Picture: iStock

Tinder and a new town

Then I was sent on a uni placement in a small country town. I’d become jealous of my friends’ abilities to explore the town, without getting puffed. I realised I needed to change. However I wasn’t sure John wouldn’t have been capable of changing his fetish. Before a visit home, I told him that I needed to make some changes; I was going to lose some weight and start a proper exercise regimen. When I returned he was at work but he’d left a note that said. “I’ve brought you a surprise!” I looked around the apartment but I couldn’t see his gift. Then I opened the fridge, and there were two full-size cheesecakes, an apple pie and three boxes of chocolates. That’s when I realised that he wasn’t supportive of what I truly wanted, as he’d led me onto to believe.

Maybe it was a sign but we mutually agreed upon an open relationship. Living in a small town, I had a lot of matches on Tinder, despite being 85 kilos. The conversations were flirty and I got compliments about my sense of humour and about my body. During our dates, not once did anyone jiggle my thighs or rub my stomach. They wanted to have sex with my body as it was at that moment. Despite being 10 kilos heavier than I desired to be, I was still as sexy as hell. I knew then, I could stay at my current weight or lose weight and I’d still be able to attract men.

In September 2016, despite loving John, it was our difference in personality and what we perceived as beautiful that caused our breakup. I do not regret the relationship though. It helped me realise that it is my body and I will do with it as I wish. But more importantly, society is superficial. Desire changes and naturally, so does your weight. But it shouldn’t ever determine your own sense of worth.”

Childhood Obesity and Weight Problems

Does your child have a weight problem? These tips can help your child reach and maintain a healthier weight.

As a parent, few things are cuter than your full-cheeked baby or the chubby knees of your toddler. For some children, however, that adorable baby fat may turn into a health concern.

Today, nearly 1 out of 4 children and teens in developed countries are overweight or obese. Those extra pounds put kids at risk for developing serious health problems, including diabetes, heart disease, and asthma. Childhood obesity also takes an emotional toll. Overweight children often have trouble keeping up with other kids and joining in sports and activities. Other kids may tease and exclude them, leading to low self-esteem, negative body image, and even depression.

If you’re watching your child struggle with their weight, you may feel alone or helpless; in reality, you are neither. There’s plenty you can do to help your kids. Diagnosing weight problems and obesity in children as early as possible can reduce their risk of developing serious medical conditions as they get older. And by getting the whole family involved, you can break the cycle of weight problems and obesity, boost your children’s physical and mental health, and help them establish a healthy relationship with food that will last a lifetime. Whatever your children’s weight, let them know that you love them and that all you want to do is help them be healthy and happy.

Is your child overweight?

Children grow at different rates at different times, so it is not always easy to tell if a child is overweight. Body mass index (BMI) uses height and weight measurements to estimate how much body fat a child has. However, while BMI is usually a good indicator, it is NOT a perfect measure of body fat and can even be misleading at times when children are experiencing periods of rapid growth.

If your child registers a high BMI-for-age measurement, your health care provider may need to perform further assessments and screenings to determine if excess fat is a problem.

Causes of weight problems and obesity in children

Understanding how children become overweight in the first place is an important step toward breaking the cycle. Most cases of childhood obesity are caused by eating too much and exercising too little. Children need enough food to support healthy growth and development. But when they take in more calories than they burn throughout the day, the result is weight gain.

Causes of weight problems in children may include:

  • Busy families cooking at home less and eating out more.
  • Easy access to cheap, high-calorie fast food and junk food.
  • Bigger food portions, both in restaurants and at home.
  • Kids consuming huge amounts of sugar in sweetened drinks and hidden in an array of foods.
  • Kids spending less time actively playing outside, and more time watching TV, playing video games,
    and sitting at the computer.
  • Many schools eliminating or cutting back their physical education programs.

Myths and Facts about Weight Problems and Obesity in Children

Myth 1: Childhood obesity is genetic, so there’s nothing you can do about it.

Fact: While a person’s genes do influence weight, they are only one small part of the equation. Although some children are more prone to gaining weight than others, that doesn’t mean they’re destined for weight problems. Most kids can maintain a healthy weight if they eat right and exercise.

Myth 2: Children who are obese or overweight should be put on a diet.

Fact: Unless directed by your child’s doctor otherwise, the treatment for childhood obesity is not weight loss. The goal should be to slow or stop weight gain, allowing your child to grow into his or her ideal weight.

Myth 3: It’s just baby fat. Children will outgrow the weight.

Fact: Childhood obesity doesn’t always lead to obesity in adulthood, but it does raise the risks dramatically. The majority of children who are overweight at any time during the preschool or elementary school are still overweight as they enter their teens. Most kids do not outgrow the problem.

To combat weight problems, get the whole family involved

Healthy habits start at home. The best way to fight or prevent childhood obesity and weight problems is to get the whole family on a healthier track. Making better food choices and becoming more active will benefit everyone, regardless of weight.

You can also make a huge impact on your children’s health by getting involved with the details of their lives. Spending time with your kids—talking about their day, playing, reading, cooking—can supply them with the self-esteem boost they may need to make positive changes.

Leading by example

If your children see you eating your vegetables, being active, and limiting your TV time, there’s a good chance that they will do the same.

What you eat: Tell your child about the healthy food you are eating, while you are eating it. You might say, “I’m eating broccoli with garlic sauce. Want a bite?”

When you cook: Cook healthily in front of your children. Better yet, give them an age-appropriate job in the kitchen. Tell them about what you are making and why it’s good for your body.

How you move: Exercise in some way, every day. Be authentic—do things you enjoy. Tell your kids what you’re doing, and invite them to join you.

Your free time: Avoid the television or too much computer time. Kids are much less likely to turn screens on if they are off and you are doing something they can get involved in.

Strategies for Real Life

  • Recognize that you have more control than you might think. You can turn off the TV, computer, or video game. You can choose to get off the bus one stop earlier than usual and walk the rest of the way, especially when you are with your kids. You can give your family more vegetables for dinner.
  • Think about the immediate benefits. If reducing the risk of future heart disease seems abstract, focus on the good things that can happen right now. You won’t feel uncomfortably full if you have a smaller portion or skip dessert. Going hiking with your teenager might lead to a wonderful talk that neither of you anticipated. Dancing or playing with your kids is lots of fun and can give you a great workout.
  • Make small, easy changes over time. Suggesting that family members take a run together every day will probably get you lots of eye-rolling. It’s easier and more appealing to start out with some new approaches to nutrition and physical activity that the whole family is really willing to try. For example, take a walk after dinner a couple of nights a week instead of turning on the TV.

