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The Real Reason For Weight Gain

Over the past several decades Americans have steadily gotten fatter. Although our increasingly sedentary lifestyles are partly to blame, a big reason for our national weight gain is that we’re simply eating more.

In the mid-2000s, government surveys show, the average American adult ate about 2,375 calories per day, nearly one-third more than he (or she) did in the late 1970s. What accounts for all those added calories?

According to a new study, the biggest single contributor to the sharp rise in calorie intake has been the number of snacks and meals people eat per day. Over the past 30-odd years, the study found, Americans have gone from consuming 3.8 snacks and meals per day to 4.9, on average—a 29 percent increase.

The average portion size has increased, too, but only by about 12 percent. And, surprisingly, the average number of calories per 1-gram serving of food (known as “energy density”) actually declined slightly over that period, which suggests that calorie-rich food has played a relatively minor role in our expanding waistlines.

“The real reason we seem to be eating more [calories] is we’re eating often,” says the lead author of the study, Barry Popkin, Ph.D., a professor of nutrition at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. “The frequency of eating is probably, for the average overweight adult, becoming a huge issue.”

Popkin blames food advertising and other marketing for the shift from three square meals a day to near-constant eating.

“It’s all about making people think they want to have something in their hands all the time,” he says. “Why are we snacking all the time and munching all the time? [Food] is there, it’s available all the time, it’s tasty. It’s not very healthy, but it’s tasty. It’s sweet, it’s salty, it’s fatty—it’s all the things we love.”

Lisa Young, Ph.D., an adjunct professor of nutrition at New York University and the author of The Portion Teller, agrees that the ubiquity of snack foods has helped drive overeating.

“You never used to see food staring you in the face when you went to…a drugstore,” says Young, who was not involved in the new research. “It’s in your face and it’s cheap. You go get a magazine, you can get a candy bar.”

To tease apart how eating habits have shaped calorie intake, Popkin and a coauthor analyzed data from four nationally representative food surveys conducted by the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention between 1977 and 2006. Their analysis, which appears in the June issue of the journal PLoS Medicine, was funded in part by the National Institutes of Health.

The findings weren’t entirely unexpected. In a previous study, Popkin and his coauthor found that the amount of time between snacks and meals has shrunk substantially since 1977, while the amount of calories consumed from snacks has risen dramatically.

Christopher Gardner, PhD, the director of nutrition studies at Stanford University’s Prevention Research Center, in Palo Alto, Calif., says that although the new findings ring true, the survey-based approach Popkin and his colleague used has some inherent limitations.

Despite being nationally representative, the surveys didn’t follow the same individuals over time, and in some cases also used different questions and methods, Gardner points out. Moreover, they relied on the participants’ memory of what they’d eaten in the previous 24 hours, which can be unreliable.

“When people try to describe the portion sizes they are consuming, they are often inaccurate,” Gardner says, adding that similar inaccuracies may crop up when recalling and calculating the energy density of specific foods. In fact, he says, the number of meals and snacks may be easiest of all to remember and track, which may have somewhat exaggerated its importance to total calorie intake.

But Gardner, too, says that frequent—and often mindless—snacking has come to seem normal.

In our food-filled environment, Young says, “We need to be conscious of when we eat, how much we eat, and what we eat.”

Young recommends sticking with three meals a day and choosing healthy snacks (such as fruits and vegetables) rather than processed foods. “And keep your portions in check,” she says.

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Myths and Facts About Losing Weight

With so many facts and fiction about fat loss, it is not surprising that people get confused which advice to follow. Although this article is not intended as an exhaustive source of information about what is true and what is false about fat loss, we hope that it will help you to distinguish myths from facts.

Myth: Don’t drink much water, you will get fat.

Facts: Natural water has absolutely no calories, so it can’t be converted to fat. Actually, water dissolves fat. Besides, water is vital for the proper functioning of your body. If there is a relation between drinking much water and weight, it is a very indirect one and water can’t be blamed for that. When you drink water and it stays in your body, it’s absolutely logical that your weight will be higher but after a couple of hours, when water normally leaves your body, you will not have more fat because you have drunk water.

Myth: Exercise makes you eat more.

Facts: Sure, when you exercise, you lose energy but that does not mean that right after going out of the gym you must head to the restaurant. Experts often recommend that you neither eat, nor drink gallons of water at least 2 hours after physical activity. So if you don’t eat after you have been exercising, you will not gain weight.

Myth: Diet only is enough to lose fat.

Facts: Unfortunately, it is not as simple as that. After you have been on a diet for some time, even if there had been positive results, there is always one point when even if you don’t eat at all (which is absolutely not recommended), your body refuses to use more of its fat reserved and you can’t lose a gram more. At this point, or even better from the very beginning, you must include exercise, because diets alone can’t burn enough fat.

Myth: There are magic diets and pills.

Facts: Too good to be true. Magic diets like „eat this and this and 10 a.m. sharp, don’t eat this and this and you will have the body of a god“ are really naive and besides keeping your mind busy through the day, other positive results are unlikely. The same applies to pills. Unless you have a serious metabolism disorder, which is a medical condition and needs to be treated by doctors, not by you, pills are not the lazy way to great body.

Myth: When you exercise hard, you can eat whatever you like.

Facts: This is the opposite to the dieting myth but the grain of truth is the same. Even when you exercise hard (2 or more hours a day) you still need to take into account what you eat and when you eat it. 2 hours of active exercising might burn enough fat but if you have a giant pizza and a huge bottle of Coke after that, forget about the positive effects of the stay in the gym – you will still have fat (though presumably more muscles as well).

Myth: You can lose fat only in a particular region of your body.

Facts: If you have seen many people with thin legs and a fat belly, or the opposite, more likely it is so not because they want it but because this is their body structure (which they probably don’t like at all). When you lose fat, this happens in a pre-defined order. First, fat disappears from the face and the breasts. The belly and the hips come next. The thighs and the upper-arm usually are the last ones affected and for many women these areas never become fat-free.

Myth: Diets and exercise are universal.

Facts: People are different and diets and exercise are not an exception. While there are universally true facts about dieting and exercise, more often than not, successful and sustainable fat loss is achieved when you are hard-working and diets and exercise are tailored to your needs.

Myth: You can lose fat once and forever.

Facts: This hardly ever happens, though there are cases when one has been fat during puberty and as an adult his or her weight is in the norm. But for adults, losing fat means a constant struggle to maintain the achievements, so you can’t rely on the fact that you will make some efforts, drop your excessive weight and then there will be no need to do anything.

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Dr Akilah El  is a certified personal fitness trainer, nutritionist  and also holds a PhD degree in Naturopathic Medicine. She has been helping people all lover the world successfully achieve their weight loss and fitness goals for over 10 years. To learn more about how you can benefit from her easy to use weight loss and fitness programs go to: http://www.celestialhealing.net/weightlossintro.htm