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Your Body and You: A Guide to Body Water

By Uncategorized

When it comes to your health, most of the focus is on body fat and muscle mass, which is important. But not to be overlooked is your body water. Water is a major part of your body: they make up 79% of your muscles , 73% of your brain, and even 31% of your bones. Overall your body weight can be 45-65% water.

Your body water percentage is influenced by your age, gender, and fitness level. Even though you are made up of mostly of water, how much do you really know about the effect this major element has on your body?

Body Water, Defined

Like discussed above, your body water can be found inside not only in your blood, but in your muscle tissue, your body fat, your organs, and inside every cell in your body.  To account for all this, your total body water (TBW) can be divided into two basic groups.

  • Extracellular Water (ECW)

Extracellular water is the water located outside your cells.  The water in your blood falls into this category. Roughly 1/3 of your fluid is attributed to ECW, and this water is found in your interstitial fluid, transcellular fluid, and blood plasma.

Extracellular water is important because it helps control the movement of electrolytes, allows oxygen delivery to the cells, and clears waste from metabolic processes.

  • Intracellular Water (ICW)

Intracellular water is the water located inside your cells.  It comprises 70% of the cytosol, which is a mix of water and other dissolved elements.  In healthy people, it makes up the other 2/3 of the water inside your body.

The intracellular water is the location of important cellular processes, and although it has many functions, a very important one is that it allows molecules to be transported to the different organelles inside the cell.  Essentially, the Intracellular water picks up where the Extracellular water left off by continuing the pathway for fuel to be transported to the cells.

Balance is the Key

When it comes to your body water and you, the most important thing to strive for is balance. Your Intracellular fluid:Extracellular fluid must remain at the same levels with respect to each other.

A healthy fluid distribution has been estimated at a 3:2 ratio of ICW:ECW. If your body water falls out of balance, this can signal changes in your health and body composition. Whether these changes are positive or negative depend on which type of water becomes unbalanced.

Increased  ICW

Having slightly more ICW than normal isn’t necessarily a bad thing. In fact, it can signal positive changes in your body composition. 

Increased muscle mass is due to the enlargement of the number and size of muscle cells.  When the muscle cells become enlarged, they are able to take in (and require) more ICW in order to power their cellular functions.  Research has shown that resistance exercise can lead to increased intracellular water in humans. Increased ICW as a result of exercise is a sign of increased Lean Body Mass, which is a very good thing and has positive health benefits, including:

  • Increased Energy Use

Your Basal Metabolic Rate (BMR) is the amount of calories you burn at rest.  It is the baseline for the calories you need every day in order for your body to operate and maintain daily functions.  With increased Lean Body Mass, your energy needs will increase as a result of a higher BMR. If you don’t increase your daily calorie intake, but increase your Lean Body Mass/BMR, you will create a calorie deficit – which can lead to body fat loss.

  • Increased Strength

Your Lean Body Mass is sometimes described as your fat free mass.  Your Lean Body Mass accounts for all your weight due to water, muscle mass, bone, and protein.  One of the easiest ways to influence the amount of Lean Body Mass you have is to increase your muscle mass.  Generally, increased muscle mass leads to increased strength.

  • Increased Immune System

Increased Lean Body Mass through exercise has been associated with increased immune system functionality.  This will help your body fight off illnesses more easily.

Excess ECW

If your ECW increases in relation to your ICW, this is something you should take special note of.  Unlike ICW, you do not want to see your ECW increasing beyond normal levels. Excess ECW can indicate health risks, including:

  • Inflammation

During inflammation, the body sends additional blood flow to the damaged area.  This causes an increase of extracellular water in a particular area. Inflammation occurs when part of the body gets damaged or bruised and is a normal bodily response to injury.  This is called acute inflammation, and is a temporary increase in ECW.

Chronic inflammation, however, is something more serious that isn’t always readily detected. It is marked by long-term swelling/ECW increases caused by cellular stress and dysfunction. Chronic inflammation can lead to serious diseases if allowed to persist over time, including renal failure, cancer, and heart disease. including renal failure, cancer, and heart disease.

  • Renal Disease (Kidney Failure)

One of the kidneys’ major functions is to filter your blood and remove toxins produce in the body.  One important substance that the kidneys filter out is sodium, an element that is found in salt.

When your diet includes more sodium than your kidneys can filter out, which occurs in people who have failing kidneys, your extracellular water levels will increase.  In some cases, this increased extracellular water shows in visible swelling throughout the body and is a condition known as edema. Edema can cause additional strain on the body by contributing to weight gain, blood pressure, and other complications.

  • Unhealthy Fat Mass Levels (Obesity)

Obese individuals are characterized by having too much body fat, which among other things, leads to body water disruption due to excess ECW.  This is because excess visceral fat can trigger production hormones that can lead to the disruption of a bodily system called RAAS.  This excess ECW causes stress in the body due to its effects on the internal organs, which can exacerbate obesity and cause a dangerous cyclic effect.

Determining Balance

Since it’s so important to keep an eye on your fluid balance, you’ll need to know how you can determine yours. There are two major methods to measure and determine your fluid levels.  These are the dilution method and the BIA method.

The dilution method involves drinking a known dose of heavy water (deuterium oxide) and allowing it to distribute around the body.  Once the water has had time to settle, the amount of heavy water is compared with the amount of normal water. The proportion will reflect the amount of total body water.  To determine ECW, sodium bromide is used instead of heavy water.

The dilution method is recognized as a gold standard for measuring total body water; however, these tests would need to be done at a hospital under the guidance of a trained physician.  This test takes several hours to complete during which any fluid of any type going in or out of the body has to be carefully recorded.

For these reasons, you’re unlikely to have this test performed unless your doctor needs to know your total body water with absolute certainty because of a serious health complication.

The second, more accessible method to determine body water content is bioelectrical impedance analysis (BIA).  For most people who do not have serious medical issues, this method is much more practical than the dilution method.

A small electrical current is applied to the body, and the opposition that current experiences (impedance), is measured.  From that impedance result, a BIA device can report your body water percentage. Advanced BIA devices are able to reflect the difference in Intracellular and Extracellular water as well, which can reveal the ICW:ECW balance.

