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 Weight Control 
Infocenter

Holistic-online.com

Risk Factors and Causes of Obesity

In scientific terms, obesity occurs when a person consumes more calories than he or she burns. What causes this imbalance between calories in and calories out may differ from one person to another.

The causes of obesity can be classified under:

In the final analysis eating and exercise habits are the greatest determinants of which individuals end up overweight. People overeat for many reasons. Some simply love food. Many people subconsciously equate food with emotional comfort, and eat to cope with feelings of depression, failure, or low self-esteem. Some use food to reward themselves for minor accomplishments. Many people overeat simply out of habit. A particular problem these days is a dependence on convenience and junk foods, which supply lots of calories but very little nutrition. 

Janet Zand, et.al., "Smart Medicine for Healthier Living."

Genetic Factors

We used to think that an overweight or obese person eat "like a pig." It may be true in most cases; however, research studies conducted during the late 1980s and early 1990s revealed that we may be quick to pass the blame. These studies showed that many overweight persons may not necessarily eat more than their thinner counterparts. Instead, they had more complicated, biologically seated factors working against them (commonly called "bad genes"). Let us look at some evidence:

  • Carefully done studies in the 1980s showed that a significant number of obese people who adhered to a good exercise program had to decrease their food intake to at least 25 percent below the levels of lean people in order to lose weight. The reasons for this marked difference in metabolism are thought to be predominantly genetic.
  • In one study, adults who were adopted as children were found to have weights closer to their biological parents than to their adoptive parents. In this case, the person's genetic makeup had more influence on the development of obesity than the environment in the adoptive family home.
  • Researchers fed identical twins 1,000 calories more than usual. This was done six days a week for 100 days. Even though everyone was overeating, some eaters gained more weight than others. However, for each set of twins, the amounts gained were similar.
  • Another study looked at identical twins who were raised apart. Researchers found that both twins gained similar amounts of weight regardless of their eating and exercise habits.
  • Native Americans, Pacific Islanders, Hispanics, and African- Americans seem to store fat more easily than other ethnic groups. It is suggested that members of these groups may possess a "frugal gene" that encourages efficient energy storage during times of plenty to tide them over in times of famine.

Scientists speculate that a few different fat genes may have survived from past generations of people who struggled against starvation during times of food scarcity. Such genes allowed them to eat and store calories when food was plentiful. Then, when food was scarce, the genes helped the people burn fewer calories so that they could live off their fat as long as needed, thus helping them to survive, researchers theorize.

Unfortunately, these genes are carried over to the modern world when such scarcity does not exist and making the carriers of them predisposed to obesity. A similar phenomenon works on our stress response. Our reaction to stressful events comes from the response of our ancestors during the ancient cave days with "fight" or "flight" response.

The hereditary causes contributing to the predisposition to obesity include:

  • Low serotonin levels. This, in turn, leads to a deficiency in tryptophan, an amino acid that is a  precursor of serotonin. Low tryptophan leads to hunger and craving for carbohydrates. (see 5-HTP.)
  • Insulin resistance or insensitivity. If your body lacks the ability to clear insulin from the bloodstream quickly, you may feel hungry even when you have eaten enough. This condition is aggravated by lack of physical exercise, by taking diets high in sugar, refined carbohydrates, and saturated fat. This leads to an increase in hunger, higher set point, and decreased thermogenesis (the energy used to produce heat).
  • Impaired sympathetic nervous system activity. This leads to decreased thermogenesis.
  • High Lipoprotein lipase (LPL) enzyme level. Lipoprotein lipase (LPL) is an enzyme produced by the body. Its function is to transport fat from the blood into storage in fat cells. The higher the LPL level, the more predisposed you are to store fat. Your inherent LPL level is partly determined by your heredity. So, if your parents are obese, you may have higher LPL levels than the children of thin parents, thus predisposing you to store more fat. If you have high LPL levels, dieting will worsen this situation because a low-calorie diet makes LPL more efficient at storing fat. 
  • Lower percentage of brown fat. This leads to 25 percent higher efficiency in producing energy and heat, leaving a net saving of calories with more calories to go into fat storage.
  • Deficiency of Coenzyme Q10. This was found to be present in up to 50 percent of obese subjects.

 
Genetic Predisposition to Obesity

  • If both of your parents are overweight, you have an 80 percent chance of also having weight problems.
  • If one parent is overweight, your odds are 40 percent.
  • If neither parent is overweight, you have only a 10 percent chance of being overweight.
  • If you're African-American, you're twice as likely as a Caucasian to be fat.
  • If you're a Native American, a Pacific Islander, or a Hispanic, you'll have more trouble fighting fat than someone of European ancestry.
  • If you're Asian-American, you have less chance of becoming fat than members of other ethnic groups. But any excess fat will tend to land on your abdomen.

