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Understanding Obesity and Weight Gain: More Than Just Calorie Intake?

Updated: Nov 3, 2023


Navigating our topsy-turvy world, where swift solutions and miracle cures are becoming the world order, the tussle with obesity paints a spectacularly contrasting picture. The labyrinthine of troubles encompassing long-standing weight gain are many. Could it be that just counting calories is an oversight. I believe that it potentially is and perhaps a more in depth look into the skilfully choreographed ballet of our biology, behavioural tendencies, and environmental factors, could provide us with the answers to sustainable weight loss. Let’s continue into this elusive treasure hunt.


Of course, it's crucial to acknowledge that I'm not disputing the considerable role that caloric intake plays in weight loss. It's a well-established fact that achieving a calorie deficit is an essential component of any weight loss endeavour. However, the soaring failure rate in maintaining long-term weight loss urges us to consider augmenting our approach. By examining the overarching factors influencing our eating habits and lifestyles, we can adopt more comprehensive strategies that holistically address the root causes of obesity. Only then can we transform the elusive treasure hunt into a successful and sustainable expedition.


The Obesogenic Environment

Throughout the previous handful of decades, we've seen an unprecedented surge in obesity levels aligning almost too perfectly with the industrial revolution within our food realms. Cost-effective, ultra-processed food items, oozing with empty calories but woefully lacking in nutritional substance, have steadily replaced well-balanced, nourishing meals on our dinner tables.


The sort of convenience food we're referring to takes less time to rustle up and, often, can bypass any cooking skills, tipping the see-saw against wholesome, home-cooked meals. Add to this our increasingly frequent patronage of dining out establishments, and our opportunity to embrace healthier culinary choices significantly diminishes.


Our social environment has taken an antithetical turn, staunchly against physical fitness—elevated levels of sedentary conduct within our occupations, coupled with a burgeoning requirement for vehicle-based commuting, thanks to widespread urban sprawl, barricade any efforts to weave physical movement seamlessly into our routine daily lives.


This dramatic shift from home-cooked meals to fast, convenience foods, combined with a steady decline in physical activity, creates a perfect storm for long-term weight gain. As more hyper-palatable foods increasingly find their way onto our plates, our energy intake steadily inches into surplus, while our sedentary lifestyles fail to burn off these excess calories. This kind of lifestyle imbalance cultivates an environment that easily tips the balance from energy equilibrium to surplus, leading to gradual but significant weight gain over time. The slow but steady creep of additional calories each day, which aren’t offset with increased physical activity, may appear insignificant in isolation but accumulates over the years into persistent, stubborn weight gain.


We can and should be looking to make more of an effort into moving more on a daily basis. Daily walks are an excellent way to begin to introduce more movement into your life. While 10,000 steps a day might seem like trying to scale Everest you can start with something much smaller. Aiming to make gentle weekly increases.


Biological and Physiological Factors

Our human body, a masterpiece of intricate complexities, is steered by feedback mechanisms that inherently resist any pursuits of weight loss. In a response akin to a stubborn mule refusing to budge, our body reciprocates to weight loss with endocrine adjustments that spike our appetites and curb our feelings of satiety.


In reality, we often overestimate the degree of weight loss we should be achieving in the short term, which can cultivate undue frustration and disappointment.


This disillusionment can then lead to decreased motivation and susceptible to deviate from well-intentioned weight loss plans. Understanding our body's nuanced response to weight loss and adjusting our expectations accordingly is critical for maintaining motivation and achieving sustainable, long-term weight management.


The introduction of the NIH Body Weight Planner, an innovative instrument, provides more dedicated estimates of eventual weight loss. It accomplishes this by considering the modifications in energy outlays that accompany weight loss.


Intriguingly, a surprising revelation points out that changes in our appetitive drive might play a far more pivotal role in the weight loss plateau than metabolic alterations. For every shed kilogram of weight, our daily calorie burn drops by a mere 20 to 30 calories, while our appetite spikes and boosts our caloric ingestion by roughly 100 calories per day. From this perspective, the fight against obesity requires strong willpower.


With our appetitive drive playing such a key role in our ability to maintain weight loss, it becomes imperative to prioritise long-term behavioural changes over quick fixes. It's not about embarking on an intense exercise regime for a short, unsustainable 4-12 week period. Instead, it’s about embracing routine physical activity as a staple in our daily lives, a non-negotiable component of our routines.


Likewise, we should master the art of preparing highly nutritious, yet lower calorie meals, thereby, turning cooking into a skill for life, rather than a short-lived endeavour. These significant, but entirely achievable changes act as a barrier against mounting hunger and help navigate us through the biological tug of war towards sustainable weight management. The silver lining here being that these behavioural modifications have benefits that extend beyond weight loss, deeply enriching the overall quality of our life


Perception and Behaviour

Interestingly, even with physiological proof demonstrating an increased calorie intake following weight loss, testimonials from patients frequently argue that they're adhering to an identical dietary pattern that they followed during the initial phases of their weight loss. Could this discrepancy arise from the physiological regulation of appetite? It’s not uncommon for individuals to slowly magnifying their portion sizes during a diet.


Understandably as they drop weight and hunger increases it’s all too easy to put and extra spoonful or four onto the plate. The problem being that people aren't consciously aware of this and those extra calories can result in re weight gain.


This is a strikingly familiar scenario in my interactions with clients, where the focus falls solely on a singular, well-balanced meal, while losing sight of the overall dietary pattern that unfolds in the span of a week, or even a day.


The ability to recognise and understand what, and crucially, how much we are eating is a complex but vital facet of sustainable weight loss. Increasing our awareness about portion sizes and how a collection of meals throughout the day or week cumulatively impacts our caloric intake can help bridge this perception gap. It's a journey of self-education and attuned mindfulness, empowering us to make informed decisions about our nutrition and our health.


The highway to sustainable weight loss may be strewn with obstacles, but armed with an informed comprehension of the hurdles and a compendious approach, it's an endeavour we can tackle one hopeful step at a time.


J.

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