Have you ever had five, 10 or more pounds creep up on you all of a sudden and wondered how it happened? Diet and exercise play a crucial role in managing your waistline, but other surprising factors could contribute to your piling on the pounds! The Doctors offer real solutions for fighting off the fat.
Is the Recession Making You Fat?
As the economy suffers, the health of many Americans suffers too. With less money to spend on food, people turn to cheaper options, like fast-food restaurants. But these often nutrient-deficient meals cause men’s and women’s waistlines to balloon. One study predicts that a 10-percent increase in the poverty rate would lead to a six-percent increase in the obesity rate.
“Junk food, in general, is cheaper than healthy food. It’s processed, made in bulk. In general, it offers more calories so it’s more dense,” ER physician Dr. Travis Stork says.
“The problem is you may save yourself a couple dollars now, but in the health consequences years from now, you’re going to cost yourself hundreds and thousand times more,” pediatrician Dr. Jim Sears adds.
“Buying fresh produce is expensive,” Dr. Travis acknowledges. “Frozen vegetables and frozen fruit have almost all of the same nutrient value as fresh produce, and it’s much cheaper. So if you can’t afford fresh vegetables, go ahead and get the frozen vegetables.” He adds that whole-wheat pasta, eggs and nuts are also nutritious and economical options.
1. Being in Love
“Eating with someone else can make you eat up to 33 percent more,” Dr. Travis says. For women, this can be problematic because they often keep up with their male mate, and a woman’s metabolism isn’t as fast as a man’s.
Dr. Sears suggests lovers base their relationships on other activities besides eating.
“There’s absolutely nothing wrong with enjoying dinner with your spouse or significant other. It’s actually a wonderful way to spend time together,” Dr. Travis adds. “Maybe before you make dinner, you go for a walk together or go exercise together.”
Danielle says that since she started dating Ben two years ago, she’s gained a considerable amount of weight. She says she used to be average size, exercised often and ate healthily, but now most of their time spent together involves cooking and eating. They enjoy making pasta with red pepper cream sauce, and eating ice cream, peanut butter M&M’s and popcorn.
“When I’m home and I’m by myself, I look at myself and think, how did you get here? What were you thinking?” Danielle reveals. “I want to get to a place, not only that I feel healthy, but I feel good about myself, and I can walk into someplace, like, this is me, and I’m proud of who I am.”
“When it comes to portions, you’re eating the portions that he’s used to eating, and that’s not right for you,” Dr. Travis says to Danielle. “You can’t eat the same number of calories as Ben.”
“You’re falling into the same thing that a lot of women do, especially when they fall in love,” OB-GYN Dr. Lisa Masterson says. “You find somebody who just loves you unconditionally for you inside, and so you feel free.” Dr. Masterson also points out that Danielle has a different amount of muscle mass and a different metabolism than Ben.
2. Lack of Sleep
Fewer than 70 percent of Americans get eight hours of sleep every night. “If you’re getting between seven and eight hours, you’re doing a good job,” Dr. Travis says. “Not only is it sleep and the amount of time in bed, but the quality of sleep.” The human body produces a hormone called leptin, particularly when you’re sleeping. This hormone helps decrease hunger, so if you’re not getting enough shut eye, less leptin is produced by your brain, thereby making you hungrier.
Studies have shown that women who don’t get enough Zzzs often have more cravings and weigh more than other women. Also, melatonin levels increase while you’re sleeping, and that helps to fight cancer.
One way to get more sleep is to take naps, but for no more than 30 minutes. Dr. Sears tries an innovative new option for napping: the sleep pod, a white capsule that resembles a clam with a tail, where you lie down with your head and upper body covered by a shell.
When he gets into the pod, he puts on his headphones and iPod, takes off his shoes and reclines in the chair. The front of the capsule comes down to cover the top part of his body. Dr. Jim explains that the relaxing atmosphere and dark environment in the capsule make for a good power-nap area.