Physical Factors

Television watching

Television watching has been demonstrated to be linked to the onset of obesity. The more TV one watches, the greater the degree of obesity. TV watching leads to childhood obesity, and excess weight in adults. One clinical study of 4,771 adult women examined the relationship between time spent watching television per week and obesity. Twice as many women who reported watching three or more hours of TV per day were obese, compared to the reference group of women who watched less than one hour of television per day.

There are several physiological effects of watching TV that promote obesity. TV watching reduces physical activity. It was also found to lower the resting (basal) metabolic rate to a level similar to that experienced during trancelike states. 

We respond to external stimuli such as the sight, smell, and taste of food, which can trigger almost addictive tendencies to eating. We are constantly bombarded by advertising, and one of the biggest culprits is television. Around meal times, advertisers promote their fast food products, which trigger memories of sweet, fat, and other stimulatory tastes. Trance-like effect that is created by TV-watching leaves the brain thinking it needs something and, not knowing exactly what it wants, it decides that food is the easiest answer.

People who watch a lot of TV also happens to do least amount of exercise (couch potatoes). All these factors contribute to obesity and weight gain. 

Physical inactivity

The United States is a sedentary nation. In spite of a decrease in average caloric intake of 40 percent in the last 130 years, the decrease in physical exertion has been even greater. In the majority of obese people, caloric intake habitually exceeds caloric loss from physical activity, movement, and exertion.

An excess-starch diet

The most fattening food is starch. People who eat excessive amounts of starch are prone to gain weight. The foods such as bread, pasta, rice, and beans contain an excess of starch. A healthy diet should include thyroid-stimulating foods such as adequate protein, sea salt, fruit, and coconut oil, in addition to organic vegetables.

Food with Low Qi or Vital Force

Dr. Rajendra Sharma, Medical Director of Hale Clinic and author of "The Family Encyclopedia of Health" has proposed an interesting theory on the causes of obesity that is plaguing the developed country. His proposal deserves serious consideration. According to him,

"The Western world has concerned itself entirely with calories when it comes to obesity. A more holistic viewpoint is that food carries an energy. It is the same vital force that exists in every living cell, and is possibly a reflection of the way in which electrons, surrounding their nuclei, move and resonate. The presence or absence of electrons alters the function of any atom, and thereby gives it many of its characteristics. This vibration is transmitted to other substances that it may come into contact with. Food created by nature's humors-air, light, water, and earth-will carry specific vibrations and building blocks from which we have evolved. Our need to store is less pronounced when nature's balance is allowed to run its course. The vital force within a food substrate may be more relevant than we realize."

"Many gurus and their disciples who meditate for many hours of the day require little if any sleep, and often exist on very small amounts of water and food. Their metabolic rate is reduced, but even that cannot account for the reduction in the amount of nutrients and calories upon which they need to survive. The hypothesis put forward by those who have studied meditation is that energy is actually absorbed from the cosmos through the art of meditation. On a more tangible note, I have wondered why individuals expending the same amount of calorific output and living in similar climates may have such disparate ranges of weight. For example: the population living in Florida are much fatter than people of a similar socioeconomic group who live in, say, Calcutta."

"I have drawn the conclusion that processed foods and nutrients that have been attacked by preservatives, additives, and microwave energy lose their vital force. Although the calories and nutrients are available, the vital force is missing, and therefore much larger amounts need to be eaten to create a level of satiety. Natural and fresh foods do not lack this energy, and create a 'fullness' more swiftly. Ask somebody to eat three bananas, and they would be struggling. The equivalent amount of calories would appear in a donut or a small bar of chocolate and, more often than not, one is not enough."

"Fat storage may therefore not simply be a calorific matter, but revolve around a quest for energy. Fat stores are not just holding calories, but are an attempt to contain a vital force that is not coming into the system regularly or naturally. Stagnation of this Qi is a well-accepted Eastern philosophy, and may be to do with a lack of electron movement in 'dead' calories."

It is interesting that obesity is a problem for those who eat "modern, processed" food. The chicken, beef, etc. are grown specifically feeding them with high calorie fattening food and hormones that will fatten them quick. The people who eat this food, probably gets the hormones with the food and get obese as a result. We do know that the hormones and other characteristics can be transmitted through egg, milk, etc.

