Eight Ways to Fight The Fat
By Cynthia K. Buffington, PhD
Obesity is indeed rampant nowadays. Over the past two decades, obesity has increased at an alarming rate in this country and throughout the industrialized world. There are many causes for the recent rise in the prevalence and severity of obesity. Below are several of the known contributors to obesity, along with recommended interventions.
1. Sedentary lifestyle. Over the last two decades, advances in communications technology, as well as the popularity of videos games and home movies, have substantially increased the time spent by adults and children, alike, in front of computer or television screens. Population studies find significant associations between television or computer time and the incidence of obesity.
Intervention. Reduce time spent in front of the TV or computer when at home to two hours or less per day. Replace with activities that are less sedentary including an evening family walk, dancing, riding bicycles, jumping on mini-trampolines, shooting baskets, or even the performance of less physically-demanding activities, such as playing a musical instrument.
2. Excessive eating. A variety of conditions may exist that can lead to the over-consumption of food. Eating in front of the TV or performing other tasks while eating, such as talking on the phone, reading or working, often cause an individual to not be mindful of when their stomach is full and how much they are eating. Overeating also frequently occurs when dining out at restaurants. Such overeating may result, in part, from the large portion sizes provided by many restaurants and an unconscious notion that you should eat what you pay for without wasting food.
Intervention. Eat meals at a table and in a relaxing atmosphere free from distraction or interruption. Remember when eating at a restaurant or at home, you do not have to clean your plate. Take-home containers are readily available and most households are equipped with refrigerators for storage.
3. Poor Food Choices. Calorie-for-calorie, certain foods are more fattening than others. For instance, a 100-calorie bag of cookies consisting of high fructose corn syrup, sugar, processed grain and trans fat is far more likely to end up as stored fat than would 100 calories of skim milk, fruits, lentils, or quality protein, such as fish.
Intervention. Reduce the consumption of fat-promoting foods, i.e. processed grains, processed meats, and foods containing trans fat, sugar, or corn syrup. Increase the intake of foods with fat-fighting properties, including those high in: 1) fiber and nutrients (fruits, vegetables, nuts, legumes, whole grains), 2) omega 3 essential fatty acids, 3) quality protein, and 4) calcium.
4. Vitamin/mineral Deficiencies. Vitamins and minerals are necessary for appropriate absorption and metabolism of foods. Deficiencies can increase the risk for fat accumulation and obesity.
Intervention. Fat-fighting foods are also those with the highest content of vitamins and minerals. A wholesome diet plus a daily vitamin/mineral supplement will ensure adequate intake of vitamins and minerals.
5. Shortened Sleep Duration. Over the last several decades, sleep duration for most people has declined substantially. Data from large epidemiological studies show that the shorter the duration of sleep, the more likely an individual is to be overweight. Sleep loss contributes to obesity by altering the production of specific hormones that promote fat accumulation, reduce metabolic rate, and enhance the desire for calorie-dense foods.
Intervention. Obtain adequate sleep daily. Adults require 7 to 8 hours of sleep per night; adolescents need 9 to 10 hours; and children should have 10 to 12 hours (or more).
6. Chronic Stress. Stress increases the production of cortisol which, in turn, enhances fat accumulation through an increase in fat cell size and numbers. Elevated cortisol also increases the expression of an enzyme in adipose (fat) tissue that is responsible for its regeneration, resulting in an intensification of the hormone’s fat-promoting actions.
Intervention. Find non-food ways to cope with or to release stress, such as regular physical exercise, massage therapy, soothing hot bathes, yoga and Tai Chi.
7. Pollutants (insecticides, fungicides, industrial agents, plasticizers). Scientists have recently acknowledged an association between the production and use of man-made pollutants and the worldwide epidemic of obesity. Certain pollutants, such as the organochlorines, increase the risk for obesity by causing endocrine and metabolic disturbances that lower energy expenditure. During development (fetal, neonatal), exposure to a wide array of pollutants affects how adipose tissue is regulated, resulting in excessive weight gain later in life.
Intervention. Pollutant exposure can be reduced by washing produce well before eating, by decreasing intake of animal fat, by reducing the use of products containing plasticizers, and by wearing appropriate protection when using pesticides and other industrial agents. Extreme caution should be taken during pregnancy to avoid excessive pollutant exposure.
8. Pharmaceuticals. Specific medications cause weight gain, including many of those used to treat diseases caused or worsened by obesity, i.e. diabetes, hypertension, osteoarthritis, and depression.
Intervention Ask your physician about the potential for weight gain with the medications you are presently taking and if an alternative medication is available.