This week, I am at a medical conference in Washington, D.C. on Overcoming Obesity. With the prevalence of obesity rising in the US every year, this could be a pretty depressing meeting. But it’s fascinating, and I’m so excited to share with you some of the things I’m learning! You won’t believe the research that is being performed right now. All kinds of new information is emerging. For example:
The gut connection
Did you know that there are more bacterial cells in your body than human cells? That’s right, most of the DNA in your body is not even yours. These bacteria live in your gut, and they do some amazing things. Have you ever noticed that you and your friend next to you can eat the exact same 500 calories, and you will gain weight and she won’t? It’s not just your imagination. You may be what is called a “hyperabsorber”. This means that you may have gut bacteria that enables you to extract more calories from the same food. Thanks a lot, bacteria.
The body never forgets
Your body remembers your highest weight, and research is showing that no matter what you do, your body wants to return to that setpoint. That’s one reason why, when you lose weight, it’s so hard to keep it off. You really do get hungrier until you return to that higher weight. New medications and techniques are being developed to outsmart this process.
Another thing: Some common medications create a “positive energy balance” – code for making you gain weight. These include some medications for headache, high blood pressure, seizures, headaches, viruses, diabetes, and depression. Having trouble with weight gain (aside from pregnancy)? Talk to your provider about any medications that you’re taking.
Genetics and sleep
When you’re pregnant, the intrauterine environment plays a critical role in your child’s risk of obesity. If pregnant moms are obese, or if they gain excessive weight during pregnancy, their children are more likely to be obese and have impaired metabolism.
Sleep deprivation increases ghrelin, the hunger hormone. This is especially true in shift workers who are up all night and whose schedules are irregular.
We have always been told that overcoming obesity is simply a matter of eating fewer calories and exercising more: calories in/calories out. And when weight loss is difficult, which it almost always is, the world can be so judgmental, as though the inability to lose weight is a character flaw or a failure of willpower.
As it turns out, weight management is so much more complex than simply “calories in/calories out”. Studies are revealing that there are genetic mutations that determine your susceptibility to obesity, and even viral infections that increase the risk of obesity. And there are new treatments emerging that target some of these processes specifically. So if you’re struggling with your weight, there are really exciting developments happening.
My message for you, brave girl, is to quit blaming yourself and hang in there! It’s clear that the issue of losing weight or maintaining a healthy weight is more complicated than just having more self-control. So I encourage you to keep doing the research, and stay tuned for some follow-up articles I will be writing about how to turn these new findings into actionable information that can help in your weight-loss journey.