Source: We Can! Families Finding the Balance, U.S. Dept. of Health & Human Services

Make healthier food choices

While you may need to make major changes to your family’s eating habits, changing everything at once usually leads to cheating or giving up. Instead, start by making small, gradual steps towards healthy eating—like adding a salad to dinner every night or swapping out French fries for steamed vegetables—rather than one big drastic switch. As small changes become habit, you can continue to add more healthy choices.

Eat the rainbow. Serve and encourage consumption of a wide variety of fruits and vegetables. This should include red (beets, tomatoes), orange (carrots, squash), yellow (potatoes, bananas), green (lettuce, broccoli) and so on—just like eating a rainbow.

Make breakfast a priority. Children who eat breakfast are less likely to be overweight or obese than those who skip the first meal of the day. It’s important to focus on healthy choices, though, like oatmeal, fresh fruit, whole grain cereal high in fiber and low in sugar, and low-fat milk instead of sugary cereals, donuts, or toaster pastries.

Look for hidden sugar. Reducing the amount of candy and desserts you and your child eat is only part of the battle. Sugar is also hidden in foods as diverse as bread, canned soups, pasta sauce, instant mashed potatoes, frozen dinners, low-fat meals, fast food, and ketchup. The body gets all it needs from sugar naturally occurring in food—so anything added amounts to nothing but a lot of empty calories. Check labels and opt for low sugar products and use fresh or frozen ingredients instead of canned goods.

Schedule regular meal times. The majority of children like routine. If your kids know they will only get food at certain times, they will be more likely to eat what they get when they get it.

Limit dining out. If you must eat out, try to avoid fast food.

Don’t go no fat, go good fat

Not all fats contribute to weight gain. So instead of trying to cut out fat from your child’s diet, focus on replacing unhealthy fats with healthy fats.

Avoid trans fats that are dangerous to your child’s health. Try to eliminate or cut back on commercially-baked goods packaged snack foods, fried foods, and anything with “partially hydrogenated” oil in the ingredients, even if it claims to be trans fat-free.

Add more healthy fats that can help a child control blood sugar and avoid diabetes. Unsaturated or “good” fats include avocados, olive oil, nuts, fatty fish, soy, tofu, flaxseed, Brussels sprouts, kale, and spinach.

Choose saturated fat wisely. The USDA recommends limiting saturated fat to 10 percent of your child’s daily calories. Focus on the source of saturated fats consumed: A glass of whole milk or natural cheese rather than a hot dog, donut, or pastry, for example, or grilled chicken or fish instead of fried chicken.

Be smart about snacks and sweet food

Your home is where your child most likely eats the majority of meals and snacks, so it is vital that your kitchen is stocked with healthy choices.

Look for hidden sugar. Reducing the amount of candy and desserts you and your child eat is only part of the battle. Sugar is also hidden in foods as diverse as bread, canned soups, pasta sauce, instant mashed potatoes, frozen dinners, and low-fat meals. Check labels and opt for low sugar products and use fresh or frozen ingredients instead of canned goods.

Don’t ban sweets entirely. While many kids’ consume too much sugar, having a no sweets rule is an invitation for cravings and overindulging when given the chance. Instead, limit the amount of cookies, candies, and baked goods your child eats and introduce fruit-based snacks and desserts instead.

Limit juice, soda, and coffee drinks. Soft drinks are loaded with sugar and shakes and coffee drinks can be just as bad. Many juices aren’t any better nutritionally, so offer your child sparkling water with a twist of lime, fresh mint, or a splash of fruit juice instead.

Keep snacks small. Don’t turn snacks into a meal. Limit them to 100 to 150 calories.

Go for reduced-sugar options. When buying foods such as syrups, jellies, and sauces, opt for products labeled “reduced sugar” or “no added sugar.”

Focus on fruit. Keep a bowl of fruit out for your children to snack on—kids love satsuma or tangerine oranges. And offer fruit as a sweet treat—frozen juice bars, fruit smoothies, strawberries and a dollop of whipped cream, fresh fruit added to plain yogurt, or sliced apples with peanut butter.

Experiment with herbs and spices. Use sweet-tasting herbs and spices such as mint, cinnamon, allspice, or nutmeg to add sweetness to food without the empty calories.

Check the sugar content of your kid’s cereal. There’s a huge disparity in the amount of added sugar between different brands of cereal. Some cereals are more than 50% sugar by weight. Try mixing a low sugar, high-fiber cereal with your child’s favorite sweetened cereal, or add fresh or dried fruit to oatmeal for a natural sweet taste.

Snacks at home
Snacks to stock up: Snacks to cut back:
Fresh fruit and vegetables that can be taken on the go or packed in a lunch. Soda, sweetened lemonade, fruit punch, and fruit juice with added sugar.
Milk and dairy products, including string cheese. Hot dogs, fatty lunch meats, sausage, chicken nuggets.
Whole grain breads and cereals, pretzels, nuts, olives. White bread, sugary breakfast cereals, chips.
Greek yogurt, frozen fruit juice bars, fig bars, ginger snaps. Cookies, cakes, candy, ice cream, donuts.

Watch portion sizes

There are strategies you can employ to retrain you and your family’s appetites and avoid oversized servings when eating out.

Learn what a regular portion size looks like. The portion sizes that you and your family are used to eating may be equal to two or three true servings. To keep calories in check, try to limit portions to the size of your fist.

Read food labels. Information about serving size and calories can be found on the backs of packaging. You may be surprised at how small the recommended portions are or how many calories are in the dish.

Use smaller dishes. Portions will look bigger and you’ll eat less when you use small bowls or plates.

Dish up in the kitchen. To minimize the temptation of second and third helpings, serve food on individual plates, instead of putting the serving dishes on the table.

Divide food from large packages into smaller containers. The larger the package, the more people tend to eat without realizing it.

Cut up high-calorie treats such as cheese, pizza, or chocolate into smaller pieces—and offer your child fewer pieces.

Downsize orders. When eating out, share an entrée with your child or order just an appetizer instead. Order half-orders or a medium size instead of a large.

Get your kids moving

Children who sit too much and move too little are at the highest risk for becoming overweight. Kids need an hour of exercise daily for optimum health. This may seem like a lot, but exercise doesn’t have to happen in a gym or all at once. Instead, try to incorporate movement into your family’s regular routine.

Exercise ideas for kids

It used to be commonplace to find children running around and playing in the streets of their neighborhoods, naturally expending energy and getting exercise. In today’s world, that’s not always an option, but you still have options for boosting their activity level.

Play active indoor games. Put the remote away and organize some active indoor games. You can play tag (perhaps crawling tag, so that you keep messes to a minimum), hide-and-seek, or Simon Says (think jumping jacks and stretches).

