How to Get a Gut

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How to Get a Gut

Why do people gain weight?  And more importantly, why do people gain weight in their abdomen?  Research is constantly going on to help identify the reasons why.  As a dietitian I try and help my clients clue in on habits or trends in the things that they’re doing that might be contributing to their weight gain.  One of the things that I’ll do is obtain a diet recall from people.  Truth be told I don’t think they’re effective in my sessions.  Why you ask?  Just the other day it took me 15 minutes just to get an idea of what a “typical” day was for this patient.  She had a hard time telling me what she does daily because every day is different.  Not to mention that she omitted what it was that she was drinking because she didn’t consider that food (she got a little perturbed at me that I even asked her about her drinks – yes, she was drinking lots of sugary drinks  that she knew she shouldn’t be.)  Diet recalls can be effective if the patient is willing to be honest.  I let the patients know that weight gain doesn’t happen all at once.  It actually can creep up on you.  The 1st place you’ll start to notice it is with your clothes – you can’t seem to fasten your skirt, your pants feel snug.  Guess what?  I let them know that they’re NOT alone.  The average adult American gains about a pound a year.  And if you gain weight around your waist, that’s the worst one for your health, because it raises the risk of heart disease, diabetes, and possibly dementia.  If you’re not sure how you’re gaining weight (that’s why my patients come to see me sometimes), here are some of the things we’re doing that make us gain weight…and more specifically, expand our waists. 

Don’t bother getting up.

We sit in the car, at the office, at our computers, and in front of the TV.  Why should we move when we can work, e-mail, shop, and talk on the phone without so much as standing up? Unless of course you have to walk to the bathroom or kitchen.  I used to have a 3-hour commute.  I was the queen of sitting.  And the worst part of it all is that when I’d get home I’d want to go for a walk but all that driving made me a zombie.  I’d end up sitting on the couch till I went to bed just to do it all over again the next day.  Moving our limbs is becoming obsolete.

Researchers are looking at whether inactivity can drive the body to make new fat cells.  We know that stem cells can become bone cells, muscle cells, or a fat cell.  The question is whether the mechanical signals from exercise can alter the decision of cells to end up as fat.  The research shows that even if you don’t see dramatic weight loss, exercise reduces overall body fat and hidden intra-abdominal fat, which is the most dangerous type. 

Remember we’re gaining one to two pounds on average a year (and that’s being conservative).  Over time that adds up to dangerous levels over a lifetime.  Regular, moderate-intensity exercise can help you keep the weight from creeping on, and that can translate to a lower risk of diabetes, cardiovascular disease, or cancer in the long run.

We keep eating as much as we did in our 20s.

We always have chips with our sandwich, always clean our plate when we have mom’s Italian, always order egg rolls when we have Chinese, always get a pastry with our coffee.  It’s never been a problem, so why should we change now?

The reason why:  As we get older, calorie requirements go down.  We need fewer calories as we age because our metabolic rate is falling, because we’re burning fewer calories to process the food we eat, and because we’re making fewer spontaneous movements.  You’ll use fewer calories per year, even if you keep up the same activity level – but let’s be honest with ourselves – are we as active as we were in our 20s?  (For those that are and are exercising a lot more than they used to, this is not the reason you are gaining weight – head to my next tip).  Even if you put in the same hours exercising, your ability to transport and use oxygen drops with age, so it feels harder to get the same workout. 

For the most part people realize that they have to cut calories as they age, they just don’t realize how many.  When you’re in your 20s there’s a lot more room for discretionary foods like cake, brownies, chips, whatever.  But as we enter our 60s, there’s no room for any of that stuff.  It’s going to require a profound shift in what we’re eating.  Most are willing to make small cuts, many just don’t realize that they may need to eat 1,000 less calories at age 60 versus 20.

Bump up your calories per bite.

Chocolate.  Butter.  Cream.  Cake.  Who says you can’t have your cake and eat it too?  Foods like cake, cookies, pies, doughnuts are calorie-dense.  What that means is they pack a lot of calories into each bite, so more calories reach your still-room-for-more fat depots. 

There have been studies done that restrict the calorie density and people don’t even notice.  When people are eating the same number of spoonfuls, they don’t notice if each one has fewer calories.  They’re eating a consistent weight or volume of food.  It’s just a natural response.

If we cut the calorie density it’s been shown to help people lose weight.  How do you lower calorie density?  The biggest influence is the water content of foods.  You can eat more fruits and vegetables, broth-like soups, lean protein foods and whole grains, which absorb water.  Cutting back on fat also helps.  I’m not meaning to say that you should eat a low-fat diet.  However, cutting back on the unhealthy fats that you don’t need is important.

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Drink Your Calories

.Thirsty?  Have a glass of juice with breakfast.  A fresh-pressed juice would go well with that sandwich.  And wouldn’t a nice White Chocolate Mocha warm you up on your way to work?  Only one problem.

Our hunger goes down after we eat and stays at a lower level after we eat a solid more so than after we drink a liquid.  And whether you eat or drink your calories also affects your next meal.  Studies show that when people eat 100 calories of solid food, on average they consume about 65 fewer calories at their next meal.  When they eat 100 calories of semisolid food, they eat 21 fewer calories at their next meal.  But when they drink 100 calories of liquid, they don’t cut back at all later.

