Weekly Column_120 / August 16, 2012

Other Reasons Why We’re Fat: Could it be the Air Conditioner?

By Charles Platkin, PhD

Who or what is to blame for this epidemic? Fast food? Television?

According to David B. Allison, Ph.D., a biostatistician from the University of Alabama, “It’s not as simple as saying we need to change X and everything will be fixed; there are many factors involved.”

In fact, according to an article published in the International Journal of Obesity, there are factors aside from sedentary behavior and too much food that could be causing our weight gain.

LACK OF SLEEP

How it makes you fat: Lack of sleep can increase hunger and appetite, and also, when you’re tired, you’re less likely to be able to make the healthiest food choices.

The fix: “Go to bed earlier, and aim for seven or eight hours of sleep. You can’t make up for weeklong sleep deprivation on the weekend. You’re just cheating yourself. Plan for adequate sleep,” says Milton Stokes, M.P.H., R.D., a spokesperson for the American Dietetic Association. Set up your environment for sleep success. Make sure the temperature is correct and you have the proper bedding. “If your mattress is more than 7 years old, examine if it’s time for a new one. Don’t skimp on your mattress, either. You could spend a third of your life in bed, so don’t buy the cheap model,” adds Stokes. Other tips: Have a regular bedtime. Get rid of the TV in the bedroom. And make your sleep environment quiet — aesthetically and in terms of actual noise.

ENVIRONMENT

How it makes you fat: Industrially produced substances that include DDT and PCBs are known as “endocrine disrupters.” The research shows that these may interfere with hormones and cause an increase in body fat.

The fix: Be more concerned about chemicals in your food supply. Pay attention to environmental groups and buy organic — it’s better for the environment.

AIR CONDITIONING AND HEATING

How it makes you fat: Yes, you read it right. There is something called the thermoneutral zone (TNZ), which is the temperature at which we don’t need to expend calories to stay comfortable. So the mere fact that we have air conditioning in the summer and heat in the winter could be increasing our belt sizes. For instance, if you’re a bit cold, and you turn up the heat, your body doesn’t have to burn calories to keep warm. The research also suggests that being too comfortable may restrict blood flow, which can also affect your weight.

The fix: Aside from being completely uncomfortable and either freezing or sweating, Louis J. Aronne, M.D., a weight-control specialist at Weill Medical College of Cornell University, recommends not keeping your office or home at one temperature year round because doing that can promote weight gain. Varying the temperature below and/or above the TNZ can increase energy expenditure.

NOT SMOKING

How it makes you fat: Ever wonder why the French don’t get fat? It may be because they smoke a lot. In fact, research shows that smokers weigh less than nonsmokers. Therefore, quitting smoking increases the likelihood that you will gain weight. The nicotine in cigarettes has both thermogenic (calorie-burning) and appetite-suppressant effects. According to Stokes, ex-smokers and those in quitting programs are tempted to eat more, because the food tastes better, and they often need something to do with the extra free time as well as something to do with their hands and mouths — so they eat. Also, when stressful events occur, where smoking used to help, food is often the replacement.

The fix: Obviously, this doesn’t mean you should take up smoking — or refrain from quitting. Planning is key here. Come up with alternatives to fill the free time and for those stressful situations. For instance, you might have a favorite type of gum you can chew. Or, better yet, Stokes recommends, take a bike ride or a walk when you want to smoke. “If at work, get up from your desk and climb the stairs. Guzzle 8 ounces of water. Suck on a lemon.” The physical activity might work well, because it could help control that increased appetite. Try a variety of tactics to see what works for you.

PHARMACEUTICALS

How they make you fat: Certain pharmaceuticals, including antipsychotics, antidepressants, anticonvulsants, antihypertensives, steroid hormones, antidiabetics, contraceptives and antihistamines, can interfere with the hormones that regulate body weight and cause you to gain.

The fix: Whatever you do, don’t just stop taking your medication without consulting your physician. However, it’s not uncommon that changing your medication can help you to lose enormous amounts of weight, says Aronne. Other suggestions: Keep a journal of your weight, and if it is creeping up, analyze why, suggests Stokes. You might need to reprogram your behavior and adjust your diet once you realize that your appetite is being stimulated by medication. Also, there are nutritionists who specialize in working with those on medication. To find out more about this, contact the American Dietetic Association (eatright.org).

A Few More Reasons

  • Some age and ethnic groups with a higher prevalence for obesity than others have increased as a proportion of the population.
  • Women are becoming mothers at older ages, which may increase the risk of their children being overweight.
  • Obesity has a genetic component, and individuals with this genetic predisposition may be reproducing at a higher rate.

YOU’RE NOT OFF THE HOOK
When you hear this, do you believe that you’re not responsible for your weight? While it may be true that there are scientific and environmental forces helping you pack on the pounds, we’re each still responsible for taking them off and keeping them off. “If someone is overweight, like getting any other disease, he or she would have to fight as hard as possible to combat the disease. Basically, ‘I got it; let me see what I can do it about it,’” says Aronne.






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