According to research from Cleveland Clinic and New York University School of Medicine, obesity is one of the leading causes of preventable death in the U.S. "Modifiable behavioral risk factors pose a substantial mortality burden in the U.S.," says Glen Taksler, Ph.D. "These preliminary results continue to highlight the importance of weight loss, diabetes management and healthy eating in the U.S. population." Want to take control of your weight? Here are five factors adding inches to your waistline. Read on—and to ensure your health and the health of others, don't miss these Sure Signs You've Already Had COVID.
Eating Too Much
This might seem like an obvious cause of obesity—but studies show that people frequently underestimate the amount of calories they are taking in daily and are subsequently confused about weight gain. "Studies show again and again that we humans have a great tendency to underestimate what we have eaten during the day and tend to minimize the calories in the foods that we eat," says Kristen A. Carter M.S. "Often individuals seeking to lose weight are asked to keep a food diary before they even start."
Letting Stress Rule Your Life
Unchecked stress can wreak havoc on your weight in multiple ways, experts say. "It's called stress eating for a reason. Many people cope with hard times by eating to make themselves feel better," says Jessica Kennedy, DO. "Chronic stress can lead to overeating, weight gain and obesity. One study found that high cortisol levels over long periods of time leads to weight issues. Patients with chronic stress weighed more, had larger waistlines and had higher BMIs than people with low cortisol levels. If the effects of stress are adding up and starting to cause you mental distress and physical symptoms, talk to your primary care provider. Many signs of chronic stress are symptoms of other health issues."
Poor (and Not Enough) Sleep
Trying to lose weight (or maintain a healthy weight) is made incredibly difficult if sleep is not prioritized. "As a society, we are 24/7 and driven by productivity. Our culture just doesn't want to go to sleep," says Pulmonary and Critical Care and Sleep Medicine physician Amerlon Enriquez, MD. "When you don't get enough sleep, your body releases a hormone that makes you feel hungry or not satisfied, so you're likely to eat more. When this happens day after day it can lead to obesity. Lack of sleep also causes insulin-resistance, which can lead to diabetes, and many mental illnesses include sleep problems."
Too Many Sugary Beverages
"We eat way too much sugar, and it's leading to serious health problems," says Ashley Taliaferro, DO. "Sodas and most other sugary drinks are just empty calories. Just one can of regular soda has more added sugar than you need in a day. If you drink soda every day, you can gain up to 15 pounds in a year — all from that one source of sugar. If you become obese, it creates so many more problems than just additional weight. You have more body fat. Plaque builds up in your arteries. You develop high blood pressure. There are a lot of diseases that are linked to obesity."
You're Losing Muscle
Age-related sarcopenia (muscle loss) can lead to obesity, experts warn. "Muscles burn calories 24/7. If you have less muscle, your body burns fewer calories, which can lead to easier weight gain," says Dr. Walter Willett, professor of epidemiology and nutrition at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health. Avoid muscle loss by focusing on exercise that helps maintain muscle mass. "Several strategies have been evaluated for preventing sarcopenia and its adverse health outcomes, including exercise training, nutritional supplementation, and hormonal therapies. Currently, only physical exercise has shown a positive effect," says McKenze Maiers, PT. "Both resistance and aerobic training have been shown to improve overall health and wellness, no matter your age. But the only proven method for the prevention and improvement of sarcopenia is progressive resistance training."