Bringing Yourself Back Into Balance

Maintaining a balanced ratio of approximately 3:2 is ideal for optimal health.  If you find that this ratio is beginning to fall out of balance, there are some things you can do.  Fortunately, these tips aren’t anything you already haven’t heard before: maintaining a healthy diet, staying hydrated by drinking enough water, and exercising regularly.

Avoiding excess ECW is ideal.  From a dietary standpoint, one simple change that can work to reduce excess ECW is reducing the amount of sodium (salt) in your diet. Sodium is located primarily in your ECW, and when excess sodium is introduced into the body, the body’s natural response is to draw water out of your cells at the expense of your ICW.  Reducing your sodium intake has a number of positive health benefits, so this tip can be considered simply a best practice for optimal health in addition to being a tactic for reducing high ECW.

On the flip side, increasing your ICW can be achieved by increasing your Lean Body Mass/increasing muscle mass through exercising.  As the muscle cells increase in size, they will require more water to maintain their function. Exercise has the additional benefit of combating obesity, and as fat mass is reduced, ECW increases due to obesity will decline over time.

As you can see, body water can be an important indicator of your overall health.  Without a healthy ICW:ECW ratio your body will begin to have problems.

The best thing you can do for proper body water balance is to maintain a healthy lifestyle. If you can achieve a healthy lifestyle, your body water will fall into balance naturally.  The first step would be to find out where your body water levels are today, so you can start planning for a healthier life now.

 

Your Body and You: A Guide to Body Water

By Body Composition

When it comes to your health, most of the focus is on body fat and muscle mass, which is important. But not to be overlooked is your body water. Water is a major part of your body: they make up 79% of your muscles , 73% of your brain, and even 31% of your bones. Overall your body weight can be 45-65% water.

Your body water percentage is influenced by your age, gender, and fitness level. Even though you are made up of mostly of water, how much do you really know about the effect this major element has on your body?

Body Water, Defined

Like discussed above, your body water can be found inside not only in your blood, but in your muscle tissue, your body fat, your organs, and inside every cell in your body.  To account for all this, your total body water (TBW) can be divided into two basic groups.

  • Extracellular Water (ECW)

Extracellular water is the water located outside your cells.  The water in your blood falls into this category. Roughly 1/3 of your fluid is attributed to ECW, and this water is found in your interstitial fluid, transcellular fluid, and blood plasma.

Extracellular water is important because it helps control the movement of electrolytes, allows oxygen delivery to the cells, and clears waste from metabolic processes.

  • Intracellular Water (ICW)

Intracellular water is the water located inside your cells.  It comprises 70% of the cytosol, which is a mix of water and other dissolved elements.  In healthy people, it makes up the other 2/3 of the water inside your body.

The intracellular water is the location of important cellular processes, and although it has many functions, a very important one is that it allows molecules to be transported to the different organelles inside the cell.  Essentially, the Intracellular water picks up where the Extracellular water left off by continuing the pathway for fuel to be transported to the cells.

Balance is the Key

When it comes to your body water and you, the most important thing to strive for is balance. Your Intracellular fluid:Extracellular fluid must remain at the same levels with respect to each other.

A healthy fluid distribution has been estimated at a 3:2 ratio of ICW:ECW. If your body water falls out of balance, this can signal changes in your health and body composition. Whether these changes are positive or negative depend on which type of water becomes unbalanced.

Increased  ICW

Having slightly more ICW than normal isn’t necessarily a bad thing. In fact, it can signal positive changes in your body composition. 

Increased muscle mass is due to the enlargement of the number and size of muscle cells.  When the muscle cells become enlarged, they are able to take in (and require) more ICW in order to power their cellular functions.  Research has shown that resistance exercise can lead to increased intracellular water in humans. Increased ICW as a result of exercise is a sign of increased Lean Body Mass, which is a very good thing and has positive health benefits, including:

  • Increased Energy Use

Your Basal Metabolic Rate (BMR) is the amount of calories you burn at rest.  It is the baseline for the calories you need every day in order for your body to operate and maintain daily functions.  With increased Lean Body Mass, your energy needs will increase as a result of a higher BMR. If you don’t increase your daily calorie intake, but increase your Lean Body Mass/BMR, you will create a calorie deficit – which can lead to body fat loss.

  • Increased Strength

Your Lean Body Mass is sometimes described as your fat free mass.  Your Lean Body Mass accounts for all your weight due to water, muscle mass, bone, and protein.  One of the easiest ways to influence the amount of Lean Body Mass you have is to increase your muscle mass.  Generally, increased muscle mass leads to increased strength.

  • Increased Immune System

Increased Lean Body Mass through exercise has been associated with increased immune system functionality.  This will help your body fight off illnesses more easily.

Excess ECW

If your ECW increases in relation to your ICW, this is something you should take special note of.  Unlike ICW, you do not want to see your ECW increasing beyond normal levels. Excess ECW can indicate health risks, including:

  • Inflammation

During inflammation, the body sends additional blood flow to the damaged area.  This causes an increase of extracellular water in a particular area. Inflammation occurs when part of the body gets damaged or bruised and is a normal bodily response to injury.  This is called acute inflammation, and is a temporary increase in ECW.

Chronic inflammation, however, is something more serious that isn’t always readily detected. It is marked by long-term swelling/ECW increases caused by cellular stress and dysfunction. Chronic inflammation can lead to serious diseases if allowed to persist over time, including renal failure, cancer, and heart disease. including renal failure, cancer, and heart disease.

  • Renal Disease (Kidney Failure)

One of the kidneys’ major functions is to filter your blood and remove toxins produce in the body.  One important substance that the kidneys filter out is sodium, an element that is found in salt.

When your diet includes more sodium than your kidneys can filter out, which occurs in people who have failing kidneys, your extracellular water levels will increase.  In some cases, this increased extracellular water shows in visible swelling throughout the body and is a condition known as edema. Edema can cause additional strain on the body by contributing to weight gain, blood pressure, and other complications.

  • Unhealthy Fat Mass Levels (Obesity)

Obese individuals are characterized by having too much body fat, which among other things, leads to body water disruption due to excess ECW.  This is because excess visceral fat can trigger production hormones that can lead to the disruption of a bodily system called RAAS.  This excess ECW causes stress in the body due to its effects on the internal organs, which can exacerbate obesity and cause a dangerous cyclic effect.

