Why do we gain weight?
There are four main reasons why we gain weight.
We’re not taught how to eat
The cost of convenience
Let’s talk a little more about each of these reasons:
1. WE’RE NOT TAUGHT HOW TO EAT.
We are never really taught how to eat. We know what we like to eat and the mechanics of eating, but not necessarily the what, when, and how to eat. Our eating habits come for our families, doctors, media, and school.
Families Pass Down Eating Habits
A majority of our eating habits come from our family. It’s familiar and comforting, and you’ve been chowing down on pizza rolls after school or two donuts after church since you were a kid. And how can you say no when your aunt’s friend’s sister insists you try her signature casserole with four different melty cheeses fresh out of the oven and then plops a heaping serving on your inviting plate during a family get together? That would just be rude. You might as well throw it on the ground like Andy Samberg…
If you’ve grown up on bread and pasta, it’s likely that you will feed your children bread and pasta. The habits you pick up growing up definitely carry into adulthood.
Experts we get nutrition advice from
If we didn’t pick up our eating habits at home, we usually got it from more formal sources like your doctor, school, or the media. But are these really experts?
We respect and trust our healthcare providers with our lives. And after all the schooling they’ve been through, doctors know best, right?
Dr. Fung challenges this perception in his book “The Obesity Code”.As he points out, if doctors are experts in nutrition, why do obese doctors even exist? I used to wonder this too. They are the smartest people I know and have a vast knowledge of the body as well as illnesses and to get through medical school and manage their practice, lazy and unmotivated aren’t exactly options for them.
Here’s the truth: doctors are brilliant and super smart and knowledgeable about their craft, but they are not nutrition experts. Nutrition is not their focus in school; it’s anatomy, physiology, symptom treatment, and disease management with medication and/surgery.
Schools reinforce poor nutrition advice and make it normal
Every kid goes to school, but if your kid goes to public school especially, your kiddo is being taught what “good” nutrition is and is seeing what the school deems as healthy in the lunch line. All you have to do is give them a couple of bucks and not worry about it. There’s food available to them every day and a health program in place to teach them what you might not have been taught or taught to them.
Easily Consumable Sources
And a lot of us get nutrition advice through entertainment such as magazines, cooking shows, and commercials. It looks so appealing and sounds great.
But the problem with this is the source of the information.
Where does this information come from?
Most of our nutrition advice trickling into our doctors’ offices, schools, and media comes from government sources such as the Dietary Guidelines for Americans which promotes more whole grains, lower fat, lower sodium, more fruits and vegetables including canned, dried, fresh, and frozen, and lower sugar (meaning food that’s packed in extra light syrup and 100% fruit juice). These are the norm, but if it’s correct, why is obesity and Diabetes Type II still on the rise?
Interesting fact: A majority of food education comes from the food industry like with sponsored studies and continuing education for registered dietitians.
Why do these industries get so involved?
Because if you eat that as a kid, you’re likely to eat it as an adult. And you can bet, they want you to keep consuming their products such as cereal, corn, dairy, sugar, wheat, soy, etc.
This brings me to my next point.
2. THE COST OF CONVENIENCE
Ever wondered why a package of cookies costs less than a single plum? Is it really cheaper to produce that bag of cookies? So, the bulldozing of the land, building structures, shipping supplies, sourcing ingredients, hiring workers, paying for their benefits, processing the food, maintaining the manufacturing location etc. etc. is cheaper than growing something from the ground?
No. It’s cheaper because it’s subsidized by the government. Without getting too political, basically, a good portion of our taxes goes to a little thing called subsidies, (or really corporate welfare). in the amount of about $20 million dollars a year. The government gives these companies money them to keep producing what they’re producing, like corn, canola, soy, wheat, peanuts, etc.
What’s the problem with this?
The intention is great: affordable food for people that’s convenient and stores well, but the reality is much different because most of the food that’s produced are processed and in the form of the irresistible refined carbohydrate, not nutritious natural foods your body was designed to thrive off of.
So, what does the cost of convenience mean to you?
We are built for optimal performance, everybody has this potential. Take a Ferrari for example. To maintain it, we need to use the optimal fuel it requires. If you use poor quality oil or fuel, littered with sediment and dirt, the car won’t run as well and will eventually start having problems from the build-up of junk, decline in performance, break down prematurely.
This principle applies our bodies as well. We are all Ferraris.
Okay, so of course we need healthy fuel. This is not new information. So why don’t we just stop using non-nutritious fuel?
This cost of convenience drives down the price of these hardly nutrient dense foods making them more affordable and accessible which leads to filling our pantries with more and more processed foods, specifically refined carbohydrates. Carbohydrates themselves are not bad. They are an essential macronutrient, refined carbohydrates are another story, which I’ll get into in a minute.
But first, why can’t we just stop eating the foods we know is not good for us?
3. MINDLESS EATING
The more we eat these processed foods, the more our pleasure centers in our brains are activated. The more it’s activated, the more we learn to want it and before we know it, the bag of chips is gone and there’s no more cake in the fridge. This is called mindless eating and it leads straight to food addiction.
According to Dr. Judson Brewer of “The Craving Mind”, addiction is the continued use despite adverse consequences. In this case, the consequences come in a variety of symptoms: headaches, irritability, not being satisfied after eating, anxiety, digestive disorders, difficulty sleeping, etc.
Food addiction is a real thing that affects thousands of people – many of them are unaware of this, probably because it feels so good. Add in clever marketing and a little bit of cultural norms to that and we have the perfect recipe starring you and your waistline.
And as with any type of addiction, the more we engage in that behavior, the stronger it gets – like an uncontrolled wildfire.
