It really is genetic
Scientists now suspect that there are lots of fat genes. "There could be as many as 100 of them," says Claude Bouchard, PhD, executive director of the Pennington Biomedical Research Center at Louisiana State University System, "each adding a couple of pounds here and a pound or two there. That's a noticeable difference when it comes to how much more fat we need to burn off."
As much as 16 percent of the population has two copies of the FTO gene, and half of us have one copy. So far, scientists suspect that the other possible obesity-promoting genes have a small effect compared with FTO. The good news? "A genetic predisposition isn't necessarily a life sentence," says Bouchard. Also, even though FTO gene carriers are more likely to be obese, the gene doesn't prevent you from losing weight, according to a 2016 study from Newcastle University. "Our study shows that improving your diet and being more physically active will help you lose weight, regardless of your genetic makeup," said lead researcher John Mathers.
Some people just have more fat cells
New fat cells emerge during childhood but seem to stop by adolescence. Those of us destined to have a lot of these cells probably start producing them as young as age two. The cells' rate of growth may be faster, too—even if kids cut way back on calories.
Strangers have written to Spalding, telling her how depressed they are by her research. But she says her news isn't all bleak. You're better off with more fat cells, she says, than with fewer fat cells that become overstuffed and enlarged. (New research suggests that the overstuffed group are more vulnerable to obesity—related health complications.) So while you can't reduce your total number of fat cells, there are things you can do to keep them small like sleeping to help you lose weight.
You can change your metabolism
How to get back on track? "The more I learn on the job, the more I'm convinced we need physical activity," Pietiläinen says. Once a chubby child herself, she now runs regularly and is at a healthy weight. But there are other health benefits to exercise besides weight loss.
Stress fattens you up
Stress hormones also ramp up fat storage. For our prehistoric ancestors, stress meant drought or approaching tigers, and a rapid-storage process made sense; we needed the extra energy to survive food shortages or do battle. Today we take our stress sitting down—and the unused calories accumulate in our midsection.
To whittle yourself back down to size, in addition to your usual workout routine, make time for stress relief—whether it's a yoga class or quality time with family. Or shut down food cravings for good, using these 7 Jedi-mind tricks.
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Mom's pregnancy sealed your fate
What's true for mice is often true for humans too. Doctors from State University of New York Downstate Medical Center compared children born before their mothers had gastric bypass surgery with siblings born later. Women weighed less after the surgery, as expected, but their children were also half as likely to be obese. Because siblings have such similar genetic profiles, the researchers attributed the weight differences to changes in the womb environment. Moms-to-be, take note: You can give your kids a head start by eating well and steering clear of sugary drinks like soda before they're born.
Sleep more, weigh less
Why? University of Chicago researchers reported that sleep deprivation upsets our hormone balance, triggering both a decrease in leptin (which helps you feel full) and an increase of ghrelin (which triggers hunger). As a result, we think we're hungry even though we aren't—and so we eat. Indeed, sleep may be the cheapest and easiest obesity treatment there is. Try these 50 other weight loss tricks that don't involve a lick of exercise.
Your spouse's weight matters
"Men and women would flock to him, drawn to his charisma," she recalls. "I felt jealous." Dixon comforted herself with food and gained 20 pounds before she decided to take action. She began biking with her husband and enrolled in a diet program. Eventually she trimmed down, too, shedding 30 pounds, and has her sights on losing more.
Dixon credits the weight gain, and the loss, to her jealousy. But research shows that weight gain and loss can be, well, contagious. A study in the New England Journal of Medicine suggests that if one spouse is obese, the other is 37 percent more likely to become obese too. The researchers concluded that obesity seems to spread through social networks.
As in Dixon's case, slimming down seems to be catching, at least within the family: When Dixon launched her weight-loss plan, her eldest daughter, also overweight, followed her mom's healthy habits and lost 40 pounds. Follow these weight-loss tips from people who successfully lost 50 pounds or more!