Try activity-based video games, such as those from Wii and Kinect which are played standing up and moving around—simulating dancing, skateboarding, soccer, bowling, or tennis. Once your child gains in confidence, get away from the screen and play the real thing outside.

Get active outside with your child. Take a walk together, bike around the neighborhood, explore a local park, visit a playground, or play in the yard. If it makes sense for your neighborhood and schedule, walk to and from activities and school.

Do chores together. Perhaps it’s not your child’s first choice, but doing household chores is a very effective way to get exercise. Mopping, sweeping, taking out trash, dusting or vacuuming burns a surprising number of calories.

Enroll children in after school sports or other activities. If your budget allows, sign children up to play a sport or get involved in an activity where they are physically active. The local YMCA, YWCA, or Boys’ and Girls’ Club are safe places for children to exercise and play.

Sign up for a 5 or 10K walk/run with your child. Sometimes having a goal in mind can motivate even the most reluctant exercisers. Find a kid-friendly event in your area and tell your child you’ll be “training” for it together. Be sure to celebrate when you accomplish this feat.

Reduce screen time

The less time your children spend watching TV, playing video games, or using computers or mobile devices, the more time they’ll spend on active pastimes. Remember how important it is for you to be a positive role model—so you may have to cut down on your own viewing habits, too.

Limit daily screen time. Studies show a link between screen time and obesity, so set limits on your child’s TV-watching, gaming, and web surfing. Experts recommend no more than two hours per day.

Stop eating in front of the TV. Limit your child’s calorie intake by limiting time spent eating in front of the tube. Tell your child that, starting now, your family does all their eating at the table.

Pick a different reward or punishment. Instead of rewarding your child with more time in front of the television or computer, promise something different, such as an outing or an activity of their choice.

Encourage your child to develop new hobbies

Making major lifestyle changes has the potential to add more stress to a child’s life. At times, your overweight or obese child might feel singled out, sad, angry, embarrassed, or discouraged. In the past, they might have dealt with stress by eating or zoning out in front of the TV. Since this is no longer an option, help them find a healthy alternative. Ask your child what he or she might like to take up as a hobby. Hobbies can help kids boost their self-esteem, relieve stress, and provide a positive outlet.

Why people become overweight

Updated: June 24, 2019Published: June, 2009

Everyone knows some people who can eat ice cream, cake, and whatever else they want and still not gain weight. At the other extreme are people who seem to gain weight no matter how little they eat. Why? What are the causes of obesity? What allows one person to remain thin without effort but demands that another struggle to avoid gaining weight or regaining the pounds he or she has lost previously?

On a very simple level, your weight depends on the number of calories you consume, how many of those calories you store, and how many you burn up. But each of these factors is influenced by a combination of genes and environment. Both can affect your physiology (such as how fast you burn calories) as well as your behavior (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.

The calorie equation

The balance of calories stored and burned depends on your genetic makeup, your level of physical activity, and your resting energy expenditure (the number of calories your body burns while at rest). If you consistently burn all of the calories that you consume in the course of a day, you will maintain your weight. If you consume more energy (calories) than you expend, you will gain weight.

Excess calories are stored throughout your body as fat. Your body stores this fat within specialized fat cells (adipose tissue) — either by enlarging fat cells, which are always present in the body, or by creating more of them. If you decrease your food intake and consume fewer calories than you burn up, or if you exercise more and burn up more calories, your body will reduce some of your fat stores. When this happens, fat cells shrink, along with your waistline.

Genetic influences

To date, more than 400 different genes have been implicated in the causes of overweight or obesity, although only a handful appear to be major players. Genes contribute to the causes of obesity in many ways, by affecting appetite, satiety (the sense of fullness), metabolism, food cravings, body-fat distribution, and the tendency to use eating as a way to cope with stress.

The strength of the genetic influence on weight disorders varies quite a bit from person to person. Research suggests that for some people, genes account for just 25% of the predisposition to be overweight, while for others the genetic influence is as high as 70% to 80%. Having a rough idea of how large a role genes play in your weight may be helpful in terms of treating your weight problems.

How much of your weight depends on your genes?

Genes are probably a significant contributor to your obesity if you have most or all of the following characteristics:

  • You have been overweight for much of your life.
  • One or both of your parents or several other blood relatives are significantly overweight. If both of your parents have obesity, your likelihood of developing obesity is as high as 80%.
  • You can’t lose weight even when you increase your physical activity and stick to a low-calorie diet for many months.

Genes are probably a lower contributor for you if you have most or all of the following characteristics:

  • You are strongly influenced by the availability of food.
  • You are moderately overweight, but you can lose weight when you follow a reasonable diet and exercise program.
  • You regain lost weight during the holiday season, after changing your eating or exercise habits, or at times when you experience psychological or social problems.

These circumstances suggest that you have a genetic predisposition to be heavy, but it’s not so great that you can’t overcome it with some effort.

At the other end of the spectrum, you can assume that your genetic predisposition to obesity is modest if your weight is normal and doesn’t increase even when you regularly indulge in high-calorie foods and rarely exercise.

People with only a moderate genetic predisposition to be overweight have a good chance of losing weight on their own by eating fewer calories and getting more vigorous exercise more often. These people are more likely to be able to maintain this lower weight.

What are thrifty genes?

When the prey escaped or the crops failed, how did our ancestors survive? Those who could store body fat to live off during the lean times lived, and those who couldn’t, perished. This evolutionary adaptation explains why most modern humans — about 85% of us — carry so-called thrifty genes, which help us conserve energy and store fat. Today, of course, these thrifty genes are a curse rather than a blessing. Not only is food readily available to us nearly around the clock, we don’t even have to hunt or harvest it!

In contrast, people with a strong genetic predisposition to obesity may not be able to lose weight with the usual forms of diet and exercise therapy. Even if they lose weight, they are less likely to maintain the weight loss. For people with a very strong genetic predisposition, sheer willpower is ineffective in counteracting their tendency to be overweight. Typically, these people can maintain weight loss only under a doctor’s guidance. They are also the most likely to require weight-loss drugs or surgery.

The prevalence of obesity among adults in the United States has been rising since the 1970s. Genes alone cannot possibly explain such a rapid rise. Although the genetic predisposition to be overweight varies widely from person to person, the rise in body mass index appears to be nearly universal, cutting across all demographic groups. These findings underscore the importance of changes in our environment that contribute to the epidemic of overweight and obesity.

Environmental causes of obesity

Genetic factors are the forces inside you that help you gain weight and stay overweight; environmental factors are the outside forces that contribute to these problems. They encompass anything in our environment that makes us more likely to eat too much or exercise too little. Taken together, experts think that environmental factors are the driving force for the causes of obesity and its dramatic rise.