But what’s the consequence of a food addiction, acknowledged or not, that consists of mostly competitively priced processed refined carbohydrates?
4. INSULIN RESISTANCE
This is why it seems like nothing works long term. Here’s the thing, you will lose weight on almost any diet at first, but after a while you hit a frustrating plateau or gain it back. This is because most diets, even cutting calories, don’t address the insulin factor and neither does most exercise.
Insulin is a hormone and it’s not just important to diabetics. Hormones are created in different organs of the body and deliver messages to specific cells. Insulin’s main job is to move glucose, or sugar, and nutrients into cells. And it plays a major role in weight gain when it’s unbalanced. Major as in, THE reason. In a nutshell, when we eat, our blood sugar raises. Our pancreas sends out insulin, insulin packs the sugar away into our cells. If our cells are already crammed with sugar, the sugar converts to fat for long-term storage. When cells are crammed with sugar, they require more and more insulin to respond to your blood sugar when you eat. If there’s no place for sugar to go, it starts cause a lot of problems. This is the basic concept behind insulin resistance.
All of these factors: not being taught how to eat, the cost of convenience, mindless eating, and insulin resistance lead to weight gain.
What about Self-Control?
Notice how “lack of self-control” wasn’t included as one of the four reasons. You have over 600 hormones directing the cells in your body. They tell you when to sleep, pee, breastfeed, have your period, feel happy, breathe, and eat. We assume that when we have an impulse or craving that it’s out of our own volition. This has led to a judgmental fat bias, like thinking someone is a disgusting cow because of their weight.
This is especially a problem in the healthcare profession, but you have to remember that no one wakes up and wants to be a disease-ridden 550 lb 47-year-old that can’t fit on a CT table so they have to send them to the zoo for their scan. No one. Yes, you may have consciously popped into the donut shop knowing that is was a bad idea, but that hunger pang came from an influential system of interconnected hormones, and hormones drive and compel you all the time. Dr. Fung has a great analogy:
“The smell of frying food makes you hungry at lunchtime. However, if you just finished a large buffet, those same smells may make you slightly queasy. The smells are the same. The decision to eat or not is principally hormonal.”
The reality is that we underestimate the power the mighty hormone. So, we gain weight from being hormonally imbalanced based on our stories, which contributes to our “lack of control”, not the other way around. So, focusing on your “control” is really fighting your hormones that are running your ship instead of addressing the hormonal imbalance root cause, which is has A LOT to do with what you’re eating in the first place. It’s no wonder we cave in to our cravings more times than not.
Okay, so those are the four main reasons why we gain weight and one we reason we don’t, now let’s talk about two big problems these factors create, one that’s extremely apparent to us and the other a little more insidious.
PROBLEM 1: EXCESS WEIGHT
The most obvious problem you notice and what feels like the rest of the world notices too (thanks Vogue!) is excess weight. This increases your risk factors for health concerns such as diabetes, heart disease, stroke, infertility, kidney disease, etc. etc.
Do you need to remind me? No, everyone’s told you that already. Not new information. You have it, you know it, we’re dealing with it.
Excess weight is annoying to say the least, but it’s a late sign of a bigger problem – the desensitization of your body.
PROBLEM 2: DESENSITIZATION
Your body shows you signs and give you clues about what you need all the time from funky fingernails pointing to the thyroid, to heartburn signifying a stomach pH issue, to the weight being carried around your midsection which was put there by your shot adrenals, to heavy periods and cramping from the fibroids caused by insulin, to dandruff from an internal once-friendly-turned-jerk fungus hanging out and causing problems.
Sometimes we listen, most times we don’t.
We ignore it, cover it up, and get used to it. This is accepted as a normal response because we’re busy and everyone does it. But eventually it has consequences and affects our day-to-day life and happiness.
These consequences have our bodies working harder than an ER shift with two call-ins, no techs, a trauma on the way in, and a chest pain in the waiting room.
With all of the chaos your body is managing, it’s no wonder we can’t hear or recognize the subtle signs.
Have you ever seen an opportunity for improvement in your job then went to the manager with a viable solution to the problem only to be met with inaction despite your manager agreeing and acknowledging that problem? Whether you were ignored or your managers hands were tied, this is super frustrating – especially if it affects your ability to do your job.
This is similar to the dynamics in your desensitized body except you ARE that manager.
We know there’s a problem or two or ten, but how do we take action?
After years of being used to it, even if we stop stimulus, it’s no longer a quick cause-and-effect response. Now it’s a cause and in series of effects response.
To reverse and remedy years of desensitization, we need to investigate the source of the problem by giving our bodies a break from potential culprits. This gives our body a chance to heal as well as gives us a chance identify what we are reacting to.
We have so many “food” options available to us that really never should be in the first place. Most of the work our bodies are doing is keeping up with processing it out processed foods. Learning what helps our system and what hurts our system is crucial to healing your body.
Undesensitizing the body reduces inflammation and irritation, reduces incoming toxins, decreases existing toxins, and gives your body a chance to heal and recalibrate to decrease external side effects like excess weight, skin, problems, or GI issues.
This is where working with someone who lives and breathes real food, like a Nutritional Therapy Practitioner or functional medicine doctor, can really guide you through the process. To learn more about what you can do, check out Nerd Out Nutrition’s resources, services, and Food School (coming soon).
If you haven’t already, be sure to download my Better Food Choices Quick Guide to help you get in and out of the grocery store so you can start making better cleaner food choices, eat food that gives you more energy, save time, and feel great! Just enter your email down below for instant access to the Quick Guide.
Hi, I’m Melissa!