There are several reasons why we gain weight of which we will delve into in more detail.
What We Eat – Our Calorie Consumption
When we consume more calories than we burn our bodies store the excess away as fat. As I mentioned before our bodies are extraordinary and tend to store away any excess fat we don’t need in case of leaner times that might lie ahead. Think of how our ancestors lived. They would have to go for days, maybe weeks without food until they completed another successful hunt.
Our bodies found a way to survive the bad times, the gene responsible for storing energy as fat has been passed down generation after generation. If this did not happen then it is unlikely our species would never have survived.
However because today we live in the developed world rarely are there ever any times when food is truly scarce so we continue to keep storing fat away.
Compared with 100 short years ago, you would be hard pressed to find any of our ancestors stricken with obesity because they worked hard in order to eat. They would either have to grow and harvest their own food or go to great lengths to get it. Because there was a certain amount of effort that went into daily survival they burned more calories compared to our readily accessible society where everything we want is at our fingertips.
Even what was considered luxury items such as flour, sugar and wheat to our ancestors have become everyday fixtures of the modern pantry. Things are too readily available to us that nothing is a treat anymore and we tend to over indulge ourselves on a regular basis.
As a result of this way of living we are left to find ways to get rid of the fat we spent years gaining. If only we could look at our lifestyle and realize the answer is staring back at us from our pantries and not in the bottom of a jar of diet pills or the next fad diet that blows our way.
Understanding how our bodies operate, how they burn fat, what makes them gain weight is all instrumental in your own personal weight loss journey. Educating yourself on how your body works only empowers you to make better decisions for yourself.
Why We Gain Weight
We are all different. It’s frustrating to see people who eat like a horse never gain a single pound. They probably have very active metabolisms which acts like the body’s natural furnace burning calories effortlessly the moment they are absorbed into the body. These people are like the hummingbirds of society, no matter how much they consume their weight remains perfectly controlled.
But like the rest of us mere mortals, we may be disheartened when we experience the exact opposite by having what is known as a low metabolic rate. As you can guess when you have a low metabolic rate anything you eat seems to be directly deposited on your love handles without much effort.
Our metabolisms are sensitive to our activity levels and the proportion to lean muscle tissue we have in comparison to fat. But what exactly IS our metabolism?
“Metabolism” refers to the countless chemical processes going on continuously inside your body that allow life and normal functioning. These processes require energy in the form of calories from food.
The amount of calories your body “burns” at any given time is regulated by your metabolism. You can’t really control your metabolism, but through correct food and drink consumption and exercise you can make it work for you.
Think of your body as a steam engine, the furnace is your metabolism which makes the engine run and food is the coal that feeds the fire. The faster your metabolism burns, the more calories are converted into energy which the body uses to function. When your metabolism runs slowly, your body converts fewer calories into energy for body operation and more are stored away as fat.
There are 3 main variables that make up the overall efficiency (speed) of your metabolism:
Basal metabolic rate (BMR) - is the amount of calories burned at rest and contributes 50-80% of your energy used.
Thermic effect of food - this is the energy you use to eat, digest and metabolise food. It contributes about 5-10% of your energy use.
Fats - raise the BMR 4%
Energy used during physical activity - this is the amount of calories burned during movement and physical activity; in a normally active person this component contributes 20% of daily energy use.
Our muscle tissue burns calories for energy. The more muscle tissue the more fat we burn. The less muscle tissue we have the more fat escapes into our bodies and gets deposited into fat cells for storage. Think of your fat cells as storage space where the excess fat is deposited if not burned. Everything has a destination it is either stored or burned.
If we live sedentary lives and we are not physically active our metabolism reacts by slowing down. When our metabolic rate is slow we lose the ability to properly burn calories and we store the unburned energy as fat. This is why we gain weight if we are not regularly exercising.
People that are more physically active have a greater muscle mass which burns more calories and hence more fat. Some people however are genetically predisposed to having a higher metabolism and will always be able to burn calories effortlessly. I know, it doesn’t seem fair but just because you may not have been genetically blessed with a fast metabolism doesn’t mean you can’t have one.
Did you know that 2 people, one with greater muscle mass than the other can be sitting side by side enjoying a movie together. Although they are undertaking absolutely no physical activity for that time period, the person with the greater muscle mass will actually burn off more calories than the one with the lesser muscle mass. Incredible what having a little more lean muscle mass can do.
Here’s How You Increase Your Metabolism
Start exercising more, no matter what type. Any form of exercise will impact on your metabolism. You will burn lots more calories than doing no exercise at all.
Instead of having larger meals, why not try portioning? Smaller meals at regular intervals will keep your metabolism burning steadily rather than weigh it down with heavy meals. Ever feel lethargic after a large meal? Energy is diverted away from the extremities and put into digestion which makes you tired. Don’t weigh down your metabolism with large meals, small is the way to go.
Avoid crash dieting and restrictive calorie control. Starvation will only throw your body into survival mode and will derail you from your weight loss program completely. Remember fad diets only work temporarily, any weight lost is almost guaranteed to return once coming off these programs. So if you want to lose weight, you have to feed your body. Don’t drive your body to the point where it’s so fed up it will force you to binge to get some food.
