Are “Fat Genes” Really to Blame in the Obesity Epidemic?

Over the last few decades, obesity rates have skyrocketed in America. Today, 69 percent of adults are overweight or obese. This means that it is now abnormal to have a healthy body weight. And while genetics make a difference in our chances of becoming overweight or obese, they are by no means the end-all-be-all in health.

You may be more (or less) likely to gain weight if obesity runs in your family, but your individual food choices and behaviors, such as regular physical activity and proper sleep habits, play a larger role.

Our genes simply haven’t evolved fast enough to account for the growing number of people who struggle with their weight.

If it takes many generations for our genes to evolve and adapt to our environment, what has changed during this time period? Mostly our lifestyle and environment—portion sizes have ballooned, processed food is king, and activity levels have dramatically dropped.

Without genetics to blame for your larger waistline, it helps to take a closer look at lifestyle choices. Eating a little less and moving a little more can have BIG results. There’s a lot you can do to maintain a healthy weight, regardless of your gender, age, or genetics. Here are some steps you can take:

1. Choose the right fats

A mere tablespoon of oil used to lightly coat a pan has around 150 calories. Think of how many added calories there are when you sauté, or worse, deep fry foods in a gallon of frying oil. One medium fried chicken breast has 364 calories while a baked skinless chicken breast has only 141 calories. That’s a 223 calorie difference! You could eat more than double the number of baked breasts for the same number of calories.

Remember, fat is still an important part of your diet. It should not be eliminated completely. Instead, focus on choosing healthy fats in proper portion sizes. Healthy fats come from sources like olive oil, avocados, salmon, nuts and seeds while unhealthy fats come from sources like lard, butter and hydrogenated oils.

2. Cut down on sugar

Sugar calories can add up fast. Today we consume between 250 and 450 calories from added sugar each day. Added sugars contain lots of calories, but almost no vitamins or minerals. If these sugary calories are above your energy needs, you’ll gain more than 25 pounds in one year.

Beverages hide a lot of sugar. Skip sugary sports drinks, juices, energy drinks and sodas, and opt for water instead. If you’re looking for some flavor, buy an infusion water bottle and add slices of fresh fruit, vegetables or herbs.

Looking for fizz? Purchase a carbonated water maker or purchase unsweetened sparkling water in cans. Freshly brewed, unsweetened iced tea is another delicious and refreshing no-calorie option. Remember that even natural sugars, like honey or maple syrup, are still added sugars, so use sparingly. Learn more ways parents can cut down on sugar.

3. Know thy portions

Watch out for massive portion sizes. Just 20 years ago, a standard bagel was only 140 calories. Today, the standard size is 3 inches larger and more than double the calories. In 1950, French fries came in only one size, 2.4 ounces. Now, a large fry is more than double that size, at 5.4 ounces. These sizes have distorted the perception of what we really need to get and stay full.

This is of particular concern for teens, who are just beginning to receive more freedom, and enjoy eating out with friends. Instead, encourage teens to cook at home and help them research healthy options at their favorite restaurants before going out. Cut back on eating out of the home, and when you do, ask for a to-go box at the start of the meal to put half of your meal away. Out of sight, out of mind! Check out more real-life advice for eating well.

4. Think volume

When plating your meal, fill half of your plate with high-volume, lower-calorie foods, such as fruits and vegetables. Fruits and veggies are lower in calories and contain water and fiber which help you feel full.

Use the volume strategy for snacks as well. Three cups of popcorn, a natural whole grain, topped with a teaspoon of Parmesan has only 100 calories while one-third of a Snickers bar contains 93 calories. Choose the higher volume food to stay full and satisfied for much longer.

Remember, your genetics don’t control your weight destiny. Your lifestyle choices matter just as much, if not more. Follow the suggestions above to stay slim in today’s modern world.

Three Ways to Outsmart Genetics & Keep a Healthy Body Weight

By making healthy choices, you are setting an example that could save your family from many preventable diseases. Here are some ways to outsmart any genetic tendency you may have for overweight or obesity and stay at a healthy body weight.

1. Exercise regularly

The amount of exercise you need varies by age. Adults should aim for two hours and 30 minutes of low to moderate intensity exercise or one hour and 15 minutes of vigorous activity per week. Children and teens ages 6-17 need to be active for at least one hour per day. Even toddlers need dedicated time for active play every day, like running climbing and jumping.

Did you know that exercise might help your child in the classroom, too? Children who exercised for one hour per day were found to perform better on cognitive tests in a recent 2014 study. Teens are forming their fitness routines that are likely to carry into adulthood, so be a good role model and encourage them to create a fitness schedule. Make exercise a family activity by skipping evening television and going for a walk or playing exercise-based video games instead. You’ll burn calories, and you’ll boost your metabolism from added muscle mass—a one-two punch against fighting the bulge. Learn the secrets to creating more time for healthier living so you can squeeze in those workouts.

2. Eat mindfully

One of the best ways to naturally control portion sizes is to eat mindfully and be aware of what you’re eating. For example, be present when you’re eating a cookie, or you might gobble down the entire batch without even really enjoying one.

To encourage mindful eating, eat while sitting down at the table, rather than in front of the television or while on the go. Make a family pact to set cell phones aside during dinner and focus on each other.

When cravings strike, first try to ride out the craving wave. After fifteen minutes, the craving will often pass. If not, determine whether you are truly hungry. If only chips sound appealing and a cucumber salad doesn’t, you’re probably not hungry. Instead, try sipping some warm tea. If that doesn’t work, try making decaf iced coffee with a few ounces of non-fat milk, unsweetened coconut milk or soy milk. Sometimes thirst can masquerade as hunger. Get more tips on mindful eating for kids or teens.

3. Set yourself up for success

Willpower isn’t enough! It’s more about creating a healthy environment for you and your family than it is about “not giving in.” Make the healthy choice the easy choice. Fifteen minutes of pre-chopping fruits and veggies for snacks on the weekend could save you from an entire week of unhealthy snacks. Frozen fruit is great, too, in a bind. Provide some pineapple tidbits or frozen blueberries, and your kids will be in for a healthy, colorful and refreshing treat. Kids may not eat everything you serve, but they will eat some it.

If you don’t buy junk food, then you can’t eat it. Freeze, share or give away tempting foods. Strategize by finding healthy food swaps for your favorite indulgences. When all else fails, use distraction. Get the family out for a walk, play a game together or watch a movie.

Now that you’re familiar with these tips, pick one to implement with your family. Schedule it and make it happen! Then pat yourself on the back for giving your family the tools to live a happier, healthier life.

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