Tips for a Better Night’s Sleep
- Get ready for bed 15 minutes earlier to make sure the environment is just right
- Create a dark space where you slumber
- Hide the light emitted by your alarm clock
- Eat foods high in tryptophan, an amino acid that helps the body make serotonin, which produces a healthy sleep. Foods include: bananas, cereal and leafy green vegetables
- Keep your bedtime and wake time consistent
- Estrogen has been shown to increase REM sleep, so if you’re a woman who is going through menopause and has gained weight, consider hormone replacement therapy to obtain a better night’s sleep
Briggit has recently gained 15 pounds and says the cause is stress eating. “When I’m at home, I just grab some chips and salsa, or when I’m out and about, I just grab some fast food,” she says.
Her day is consumed with taking care of her three children under the age of 5, and she rarely has any time for herself.
“One of the reasons that stress makes you gain weight, particularly in the wrong areas — in your abdominal region around your organs, which is bad fat — is because we’re conditioned to have this fight-or-flight response. That’s our old-fashioned response we were supposed to have when we needed to run away from danger, so your adrenal glands release cortisol into your bloodstream,” Dr. Travis explains.
“The problem is not only do we release cortisol, we release adrenaline, and it gets our body primed to fight or run away, so we get all this sugar into our blood. Instead of having that threat, it’s a perceived threat.” People often calm themselves with sugar, which can lead to diabetes. “It’s priming our system to gain weight.”
The most important thing stressed-out people should do is find ways to relieve their stress.
Dr. Sears dons a massage helmet, which is purported to help relieve stress. “It’s giving me a little scalp message, a little back-of-the-head message. It actually feels pretty cool,” he declares. “Anything that makes you sit and relax for a while has got to be good.”
Dr. Travis comments that exercise is also a great way to get rid of stress. “You go out for a run, you’re actually doing what your body wants you to do,” he says, mentioning the fight -or-flight response. The Doctors demonstrate other ways to relieve stress.
Sooner or later, every woman faces menopause, the cessation of her period when the ovaries decrease production of the hormone estrogen. Sharon says she’s currently going through it and suffering the symptoms. She isn’t taking any hormone medication, craves carbohydrates and sweets every three hours and has gained 40 pounds in four years, and 10 pounds last month.
“I’m very frustrated and worried about my health,” she says.
“This is a problem that a lot of women going through menopause have,” Dr. Lisa assures her. “Estrogen is very important to the body. People don’t realize that those hormones help your skin, help your teeth, help your bones, and they also regulate things like cholesterol and body fat. So as that estrogen goes down, you get increased body weight and increased body fat, and mostly that fat is shifted to your abdomen, the wrong place that we want the fat.”
Dr. Lisa stresses the importance of increasing exercise and maintaining a healthy diet. Women should also make sure to drink enough milk, which contains calcium and vitamin D, eat enough iron-rich foods like spinach and get enough vitamin C. “You have to be really good about getting your vitamins now because the estrogen, the lack of those hormones, will really cause other things to be depleted,” Dr. Lisa says. “Right now the recommendation for hormones is the shortest duration and only for symptoms, meaning hot flashes, insomnia, things like that and not necessarily appetite changes.”
5. Medicine and Illness
Many people don’t realize that when they take certain prescription medications — steroids, or medicines for diabetes, blood pressure and mood disorders — they can gain weight. “Steroids are known to cause significant weight gain,” Dr. Travis says.
Women are at a heightened risk for hyperthyroidism. “That’s good, in a way, because a woman can go, and she can get tested. So if there’s unexplained weight gain in a short period of time and associated with an irregular period, fatigue, you can get a simple blood test to determine if you have hypothyroidism,” Dr. Lisa says. “It can be treated with medications.” Getting screened for this condition is important, because half the people who have it don’t know it.
“If you don’t change anything in your eating habits, if you don’t change anything in your lifestyle, and all of a sudden you’re putting on excess weight, you should talk with your doctor about it,” Dr. Travis says.
Tips for Coping with Anxiety
- Challenge Negative Thoughts
Do not paralyze yourself with doubt. Learn to move on knowing you’ve done everything you can in a particular situation.
- Do Not Hold Your Breath
Do yoga, meditate or exercise. These activities can help your breathing.
- Use Medication to Control Anxiety
Medication cannot cure anxiety, but it may help you keep symptoms under control.