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Why Do We Gain Weight?

Por Claudia M. González, MS, RD, LD/N* -

The answer is simple: weight gain is a result of consuming more calories than your body needs. However, many different situations in life can also contribute to weight gain.  

Rarely is overweight or obesity the result of a disease. The truth is that most people gain weight because their intake of calories is greater than what their body needs. The quality of the foods you eat are as important as the quantity.

What is better to do, eat small quantities more frequently, or large quantities less frequently?

Most nutrition experts agree that it is best to eat small quantities various times during the day, and choose foods that are low in calories and high in nutritional value. When we eat smaller amounts more frequently, we feel less hungry throughout the day since the time between meals is shorter. This makes it easier to not overeat and resist the urge to stuff ourselves between meals with high-calorie foods such as sweets, cookies and fried foods.

What role does metabolism play?

The amount of food each one of us needs to get through the day, or in other words our energy (calorie) needs, is determined by our metabolism and our activity level. Metabolism is also linked to a person’s tendency to gain weight. For example, if someone who has an extremely slow metabolism it means their caloric needs are lower, so they will either need to eat fewer calories than someone with a higher metabolism, or increase their level of physical activity.
On the other hand, some people require a higher intake of calories because they have a fast metabolism. They can eat more than someone with a lower metabolism, without gaining weight. It may seem like the people in the fast metabolism group are the lucky ones. But remember even if you are able to eat more, it is still just as important to eat healthy foods.

Factors that contribute to overweight/obesity

The following is a list of some of the possible causes of being overweight or obese. If you are overweight or obese, take some time to analyze these causes since one of them could be at the root of your problem:

  • Heredity.A person’s genetic make up can contribute to their tendency to gain weight. To what degree genetics plays a part, is still debatable. In many cases when there are families where various members are overweight or obese, the root cause is linked to the environmental and behavioral factors that are influencing those families. For example, children of overweight parents are learning unhealthy habits that the parents are practicing (i.e. eating high-fat- and high-calorie foods, being sedentary etc.). In order to break that cycle, parents need to take the lead in making changes to their behaviors so that their children learn and practice healthy habits.
  •   Eating during moments of stress, anxiety, depression or other emotions.Many times we seek refuge in food to avoid facing our emotions or stressful situations. If you're in this situation, try to find other solutions to raise your spirits. Exercising helps free you from stress while burning calories. Meditating or any other hobbies other than food will help you relax and get through difficult moments.
  • Medicine.Some medicines, such as steroids or birth control pills, can contribute to weight gain. If you think this is your case, talk to your doctor about the possibility of changing the dosage or the medicine. But, as always, the most effective way to maintain your weight is to reduce your calorie intake and exercise.
  • Quitting smoking.If you recently quit smoking, it's possible that you may have gained some weight. Nicotine artificially increases your metabolism and when you quit, your metabolism has to get used to the absence of this substance. It is also possible that eating may have taken the place of cigarettes. To lose the extra pounds you may have gained from quitting smoking and still satisfy your cravings, try to eat small, low-calorie snacks, such as fresh fruit, yogurt or low-fat popcorn. Above all, know that gaining a few pounds is much less harmful than smoking.
  • Having a baby.After giving birth, the extra weight gained during pregnancy doesn't always disappear as quickly and easily as we would like it to. Eating balanced meals is important, especially if you decide to breastfeed. To return to your pre-pregnancy weight, be sure to fit in some type of light exercise each day and eat foods low in fat and sugar but high in proteins and fiber. Breastfeeding will also help you get your figure back more quickly.

Staying fit over time

Over time, body weight tends to gradually increase. Older people need less energy than young people do because they tend to exercise less, and, as their muscle mass is decreasing, their basal metabolic rate is slower. To avoid an accumulation of extra weight over the years, gradually reduce your daily intake of calories and continue to be active. Don't strive for the body you had at 18, but concentrate on leading a healthy lifestyle.



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