What Causes Obesity?

April 13, 2022

Being Obese is not to be confused with being overweight. Though both terms are used to define a person with excess weight, medically speaking, there is a huge difference between obesity and overweight. Overweight is used when a person has excess weight with respect to their age and build, while obesity is used to define a person having excess body fat. That is, having a BMI over 30.1 

More than 1 in 5 adults have Obesity.1        

Obesity is one of the leading root causes of many health problems such as cardiovascular diseases, diabetes, digestive disorders, certain cancers and more. So it is essential to take steps to reduce the amount of excess fat present in your body. To do so, many start cutting down on greasy, fast foods or start intense diets or take up gym memberships. All this is good, but is it really what your body needs?

Only when you know where the target is can you aim for it

The first step in your journey of reducing excess fat must be to identify the reason behind your fat gain. Is it simply a result of unhealthy eating and not exercising? Yes, these two reasons can lead to obesity. But they are not the only factors or Root Causes of you being obese.

The top 5 Root Causes of Obesity are as follows:

  1. Lifestyle: 

As mentioned above, obesity results from eating a lot and moving too little. So when we talk about your lifestyle being the cause of your obesity, we include:

  • Eating habits like having a diet that is calorie-dense and has zero nutritional value. That is eating fast, processed, junk and sugary foods. For each indulgent bite taken, you promote fat build-up in your body. 
  • A Sedentary Lifestyle added to this kind of diet adds fuel to the fire. Movement helps you burn excess calories. Your body combines calories with oxygen to provide the necessary energy it needs to function. But, if your body is immobile, the extra calories keep accumulating, resulting in you becoming obese.
  • Overeating or binge eating has become a common pastime. You might not even notice it anymore, but the second you feel bored or have something deep you are thinking about, you might be, unconsciously, reaching out for some snacks that are always conveniently within your reach. This habit only helps in increasing your calorie intake.
  • YO-YO Dieting is a term used to define the cycle of intentional weight loss followed by unintentional weight regain. This pattern of inconsistent dieting increases the risk of weight gain over time.2 

  1. Stress:

Stress plays a major role in the development of obesity. A few ways in which fosters obesity are:

  • The body’s response to stress is to release glucose in the blood. The reason behind this is to provide energy to your body to fight stress. But with an increase in immobile lifestyle, this excess energy is left unused and gets deposited in your body as body FAT.  
  • Stress, especially mental stress, triggers your emotional receptors making you more susceptible to unhealthy eating habits like emotional eating. A recent study demonstrated that people working with increased workloads have higher saturated fat and sugar intake. 
  • Stress also affects you physically. If you are under more stress, you can, unknowingly, decrease the amount of time you spend exercising or moving and increase the amount of time you spend immobile.
  • Stress also affects your sleep. Disrupted or Short sleep patterns have been reported to increase the risk of obesity. 
  • Our body’s response to stress is to secrete a hormone called Cortisol. Cortisol can promote obesity, especially in the abdomen, by aiding in fat deposition and encouraging binge eating. 

Often overlooked aspect of stress and obesity is that obesity in itself can be a stressful state.

  1. Hormonal Imbalance: 

Our endocrine system releases hormones in the blood. It works with the nervous and immune systems to help the body deal with different stresses. The hormones in our body directly influence our body’s fat distribution process, our appetite, and, most importantly, our metabolism. Metabolism is how our body converts what we eat into energy. If your endocrine system produces more or fewer hormones than what is required due to some toxicity or stressors, it can lead to you becoming obese. Additionally, being obese can bring changes in your hormone levels. It is a vicious cycle. 

Ways in which hormones affect your body are:

  • Leptins - A hormone produced by fat cells that lets your body know it is full. But If you are leptin resistant, the receptors that tell you that you are done eating does not do their work properly and can result in you eating more than what is required.
  • Insulin - A hormone that helps your cells to make energy by providing them with glucose (sugar). If your body becomes Insulin Resistant, it is unable to move the glucose from your bloodstream to the cells, resulting in an excess amount of glucose present in your blood. An increase in glucose levels can lead to obesity.
  • Age related obesity - With age, people start experiencing hormonal imbalances, which can lead to changes in the body fat distribution. For women of childbearing age, the body starts storing fat and for older men or post menopausal women, the body starts storing fat around the abdomen. 
  • Cortisol - As mentioned above, this stress hormone can increase the risk of obesity.

 There are many more such hormones that may affect your body’s process of distributing fats and also your eating habits.

  1. Thyroid Issues: 

Everyone knows that obesity or rapid fluctuation in body weight is a sign of thyroid. Hypothyroidism has been linked to obesity for quite some time now, but what if its opposite is also true? Recently the question of thyroid resulting in obesity has become prevalent. There still isn’t concrete proof of it being so, but novel views have emerged indicating that the thyroid is a factor leading to obesity. The thyroid hormone (TSH) regulates the body’s basal metabolism and thermogenesis and plays an important role in lipid and glucose metabolism, food intake and fat oxidation. Thyroid dysfunction is associated with changes in body weight and composition, body temperature and total and resting energy expenditure (REE) independent of physical activity.3

A study showed that TSH levels are at the upper limit or slightly increased in obese children, adolescents, and adults and are positively correlated with BMI.4 Low fT4 with a moderate increase in T3 or free T3 (fT3) levels have been reported in obese subjects.

  1. Environmental Toxins:

We live in a sea of toxins. Every single person and animal on the planet contains residues of toxic chemicals or metals in their tissues. Eighty thousand new chemicals have been introduced since the turn of the 20th century and most have never been tested for safety or synergistic actions. It has been reported that toxicity not only promotes obesity but also counters measures you might have been taking to lose weight.

Ingesting foreign molecules can lead to obesity, including medications. While most drugs are not truly toxins, certain drugs can have toxic effects and cause weight gain - psychotropic medications, in particular, have been shown to promote weight gain. Environmental toxins interfere with metabolism, overload hepatic detoxification systems, disrupt central weight-control systems, promote insulin resistance, alter circadian rhythms, activate the stress response, interfere with thyroid function, increase inflammation, damage mitochondria, and lead to obesity.

Other external toxins include chemical toxins and heavy metals. Chemical toxins that harm us and can trigger obesity are volatile organic compounds (VOCs), solvents (cleaning materials, formaldehyde, toluene, benzene), medications, alcohol, pesticides, herbicides, and food additives. Infections (hepatitis C virus) and mold toxins (sick building syndrome). Heavy metals that cause the most ill health are lead, mercury, cadmium, arsenic, nickel, and aluminum.

Additionally, our modern refined diet can be considered toxic because it places an extra burden on detoxification systems through excessive consumption of sugar, high-fructose corn syrup (the two most important causes of elevated liver function tests), trans fatty acids, alcohol, caffeine, aspartame, foods made with genetically modified organisms (GMOs), and the various plastics, pathogens, hormones, and antibiotics found in our food supply.

Due to toxins overload, many people are unable to lose weight.

Every individual is different and unique and has a different lifestyle. So the reason behind your obesity may vary from that of anyone else. To understand precisely why you are obese in spite of your dieting or exercising, you must consult a Functional Nutritionist. Through Root Cause Analysis, a Functional Nutritionist identifies the reason, which might be more than one, behind your obesity and helps you lose the excess body fat through integrative holistic methods, food, supplementation, and lifestyle changes.

Sharvi Dave
Research Associate

Experienced writer with a demonstrated history of working in the writing & editing history. skilled in writing, communication, digital marketing, & general aviation. Strong media & communication professional with a Bachelor of Science - Bs focussed in Aeronautics/Aviation/Aerospace Science & Technology General from Bombay Flying Club.

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