17 Nov The Truth Behind Weight-Gain
“You’re eating more than you should”, “Just don’t stuff your face with food”, “It’s all about energy in and energy out”. We’ve all known “that” person who keeps repeating these phrases, although he/she has never really had a weight problem. Unfortunately, neither the cause not the solution to weight-gain are that simple. If weight-gain was easy to deal with, then obesity wouldn’t have turned into such an epidemic.
Sure, there are people that just gained some extra pounds over the holidays and just need to get rid of them, but that’s not the case for most. Weight-gain is a chronic issue for many people, and we have to ask ourselves “why have we not been able to deal with it efficiently so far?” We’ve analysed and analysed the Biochemistry of eating. It’s gotten us far, but not far enough. So, perhaps we need to look at it from a different perspective.
The Biopsychosocial Model
Let’s take it from the top. Many attribute weight-gain to biological causes. Genes that make you eat more, genes that reduce your metabolic rate, genes that promote fat storage. It’s true, there are biological caused for weight-gain. For example, research has linked the brain’s reward system with the amount of food we consume. Specifically, different people might need to consume different amounts of food to achieve the same amount of pleasure. This often depends on a single gene that controls the effect of Dopamine, an important hormone in the brain’s reward system.
Is Biology enough to explain why millions of people have weight problems?
The answer is no, not everyone has gene mutations that affect their nutritional intake. At this point, Biology stops being very useful, and we need a new way to examine the problem. This is where Psychology comes in. There are dozens of psychological factors that can cause weight-gain. Stress, anger, sadness; everything that has an effect on our mental well-being can have an effect on our physical well-being as well. For example, a recent study done in Switzerland showed that long-term stress can cause significant weight-gain in just two years (Berset et al. 2011).
So, is Biology and Psychology enough to explain why weight-gain occurs?
For some people, yes, for others, no. There is one last factor to take into account, Social influence. TV, Internet, movies, fashion, they’re all social factors that can influence what we eat and how we view our body. The lives that many popular fictional characters lead in movies and series, for example, can be extremely unhealthy. Despite surviving on nothing but pizza and alcohol, these characters always look extremely fit and healthy. This creates the illusion that such a thing is possible. Additionally, the time we spend sitting in front of a computer or a TV screen watching these characters has risen exponentially in recent years, and with it, the amount of snacks we consume.
That’s the last piece of the puzzle. So, the cause of weight-gain is a complex matter. There are Biological, Psychological and Social factors affecting our food choices and weight. You’ve already made the first step to overcoming them by reading his article. Now, you need to find what the factors affecting you are, what influences your eating habits. It’s not easy, it may seem difficult at first, and you might need some help from people close to you or from a professional. The end result, however, will be worth it. Because not only is it going to be permanent, but it will extend beyond your weight; in the end, you will have improved both your mental and physical health.
Psychological: Berset, M., Semmer, N. K., Elfering, A., Jacobshagen, N., & Meier, L. L. (2011). Does stress at work make you gain weight? A two-year longitudinal study. Scandinavian journal of work, environment & health, 45-53.
Social: Boyce, T. (2007). The media and obesity. obesity reviews, 8(s1), 201-205.
Biological: Wang, G. J., Volkow, N. D., Logan, J., Pappas, N. R., Wong, C. T., Zhu, W. & Fowler, J. S. (2001). Brain dopamine and obesity. The Lancet, 357(9253), 354-357.