Environmental influences come into play very early, even before you’re born. Researchers sometimes call these in-utero exposures “fetal programming.” Babies of mothers who smoked during pregnancy are more likely to become overweight than those whose mothers didn’t smoke. The same is true for babies born to mothers who had diabetes. Researchers believe these conditions may somehow alter the growing baby’s metabolism in ways that show up later in life.

After birth, babies who are breast-fed for more than three months are less likely to have obesity as adolescents compared with infants who are breast-fed for less than three months.

Childhood habits often stick with people for the rest of their lives. Kids who drink sugary sodas and eat high-calorie, processed foods develop a taste for these products and continue eating them as adults, which tends to promote weight gain. Likewise, kids who watch television and play video games instead of being active may be programming themselves for a sedentary future.

Many features of modern life promote weight gain. In short, today’s “obesogenic” environment encourages us to eat more and exercise less. And there’s growing evidence that broader aspects of the way we live — such as how much we sleep, our stress levels, and other psychological factors — can affect weight as well.

The food factor as one of the causes of obesity

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), Americans are eating more calories on average than they did in the 1970s. Between 1971 and 2000, the average man added 168 calories to his daily fare, while the average woman added 335 calories a day. What’s driving this trend? Experts say it’s a combination of increased availability, bigger portions, and more high-calorie foods.

Practically everywhere we go — shopping centers, sports stadiums, movie theaters — food is readily available. You can buy snacks or meals at roadside rest stops, 24-hour convenience stores, even gyms and health clubs. Americans are spending far more on foods eaten out of the home: In 1970, we spent 27% of our food budget on away-from-home food; by 2006, that percentage had risen to 46%.

In the 1950s, fast-food restaurants offered one portion size. Today, portion sizes have ballooned, a trend that has spilled over into many other foods, from cookies and popcorn to sandwiches and steaks. A typical serving of French fries from McDonald’s contains three times more calories than when the franchise began. A single “super-sized” meal may contain 1,500–2,000 calories — all the calories that most people need for an entire day. And research shows that people will often eat what’s in front of them, even if they’re already full. Not surprisingly, we’re also eating more high-calorie foods (especially salty snacks, soft drinks, and pizza), which are much more readily available than lower-calorie choices like salads and whole fruits. Fat isn’t necessarily the problem; in fact, research shows that the fat content of our diet has actually gone down since the early 1980s. But many low-fat foods are very high in calories because they contain large amounts of sugar to improve their taste and palatability. In fact, many low-fat foods are actually higher in calories than foods that are not low fat.

The exercise equation

The government’s current recommendations for exercise call for an hour of moderate to vigorous exercise a day. But fewer than 25% of Americans meet that goal.

Our daily lives don’t offer many opportunities for activity. Children don’t exercise as much in school, often because of cutbacks in physical education classes. Many people drive to work and spend much of the day sitting at a computer terminal. Because we work long hours, we have trouble finding the time to go to the gym, play a sport, or exercise in other ways.

Instead of walking to local shops and toting shopping bags, we drive to one-stop megastores, where we park close to the entrance, wheel our purchases in a shopping cart, and drive home. The widespread use of vacuum cleaners, dishwashers, leaf blowers, and a host of other appliances takes nearly all the physical effort out of daily chores and can contribute as one of the causes of obesity.

The trouble with TV: Sedentary snacking

The average American watches about four hours of television per day, a habit that’s been linked to overweight or obesity in a number of studies. Data from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey, a long-term study monitoring the health of American adults, revealed that people with overweight and obesity spend more time watching television and playing video games than people of normal weight. Watching television more than two hours a day also raises the risk of overweight in children, even in those as young as three years old.

Part of the problem may be that people are watching television instead of exercising or doing other activities that burn more calories (watching TV burns only slightly more calories than sleeping, and less than other sedentary pursuits such as sewing or reading). But food advertisements also may play a significant role. The average hour-long TV show features about 11 food and beverage commercials, which encourage people to eat. And studies show that eating food in front of the TV stimulates people to eat more calories, and particularly more calories from fat. In fact, a study that limited the amount of TV kids watched demonstrated that this practice helped them lose weight — but not because they became more active when they weren’t watching TV. The difference was that the children ate more snacks when they were watching television than when doing other activities, even sedentary ones.

Stress and related issues

Obesity experts now believe that a number of different aspects of American society may conspire to promote weight gain. Stress is a common thread intertwining these factors. For example, these days it’s commonplace to work long hours and take shorter or less frequent vacations. In many families, both parents work, which makes it harder to find time for families to shop, prepare, and eat healthy foods together. Round-the-clock TV news means we hear more frequent reports of child abductions and random violent acts. This does more than increase stress levels; it also makes parents more reluctant to allow children to ride their bikes to the park to play. Parents end up driving kids to play dates and structured activities, which means less activity for the kids and more stress for parents. Time pressures — whether for school, work, or family obligations — often lead people to eat on the run and to sacrifice sleep, both of which can contribute to weight gain.

Some researchers also think that the very act of eating irregularly and on the run may be another one of the causes of obesity. Neurological evidence indicates that the brain’s biological clock — the pacemaker that controls numerous other daily rhythms in our bodies — may also help to regulate hunger and satiety signals. Ideally, these signals should keep our weight steady. They should prompt us to eat when our body fat falls below a certain level or when we need more body fat (during pregnancy, for example), and they should tell us when we feel satiated and should stop eating. Close connections between the brain’s pacemaker and the appetite control center in the hypothalamus suggest that hunger and satiety are affected by temporal cues. Irregular eating patterns may disrupt the effectiveness of these cues in a way that promotes obesity.

Similarly, research shows that the less you sleep, the more likely you are to gain weight. Lack of sufficient sleep tends to disrupt hormones that control hunger and appetite and could be another one of the causes of obesity. In a 2004 study of more than 1,000 volunteers, researchers found that people who slept less than eight hours a night had higher levels of body fat than those who slept more, and the people who slept the fewest hours weighed the most.

Stress and lack of sleep are closely connected to psychological well-being, which can also affect diet and appetite, as anyone who’s ever gorged on cookies or potato chips when feeling anxious or sad can attest. Studies have demonstrated that some people eat more when affected by depression, anxiety, or other emotional disorders. In turn, overweight and obesity themselves can promote emotional disorders: If you repeatedly try to lose weight and fail, or if you succeed in losing weight only to gain it all back, the struggle can cause tremendous frustration over time, which can cause or worsen anxiety and depression. A cycle develops that leads to greater and greater obesity, associated with increasingly severe emotional difficulties.

To find weight loss solutions that can be tailored to your needs, buy the Harvard Special Health Report Lose Weight and Keep It Off.

