In this article I am going to talk about the factors that are keeping you overweight, other than calories.
Now, saying this might bring you to think that calories are not important in losing weight. However that would be incorrect.
Calories King, Monitoring Challenges
Calories are king. If you are not in a calorie deficit you will not lose weight – it is as simple as that.
I say simple, but it is not necessarily easy. For example;
- Calories on packaging can be miscalculated by up to 30%
- People overweight tend to heavily underestimate how much they’ve eate
- Unless you are in a lab it is fairly difficult to figure out how much energy (calories) you are expending.
There is also the case that you are a system, with multiple systems influencing others. As a result (and the focus of this article) there are many influences that affect your decision to eat to the point of overeating.
Hierarchy of Health
I talk about the hierarchy of health that states psychology is the main foundation, the most important aspect, followed by nutrition and then movement.
The reason for this is simple; without your psychology in order, what is required for nutrition & movement to lose weight effectively will not be followed through.
What Influences Overeating?
In this article I will share 3 critical factors, other than calories, that keep you overweight. Now, these factors will not add weight to you in the same way eating a whole packet of doughnuts would.
No, these factors influence your decisions on what to eat and how much you will end up eating…this is where the calories come from.
Think about it in terms of these two perspectives;
- You wake up after a fantastic nights sleep. You casually stroll into the shower followed by some breakfast before you get to work. In work you see you have a busy morning ahead and get to it. Each hour you make sure you step away from your desk to walk around the office to stretch your legs and provide a small break from the work.
- You sleep past your alarm. Rushing out of the shower, you put your clothes on so fast your skin is still wet from the shower. Frantically rushing into work there is not even time for a coffee. Email after email are clogging your inbox and get straight to it. Constantly trying to keep up you don’t even notice the fire alarm went off about 2 minutes ago.
Now, which one do you think is going to have a F%ck it moment by midday and head to the vending machine?
When talking about losing weight, we can say that calories are king. However, there are many factors that are influencing how many calories you are consuming on a day by day basis.
The Environment That Keeps You Overweight
This is why I talk to my clients about creating an environment geared towards weight loss.
Why is this so important? Because your environment is already geared towards you being overweight;
- Your current habits
- The amount food industries spend advertising to you. McDonalds alone spends $85 million a year on advertising.
- The abundance of high palatable processed food around you
- The cultural associations we have with food (and types of food) and social gatherings
To not intentionally create the environment that supports weight loss (and then maintenance), the overweight environment is YOUR environment by default.
The 3 Main Factors keeping you overweight:
When you think about your life I’m pretty sure you do not spend your days on a rock face overlooking a waterfall meditating peacefully to the sound of wind passing through trees in the distance.
If you are like most people you will have responsibilities, demands and weeks where thoughts of the weekend are the only thing that is keeping you from turning your computer into a projectile object.
Stress can enter into your life at any time and any point – why? Because stress is very much about interpretation.
What Is Stress?
The prominent Psychologist Robert Sapolsky describes stress as:
“A challenge to homeostatic balance”
He then goes on to say a stress response is:
“The adaptation your body mobilises to re-establish homeostasis”
Something Professor Sapolsky emphasises is the difference between us Humans and other mammals is our ability to initiate the stress response when we are not in immediate danger.
Essentially, we can think our way into stress.
How does Stress become a problem?
Stress becomes a problem when it is consistent. If you see stress as a workout it’s like being on a treadmill all day, wanting to get off but feelings like if you did something even worse than staying on was going to happen.
When this happens, a number of things occur;
- Increases your desire for calorie dense highly palatable food
- Increase in visceral fat (fat around organs) potentially due to visceral fat cells having more cortisol receptors than subcutaneous fat (fat under skin)
- Makes food feel more rewarding due to the release of endogenous opiods which, when combined with you eating tasty food reinforces the ‘comfort food reduces my stress’ association
Does Stress Always Causes Overeating?
I remember seeing a client once, a lawyer who wanted to lose weight. She was already quite slim but said she had gained a bit since moving cities.
Over the 6 months I saw her she did lose weight, not because she was making better food choices but because she was stressed up to the eyeballs and not sleeping well as a result.
It is clear not everyone overeats when stressed and a report called Stress in America in 2007 documented when stressed 45% of those asked reported overeating whereas 36% said they skipped meals when stressed.
Who Eats Who Doesn’t?
A fascinating study looking at Rhesus monkeys showed the effects stress had on how much they ate.
The researcher Mark Wilson observed the monkeys in an enclosure where a hierarchy quickly formed (as with humans, when in groups, we form hierarchies whether we consciously intend to or not).
Wilson then fed the monkeys two types of food; healthy unrefined chow (not exactly instagram worthy I’m sure) or high fat, high sugar chow (think Cheerios with extra sugar).
Stressed Monkey = Food Binge
Wilson found when presented with the healthy chow, the stressed monkey’s tended to eat little and lost weight.