Determining Balance

Since it’s so important to keep an eye on your fluid balance, you’ll need to know how you can determine yours. There are two major methods to measure and determine your fluid levels.  These are the dilution method and the BIA method.

The dilution method involves drinking a known dose of heavy water (deuterium oxide) and allowing it to distribute around the body.  Once the water has had time to settle, the amount of heavy water is compared with the amount of normal water. The proportion will reflect the amount of total body water.  To determine ECW, sodium bromide is used instead of heavy water.

The dilution method is recognized as a gold standard for measuring total body water; however, these tests would need to be done at a hospital under the guidance of a trained physician.  This test takes several hours to complete during which any fluid of any type going in or out of the body has to be carefully recorded.

For these reasons, you’re unlikely to have this test performed unless your doctor needs to know your total body water with absolute certainty because of a serious health complication.

The second, more accessible method to determine body water content is bioelectrical impedance analysis (BIA).  For most people who do not have serious medical issues, this method is much more practical than the dilution method.

A small electrical current is applied to the body, and the opposition that current experiences (impedance), is measured.  From that impedance result, a BIA device can report your body water percentage. Advanced BIA devices are able to reflect the difference in Intracellular and Extracellular water as well, which can reveal the ICW:ECW balance.

Bringing Yourself Back Into Balance

Maintaining a balanced ratio of approximately 3:2 is ideal for optimal health.  If you find that this ratio is beginning to fall out of balance, there are some things you can do.  Fortunately, these tips aren’t anything you already haven’t heard before: maintaining a healthy diet, staying hydrated by drinking enough water, and exercising regularly.

Avoiding excess ECW is ideal.  From a dietary standpoint, one simple change that can work to reduce excess ECW is reducing the amount of sodium (salt) in your diet. Sodium is located primarily in your ECW, and when excess sodium is introduced into the body, the body’s natural response is to draw water out of your cells at the expense of your ICW.  Reducing your sodium intake has a number of positive health benefits, so this tip can be considered simply a best practice for optimal health in addition to being a tactic for reducing high ECW.

On the flip side, increasing your ICW can be achieved by increasing your Lean Body Mass/increasing muscle mass through exercising.  As the muscle cells increase in size, they will require more water to maintain their function. Exercise has the additional benefit of combating obesity, and as fat mass is reduced, ECW increases due to obesity will decline over time.

As you can see, body water can be an important indicator of your overall health.  Without a healthy ICW:ECW ratio your body will begin to have problems.

The best thing you can do for proper body water balance is to maintain a healthy lifestyle. If you can achieve a healthy lifestyle, your body water will fall into balance naturally.  The first step would be to find out where your body water levels are today, so you can start planning for a healthier life now.

 

What You Can Do About Malnutrition?

By Uncategorized

When it comes to malnutrition, most the focus—and rightly so—is on severe malnutrition in developing countries where lack of access to food has tragic consequences.

This condition can have debilitating effects on body composition, quality of life, and independent living. But malnutrition among older adults in developed countries is more widespread than most people realize.  How can malnutrition coexist in countries that have an obesity epidemic?

Technically, malnutrition is an umbrella term including overnutrition (i.e. obesity) and undernutrition. Just as important as fighting increasing obesity, it’s important to understand how various aspects of aging can make it difficult to consume all the essential nutrients the body needs.

The good news is that malnutrition is easily diagnosed, managed and even reversed. As we continue we will be discussing treatment and prevention, but first let’s raise awareness about the issue itself.

The What, Who, and Why of Malnutrition and Aging

With so many different people experiencing different effects and severities of malnutrition, it can be complicated to break down. Since there are several primary types of malnutrition, we’ll focus on how malnutrition impacts body composition and why this is so important for your long-term health.

WHAT IS MALNUTRITION?

The World Health Organization defines malnutrition as “deficiencies, excesses or imbalances in a person’s intake of energy and/or nutrients”. Protein-energy deficiency is one of the most common forms of malnutrition and this health condition has an immediate and negative impact on body composition. This deficiency wreaks havoc on skeletal muscle mass in particular, as the body eventually goes into starvation mode and breaks down its own protein (stored in muscle) for fuel.

Micronutrient deficiency is a lack of nutrients, like minerals and vitamins, that support important bodily processes like cells regeneration, your immune system, and even eyesight. Some common examples are iron or calcium deficiencies. Micronutrient deficiency has the greatest impact on normal physiological functions/processes and can actually occur in conjunction with protein-energy deficiency since most micronutrients are obtained from food.

Although nutritional deficiencies of certain micronutrients can impact processes such as building and repairing muscle, protein-energy deficiency has a more pronounced effect on body composition due to the fact that lowered protein intake can lead to more drastic losses in muscle mass. The American Society for Parenteral and Enteral Nutrition (ASPEN) defines several features of malnutrition and nutritional deficiencies in adults:

  • Insufficient energy intake
  • Unintended weight loss
  • Diminished physical function (including hand grip strength, and physical performance testing)
  • Serious medical conditions (such as edema resulting from fluid accumulation)

WHO IS AFFECTED, AND WHY?

You would assume that adults spending time in rehabilitation centers or hospitals should be well nourished since they have a range of staff taking care of them, right?

In theory, yes. But in reality, things are more complicated.

According to a study of over 4,000 individuals, approximately 40-50% of patients in rehabilitation centers and hospitals are malnourished, compared to 14% in nursing homes and just 6% in independently dwelling adults. These are staggering differences, but the numbers should be put in context.

There are two overarching reasons malnutrition strikes older adults.

  • Insufficient food intake. This often results from factors inherent to aging, including loss of taste or smell, dentition (poor muscle function or loss of teeth), or cognitive decline.
  • Disease-related malnutrition. Decreased food intake or absorption due to a wide range of diseases from cancer to inflammatory bowel disease or from cases such as hospitalization including surgery or emergency medical interventions (stroke, trauma, etc.)

Since individuals suffering from disease-related malnutrition are more likely to require hospitalization (to treat their disease), this could contribute to the high rates of malnutrition in hospitals and rehabilitation facilities. But a host of other factors in hospitals make it no wonder that longer hospital stays are related to rates of malnutrition.

WHY YOU SHOULD CARE, EVEN IF YOU ARE NOT DIRECTLY AFFECTED

Malnutrition really is an important issue in that it takes a high toll on people afflicted; on top of that is the associated economic cost that extends the burden beyond the malnourished individual. Massive medical bills strain individuals and their families and consume significant amounts of healthcare resources.

