The obesity epidemic has everyone concerned, and just like any other health problem, it involves both physiological and a multitude of environmental factors.
Offsprings of obese parents are much more likely to become obese than offsprings of lean parents. Duh?! Well, adoption and twin studies have demonstrated that this susceptibility is largely genetic, and most likely, mediated by food and activity preference .
This is not to say that obesity is completely predetermined, and you’re doomed if your parents are obese. Don’t panic.
Gene expression is subject to change and environmental factors influence if and how genes are switched on. For instance, non-industrialized societies rapidly become obese when exposed to the typical western diet. Their genes did not change, the environment signals (in the case food) that interact with their genes have changed. Feel better?
Leptin and ghrelin are the two hormones that play an important role in appetite control. Fat cells release leptin into circulation which in turn activates hypothalamic receptors to cause the sensation of satiety. This hormone’s role in obesity is currently being investigated by the scientific community, and considering how obese individuals have plenty of fat and leptin levels, it is hypothesized that leptin-resistance is the leading factor in the pathogenesis of obesity . Mechanics of leptin resistance parallels that of insulin resistance, so don’t be quick to diagnose yourself just yet.
Insulin is another important hormone that regulates energy storage via uptake of blood glucose by skeletal muscles and fat tissue. It also inhibits the use of fat for energy expenditure, in other words, cues the body to hold on to fat….grrr.
Pathologic insulin disturbance (constant high levels) lead to insulin resistance and type II diabetes, which combined with obesity and Western dietary pattern, sky rocket the odds for metabolic syndrome . If you don’t like needles, monitor your carbohydrate intake. This is the most effective way to maintain normal insulin levels and moderate weight.
The environmental factors that increase the susceptibility of our genes to obesity are many and include:
There are numerous pharmaceutical drugs with weight gain as their top 3 side effects: antidepressants, antipsychotics, contraceptives, allergy medications, cortisone, blood pressure and diabetes medication, etc. They alter the function of the body and brain, promoting fat storage rather than utilization.
Just so you know, some natural herbal remedies also cause weight gain through appetite stimulation. Be sure to do some research, before issuing a prescription for yourself.
Palatable food stimulate the reward centers of our brains and cause a dopamine release, and there is nothing wrong with that. From an evolutionary perspective, it is in the best interest of humans to have an inherent desire for food and survival. However, this desire may get skewed in certain people and cause an unhealthy dependency. Sugar releases opioids and dopamine in the brain and is expected to have addictive potential  characterized by bingeing, withdrawal and cravings parallel to that of amphetamine and alcohol . Reversible changes in receptor binding is implied in these dependencies. In case you missed it, the key word was ‘reversible’, meaning it is subject to change. Yes, you can break the habit!
Most processed foods today barely resemble what we used to eat historically. The engineered foods that enters our bodies are mostly assembled in factories, rather than grown in nature. No, high fructose corn syrup doesn’t count, despite the recent homey commercial they aired to calm down the public.
Corporations assign massive budgets to find new ways of extending product shelf life on the cheap. Good for profit margins and not your health. Most of these made-up foods are refined ingredients held together by glow-in-the-dark elements that require an advanced degree in chemistry to pronounce. They have the advantage of
- Availability: They are everywhere and displayed to maximize impulse purchase. Yes, they count on you to slip.
- Prize: They are cheaper than real food.
- Marketing: These companies are aggressive marketers with unethical tactics that target the vulnerable, especially children. They have a reputation of marketing unhealthy products with misleading health claims. Not to mention their massive spending on scientists and major health organizations to influence research and guidelines.
- Sugar: Most junk food have sugar. It’s tasty, addictive and ensures repeat customers. Also, in excess causes insulin resistance  and is even implied in leptin resistance and acceleration of obesity . Need I say more?
Obesity is complex and involves physiological, psychological, social and political factors. It may or may not reflect indulgence or personal will power.
Sometimes we are not informed, and our decisions reflect good marketing. Sometimes we are informed, and for whatever reason, choose against our best interest. Other times, we are informed, make the right decisions, but with no pay off. Yes, it’s frustrating.
Learn to work hard AND smart. Stay informed. Consult a medical expert for the possible biological basis of your unexplained weight gain. But, don’t use this as an excuse to indulge, because things can get worse. Do the best you can to achieve your genetic potential with a decent quality of life.
Don’t be hard on yourself, when you fall off the bandwagon…which is quite normal anyways… dust yourself off and jump back on. Training your will and body takes time and effort.
Stabilize your emotional life. Expect no overnight miracles.
 Food and activity preferences in children of lean and obese parents.
 Serum immunoreactive-leptin concentrations in normal-weight and obese humans.
 Dietary patterns, insulin resistance, and prevalence of the metabolic syndrome in women.
 Daily bingeing on sugar repeatedly releases dopamine in the accumbens shell.
 Evidence for sugar addiction: Behavioral and neurochemical effects.
 Fructose, insulin resistance, and metabolic dyslipidemia.
 Fructose-induced leptin resistance exacerbates weight gain in response to subsequent high-fat feeding.