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The human body is designed to gain weight and keep it on at all costs. Our survival depends on it. Until we acknowledge that scientific fact, we will never succeed in achieving and maintaining a healthy weight.

Doctors and consumers alike believe that overeating and gluttony are the causes of our obesity epidemic. Science tells a different story: it is not completely your fault you are overweight.

Powerful genetic forces control our survival behavior. They are at the root of our weight problems. Our bodies weight control systems were designed to produce dozens of molecules that make us eat more and gain weight whenever we have the chance, not to lose it.

We have evolved over hundreds of thousands of generations under conditions of food scarcity, not overabundance. Our genes and molecules that control our eating behavior were shaped by those times.

Basically – we are genetically designed to accumulate fat based on the days when we had to forage for food in the wild. Ignoring that fact becomes hazardous to both our health and our waistlines.

Furthermore, the food industry and our government’s recommendations are fueling this feeding frenzy. We cannot expect to change our instinctual responses to food any more than we can eliminate a feeling of terror when confronted with danger.

Think about this: We have hundreds of genes that protect us from starvation, but very few that protect us from overeating.

All seems backward, doesn’t it? If we remain genetically engineered to gain weight, then it would seem that we are wired incorrectly.

Why would we be designed to overeat and grow fat? It all comes down to the oldest and most primitive part of our brain, our limbic, or “lizard,” brain. This is the part of your brain that evolved first, and it’s like a reptile’s brain. It governs your survival behaviors, creating certain chemical responses that you have no conscious control over.

While you might think you are in complete control of your mind, the truth is that you have very little control over the unconscious choices you make when you are surrounded by food.

The key to a healthy metabolism is learning what those responses are, how they are triggered, and how you can stop them. You don’t want to put yourself in the position of resisting the lure of a bagel. Your drive to eat it will overwhelm any willpower you might have about losing weight. It is a life-or-death experience in your mind, and the bagel will always win.

One of the most important principles of weight loss is never to starve yourself. The question is whether or not you are eating enough of the right calories, not whether or not you are eating too many calories. What you need is a baseline for how much you have to eat to keep your body from going into starvation mode.

The Reason Most Diets Fail

The reason diets backfire almost all the time is because people restrict too much. That is to say, they allow the number of calories they consume to drop below their resting metabolic rate. This is the basic amount of energy or calories needed to run your metabolism for the day. For the average person it is about 10 times your weight in pounds. This is the baseline daily need for your body to simply exist (meaning stay in bed and don’t expend any energy). That’s not realistic for most of us.

If you eat less than that amount (which is what most diets mandate), your body instantly perceives danger and turns on the alarm system that protects you from starvation, slowing your metabolism. As a consequence, your body goes into starvation mode and triggers the signal to eat. So you start eating and eating, and inevitably, you stop the diet — it’s the classic rebound weight gain scenario.

Just think of what happens when you skip breakfast, work through lunch, and finally return home in the evening: you eat everything in sight. Then you feel stuffed, sick, and guilty and you regret ever entering the kitchen in the first place.

Why would you possibly want to overeat and make yourself sick? Most of us are reasonable people and know that we shouldn’t overeat. We have done it before, wished we hadn’t, and vowed never to do it again.

Nonetheless, time after time, we repeat the same mistakes. Are we weak-willed, morally corrupt, and self-destructive? Do we need years of therapy?

The answer is “none of the above.” The answer is in our genetic programming. This stuff is just too deep inside us to get away from. We are built to put on weight, and our bodies don’t like it very much when we don’t give them the calories they need.

To make matters worse, when you lose weight, only about half of what is lost is fat; the rest is valuable, metabolically active muscle! Yet when someone regains weight, it is nearly complete fat. Remember, muscle cells burn 70 times more calories than fat cells. Therefore yo-yo dieting makes you lose a big part of your metabolic engine.

We all know overweight people who say, “I don’t really eat that much, and I still can’t lose weight.” They aren’t lying. When most people go on a diet, they are generally actually making themselves fatter. Each time they diet, they lose muscle.

The diet usually fails, and when it does, the weight that is regained is fat. If you have been through a number of diets that have failed, your body has been through this process a number of times. In short, dieting makes you fat.

You want to get away from the diet mentality. What you are undertaking is a way of eating, not a diet.

The Problem with Willpower

Whatever happened to old-fashioned willpower? Everybody knows that the obesity epidemic is a matter of personal responsibility. People should exercise more self-control. They should avoid overeating and reduce their intake of sugar-sweetened drinks and processed food. There are no good foods or bad foods; it’s everything in moderation. Right?

This sounds good in theory, except for one thing: New discoveries in science prove that processed, sugar-, fat-, and salt-laden food—food that is made in a plant rather than grown on a plant—is biologically addictive.

Remember the old potato chip commercial with the tag line “Bet you can’t eat just one”? Bet you can’t imagine that kind of commercial for broccoli or apples. No one binges on those foods. Yet it’s easy to imagine a mountain of potato chips, a whole bag of cookies, or a pint of ice cream vanishing quickly in an unconscious, reptilian-brain eating frenzy. Broccoli is not addictive, but chips, cookies, ice cream, and soda can become as addictive as any drug.

In the 1980s, First Lady Nancy Reagan championed the “just say no” approach to drug addiction. Unfortunately, that approach hasn’t fared too well, and it won’t work for our industrial food addiction either. There are specific biological mechanisms that drive addictive behavior.

Nobody chooses to be a heroin addict, cokehead, or alcoholic. Nobody chooses to have a food addiction either. These behaviors arise from primitive neurochemical reward centers in the brain that override normal willpower and, in the case of food addictions, overwhelm the ordinary biological signals that control hunger.

Why is it so hard for obese people to lose weight despite the social stigma; despite the health consequences such as high blood pressure, diabetes, heart disease, arthritis, and even cancer; and despite their intense desire to lose weight?

Not because they want to be fat. It is because in the vast majority of cases, certain types of food—processed foods made of sugar, fat, and salt combined in ways kept secret by the food industry—are addictive. We are biologically wired to crave these foods and eat as much of them as possible.