In a study of almost 2000 older adults, health care costs for malnourished adults were more than double those for non-malnourished adults. More visits to general practitioners and hospitals equals higher cost.

However it is worth noting that although treatment for malnutrition can add up in cost, the sooner the treatment, the better. Intervening with treatment called oral nutritional supplementation (ONS) does add to healthcare costs, but according to an economic model analysis, the cost of ONS treatment is more than offset by the long-term reduction in hospital admissions as a result of treatment.

In other words, treating this condition sooner not only makes sense for health reasons, it makes sense economically.

How Body Composition Changes During Malnutrition

Now that we have covered the “What”, “Who”, and “Why”, let’s discuss the “How” malnutrition affects body composition.

Most adults experience a natural shift in body composition as they age, partly thanks to a decrease in physical activity. What might accelerate and worsen that shift?

That’s right: malnutrition.

While Fat Free Mass starts to decline in the middle of adulthood, it drops at a concerning rate by the time adults reach their 80’s. Coupled with a decrease in functional health, it’s clear that unfavorable changes are happening.

Adding protein-energy deficiency into that mix makes the situation even more concerning. Researchers comparing elderly and middle-aged malnourished adults found that the elderly group was more prone to losing Fat Free Mass than fat mass and this may come down to not taking in enough nutrients to support and maintain muscles and their function.

In other words, undernutrition exacerbates the issue of muscle loss and those that are malnourished are more likely to tap into their muscle protein for fuel rather than those pesky fat stores (which are designed to be our energy-stores).

That matters because malnourished older adults are already at an increased risk of mortality. On top of that, losing muscle makes it difficult to perform those normal activities of daily living. As you burn through muscle protein, functional capacity declines, and loss of independence and malnutrition ensues

Recognize and Take Action

In light of the fact that malnutrition is more prevalent than most would think,what are the warning signs you should you look out for? It’s a tough problem to assess, and catching it before significant changes in body composition or muscle mass occur is best. However, watching out for these risk factors can be helpful in determining your likelihood of malnutrition or the severity of muscle loss.

ADDRESSING THE RISKS

Just because malnutrition can be difficult to spot early on, doesn’t mean all is lost. There are a variety of risk factors and health problems to be aware of and recognize. Here is a list of a few.

The first step to addressing the undernutrition problem is to make people aware of the problem. Research shows that among cancer patients (a nutritionally at-risk group) at home, nearly 25% do not receive nutritional support or counseling despite receiving other health care.

If you don’t recognize a problem, you can’t do anything about it.

Before getting into actual treatment, here are a couple strategies to address malnutrition risk factors head on.

  • Spice up your food. A few dashes of flavored powders like beef bouillon or lemon butter help increased body weight and prevent a decline in energy intake by making foods more appealing.
  • Take care of your teeth. Missing a substantial number of teeth is associated with lower energy and protein intake. Wearing dentures can lower your risk of malnutrition by about 20%, but only if you wear them consistently.
  • Make meals something to look forward to. Rather than eat each meal alone, have meals with other people in your community or schedule regular dinners with family and friends.
  • Get your body composition tested. Regularly get your body composition tested either bi-monthly or monthly to make sure that your muscle and fat levels are where you want them to be.

FOOD-FORWARD SOLUTIONS

If you do find yourself, or a patient, facing malnutrition, oral nutritional supplementation (ONS) is one of the most promising treatments you can use.

Most nutritional supplements you are familiar with probably come in pill form, like Vitamin A or Vitamin D, but ONS is in liquid form. Boost and Ensure (though not necessarily brands we are recommending- please do your research on fitting the ingredients to your specific needs) are some common brand names, and there are dozens of more options out there in a variety of flavors and formulas.

The science behind ONS is substantial. It counteracts malnutrition and related comorbidities in adults ranging from hospitalized hip fracture patients to frail community-dwelling elderly adults.

An analysis of 36 studies on high-protein ONS found that it increases calorie intake by more than 300 calories per day and protein by over 20g per day, slightly increases body weight, and improves muscle size and strength. That’s all from drinking just a daily 8 oz. shake.

Of course, getting your nutritional needs in by consuming real food is better than relying on supplements. However, when it comes to malnutrition it’s critical to get enough protein, vitamins, minerals, and calories, making supplements often necessary to round out the diet.

Getting enough real food is tough if it’s difficult to swallow or your sense of taste and smell start to go (or down). That’s why researchers experiment with ‘densification’ of real foods.

 

Densification involves adding calorie and protein content without changing the types and quantities of food. The idea is to get patients to consume more nutrients without feeling overburdened by large meals, and it works.

Elderly adults who prefer smaller meals consume more calories across breakfast and lunch when foods are ‘densified’. This strategy can even be implemented at home. To add calories and protein to the foods, researchers simply replace water in recipes with extra fats and dairy.

Whether ONS, food densification, or just adding more food to the diet, increasing calories and the range of vitamins and minerals will certainly offset malnutrition and its associated effects.

WHERE DOES EXERCISE FIT INTO ALL THIS?

In some ways, ONS to a malnourished older adult is like protein powder to a bodybuilder. It’s not the only way to build muscle and work towards body composition goals, but it sure does help.

Malnourished older adults and bodybuilders also have this in common: their bodies require a nutritional and exercise jumpstart in order to build muscle.

Researchers recently gave older adults with sarcopenia, or a significant loss of muscle mass, a whey protein shake along with a progressive strength training program. By the end of the study, almost 70% of the participants reversed many of their symptoms.

Part of their success was probably thanks to a dedicated team of researchers keeping them on track with the study. Social support is important for frail older adults who want to use nutrition and exercise therapy to regain a healthy body composition. It can be as simple as asking a family member or friend to come by a couple times per week to help keep you on track..

So while bodybuilders may be more intrinsically motivated to increase their diet and exercise to improve the muscle mass and physique, older adults may need some social support to improve their diet and exercise in order to offset or prevent these symptoms from occurring in the first place.

Wrap-Up: Your Next Steps

By the time someone becomes clinically malnourished or frail, their eating and exercise habits have likely been insufficient for a long time. With some exceptions in disease-related malnutrition, this is not something that happens overnight.

