Factors Affecting Body Weight
In the past it was thought that diet and activity level were the only factors affecting body weight. We now know that this is not the case. If you’re trying to lose weight, you may be frustrated. Some people can exercise regularly and reduce caloric intake and still not lose weight. And, of course, we all know people who can eat whatever they want and never gain a pound.
Weight gain and obesity are complex conditions, dependent upon various lifestyle, hormonal, biochemical, metabolic, and genetic factors. Some of the most important factors include:
- Basal Metabolic Rate (BMR): The rate at which your body burns calories at rest is called your BMR. Your BMR is dependent on several of the factors listed below, such as activity level and thyroid function.
- Caloric intake: Overeating and consuming more calories than your body uses for energy can result in weight gain—regardless of whether those calories come from fat, carbohydrates, or protein.
- Activity level: Inactivity causes loss of muscle mass, reduced metabolic rate, and increased body fat, whereas regular exercise improves muscle mass and boosts metabolism.
- Stress: Chronic stress can cause weight gain, particularly around the mid-section. Stress increases the production and release of cortisol, a hormone that increases body fat storage. Stress has become a common concern for women today as more women are juggling family, career, and household responsibilities.
- Human growth hormone (HGH): HGH is an important hormone for regulating body weight. Low levels can cause a loss of lean muscle mass and an increase in body fat storage. Levels decline with age, particularly after age 50, causing a shift in our body composition.
- Lack of sleep: Research has found that lack of sleep (less than six hours per night) can raise levels of hormones that increase appetite and decrease levels of HGH. Staying up too late may work against you when you’re trying to lose weight.
- Thyroid function: The thyroid gland plays a vital role in controlling metabolism. If your thyroid is low and not functioning optimally, this can reduce your metabolic rate and cause weight gain. Low thyroid is very common in women between the ages of 30 and 50. Symptoms include cold hands and feet, dry skin, hair loss, low libido, constipation, and depression.
- Insulin: When insulin levels are high the body stores more fat and is not able to use fat as a source of energy.
- Genetics: Genetics play a role in determining body type and weight. However, lifestyle factors are more important determinants.
- Sex hormones: High estrogen levels or low testosterone levels are associated with weight gain.
- Serotonin: A chemical messenger in the brain, serotonin regulates satiety (fullness) and appetite. When levels are low we feel hungry, and when they are high we feel satisfied.
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