Dr. Sharma points out that obesity is much more a problem in the developed countries of the world. So called underdeveloped cultures that remain untouched by modern advances and refined foods are not overweight. Interestingly, people in the Third-World countries who consume refined and high-fat foods have much greater levels of obesity, and a shorter life expectancy. The Africans who live within the cities tend to be overweight. However, the native, indigenous peoples not affected by unnatural foods tend to maintain a healthier, lower weight.

So, our concept of what is healthy need to be redefined if we have to keep ourselves healthy.

Low metabolism

Metabolism is deficient in many overweight people for genetic reasons and lack of physical exercise. The metabolism of stored fat in the body is considerably below that of lean tissue. So the metabolic rate of obese people is well below that of lean people, reduced by the sluggish metabolism of fat; this vicious cycle is difficult to break without vigorous physical activity.

Certain disease states are also associated with a greater likelihood of obesity, including diabetes, hypothyroidism, hypertension, hypopituitarism, and hyperlipidemias. 

For example, an underactive thyroid gland can slow down metabolism and lead to weight gain. Hypoglycemia (low blood sugar) is caused not only by the inability to digest sugar (sucrose, lactose, and maltose) but also protein, because 56% of digested protein is converted to glucose (blood sugar) as needed by the body. People in this category can be either fat or thin, depending on how much of what they eat is digested. How the body uses insulin is another factor. If your body lacks the ability to clear insulin from the bloodstream quickly, you may feel hungry even when you have eaten enough.

Candidiasis and parasites

An overgrowth of the yeast Candida albicans and parasitic conditions can cause bloating and weight gain.

Food and environmental allergies and sensitivities 

Edema resulting from the ingestion of allergens or from exposure to environmental allergens can cause weight gain.

Food allergies evoke craving responses and an addiction-like pattern. Under these circumstances overeating can often be traced to intake of unusually large amounts of the foods to which there is an excessive and distorted attraction ("craving"). 

For example, a young man lost weight just by eliminating wheat -to which he was allergic- from his diet. Nothing else was altered.

In another case, a woman gained ten pounds when she bought a down jacket to which she was allergic. When she gave away the jacket, the weight disappeared. In general, whatever a person is allergic to, whether it's feathers or fat, can cause weight gain.

Environmental poisons (enzyme inhibitors)

These include heavy metals (lead, cadmium, mercury), pesticides, synthetic substances such as margarine, and many common chemicals used by industry, agriculture, and consumers. Enzyme poisons can interrupt important metabolic processes in the body, some of which control fat burning and appetite.

Men whose birth weights were over 10 pounds carry twice the risk of being overweight adults compared to those whose birth weight was under five and a half pounds. Women have a two-thirds greater risk. It is also known that there is a consistent relationship between the number of fat cells, fixed at birth, and the adult tendency to be obese. The reasons why these two factors influence adult weight are unclear.

Emotional and Mental Factors

Psychological factors may also influence eating habits. Many people eat in response to negative emotions such as boredom, sadness, or anger.

Most overweight people have no more psychological problems than people of average weight. Still, up to 10 percent of people who are mildly obese and try to lose weight on their own or through commercial weight loss programs have binge eating disorder. This disorder is even more common in people who are severely obese.

During a binge eating episode, people eat large amounts of food and feel that they cannot control how much they are eating. Those with the most severe binge eating problems are also likely to have symptoms of depression and low self-esteem. These people may have more difficulty losing weight and keeping it off than people without binge eating problems.

According to Dr. Rajendra Sharma, Medical Director of Hale Clinic and author of 'The Family Encyclopedia of Health,'  "There is a strong psychological aspect (to obesity), which is both conscious and subconscious. Consciously, some people may not accept the social or medical rules and may choose to eat in excess. These people may also shy away from exercise and, provided that their obesity is not harming their health and they are happy, there is no reason for them to change their attitudes. The subconscious, however, may not necessarily be making them happy or healthy. We respond to external stimuli such as the sight, smell, and taste of food, which can trigger almost addictive tendencies to eating."

Excessive caloric intake from unrestrained eating, including habits such as frequent snacking in the west, is often associated with factors other than hunger. Eating may be triggered by learned responses from childhood.  Childhood and adult obesity are much more common in those whose parents use or tended to use more manipulative negative and positive prompting to control their eating as children.

Food is often used as a source of pleasure by some people. These people  have experienced previous traumas in life that limit their ability to find sources of pleasure not associated with food. This leads to overeating and obesity.

Social Factors

Food is often used as a centerpiece of social affairs in the west. We have business breakfast, luncheon, dinner, etc. We are obligated to attend social functions such as dinner parties, featuring sumptuous meals. Eating can often carry a sense of social obligation. Television watching and obesity are highly associated; the more of one, the more of the other.

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