Achoo! A virus can cause obesity
Stem cells, known for their chameleonlike abilities to transform, also turned into fat cells when infected with the viruses. "The virus seems to increase the number of fat cells in the body as well as the fat content of these cells," says Nikhil Dhurandhar, PhD, now an associate professor of infections and obesity at Pennington.
Human studies, including comparisons of twins, suggest that obese people are indeed more likely to harbor antibodies for a particular virus, known as adenovirus-36.
We have flu shots; could an obesity vaccine be the next step? It may sound far-fetched, but "that's what they said about cervical cancer too," says Dhurandhar. On the other hand, unexplained weight loss could be a sign of these 10 serious health conditions.
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Cookies really are addictive
Ear infections can taint your taste buds
Responses to additional questions provided clues as to why. Former ear-infection patients were a little more likely to love sweets and fatty foods—perhaps because the damaged nerve causes them to have a higher threshold for sensing sweetness and fattiness. Even a small increase in calories from bad food choices adds up over time.
Childhood ear infections are as hard to avoid as the colds that tend to bring them on, but limiting passive smoke seems to drive down incidents of ear infection. If you're an overweight adult who suffered a severe ear infection as a child, it may be worth paying attention to the taste and texture of your food. Simply finding healthier substitutes, such as fruit instead of candy or olive oil instead of butter, may help drive you toward eating better and weighing less. Even foods you never thought of swapping out like sweet potato slices for toast or kiwis instead of oranges may help.
Antioxidants are also anti-fat
Pick a diet, any diet
- Consume carbs in the form of whole grains and fiber.
- Avoid trans fats and saturated fats.
- Eat lean protein.
- Fill up on fruits and vegetables.
The low-carb South Beach Diet, for example, now espouses the virtues of eating the Mediterranean way-including lots of carbohydrate-rich fruits and vegetables. The latest Atkins book emphasizes the "good carb" message too. Weight Watchers, a champion of the points system, is now offering a "no counting" option based on healthy choices like those above. Jenny Craig is pushing Volumetrics, a high-volume, low-calorie strategy. (Steal these weight loss tricks from today's most popular fad diets.) And everyone gives a thumbs-down to processed and sugary carbohydrates, which cause insulin to spike and can lead to more fat and even diabetes.
Low-fat-diet guru Dean Ornish, MD, says, "It's the end of the diet wars." His most recent book, The Spectrum, even offers recipes that can be prepared in various "degrees"-from a vegetable chili served plain (low-fat) to one served with olives (more fat) to still another served with turkey breast sausage (still more fat).
The key to all of this, of course, is moderation rather than deprivation—eating in a way you can live with. And for some people, an important side effect of eating more plant-based foods is that it's better for the environment and good for your health.
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You can be fat and fit
Further defying conventional wisdom, the article also reported that 23.5 percent of trim adults were, in fact, metabolically abnormal-making them more vulnerable to heart disease than their heavier counterparts.
The latest U.S. Department of Health and Human Services report corroborates what our doctors have said all along: You need about 30 minutes of moderate-intensity physical activity five days a week for health. And you don't even have to do your exercise in one fell swoop-ten-minute stints of walking are just as effective. Try some tricks for sneaking in fitness throughout your busy day like forgoing the elevators for the stairs, getting off one train or bus stop earlier, and parking your car a few blocks away.
Remember Steven Blair, the self-described short, fat, bald guy? At age 69, his blood pressure is in check, his cholesterol levels are normal, and his heart is strong. What's more, he may have even more positive vital signs, according to his recent study in the journal Obesity: Men who are fit (determined by their performance on a treadmill) have a lower risk of dying of cancer than out-of-shape guys, regardless of their body mass index, waist size, or percentage of body fat. (Stop believing these 10 fat myths.)
The news is heartening, says Blair: "We don't have great tools to change people's weight, but we know we can change their fitness levels.