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What Makes You Fat?

The key to losing weight is losing all the bad habits that predispose to weight gain, not occasional dieting.

Forget the adage “you are what you eat”. In the real world, you are what you eat, drink, do AND even think, especially where weight gain is concerned. Did you know that one of the most common New Year resolutions around the world is to lose weight and be healthier? Still, many of us have already forsaken our resolutions, even with January barely over. With Malaysia being declared the most obese nation in Asia according to a study published in The Lancet in June 2014, it is little wonder that many people wish to lose weight.

More so when a recently released study by University College London, United Kingdom, showed that 89% of the study’s obese subjects developed other serious health conditions including diabetes, heart problems, osteoarthritis, cancer and others. Conducted over 20 years, the study, published in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology, showed that there is no such thing as being healthy and obese. However, as anyone who has tried losing weight knows, it can be easier said than done. Just eating less and exercising more somehow doesn’t always seem to work.

Too much sleep lowers your metabolic rate, leading to fat accumulation and poor muscle development, while too little raises cortisol, a stress hormone, making you less inclined to eat well and practise other healthy habits. Photo: AFP
The secret is that many people actually have habits that inadvertently make them fat. Here are the most common fat habits:

Sleeping too much or too little

Remember how animals in harsh temperate countries go into deep sleep in winter to survive? Hibernation helps to lower metabolism, reducing energy output and conserving muscle. In the same way, sleeping too much lowers your metabolic rate, making you take longer to burn fat and release energy. What results is an accumulation of fat and poor muscle development.

Conversely, sleeping too little raises cortisol, the stress hormone that is inbuilt into the human psyche as a fight-or-flight defence mechanism. Being on high alert at all times makes you less inclined to eat well or practise other healthy habits. Stick to seven to eight hours a night, and try to sleep and wake at the same times daily, for a more regulated body weight. In addition, avoid eating too close to your bedtime as you will end up with digestive woes.

Eating low-fat products

This is one of the biggest misconceptions in modern day nutrition – that low-fat products can help reduce fat intake. In more ways than one, choosing low-fat products can actually increase levels of sugar and other additives, which are added to boost the bland taste of fat-less products. The higher sugar levels give you a energy crash soon after consumption, causing you to eat again. A better alternative would be to choose real foods over processed foods. Examples include eating fruit instead of biscuits, roast chicken instead of pizza, or nuts instead of potato chips.

Taking carbonated drinks

Once again, don’t be deceived when the label on a soft drink states sugar-free or diet. The conventional versions contain way too much sugar for it to be any good for you, while the sugar-free versions contain artificial sweeteners that are believed to boost your appetite. Try tracking your meals and you will see that you tend to eat more without realising it after having carbonated drinks. If you’re a long-term soft drink consumer, start by reducing the number of cans daily. Then cut down to monthly, then occasionally. It’s the same way some smokers try to kick the habit.

Big plates

You may not realise it, but a bigger plate makes you eat more because food amounts appear smaller. More plate space means you can pile more on the plate, adding more calories as a result. Use a bowl to measure one cup of rice each meal, or eat from the bowl instead. Alternatively, use smaller plates such as dessert plates. After the second refill, somehow you will be less inclined for a third helping.

Skipping meals

Ever heard that breakfast is the most important meal of the day? It is true. A study from the American Journal of Epidemiology found that people who skip breakfast were 4.5 times more likely to be obese. Skipping a meal, especially breakfast, when your body has just gone through an eight to 10 hour fast (when you are sleeping) sends messages to your brain to reduce metabolism rates, just like animals in hibernation. Hibernation prepares the body to store fat instead of burning it as energy, making you ravenous at the next meal.

Skipping lunch or dinner is just as bad, unless you had a late breakfast or tea that disrupts your normal meal times. The key message is not to let your body become too hungry because it sends the body systems into overdrive. Even if you’re too busy to have a proper meal, have a cereal drink or snack on fibre-rich fruits such as guava, apples or pineapple slices.

Multitasking when eating

Forget the eternal tug-of-war between eating to live or living to eat. If weight loss is your goal, eating takes on a whole new meaning. Apart from choosing what to eat, it also matters how you eat and who you eat with. Social eating (long lunches with friends or corporate buffets) makes you eat more than you realise.

In the same way, you lose track of how much you’ve eaten when you’re munching in front of the computer or television. For easier tracking, simply have a dedicated time to eat, say 20 minutes. The longer you take to eat, the more gets eaten. Chewing well before swallowing is also known to aid digestion, as the digestive process begins in the mouth.

According to a study published in the Journal of the American Dietetic Association, it takes 20 minutes for the stomach to inform the brain that it’s full. The study also revealed that slow eaters take 66 calories less per meal compared to fast eaters.

Being aware of these fat habits and making changes to your daily routines will give you more control of your diet, weight and ultimately, your life. You can still have the occasional treat, but changing these habits will see you shedding kilos over time.

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