So what can we do to increase awareness, maintain our well-being, and prevent these conditions associated with malnutrition? Keeping a healthy, well-rounded, and calorically full diet with regular exercise is the best method of prevention.

Ignoring nutrition will gradually work against your body composition, just as your smell and taste can eventually decline and various other factors we’ve discussed set in to increase the risk for malnutrition. But forming a few key dietary habits before the effects of aging truly appear can help you prevent poor outcomes later in life.

  • Establish a strength training routine. Although some muscle mass loss can be stopped later in life with exercise, it’s better to start out with muscle mass than try to play catch-up.
  • Eat sufficient protein throughout the day. It is often best to space out your protein across meals rather than consuming it all at once to ensure you’re getting a good amount on a daily basis.
  • Monitor your body composition regularly. You should make sure you minimize muscle mass loss and fat mass gain as you age.

By avoiding or treating malnutrition and maintaining your body composition, you can continue on to age gracefully… who wouldn’t want that?

**

Max Gaitán,MEd is an exercise physiologist and a USA Triathlon Certified Coach. When he’s not coaching, studying, or writing, Max spends most of his time outdoors training for triathlons.

 

What You Can Do About Malnutrition?

By Nutrition

When it comes to malnutrition, most the focus—and rightly so—is on severe malnutrition in developing countries where lack of access to food has tragic consequences.

This condition can have debilitating effects on body composition, quality of life, and independent living. But malnutrition among older adults in developed countries is more widespread than most people realize.  How can malnutrition coexist in countries that have an obesity epidemic?

Technically, malnutrition is an umbrella term including overnutrition (i.e. obesity) and undernutrition. Just as important as fighting increasing obesity, it’s important to understand how various aspects of aging can make it difficult to consume all the essential nutrients the body needs.

The good news is that malnutrition is easily diagnosed, managed and even reversed. As we continue we will be discussing treatment and prevention, but first let’s raise awareness about the issue itself.

The What, Who, and Why of Malnutrition and Aging

With so many different people experiencing different effects and severities of malnutrition, it can be complicated to break down. Since there are several primary types of malnutrition, we’ll focus on how malnutrition impacts body composition and why this is so important for your long-term health.

WHAT IS MALNUTRITION?

The World Health Organization defines malnutrition as “deficiencies, excesses or imbalances in a person’s intake of energy and/or nutrients”. Protein-energy deficiency is one of the most common forms of malnutrition and this health condition has an immediate and negative impact on body composition. This deficiency wreaks havoc on skeletal muscle mass in particular, as the body eventually goes into starvation mode and breaks down its own protein (stored in muscle) for fuel.

Micronutrient deficiency is a lack of nutrients, like minerals and vitamins, that support important bodily processes like cells regeneration, your immune system, and even eyesight. Some common examples are iron or calcium deficiencies. Micronutrient deficiency has the greatest impact on normal physiological functions/processes and can actually occur in conjunction with protein-energy deficiency since most micronutrients are obtained from food.

Although nutritional deficiencies of certain micronutrients can impact processes such as building and repairing muscle, protein-energy deficiency has a more pronounced effect on body composition due to the fact that lowered protein intake can lead to more drastic losses in muscle mass. The American Society for Parenteral and Enteral Nutrition (ASPEN) defines several features of malnutrition and nutritional deficiencies in adults:

  • Insufficient energy intake
  • Unintended weight loss
  • Diminished physical function (including hand grip strength, and physical performance testing)
  • Serious medical conditions (such as edema resulting from fluid accumulation)

WHO IS AFFECTED, AND WHY?

You would assume that adults spending time in rehabilitation centers or hospitals should be well nourished since they have a range of staff taking care of them, right?

In theory, yes. But in reality, things are more complicated.

According to a study of over 4,000 individuals, approximately 40-50% of patients in rehabilitation centers and hospitals are malnourished, compared to 14% in nursing homes and just 6% in independently dwelling adults. These are staggering differences, but the numbers should be put in context.

There are two overarching reasons malnutrition strikes older adults.

  • Insufficient food intake. This often results from factors inherent to aging, including loss of taste or smell, dentition (poor muscle function or loss of teeth), or cognitive decline.
  • Disease-related malnutrition. Decreased food intake or absorption due to a wide range of diseases from cancer to inflammatory bowel disease or from cases such as hospitalization including surgery or emergency medical interventions (stroke, trauma, etc.)

Since individuals suffering from disease-related malnutrition are more likely to require hospitalization (to treat their disease), this could contribute to the high rates of malnutrition in hospitals and rehabilitation facilities. But a host of other factors in hospitals make it no wonder that longer hospital stays are related to rates of malnutrition.

WHY YOU SHOULD CARE, EVEN IF YOU ARE NOT DIRECTLY AFFECTED

Malnutrition really is an important issue in that it takes a high toll on people afflicted; on top of that is the associated economic cost that extends the burden beyond the malnourished individual. Massive medical bills strain individuals and their families and consume significant amounts of healthcare resources.

In a study of almost 2000 older adults, health care costs for malnourished adults were more than double those for non-malnourished adults. More visits to general practitioners and hospitals equals higher cost.

However it is worth noting that although treatment for malnutrition can add up in cost, the sooner the treatment, the better. Intervening with treatment called oral nutritional supplementation (ONS) does add to healthcare costs, but according to an economic model analysis, the cost of ONS treatment is more than offset by the long-term reduction in hospital admissions as a result of treatment.

In other words, treating this condition sooner not only makes sense for health reasons, it makes sense economically.

How Body Composition Changes During Malnutrition

Now that we have covered the “What”, “Who”, and “Why”, let’s discuss the “How” malnutrition affects body composition.

Most adults experience a natural shift in body composition as they age, partly thanks to a decrease in physical activity. What might accelerate and worsen that shift?

That’s right: malnutrition.

While Fat Free Mass starts to decline in the middle of adulthood, it drops at a concerning rate by the time adults reach their 80’s. Coupled with a decrease in functional health, it’s clear that unfavorable changes are happening.

Adding protein-energy deficiency into that mix makes the situation even more concerning. Researchers comparing elderly and middle-aged malnourished adults found that the elderly group was more prone to losing Fat Free Mass than fat mass and this may come down to not taking in enough nutrients to support and maintain muscles and their function.

