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As important as it is to be proactive about approaching body fat loss, by focusing on actions that will promote getting a leaner physique, it’s just as important to notice any behaviors that could be negatively affecting body composition and have you leaning more to the side of fat gain rather than fat loss.

It’s vital that we understand the themes arising in why we accumulate fat so easily as opposed to our every-day routines rather helping us out. Our environment plays a massive role, and most of us live in a modern obesogenic environment that does everything to work against our goals of trying to keep a healthy physique. There are too many high-calorie, poor quality foods, excessive stress, and too much leisure-time technology. Second, these factors work together to affect hormone levels in the body, altering metabolic rate and triggering food intake.

Try to avoid these 7 things, whether you are looking to reduce body fat or just maintain a good lean body composition.

1. Drinking Sugar-Sweetened Beverages

It’s still a mystery why anyone would consider over indulging on sugar-sweetened beverages. They have zero nutritional benefit and they are they are stacked with calories. Not only are they empty calories, but they also do very little to satisfy hunger, so it does make it easy for people to consume large quantities without reducing appetite.

Avoid sugar sweetened beverages at all costs. Stick to plain water, tea and coffee.

2. Eating High-Calorie Processed Foods

It should be no surprise to anyone that the following calorie-laden processed foods are bad for weight management:

  • Potato chips and other processed carb snacks
  • Processed meats
  • Cookies, pastries, sweets, and desserts
  • Refined grain-based foods (bread, pasta, crackers) 

The big problem with these foods doesn’t lie in the fact that they are so calorie dense. Refined carbs have been shown to trigger food intake because they light up reward centres in the brain, and are extremely palatable. This makes moderation and portion control very difficult for us to manage.

These foods lead to fast digestion rates and large variations in blood sugar and insulin, meaning they have less of an impact on satiety and hunger management compared to whole foods such as vegetables, fruit, nuts, whole grains, fish, unprocessed meat, and minimally processed dairy (yogurt, eggs, milk, cheese).

Eat real unprocessed whole foods, and try to plan every meal around a whole protein source, some vegetables, and some form of healthy fats.

3. Not Enough Quality Sleep

The amount of sleep we need varies from person to person, but what is certain is that if you’re chronically sleep deprived, you’re at risk of gaining fat. People who don’t get enough sleep develop impaired glucose metabolism, which means their bodies aren’t able to use the sugar in the blood effectively and it is more likely to get stored as body fat.

A contributing factor is that sleep deprivation raises the stress hormone cortisol, which triggers food intake and suppresses physical activity. Basically, it makes us lazy and hungry for high-calorie food. On top of all this, our willpower gets depleted and we’re more likely to give in to our desire to eat and lie on the couch. Finally, sleep deprivation lowers levels of leptin (which triggers satiety) and raises ghrelin (makes us hungry).

Try to prioritise the importance of not just sleeping, but getting good quality sleep. Avoid caffeine after noon, stick to a consistent bedtime/wake time, and it helps to do the same over weekends. Sleep in complete darkness, turn off electronics and hour before bed, try to find a routine that relaxes you, and try natural sleep aids like magnesium and melatonin.

4. Being Inactive

A primary predictor of fat gain boils down to being inactive. It might be surprising but the reason being a couch potato leads to fat gain isn’t so much to do with not burning calories, but rather to do with changes in gene signaling, hormone levels, and hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal function.

It takes only 20 minutes of sitting before gene signaling drops, blunting physiological processes  like tissue repair. Over extended periods, blood sugar is taken up into your cells at a slower rate, leading the body to store it as fat instead of burning it as energy.

Acquiring a good level of physical activity requires a couple of components including doing intense exercise such as weight training and high intensity interval training to build muscle mass, and to be as active as possible throughout the day, taking frequent breaks from sitting.

5. TV Watching

Plenty of research shows that people who spend more time watching TV are much more likely to gain body fat over time. Leisure screen time is also closely linked with risk of death and disease.

It’s not only the inactivity that comes with the habit that leads to fat gain and poor health, exposure to blue light that screens emit will trigger food intake by activating reward centers in the brain. This leads to the following:

  • Snacking mindlessly while watching.
  • Choosing processed, high-calorie foods that lead to great calorie intake
  • Lack of satiety despite large energy consumption

Limit leisure screen time to less than an hour a day and avoid eating while watching. It’s important to get away from mindless eating entirely. Try to avoid eating in front of the TV, and allowing one habit to be incomplete without the other. 

6. Emotional Eating

Obesity research is showing us how people are developing an elevated brain response to foods that stimulate consumption of high-calorie “comfort” foods.

Studies show that eating certain foods, particularly those containing sugar, wheat, and processed fat leads to the release of substances called endocannabinoids in the gut. They target dopamine and opioid receptors in the brain to make you feel good. Naturally, this triggers a desire for more.

Neural vulnerability to food is the result of both our high stress levels and our increased exposure to high-calorie food images and commercials due to changes in food marketing over the last 20 years.

Try finding other stress management techniques including exercise, meditation, deep breathing, socializing, activity filled hobbies like hiking or playing sports. 

7. Alcohol Overconsumption

The good news is that limited alcohol consumption, such as a glass of wine with dinner, can protect against obesity, especially in women. The bad news is that greater alcohol consumption, especially beer, but also large amounts of liquor and wine, are predictive of fat gain.

Alcohol is calorie dense, and contains 7 calories a gram. It also negatively affects glucose metabolism, increasing fat storage.

Alcohol consumption tends to increase food intake, most likely by increasing the feel-good effects of food, and even a moderate hangover leads us to be less physically active and reduce the amount of energy that we expend.

Be smart about alcohol, limiting its use to high-quality red wine with meals. Be mindful about portions, and stay away from beer and the hard stuff.

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