Fighting Obesity: The Role of Behavior, Biology and Bad Choices
Part 1 in a four-part series on obesity and weight loss

Fighting Obesity Part 2: Psyching Yourself to Act 
Part 3: Why Moving More is Crucial 
Part 4: Eating to Be Healthy and Lean 

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Diet & Nutrition

Diet Myths

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If you’re carrying around extra flab, the good news is that in times of famine you would have had a good chance of survival. That’s because fat is energy and the body conveniently packs it away in cells called adipocytes so that a ready supply is always available. Of course, today, not only is there little chance of famine in the Western world, but food is everywhere. And since the body is hardwired to be thrifty, it keeps on doing what it does best—storing all the extra calories that you consume.

The fat has nowhere to go but around your waist, on your hips, beneath your chin, on your arms—wherever you have fat depots. Some people have many fat cells that are moderately packed with fat. Others have fewer fat cells that are stuffed to the brim. And, if the body runs out of closet space, it can create new fat cells to store the extra. Having too much fat, especially around the belly, is a liability in today’s sedentary world and is associated with a variety of health risks.

Are You Fat?

When a person weighs more than what is considered average for their height and age, they are overweight. This is typically measured on a scale. But scale weight can be misleading because it does not assess body fat or how tall you are—both of which can affect whether your weight is healthy or not. When a person has a significant amount of excess body fat, they are considered obese. This is best measured in a lab (the body fat scales you can buy in the store are not highly accurate). For research purposes, a simple equation that factors in both body weight and height is often used. This is the body mass index (BMI). People with a BMI of 25 to 29.9 are considered overweight. Those with a BMI of 30 and above are considered obese. A woman who is 5-foot-5, for example, would be overweight if she weighs more than 150 pounds. She would be obese if she weighed more than 180 pounds. A man who is 5-foot-11 is considered overweight if he weighs over 179 pounds and obese if over 215 pounds. (The 25- to 30-pound range for each BMI category was determined because fat-related health risks were seen to increase at those increments.) You can calculate your BMI here. BMIs aren’t a perfect measure of fatness, though. Fit people tend to have more muscle mass and they may weigh more even though they are quite lean. For example, a highly athletic man may seem overweight according to a BMI scale, when in fact he is a healthy weight.

No matter what a person’s BMI is, fat people tend to fit into one of five categories:

The Staying-Fat are those who are overweight and know it, yet they either don’t care or they have given up trying to fight it.

The Yo-Yo’ers are those people are overweight and who try and do lose weight, usually through dieting. But then they gain it back again—often accruing more fat with each cycle of weight loss.

The Finally-Not-Fat are those who diligently work at controlling their weight. Once they lose it, they manage to keep most of it off. These are known as successful losers or weight-loss maintainers. But even though they now may be thin—or at least thinner—they may always have a fat person’s physiology. So, their responses to diet and exercise may be different than those of an always-lean person of the same height and weight.

The Blindly Fat are those who are overweight or even obese, but don’t think that it’s a problem and so aren’t currently trying to lose weight. These people either don’t think or don’t admit to carrying extra fat. One recent study found that adult participants who were clinically obese tended to have a rosy perception of their weight status: 85 percent did not consider themselves to be obese.

The Feeling Fat are those who are not overweight and may even be lean. Yet they see themselves as fat—they want to lose an extra five or 10 pounds or they have bulges in certain places that they’d like to whittle down. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reported that nearly a quarter of women and 6 percent of men of normal weight are trying to shed pounds.

It’s a good idea to recognize which category describes you, because understanding your perceptions and behaviors can help you figure out the most effective way to get your weight under control.


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