Why are liquid calories different?  The data suggests that some of the hormones that control appetite respond differently when calories hit you as liquid versus solid.  The solution is really simple – think your drink!!  And of course, water, water, water.  Water is capable of not only hydrating you but also you’re less likely to overconsume it because your thirst response gets turned off.  (With the sweetness or flavors in other drinks, that might not happen.)

Diet sodas might create other problems.  Some studies suggest that artificial sweeteners may mess up the body’s internal sensing of when it’s getting calories, which could lead to overconsumption of calories.

The bottom line:  don’t ignore the calories in your glass.  Those calories need to be included in your total calories for the day.  When you have the choice between a glass of apple juice and an apple, pick the apple.

Eat out more often.                                                                                                                                       

Why dine in when you can go out or get take-out?  It’s less work, and it’s usually less boring.  It’s also a great way to get a gut.

The calories in restaurant foods are obscene.  At many of the restaurants you can spend 1,000 calories on the main entrée, an entire appetizer can plaster another 1,000 calories, and then you can wrap the meal up with a 1,000 calorie dessert.  Not to mention that their portion sizes are completely out of control.  And huge portions don’t just matter when you eat out, they warp your expectations of what’s normal at other times.   Let’s be honest, after you eat an eight-ounce hamburger at a restaurant, a four-ounce hamburger at home seems puny. 

Giving up restaurants completely is unnecessary.  I understand it’s part of our lives.  But what I do challenge people to do is to check the frequency with which they are eating out.  How many times do you eat out per week?  Be honest with yourself.  You might be doing it more often than you realize.  Eating out less frequently is one of the easiest things you can do to keep your gut from growing.

Look for trans fat.                                                                                                                                                  

While many companies are removing the trans fat from their products it is still buried inside some pie crusts, pastries, microwave popcorns, frozen pizzas, and biscuits.  You can also get it in restaurant foods (unless you’re eating out in New York City, Philadelphia, or a few other cities where trans fats are virtually banned).

What does trans fat have to do with your waist and gaining weight?  Researchers have found that those that eat more trans fat are more likely to gain waist circumference.  And not only do they gain weight they also had higher post-meal blood insulin levels, suggesting that they had become insulin-resistant, which could raise the risk of diabetes and heart disease.

Trans fat could be interfering with the ability to send signals through cell membranes.  And that could interrupt normal fat storage and fat burning.  Guidelines from the American Heart Association recommend limiting the amount of trans fats to less than 1 percent of your total daily calories.  What does that translate to?  If you need 2,000 calories a day, no more than 20 of those calories should come from trans fats.  That’s less than 2 grams a day.  That means there’s no room at all for industrially manufactured trans fats.

Surround yourself with food.                                                                                                                              

Someone offers you something yummy so you oblige.  I mean you don’t want to be rude.  And even if it’s not a person, but, say, you’re at the grocery store and they’re offering out samples, why not go for it?  Maybe you are hungrier than you realize.

There are people who take food opportunities.  These are the people that take a slice of birthday cake even though it’s 2 p.m. and they’re still full from lunch (I admit it, I’ve done this!)  Disinhibition isn’t just a matter of willpower.  Another example is the person that goes in to buy coffee and looks at the pastries and 30 seconds later they’re hungry.  Whether you buy the pastry or not, that’s the person that probably eats more overall, because the pastries have stimulated their hunger.  (Having willpower is closer to what scientists call restraint.  But being restrained is different than being disinhibited). 

Surrounding yourself with food at home or at work is a recipe for gut expansion.  An example is secretaries ate more candy if a bowl sat on their desk rather than six feet away, and they ate more if the bowl was clear than they did if it was opaque.  The solution:  keep your distance.  Don’t go into that coffee shop and try to tough it out with the pastries if they tempt you.  Instead, just don’t go in.

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Get less sleep.                                                                                                                                                             

So what if you stay up late again?  You’ll just do the usual and drag yourself out of bed and double the caffeine tomorrow morning.  No one gets a good night’s sleep these days anyway.  Roughly one out of three men and women aged 30 to 64 reported sleeping less than six hours a night in 2004. (Experts recommend at least seven hours of sleep a night.)  What on earth does sleep have to do with your belly?

Many studies have found a relationship between short sleep duration and obesity.  When you’re deprived of sleep, your appetite can go way up.  And not only your appetite, but they’ve found that the cravings for sweets and carbs went up in particular.

Sleep might have gotten linked to eating during human evolution, when summer meant longer days – and less sleep – than winter for people who lived away from the equator.  This short sleep duration during the summer may have been a signal to the body that it was the time to build up fat reserves to endure the winter.  This intra-abdominal fat is more adaptive to protect our internal organs in winter.  But the genes that helped us survive those winters or adapt to famine are not helping us now.  Our ancestors would’ve burned that fat over the winter.  We on the other hand are just piling it on.

In a recent report obesity rates appear to have leveled off since 2005, after having doubled in adults—and tripled in kids—since 1980.  Before we can start celebrating this we need to keep in mind that one out of three children or teens—and two out of three adults—still weigh enough to put their health at risk.  Here’s another staggering statistic:  0 children in 1980 were diagnosed with type 2 diabetes, 30+ years later, there are 57,638 kids with the disease (statistic taken from the movie Fed Up.)  We are a nation in crisis.  We’ve identified reasons why we gain weight but we still need to work on changing these habits/trends.  Otherwise we WILL continue to see a rise in the diagnoses of diabetes and other health related diseases.