10 Strategies to Stop Overeating and Lose Weight

Fortunately, a number of tips can help you normalize your eating, so that you neither overeat nor under-eat. Thankfully, none of them involve counting calories (or counting anything!). Among the strategies that have helped thousands of my patients lose weight, keep it off, and reduce their risk for diabesity include:

  1. Cut out the processed stuff and eat real, whole foods. The single most important thing to lose weight and avoid overeating is to include as many real, whole, unprocessed foods in your diet as possible. Starting right now, make the switch to these foods to lose weight: vegetables, fruits, whole grains, beans, nuts, seeds, olive oil, organic, range, or grass-fed animal products (poultry, lamb, beef, pork, eggs), and wild, smaller fish such as salmon.
  2. Eat breakfast. Skipping breakfast means you’re eventually starving, and throughout the day you eat much more food than needed to feel full. To optimize health and weight loss, you need to eat breakfast, to spread out food intake evenly throughout the day, and to not eat for at least two hours before bed. A recent study found that almost 3,000 people who lost an average of 70 pounds and kept it off for six years ate breakfast regularly. Only four percent of people who never ate breakfast kept the weight off.
  3. Eat mindfully. We need to be in a relaxed state for the nervous system of our gut or digestive system to work properly. Eating while we are stressed out makes us fat, both because we don’t digest our food properly and because stress hormones slow metabolism and promote fat storage, especially of belly fat. We also tend to overeat when we eat quickly, because it takes the stomach 20 minutes to signal the brain that we are full.
  4. Moderate or eliminate alcohol. Taking a holiday from alcohol, besides getting rid of additional sugar calories, will help you tune in to your true appetite and prevent you from overeating.
  5. Become aware of trigger foods. For some of us, that one little soda can set us on a downward spiral to overeating and all of the negative health consequences that come with it. It isn’t just the processed, sugary foods and drinks that become triggers. But even healthy foods, if you have a tendency to binge on them, can quickly become unhealthy. A handful of almonds are perfectly healthy, but if you eat half the jar, they quickly become unhealthy.
  6. Keep a Journal. Journaling is an excellent way to get in touch with your inner motivations, to break the cycle of mindless eating and activity, to be honest and accountable and present to yourself. We often overeat because something is eating away at us. We stuff ourselves with food in order to stuff our feelings away. We use food to block feelings, but you can use words to block food. You can write in order to better metabolize your feelings so they don’t end up driving unconscious choices or overeating. A diet of words and self-exploration often results in weight loss. You metabolize your life and calories better.
  7. Get sufficient sleep. Get eight hours of quality, uninterrupted sleep every night. You’ll find that you’re less prone to cravings and you will normalize fat-regulating hormones. One study found even a partial night’s sleep deprivation contributes to insulin resistance, paving the way for obesity and type 2 diabetes.
  8. Control stress levels. Most of us fail to notice the effects of the chronic stresses we live with every day: demanding jobs, marital tension, lack of sleep, too much to do and too little time to do it. I am sure the list goes on for many. Chronic stress makes us overeat, not to mention overeating the wrong kinds of food, which ultimately leads to weight gain. Learn to actively relax with meditation, yoga, deep breathing, or any other technique that helps you reduce stress.
  9. Exercise the right way. You can’t over-exercise your way out of a bad diet, but the right exercise can help you lose weight, maintain weight loss, and control your appetite so you don’t overeat. Ideally you should do a minimum of 30 minutes of walking every day. Get a pedometer to track your steps. Wear it every day and set a goal of 10,000 steps a day. More vigorous and sustained exercise is often needed to reverse severe obesity and diabesity. Run, bike, dance, play games, jump on a trampoline, or do whatever is fun for you. Read this blog for a comprehensive, easy-to-implement exercise plan.
  10. Supplement smartly. Obesity and diabetes are often paradoxically states of malnutrition. It has been said that diabetes is starvation in the midst of plenty. The sugar can’t get into the cells. Your metabolism is sluggish, and the cells don’t communicate as a finely tuned team. Nutrients are an essential part of getting back in balance and correcting the core problem— insulin resistance.

If you would like to cut-out the processed food, stop mindless eating and learn how to cook delicious, whole-food recipes, thenof my newest book, releasing on March 10th, The 10-Day Detox Diet Cookbook. In addition to the recipes you will also learn about the secret added ingredient that keeps you hooked on junk food! to get this sneak preview now.

Donga E, et al. A single night of partial sleep deprivation induces insulin resistance in multiple metabolic pathways in healthy subjects. J ClinEndocrinolMetab. 2010 Jun;95(6):2963-8.

Farshchi HR, et al. Deleterious effects of omitting breakfast on insulin sensitivity and fasting lipid profiles in healthy lean women. Am J ClinNutr . 2005 Feb; 81( 2): 388– 396.

Gershon M. The second brain: A groundbreaking new understanding of nervous disorders of the stomach and intestine, Perennial. 1999.

David M. The Slow Down Diet: Eating for Pleasure, Energy and Weight Loss. Healing Arts Press, 2005.

Eating Fat Doesn’t Make You Fat

Editor’s Note: This post was updated on October 18, 2018, for accuracy and comprehensiveness. It was originally published on March 3, 2016.

If you went to primary school in the 90s, you probably remember this diagram from a nutrition class.

Released in the U.S. in 1992, the food pyramid was designed as an easy way for people to remember which foods they should be getting their calories from and the relative importance of each. Carbs were healthy and good, and so they formed the base; fats were bad and placed at the top. The fat category lumped everything together from healthy fats like Omega-3s and olive oil to saturated fats and sugar. This concept helped trigger the fat-free craze. Although this concept seems pretty normal to us now, at the time in the late 1970s it was actually considered quite radical – so much so that then-president of the National Academy of Sciences, Philip Handler, described the proposed shift as a “vast nutritional experiment.” Essentially, the Dietary Guidelines suggested that people eat less fat and get more calories from bread, grains, rice, pasta, etc. This was intended to protect Americans from weight gain and heart disease. This is why the “high carb, low fat” diet seem familiar and normal to you, and probably why you think eating fat makes you fat.

What was the result of this recommendation?

Beginning at around the time when the guidelines were first recommended in 1977 and their release to the public in 1980, the percentage of Americans classified as obese increase almost 20% as they followed the government’s advice to cut fat and increase carbs. Why have obesity rates in the United States skyrocketed over the last 18 years? Because the idea that “fat makes you fat” is wrong. Fat is just another nutrient source, same as carbohydrates and protein. What makes you fat is taking in more energy (calories) in a day than you use. That’s called being in a caloric surplus.

While this might seem like a somewhat challenging thought, fat isn’t solely to blame for weight gain, and it’s not fair to even say it’s a major factor in weight gain. At fault is a confusing mishmash of terminology, the negative connotation of fat over the past generations, and a pesky little diagram that’s been imprinted in the minds of generations of Americans.

Let’s take a look at how fat got a bad rap to see what you really should be thinking about when you’re trying to lose weight.

Eating Fat Is Not the Same as Becoming Fat

Part of the reason people get confused and think that the fat they eat makes their body store fat is because we use the interchangeably to describe both body fat and dietary fat.