In other words, undernutrition exacerbates the issue of muscle loss and those that are malnourished are more likely to tap into their muscle protein for fuel rather than those pesky fat stores (which are designed to be our energy-stores).

That matters because malnourished older adults are already at an increased risk of mortality. On top of that, losing muscle makes it difficult to perform those normal activities of daily living. As you burn through muscle protein, functional capacity declines, and loss of independence and malnutrition ensues

Recognize and Take Action

In light of the fact that malnutrition is more prevalent than most would think,what are the warning signs you should you look out for? It’s a tough problem to assess, and catching it before significant changes in body composition or muscle mass occur is best. However, watching out for these risk factors can be helpful in determining your likelihood of malnutrition or the severity of muscle loss.

ADDRESSING THE RISKS

Just because malnutrition can be difficult to spot early on, doesn’t mean all is lost. There are a variety of risk factors and health problems to be aware of and recognize. Here is a list of a few.

The first step to addressing the undernutrition problem is to make people aware of the problem. Research shows that among cancer patients (a nutritionally at-risk group) at home, nearly 25% do not receive nutritional support or counseling despite receiving other health care.

If you don’t recognize a problem, you can’t do anything about it.

Before getting into actual treatment, here are a couple strategies to address malnutrition risk factors head on.

  • Spice up your food. A few dashes of flavored powders like beef bouillon or lemon butter help increased body weight and prevent a decline in energy intake by making foods more appealing.
  • Take care of your teeth. Missing a substantial number of teeth is associated with lower energy and protein intake. Wearing dentures can lower your risk of malnutrition by about 20%, but only if you wear them consistently.
  • Make meals something to look forward to. Rather than eat each meal alone, have meals with other people in your community or schedule regular dinners with family and friends.
  • Get your body composition tested. Regularly get your body composition tested either bi-monthly or monthly to make sure that your muscle and fat levels are where you want them to be.

FOOD-FORWARD SOLUTIONS

If you do find yourself, or a patient, facing malnutrition, oral nutritional supplementation (ONS) is one of the most promising treatments you can use.

Most nutritional supplements you are familiar with probably come in pill form, like Vitamin A or Vitamin D, but ONS is in liquid form. Boost and Ensure (though not necessarily brands we are recommending- please do your research on fitting the ingredients to your specific needs) are some common brand names, and there are dozens of more options out there in a variety of flavors and formulas.

The science behind ONS is substantial. It counteracts malnutrition and related comorbidities in adults ranging from hospitalized hip fracture patients to frail community-dwelling elderly adults.

An analysis of 36 studies on high-protein ONS found that it increases calorie intake by more than 300 calories per day and protein by over 20g per day, slightly increases body weight, and improves muscle size and strength. That’s all from drinking just a daily 8 oz. shake.

Of course, getting your nutritional needs in by consuming real food is better than relying on supplements. However, when it comes to malnutrition it’s critical to get enough protein, vitamins, minerals, and calories, making supplements often necessary to round out the diet.

Getting enough real food is tough if it’s difficult to swallow or your sense of taste and smell start to go (or down). That’s why researchers experiment with ‘densification’ of real foods.

 

Densification involves adding calorie and protein content without changing the types and quantities of food. The idea is to get patients to consume more nutrients without feeling overburdened by large meals, and it works.

Elderly adults who prefer smaller meals consume more calories across breakfast and lunch when foods are ‘densified’. This strategy can even be implemented at home. To add calories and protein to the foods, researchers simply replace water in recipes with extra fats and dairy.

Whether ONS, food densification, or just adding more food to the diet, increasing calories and the range of vitamins and minerals will certainly offset malnutrition and its associated effects.

WHERE DOES EXERCISE FIT INTO ALL THIS?

In some ways, ONS to a malnourished older adult is like protein powder to a bodybuilder. It’s not the only way to build muscle and work towards body composition goals, but it sure does help.

Malnourished older adults and bodybuilders also have this in common: their bodies require a nutritional and exercise jumpstart in order to build muscle.

Researchers recently gave older adults with sarcopenia, or a significant loss of muscle mass, a whey protein shake along with a progressive strength training program. By the end of the study, almost 70% of the participants reversed many of their symptoms.

Part of their success was probably thanks to a dedicated team of researchers keeping them on track with the study. Social support is important for frail older adults who want to use nutrition and exercise therapy to regain a healthy body composition. It can be as simple as asking a family member or friend to come by a couple times per week to help keep you on track..

So while bodybuilders may be more intrinsically motivated to increase their diet and exercise to improve the muscle mass and physique, older adults may need some social support to improve their diet and exercise in order to offset or prevent these symptoms from occurring in the first place.

Wrap-Up: Your Next Steps

By the time someone becomes clinically malnourished or frail, their eating and exercise habits have likely been insufficient for a long time. With some exceptions in disease-related malnutrition, this is not something that happens overnight.

So what can we do to increase awareness, maintain our well-being, and prevent these conditions associated with malnutrition? Keeping a healthy, well-rounded, and calorically full diet with regular exercise is the best method of prevention.

Ignoring nutrition will gradually work against your body composition, just as your smell and taste can eventually decline and various other factors we’ve discussed set in to increase the risk for malnutrition. But forming a few key dietary habits before the effects of aging truly appear can help you prevent poor outcomes later in life.

  • Establish a strength training routine. Although some muscle mass loss can be stopped later in life with exercise, it’s better to start out with muscle mass than try to play catch-up.
  • Eat sufficient protein throughout the day. It is often best to space out your protein across meals rather than consuming it all at once to ensure you’re getting a good amount on a daily basis.
  • Monitor your body composition regularly. You should make sure you minimize muscle mass loss and fat mass gain as you age.

By avoiding or treating malnutrition and maintaining your body composition, you can continue on to age gracefully… who wouldn’t want that?

**

Max Gaitán,MEd is an exercise physiologist and a USA Triathlon Certified Coach. When he’s not coaching, studying, or writing, Max spends most of his time outdoors training for triathlons.

 

How to Stop Overeating Once and For All

By Uncategorized

At dinner last night, one slice of chocolate cake somehow turned into half a cake…

Today, you stuffed yourself with five buttery rolls at the office potluck. That wouldn’t have been so bad if you didn’t eat three plates of food.