Try the miracle exercise almost anyone can do and best of all it’s free. Walking is fantastic for exercising all of your large muscle groups while getting your heart rate up. A brisk walk for at least 45 minutes per day 3 to 5 times per week can greatly increase your metabolism and your weight loss efforts than from just dieting alone.
This is often a hot topic of debate however most doctors believe you should always start the day with breakfast. The results have shown that those who skip breakfast are more inclined to overeat later on during the day which of course diverts precious energy into the act of digestion. It also gives you the energy you need to get through your day. Did you know that you still burn calories as you sleep so that you need to replenish them when you wake? This is why the meal is called “Break” “Fast”.
Other Factors Affecting How You Lose Weight - How You Eat
Not only how much you eat can impact your weight loss efforts but also how you are eating plays a huge role in your ability to lose weight. Are you aware of how you are eating?
Even the speed at which you eat can have an effect. Being aware of how much you eat at a meal and being aware of every bite will decrease the need to top up your plate.
Remember to chew your food. If you gulp your meal down the chances are it won't be digested properly. Chewing is the first part of the body's digestive process. When you chew, enzymes in your saliva get to work straight away, by the time your steak and veggies hit your stomach they have already undergone partial digestion. If you swallow food without mashing it up, this stage is skipped and you are unlikely to receive all the nutrients food has to offer.
Mastication or chewing our food also sends signals to the brain which tells us that we are getting full. Try it. Next meal, take your time, make sure you chew properly and I bet you don't have the urge for second helpings.
How many times have you sat down to a meal and ate so fast you wondered where the food went? Being aware how you are eating will make the food last longer and seem like more. You will be less likely to get extra portions and will be more satisfied on less.
Remember it takes at least 30 minutes for your brain to register that it is full so give it time. I also mentioned earlier that sometimes we mistake hunger for thirst, instead of eating more food try having a glass of water instead. A glass of water before eating a meal is an outstanding way to reduce overeating.
Your Genetics And Your Metabolism
Your genetic makeup may have an effect on your metabolism but only a minor one. Don’t think that because your predisposition to being overweight is a death sentence and that you can’t lose weight. You absolutely can, there are several things that are within your power that you can do so don’t think for a second that you are doomed by your genetics because you are not. Because genetics only counts for a small amount when it comes to your weight loss the tools you have at your disposal lies within what you eat and how much you move.
How Much You Move
Let’s face it. If you want to lose weight exercise is an integral part of the process. You simply cannot get around this fact because it is by this process of exercise that you burn fat. It is the only way for your body to shift the rolls of fat or the love handles that were deposited over time.
It is a well know fact that in order to burn calories, you must combine 2 types of exercise. Cardiovascular exercise and resistance exercise.
Cardio exercise is generally observed as walking, jogging, using the cross trainer, aerobics etc. In order to make a cardio session worth while it is important that you do the exercise for long enough. Starting off with 20 min walks and progressing up to 30 to 40 min jogs is the best way to go. On average most people with notice results doing 30 to 45 mins of cardiovascular exercise 3 to 5 times per week.
Although cardio exercise is definitely a useful way to burn calories, it must be accompanied with resistance exercises. Resistance exercises are basically a method of making the body lift some kind of weight, whether it be dumbbells in a gym, your own body weight or resistance bands tied around a tree in the park.
Resistance training has a hormonal affect upon our bodies. It causes the body to preserve precious lean muscle mass which is so important for maintaining a high metabolism and also an important measure against debilitating diseases such as osteoporosis and hypertension (high blood pressure).
I will come back to specific exercise types and suggested routines later but for now lets look at what exercise has to offer.
Exercise can be something as simple as walking or jogging to begin with. Don’t feel you have to hit the gym to burn the fat or step onto a mechanical treadmill while being subjected to blaring music. With walking or jogging you can enjoy the outdoors, breathe the fresh air, enjoy the view and get real benefits from genuine hill climbing. And best of all it’s free.
Exercising just 30 minutes per day 3 times per week or more has so many benefits that have far reaching consequences long after you’ve done the exercise.
Exercise reinvigorates and energizes you.
Exercise releases your natural feel good chemicals known as endorphins. In fact even the 45 minute walks 3 times per week can greatly lower your stress levels and make you feel euphoric, calmer and relaxed.
With exercise also comes the repairing and building of muscles mass which in turn increases your metabolism. Don’t think that you have to look like The Incredible Hulk muscular to burn fat, even the slightest extra muscle tissue can greatly increase your fat burning efforts. The kind of muscle mass will be the shapely and attractive as the fat burns away. So don’t think for a second when you are building muscle mass that you are building bulk. You are simply creating more lean muscle tissue to burn more fat.
As mentioned earlier you don’t have to attend the gym for it to be classed as exercise. Walking, swimming, biking, hiking, jogging even gardening are all great for raising your heart rate and for burning calories.
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My name is Dave Hagger, founder of Seriously Fit Bootcamp
As a fitness professional I frequently meet people who want to lose weight but just have no idea where to start.