Here’s why you’re packing on the pounds, and the strategies you can use to fend them off
TODAY, 04:46 AM Oct 11 2011, by Eveline Gan
YOU’VE been watching your weight. Yet, why have those kilos crept up stealthily over the years?
Find out what might be sabotaging your weight stability, and strategies to keep the extra kilos off your waistline.
Weight saboteur 1: Your age
Unfortunately, Mother Nature is one of the main culprits of weight gain. Not only do we start succumbing to gravity, most people tend to also pack on the kilos with age.
Explained Dr Daniel Wai, director of the obesity and metabolic unit and consultant at the department of endocrinology at Singapore General Hospital (SGH): “With ageing, the growth and sex hormones (testosterone in men and oestrogen in women) drop. This causes a loss of lean muscle and increased fat, especially the fat in the intra-abdominal region – this is where our tummies are.”
Most people also become more sedentary as they age, added Dr Stanley Liew Choon Fong, a specialist in endocrinology and consultant at Raffles Internal Medicine Centre.
Fix it: Balance your caloric input and output
While some ageing-related weight gain is normal, Dr Liew advised older adults to try to keep within their normal body mass index range to minimise the risk of obesity-related medical conditions such as diabetes and heart disease.
Dr Wai said ageing-related weight gain is “not inevitable”. After all, added Dr Liew, maintaining weight is “all about balancing calorie intake and expenditure”. Eating sensibly and regular exercise should help keep your weight stable.
Weight saboteur 2: Wrong food choices
A new Harvard study, which tracked the dietary habits of 120,000 people over a period of 20 years, has re-affirmed what our mums and nutrition experts have long drummed into us – sugary foods and refined starches are bad for our waistlines.
Published in the June 2011 issue of The New England Journal Of Medicine, the study found that people whose diets were high in sugar-sweetened beverages, sweets, and processed foods found it harder to maintain their weight over the long term, compared to those who ate more whole grains, fruits and vegetables.
Here’s why: Dr Liew thinks that processed grains and starches may be less satiating, hence increasing hunger signals and total calorie intake.
Fix it: Ditch the junk food. Pack your diet with wholesome ones like whole grains and yoghurt.
Losing or maintaining one’s weight does not necessarily mean starving yourself. The right food choices can keep you slim and full at the same time.
The Harvard research team found that even when the participants increased their consumption of certain wholesome foods such as vegetables, nuts, fruits and whole grains, they gained less weight than those who ate unhealthy diets.
The scientists reasoned that the “higher fibre content and slower digestion of these foods would augment satiety”.
In addition, load up on yoghurt. One of the interesting findings was that calcium-and protein-rich food was most strongly linked to less weight gain among participants.
Previous studies have found that yoghurt may help to maintain weight. A possible explanation is that it “may modify colonic bacteria favouring weight maintenance”, said Dr Liew. He added that a simpler reason might be that yoghurt lovers are generally more health conscious.
Weight saboteur 3: Too many liquid calories
You have curbed your snacking habit but why isn’t your weight dropping? Dr Liew said to take a good hard look at what you’ve been drinking.
You might have unwittingly consumed too much liquid calories. Some beverages may contain as many calories as unhealthy snacks. Milkshakes contain about 300 calories (more if you add whipped cream) and a can of fizzy drink has about 150 calories. A mocha frappucino is a 400-calorie bomb. And the worst part? They don’t even fill you up.
Fix it: Go for some good old H2O
“The amount of calories in high-caloric drinks can be easily replaced by healthier ones like plain water. Or opt for beverages with no sugar added such as black coffee, tea and diet soft drinks,” advised Dr Liew.
Weight saboteur 4: Stress and lack of sleep
According to Dr Wai, chronic stress triggers a higher production of the stress hormone cortisol. Too much cortisol leads to weight gain. The same goes with the lack of sleep, which increases cortisol and ghrelin, the hunger hormone.
It’s a vicious cycle. “People who sleep less are hungrier and they eat more. Plus, the stress hormone further helps build up weight,” said Dr Wai.
Fix it: Get your Zzzs, work out
Resist the urge to fiddle with your iPhone and turn in early. Without enough rest, where will you find the energy to fight the temptation to gobble down that yummy chocolate brownie?
Regular exercise also helps relieve stress, and keep your weight stable.
Weight saboteur 5: Hidden medical condition
Certain medical conditions can cause unexpected weight gain. Hypothyroidism, or low thyroid hormone, is one of the culprits, said Dr Wai. More commonly seen in women and the Indian population, this condition can cause weight gain, tiredness and cold intolerance.
You may also put on weight if you’re on corticosteroids, a drug used to treat autoimmune conditions such as lupus, rheumatoid arthritis and asthma, Dr Wai added.
Fix it: Talk to your doc
“If you find your weight shooting up even though you’re not eating too much, you may want to consult a doctor,” advised Dr Wai.
Conditions like hypothyroidism can be easily treated with thyroid hormone replacement. He added that regardless of the medical condition, a sensible diet and regular exercise remains the key to maintaining weight.