We’ve all been there, and we all know how those post-binge episodes go — from guilt to frustration to promising yourself that it’s going to be the last time you stuff yourself with unhealthy food! (Not to mention the dreaded food coma…)

You thought you’ve overcome overeating for good, yet it turns out that you’re back to square one when it comes to getting your cravings under control.

Why is it so hard to break out of this cycle?

Is there a way to kick this ceaseless habit for good?

Does it have to do with self-control and having an endless supply of willpower?

Or is there some otherworldly, mystical force that you need to tap on in order to break free from binge-eating episodes?

To help us figure out if it’s sorcery or science, this article is divided into two parts.

First, you’ll learn about the possible reasons why it’s so tempting to finish a large box of pizza all by yourself. Second, you’ll discover how to put an end to compulsive overeating and finally take your body composition goals seriously.

With obesity affecting more than one-third of the U.S. adult population, getting out of the binge-diet cycle remains a puzzle to many.

To have a greater understanding as to how overeating happens, it makes sense to initially get a grasp of how our appetite, or the desire to eat, works.

Understanding Overeating

How Appetite Works

It’s worth noting that appetite is a tad different from hunger. Think of hunger as a need to eat while appetite is more like a desire to snack mindlessly even after you had lunch.

At a fundamental level, hunger and appetite are both influenced by a network of pathways involving the neuroendocrine system. Appetite regulation, satiety, and energy balance involve the following:

The smart folks over at ASAPscience simplified the science of hunger and cravings in a two-minute video below. It talks about the body’s hunger-regulation system and why we’re tempted to go for second helpings.

In essence, high-calorie foods rich in fat and sugar were extremely desirable to our hunter-gatherer ancestors for survival because they were scarce. However, this instinct for fatty and sugary meals still remain even though these types of food are now available 24/7.

Eventually, the continual intake of high-calorie fat and sugar-laden food overrides the human body’s natural hunger regulation system, leading to habitual overeating.

In a nutshell, the more you gorge on food laced with too much fat and sugar, the more likely that you’re going to get addicted to it.

On Homeostatic and Hedonic Hunger

portion control

Another way of understanding appetite is to look at it from the perspective of eating for two main reasons— as a response to hunger (homeostatic) and for pleasure (hedonic).

In a review of studies differentiating the two, the researchers described that homeostatic hunger is the result of the prolonged absence of energy intake or the food itself, while hedonic hunger is strongly influenced by the availability and palatability of food in your environment. Furthermore, a 2016 study found out that intense feelings of pleasure derived from palatable foods (hedonic hunger) predicts the likelihood of losing control when eating among female college freshmen.

 

Why You Really Overeat and Binge

indulgence in ice cream

At first thought, it seems like putting an end to overeating is simply a matter of telling your brain to stop consuming food. Yet we all know that it’s not that easy, right?

Your brain may be the main driving force behind your cravings, but it’s not acting alone.

The frequency and the amount of food you finish is also influenced by a complex interaction of the following factors:

1. Genetic Influences

Your gut, hormones, and brain may be working together to control appetite, but your genetic makeup also has a say as if you’re the type to overindulge.

For instance, a London study on children revealed that genetic influences on weight and abdominal fat accumulation are high in children who are born since the onset of the childhood obesity epidemic. Furthermore, there is evidence indicating that specific genes can possibly impact your likelihood of frequent LOC (loss of control) eating episodes.

2. Environmental Influences

Environmental factors also contribute to the rise of food cravings. These factors include the atmosphere of the room and the presence/absence of distractions during meals. This also applies to social and cultural cues. Remember a time when you overindulged because everyone seems to be in the mood for feasting?

Finally, child feeding practices by parents during the first years of childhood tend to impact one’s eating behavior later in life. A review of studies on the parental influence on eating behavior revealed the following interesting findings:

  • Restrictive feeding practices by caregivers are associated with overeating and poorer self-regulation of food intake among preschool-age children.
  • Restricting access to palatable snacks and desserts like cookies in children may be counterproductive because it will eventually promote their intake.
  • Higher levels of parental control and pressure to eat healthily were associated with lower fruit and vegetable intakes and higher intake of dietary fat among young girls.

3. Psychological Influences

Did you know that not sleeping enough or getting stressed over finals week could lead to you reaching out for the cookie jar 5x a day when we’re not actually hungry?

It turns out that your appetite and hunger regulation is also influenced by these behavioral factors.

In fact, evidence from longitudinal studies suggests that chronic life stress may be linked to weight gain, with a greater effect seen in men.  Furthermore, your work schedule can also impact how much you eat. A study revealed that shift workers may be particularly vulnerable to the tendency to eat the largest meals in the evening as they remain awake longer during the times when you naturally feel hungry for high calorie sweet, salty, and starchy foods.

 

Your Action Plan to Curb Overeating (Without Depriving Yourself)

Whether it’s stress or social pressure that’s driving you to overeat, we all know how frustrating it is to realize that you gave in to your cravings (again!). The good news is you can do something the next time you’re about to open your third bag of chips.

For a start, consider the following easy yet sustainable solutions to put an end to overeating, minus the horrible feeling of self-deprivation.

1. Learn to recognize the difference between homeostatic and hedonistic hunger.

As mentioned earlier, you can eat because you’re hungry but you can also eat for pleasure.

It can be a struggle to figure out the difference between the two because it requires you to be more mindful and listen to your body. As a result, misinterpreting these signals can lead to overeating.

While these cues will differ from one person to another (as well as depend on the time of day), you can learn to recognize your motivation for eating and adjust your eating habits by asking the following question:

Am I eating as a response to a physical cue (e.g. growling stomach, headache) or am I eating because I am feeling stressed, anxious, or overjoyed?

Whether you’re stressed about deadlines or bummed about your annual employee performance review, talking to a friend or journaling may be more helpful than emotional eating.

2. Be mindful of your “food environment”.

food environment

Your “food environment” may be divided into two parts:

  1. Your social interaction and the overall atmosphere of your environment
  2. How your food is served

To help promote a positive food environment, consider the following best practices:

  • Keep an eye on your portions.

Before eating two bagels in one sitting, savor one piece instead. Furthermore, you might also want to use smaller plates and bowls to avoid taking in too much when you’re in a buffet. Research reveals that larger plates can make a serving of food appear smaller, and smaller plates can lead people to misjudge the same serving size of food as being significantly larger.