  • Body Fat = Adipose Tissue

The fat that is stored by our bodies is more accurately called “adipose tissue.” Adipose tissue stores are made up of primary adipocytes or fat cells and are responsible, among other things, with storing excess energy for times when you’re not able to give your body the energy it needs in a given day.

Body fat/adipose tissue is essential for survival. Anyone with a body fat percentage of 0% would not be alive. When you cut your body fat level down to what’s called your “essential fat” – the fat needed to maintain a healthy and functioning body – complications arise.

Take the example of bodybuilders, who in a sense could be defined as “professional body fat cutters”. When bodybuilders get into competitive shape, they try to lose as much body fat as possible in order to achieve more muscle definition. Often, this can lead to some health complications that they don’t frequently advertise.

For example, in a 2013 study a competitive male bodybuilder preparing for competition was continuously observed 6 months prior to competing and 6 months after. During that time frame, the bodybuilder was able reduce his body fat percentage from 14.8% to 4.5% by competition time.

In the process of losing all this fat, the researchers observed various complications:

Of note, many of the physiological changes observed including an elevation in cortisol, reduction in testosterone, reduction in immune function, alterations in mood status, and decreases in physical performance and maximal heart rate that occurred during the preparation period are consistent with markers of overtraining.

Rossow, et al (2013)

Contrary to popular belief, the study shows that a very low body fat percentage can disrupt important biological process and can actually be detrimental to your health!

  • Dietary Fat = Macronutrient

The fat you eat is dietary fat and is one of the three essential macronutrients your body can get energy from.

When we talk about calories, we’re actually talking about some combination of the three macronutrients: carbohydrates, protein, and fat.

Let’s examine a standard nutrition label. What do you see?

Although they’re not labeled as such, you’ll see the three macronutrients listed there – which we’ve underlined – along with the grams of each. Each macronutrient contributes a certain numbers of calories to the total caloric content of the food.

  • Carbohydrate: 4 calories per gram
  • Protein: 4 calories per gram
  • Fat: 9 calories per gram

You can actually multiply the grams by the calories and add them together to get the total calorie number listed at the top of the label (this one actually comes out to 232, but the government allows rounding to the nearest 10).

This bears repeating: fat is a macronutrient. It isn’t necessarily bad on its own. Furthermore, you need dietary fat. That’s because your body can make all the fatty acids it needs, except for two: linoleic acid and linolenic acid. These two necessary substances have to be found in your diet.

Would you believe that people actually used to eat more fat than they do now and at the time obesity rates that were much lower? It’s true, they did, and it’s true – obesity rates used to be much lower. So if increased fat isn’t making you fat, what is?

What’s Actually Making You Fat?

Too many calories, probably from carbs.

Eating more calories than your body uses and needs in a day causes you to gain weight, and Americans continue to eat more and more calories with each passing year.

According to the USDA, from 1970 to 2000, the total number of daily calories that Americans ate increased by 530 calories, an increase of 24.5%. During the same time period, the percentage of Americans categorized as obese increased dramatically.

What happened?

Americans started to eat more calories. This is surprising when you consider that carbohydrates contain less than half the calories (4 Cal) that fat (9 Cal) does, gram for gram. Shouldn’t shifting away from fats and towards carbs just reduce overall caloric intake, just by simple math? It doesn’t work that way if you just eat more carbohydrates. You see, consumption of a high carbohydrate diet can trigger something called “reactive hypoglycemia.” This is a condition experienced by people who do not have diabetes and are otherwise healthy. Among its symptoms is a feeling of hunger.

Guess what’s the best way to make that hunger go away? Eat more carbs – your body will be craving them. And since carbs were supposed to be the largest macronutrient source anyway, most people didn’t think twice about having a snack that consisted of bread, rice, or something else carb-heavy.

By advising people to eat less fat and eat more carbohydrates, the government actually made the obesity problem far worse. Recognizing the sharp increase in obesity, the food pyramid was revised in 2005 and ultimately retired in 2011 in favor of what the USDA now calls “My Plate,” which gives people a much better visualization of the relative importance of each food category by showing roughly how much space each should take up on a plate.

To be clear, neither carbohydrates nor fats on their own cause you to gain weight – it’s just that you tend to eat more calories when your diet is focused on carbohydrates over fat. Being in a caloric surplus causes you to gain weight. A carb-heavy diet makes it very easy to be in a caloric surplus.

So I Can Throw Away the Low Fat Options?

If you’re smart about it, yes, but you still have to be careful.

Remember, it’s not the fat itself that’s making you fat; it’s the extra calories that you don’t need that makes you fat. While it’s very easy to eat extra calories on a carbohydrate-based diet, it’s also very easy to add on extra calories from a fat diet too.

At 9 calories, fat is the most calorie-dense macronutrient by far. This means that if you’re looking to lose fat, the low-fat options are still fine choices – not because of their low fat content, mind you, but because of their lower caloric content.

The fat isn’t making you fat due to just being fat; it’s the extra calories from fat (as well as all the macronutrients) that is causing you to gain weight.

What this means is, if you are responsible with your diet, you can choose foods that contain fat, guilt-free. You just need to be smart about your caloric intake throughout the entire day.

For example, if you really like the taste of whole milk and have been forcing yourself to drink 1% milk because you think you’re supposed to, you can drink whole milk guilt-free so long as you know that that whole milk contains 46% more calories than 1% milk and you understand that you’re making a deliberate choice to get more calories from milk than from somewhere else.

This means that if you choose to get more calories from milk (and by extension fat), you have to cut calories elsewhere. If you’re like most Americans, you can probably find foods containing carbohydrates, that if you’re being honest, you can probably do without.

The current (2015-2020) Dietary Guidelines for Americans agrees, as it does not encourage a low-fat diet any longer. It even encourages a lower intake of carbohydrates.

Optimizing Your Diet

Ultimately, the only person who has any real influence on how you divide your nutrient intake/calorie limit is you.

A lot goes into planning, preparing, and following a diet. Trying to balance what you like to eat with what you should be eating to maintain a healthy weight and body composition can be tricky. Don’t punish yourself with a extremely low-carbohydrate diet because it will probably be unsustainable. But if you want to make improvements, a good guide would be a diet that is low-sugar and low in saturated fats and high in healthy fats (like Omega-3s) and protein.

When you have a good idea of what your individual caloric needs are, which you can learn by using a combination of your Basal Metabolic Rate and your activity level, this will become a lot easier.

Understanding how fat and the other macronutrients make up these calories will only further ease the problems with designing a nutrient dense balanced diet. Remember, fat isn’t bad on its own. Focus on building a diet that you actually want to eat, keep it within a reasonable number of calories, add in more physical activity, and you’ll be closer to your weight loss goals than if you simply just reach for packaging that promises “low fat” or “reduced fat” foods.