However, when given the high fat high sugar chow they went to town on it, eating almost double their daily intake
The conclusion of the study was, when continued uncontrollable stress (the monkeys couldn’t leave the enclosure when they started getting stressed) was experienced in the presence of high fat high sugar food, the likelihood of overeating rose dramatically.
Is Stress Bad Then?
There is another form of stress called Eustress. This is simply called ‘good’ stress (‘eu’ is the greek prefix meaning ‘good’).
This is a form of stress that is beneficial to you both psychologically (Sudoku perhaps) and physiologically (exercise). The traits of these tend to be, they are short term and get a feeling of benefit very soon afterwards.
I say this to show the effects of stress is more about your interpretation of your experience rather than seeing stress as a forgone conclusion.
For simplicity you can summarize this as;
Experience + Interpretation = Reaction
(mounting work & deadlines) + (can’t handle it I’m going to let people down) = Eat to try to feel better
In 2011 a man in China died after collapsing in an internet cafe following a 3 day gaming session in which he barely ate and didn’t sleep.
Clearly sleep matters, but you don’t need me to tell you that!
However, it doesn’t have to be 3 days of gaming to experience the detrimental effects of poor sleep quality.
In the 1960’s the average sleep duration was 8-9 hours, however recent surveys suggest many are getting less than 7 hours of sleep a night with many experiencing poor quality sleep.
How does Sleep affect your weight?
Lack of sleep can affect your weight in 2 ways:
1. The fact you are awake longer can increase the likelihood you are going to eat and reduce the brain activation associated with cognitive control. This in part is due to the hormone Ghrelin, which initiates hunger and can increase during impaired sleep.
2. Cortisol can increase along with poor sleep quality & deprivation (obviously heightens even more if the cause of poor sleep quality is stress!) with the sympathetic nervous system being heightened in people who are sleep deprived.
As mentioned before, stressed individuals tend to eat more highly palatable food when available.
The Value Of Sleep
The function of sleep is still up for debate, however you only have to see the effects of not sleeping to see it is vital for normal human function.
It is easy to lose sight of the value of sleep because it is so habitual to our daily ritual. However, delve into the workings of sleep and you find:
- It is involved in the consolidation of memory. The process of shifting short term to long term memory occurs during shut eye.
- A lot of your body & brain repair occurs during sleep when your body temperature is at its lowest (around between 2am-4am).
- The term ‘sleep on it’ isn’t just a saying to soothe a frustrated love one. Sleep helps orientate our problems, shining a new light on it and providing new perspective.
Improve Your Sleep Quality
If you are having trouble sleeping, useless advice is to tell you to try to sleep better. Poor sleep quality tends to be the result of what your daily life is like.
If you’re stressed up to the eye balls or you are having relationship problems, don’t be surprised if you find yourself staring at the ceiling at 2 in the morning.
To improve your sleep and as a result help you with your waist line, address head on whatever is keeping you up at night.
Delaying the process only results in adding to the list of what to think about when trying to count sheep of a night time.
Social Facilitation Effect
We are copiers. The ice bucket challenge started off with one person and then another copied before it became a global phenomenon. You are more likely to watch a film if your friend suggests it to you.
It is no surprise then that our immediate environment will influence how much we eat. This is known as the social facilitation effect which is defined as the tendency to behave differently when in the presence of others compared to when they are alone.
How Much Is On Your Plate?
When I work with clients who have family’s, it is common for them to state they will portion the same amount of food on a plate than the others in the family. This can be a challenge if you want to create a calorie deficit!
Studies relating to the social facilitation effect have found when we are in the presence of others, we report food tasting better and we tend to eat more of it.
It is important to remember, the notion of ‘emotional eating’ is not exclusive to when you feel bad. It can also be to ‘enhance’ the feeling of a good time with friends, which is one of the reasons food is such a large cultural part of our social lives.
How To Avoid Social Facilitation
Social facilitation is more of a silent effect. You are unlikely going to have an experience where you are having lunch with a friend and they state “now now, I’ve had 5 pizza slices, it’s only right you follow my lead”.
How do you protect against the social facilitation effect then? You start by recognising 2 truism:
1. This effect does happen all the time so you have to be aware it has the potential to happen whenever you are eating with others.
2. We are culturally conditioned to never refuse food and eat everything we are given. To not follow these rules amounts to rudeness. This must end and take control of how much you eat.
Outside the echo chamber of zealots, it is widely accepted that excess calories is the primary factor in weight gain. However, this leads to the question; what influences you to over consume calories?
In this article I have shared 3 common factors; stress, sleep and the social facilitation effect. The effect of all 3 of these factors can be diminished by what you do in every day life;
- How can you reduce your stress levels?
- What are the conditions for you to have a good nights sleep?
- How can you be more aware the social facilitation effect is in play?
All these questions are answered with what you learn within Aaron Morton Training and the solutions I share in this article is just some of the tools and strategies I share with my clients and community.