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 stacked with calories. Not only are they empty calories, but they also do very little to satisfy hunger, which makes 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.
Eating High-Calorie Processed Foods
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.
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.
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 (which makes us hungry).
Try to prioritise the importance of not just sleeping, but getting high-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 an hour before bed, try to find a routine that relaxes you, and try natural sleep aids like magnesium and melatonin.
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 signalling, hormone levels, and hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal function.
It takes only 20 minutes of sitting before gene signalling 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.
Gaining 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.
Plenty of research shows that people who spend more time watching TV are much more likely to gain body fat.
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.
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.
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 results from both our high stress levels and our increased exposure to high-calorie food images and commercials because of 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.
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 predicative of fat gain.
Alcohol is calorie dense and contains 7 calories a gram. It also negatively affects glucose metabolism, increasing fat storage.
Alcohol consumption increases 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.