Their health usually improves anyway. Many with diabetes no longer need insulin. Cholesterol and blood pressure levels tend to fall. Sleep apnea disappears. Backs, hips and knees stop aching.

There are not nearly enough surgeons or facilities to operate on all the obese people who might be helped by bariatric surgery, noted Randy Seeley, director of the nutrition research center at the University of Michigan.

And many patients and doctors persist in thinking — all evidence to the contrary — that if overweight people really set their minds to it, they could get thin and stay thin.

Scientists got an unsparing look at what they were up against 50 years ago, when a clinical researcher at Rockefeller University, Dr. Jules Hirsch, did some old-fashioned experiments. He recruited obese people to stay at the hospital and subsist on a 600-calorie a day liquid diet until they reached a normal weight.

The subjects lost 100 pounds on average, and they were thrilled. But as soon as they left the hospital, the pounds piled back on.

Dr. Hirsch and Dr. Rudy Leibel, now at Columbia University, repeated the study again and again, with the same result. Eventually, they found that when a very fat person diets down to a normal weight, he or she physiologically comes to resemble a starving person, craving food with an avidity that is hard to imagine.

The lesson never really penetrated the popular consciousness. Just a couple of years ago, Kevin Hall, a senior investigator at the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases, made headlines with a study of contestants from the Biggest Loser television show. They lost enormous amounts of weight, he found, but rarely could keep it off.

Study: Half of Americans Will Be Obese by 2030

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Within 10 years, nearly half of American adults will be obese—or very overweight—a new report predicts.

In addition, the researchers warned that one in four Americans will be severely obese.

The new report used a federal study that lasted more than 20 years and included data from 6.3 million adults. The researchers made predictions for the future based on current trends.

Their study corrects for a weakness in earlier studies. Before, research usually depended on national health surveys in which people often reported their weight as less than it really was.

“It’s alarming,” said nutrition expert Dr. Lawrence Appel of Johns Hopkins University. He was not involved in the study. “We’re going to have some pretty awful problems” medically and financially because so many people weigh too much, he said.

The New England Journal of Medicine published the study in December. It was the result of work by researchers at Harvard and George Washington universities.

The chief writer of the study, Zachary Ward, is with Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health in Boston. He spoke about the findings with Reuters news service.

“Obesity is getting worse in every state,” he said. “And especially concerning is severe obesity, which used to be pretty rare” and which now will be the most common group for a lot of states across the country.

FILE: An overweight woman walks through a turnstyle. Half of Americans will be obese by 2030, says a new study.

Most affected will be women, blacks and low-income adults. The study said nearly one third of people in those groups will be severely obese.

Obesity can result in many health problems. The risk for heart disease, stroke, diabetes and cancer all go up when someone is severely overweight.

How is obesity measured?

Obesity is generally defined by a person’s body mass index number, or BMI. This is the measure of weight compared to height. A BMI of 30 or greater is considered obese.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that 40 percent of U.S. adults are obese.

The new research predicts that by 2030, about 49 percent of U.S. adults will be obese. In 29 states, more than half will be.

In addition, about one fourth will suffer severe obesity.

The study did not look at the reasons behind the increases, but “income is a big driver. Age is a big driver,” Ward said. States with younger people have lower obesity rates because people usually “gain weight as they age.”

The state with the lowest obesity rate will be Colorado, which has always had lower rates. Ward said people in Colorado do a lot of outdoor activities, and they may have higher income. He added that living at higher elevations, like Colorado might also influence the results. “There may be something about having to take a little extra energy to do everything at a higher altitude” that keeps weights lower, he said.

The study was paid for by the JPB Foundation, which studies poverty and problems in society.

However, there have been some other hopeful developments in the effort to limit obesity.

In June, the CDC reported decreasing obesity rates among the youngest school children on government food aid. Obesity among these children fell from 16 percent in 2010 to 14 percent in 2016.

I’m Anne Ball.

Anne Ball wrote this story with information from the Associated Press and Reuters News Agency. Mario Ritter, Jr. was the editor.

We want to hear from you. Write to us in the Comments Section.

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Words in This Story

trend – n. a general direction of change : a way of behaving, or proceeding, that is developing and becoming more common

survey – n. an activity in which many people are asked a question or a series of questions in order to gather information about what most people do or think about something

alarm – n. a warning of danger

diabetes – n. a serious disease in which the body cannot properly control the amount of sugar in your blood because it does not have enough insulin

elevation – n. the height of a place

altitude – n. the height of something (such as an airplane) above the level of the sea

Half of the U.S. Population Will Be Obese by 2030

Obesity continues to be a serious health problem in the U.S., contributing to heart disease, diabetes, joint disorders and even certain types of cancer. And according to the latest data, more Americans will be obese by 2030 than ever before.

In a study published in the New England Journal of Medicine, researchers led by Zachary Ward at the Harvard T. H. Chan School of Public Health analyzed body mass index (BMI) data reported by more than 6.2 million adults who answered questions for the Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System Survey (BRFSS), a large phone-based survey conducted by the U.S. Centers of Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and other federal agencies. Because height and weight are self-reported in this survey, the researchers compared these data to those collected from more than 57,000 people in the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES), another CDC-led database that includes both interviews and physical exams. Using the NHANES data as a template, the scientists adjusted the data from BRFSS to account for any potential self-reporting biases.

The researchers found that, over the past few decades, rates of obesity, defined as having a BMI of 30 or greater, have been rapidly rising. For example, in 2000, no state had an obesity rate higher than 35%.

By 2010, a full 27 states were over that mark.

By 2019, every single U.S. state had an obesity rate higher than 35% except two: Colorado and Hawaii (and the District of Columbia). Ten states were over 45%, and Mississippi, the state with the highest obesity rate, nearly hit 50%.

Then, using current trends in overweight and obesity from each state, the researchers projected into the future, and found that by 2030, one in two adults in the U.S. will be considered obese, and one in four will be considered severely obese, with a BMI of 40 or higher. In 29 states, obesity rates will climb to over 50%.

The data suggest that most of those considered obese will be non-Hispanic black women with yearly household incomes of less than $50,000, reflecting overall trends showing higher obesity rates among non-Hispanic blacks than among non-Hispanic whites, and among people of lower income compared to those of higher income. Income in particular is a striking factor in obesity; regardless of where people live in the country, lower income is more likely to be associated with overweight or obesity.

The data highlight the urgent need to find even more ways to address diet, exercise and lifestyle factors that can contribute to weight gain, including nutrition education, access to safe places to walk or exercise, and support for avoiding sedentary behavior throughout the day.

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