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What causes obesity?

Updated on October 11, 2013

Oh it’s so unfair, despite all my efforts it seems I really can’t lose weight!! How many of us at least once in our life have said or thought this? So many people share the same problem and despite the fact that we all genuinely want to lose weight and we accept to make an effort after some time we come to the realization that this goal is much harder to achieve than we have thought before..but why?what causes obesity? The first 2 reasons that just came to your mind were genetic predisposition and excessive love for food. Let’s analyze these 2 factors.

Genetics and obesity

How many times we see obese kids that have obese parents? The association it’s an easy one “that’s because of genetics”. Well for how much genetics can play a pivotal role in many dysfunctions in our body it’s difficult to imagine that genetics can be the villain of this story and be responsible for all our extra kg or pounds. How can I say genetics is not the main cause? Well then why a population that is very heterogeneous genetically it’s one of the most obese populations on earth? Yes I am talking about Americans. Let’s be careful I am not totally excluding genetics from the equation but I just want to highlight that those obese kids that live in those obese families most likely share the same habits of their parents and also their love for food.

How food weights on our weight

Let’s be clear it’s not all about quantity. We all know that there is a difference in calories in the food we eat but what we don’t know is the even the modality with which we eat this food can make us fat or not. What I am saying is that a simple salad can give you more calories than a piece of cake..how?well I’ve seen many times people eating salad but adding half a litre of olive oil because otherwise “it would not have any taste”. Oil and butter can really increase the calories of our meals, we all know that but we tend not to pay too much attention at them as we see them as a small component of our meals, well watch out, try not to exaggerate with them.

Physical activity and obesity

If you are not eating much food and you still face obesity problems probably you are having a sedentary life and not consuming enough energy. But hey I am not saying you are not trying. In this paragraph I just want to point out that an occasional run won’t solve overweight problems. In fact our bodies adapt to our lifestyle, and according to how much energy we consume daily our body will fine tune our metabolism in order to make sure that you will get your daily amount of energy. Your muscles will be more active and ready to go (thus consuming more energy even when you don’t do anything) and walking or running won’t be as tiring for you because your body will be used to it. Let’s say that despite what it seems walking may be more effective on burning fat than running. That is because our body has different ways to access to energy. It can get glucose from the stockpile of glycogen stored in our liver or it can burn fat from our adipose tissue. Well unfortunately burning fat is the slowest one, thus it’s a perfect source of energy for a nice and relaxed walk but when we run our body doesn’t have enough time to burn fat, so it gets energy from the glucose in our blood. So to summarize the reason why our occasional run is not very effective in making you losing weight is that our body works in a different way. To effectively increase our metabolism we need to consume more energy every day and better if we do so by doing things that don’t require a rush of energy, so even simply walking to work every day will be more effective than going running once or twice per week (plus I think with less effort from your side).

It's more complicated than what you think

However, all cannot be seen as a simple equation energy intake/consumption. There is another very important factor that is crucial and that is usually underestimated. It’s our capacity to store this energy. In other words it depends on how many adipose cells we have. In the video below you can see a documentary in which they run an experiment, they exposed thin and fat people to similar amounts of calories in their diet for an extended period of time. Well at the end they didn’t react at the same way because obese people had much greater ability to store fat. But let’s break this point down.

It all starts from our childhood, obese children are more likely to become obese in their adulthood. That’s because obesity causes our body to produce more adipose cells. The reason why we don’t get immediately fat after few abundant meals is that there is a sort of a threshold under which we maintain the same number of adipose cells, thus we don’t gain too much weight. But if having abundant meals becomes a habit probably we will go over that threshold and with time our body will produce more adipose cells and increase its ability to store fat. Please note that to reverse this process is very difficult and painful, that is because adipose cells don’t disappear so easily. Moreover, when they don’t get enough fat they release hormones that make you feel hungry. So if we would force an obese and a thin person to skip a meal, the obese person will struggle much more because his body will have more adipose cells that will require more fat.

In conclusion

So after considering all these factors the take home message will be “definitely try not to have fat kids” they will be grateful to you when they will be healthy and thin adults. But what can you do if you are an adult and overweight? There is no easy solution; to lose weight will require sacrifice. During every meal try not to eat until you feel full, try always to leave some space in your stomach, over time it will get smaller and you will get used to eat less.

Consume more energy daily, it can be walking, using the stairs instead of the elevator or just try to have a more active life. Even if before I said that running is not that beneficial in burning fat it is still something very useful. The only problem is that it could backfire if you are overweight because it will stress your joints. To avoid this problem try to use a gradual approach or consider cycling instead. I would like to end this post with a question, in your opinion what are the best ways to lose weight? Please feel free to leave a comment below

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