  • Press pause (whether on your TV or phone) until you’re done with lunch or dinner.

When you’re distracted, you tend to eat mindlessly. As a result, you’ll be less sensitive to satiety cues because your brain is paying more attention to other things.

  • Be like the Okinawans in Japan by only eating until your 80 percent full.

Known for having one of the longest life expectancies in the world,  Okinawans call this practice as “Hara Hachi Bu”, and this can be a useful guideline to help stop overeating.

  • Eat slowly.

A Greek study found that eating at a slower pace tended to increased fullness and reduce hungry feelings in overweight and obese participants.

Surround yourself with people who are taking steps to eat more mindfully.

Whether it’s your co-worker who’s into calorie counting or your brother who’s a geek when it comes to meal planning, being around others who eat mindfully will help reinforce your own good habits and perhaps teach you some new tips and tricks as well.

3. Make tiny adjustments to your daily habits that may impact your eating behavior.

Curbing overeating is not about making massive changes in your life but rather making tiny adjustments to your daily habits.

Going on a “healthy” detox diet or juice cleanse right after binging may help your weight loss temporarily, but it’s not sustainable in the long run. Instead, you’ll likely end up going through the same cycle of overeating, feeling guilty, restricting yourself, and giving in again to cravings. That’s why making smaller healthy changes is more effective for changing your lifestyle permanently.

These are three examples of tiny adjustments you can make to your daily habits.

  • Stop skimping on sleep, pronto.

As mentioned earlier, lack of sleep can lead to eating more and sabotage your weight loss efforts. Are you struggling to get a good night’s sleep? Establishing a consistent bedtime routine may be a good start. An irregular bedtime schedule is linked to poor sleep quality.

  • Eat breakfast when you can.

There may be some exceptions (like when you’re doing intermittent fasting), but skipping your morning meal usually leads to overeating because you end up feeling famished throughout the day. On the other hand, a healthy high protein breakfast has been shown to stabilize blood sugar levels, increased satiety, and reduced hunger cues.

  • Do whole food swaps instead of cutting out certain foods entirely or adopting crazy diets.

Remember how high-calorie food that’s loaded with salt and sugar tends to encourage overeating? That why food choices are important. By opting for whole food alternatives, you will eventually reduce your cravings for unhealthy sweets and salty treats.

Don’t just adopt the latest trending diet and toss all the junk food residing in your fridge right away. A good rule of thumb is to have at least 80 percent of your daily meals from whole food sources and devote the rest to the not-so-healthy food items. And when the craving hits reach for a healthy snack like fruit or nuts. By doing so, you won’t feel deprived, which in turn can lead to another binging episode.

Special Note on Food Addiction

A lot of people can relate to overeating (because it happens to the best of us too!) but food addiction is a different story. If you feel that your binging episodes has turned into more than just a bad habit that you can change, seek professional help.

The Takeaway: Mindful Eating Can Go a Long Way for Your Body Composition

mindfulness with food

If you’ve noticed, the majority of the points discussed in the action plan has something to do with mindfulness.

Recognizing if you’re truly hungry or simply eating as a response to stress or other environmental factors requires constant practice and a heightened sense of self-awareness.

The idea of mindfulness may sound like a meditation fad or just another self-help woo-woo. However, mindfulness-based interventions in addressing compulsive overeating and other obesity-related eating behaviors have gained popularity recently. In fact, a systematic review of related studies on the topic supports its efficacy.

Overall, beating overeating and taking your body composition seriously begins with this single step—uncover the reason behind your binging habit. Keep in mind that you need to know the “why” first before diving into the “how” of putting an end to your tendency to overeat. Once you figure out your “why” the benefits are tremendous: a healthier relationship with food, weight loss, and a better sense of control. Good luck and here’s to a happier more mindful life.

***

Kyjean Tomboc is a nurse turned freelance healthcare copywriter and UX researcher.  After experimenting with going paleo and vegetarian, she realized that it all boils down to eating real food.

How to Stop Overeating Once and For All

By Body Composition, Diet, Nutrition

At dinner last night, one slice of chocolate cake somehow turned into half a cake…

Today, you stuffed yourself with five buttery rolls at the office potluck. That wouldn’t have been so bad if you didn’t eat three plates of food.

We’ve all been there, and we all know how those post-binge episodes go — from guilt to frustration to promising yourself that it’s going to be the last time you stuff yourself with unhealthy food! (Not to mention the dreaded food coma…)

You thought you’ve overcome overeating for good, yet it turns out that you’re back to square one when it comes to getting your cravings under control.

Why is it so hard to break out of this cycle?

Is there a way to kick this ceaseless habit for good?

Does it have to do with self-control and having an endless supply of willpower?

Or is there some otherworldly, mystical force that you need to tap on in order to break free from binge-eating episodes?

To help us figure out if it’s sorcery or science, this article is divided into two parts.

First, you’ll learn about the possible reasons why it’s so tempting to finish a large box of pizza all by yourself. Second, you’ll discover how to put an end to compulsive overeating and finally take your body composition goals seriously.

With obesity affecting more than one-third of the U.S. adult population, getting out of the binge-diet cycle remains a puzzle to many.

To have a greater understanding as to how overeating happens, it makes sense to initially get a grasp of how our appetite, or the desire to eat, works.

Understanding Overeating

How Appetite Works

It’s worth noting that appetite is a tad different from hunger. Think of hunger as a need to eat while appetite is more like a desire to snack mindlessly even after you had lunch.

At a fundamental level, hunger and appetite are both influenced by a network of pathways involving the neuroendocrine system. Appetite regulation, satiety, and energy balance involve the following:

The smart folks over at ASAPscience simplified the science of hunger and cravings in a two-minute video below. It talks about the body’s hunger-regulation system and why we’re tempted to go for second helpings.

In essence, high-calorie foods rich in fat and sugar were extremely desirable to our hunter-gatherer ancestors for survival because they were scarce. However, this instinct for fatty and sugary meals still remain even though these types of food are now available 24/7.

Eventually, the continual intake of high-calorie fat and sugar-laden food overrides the human body’s natural hunger regulation system, leading to habitual overeating.

In a nutshell, the more you gorge on food laced with too much fat and sugar, the more likely that you’re going to get addicted to it.

On Homeostatic and Hedonic Hunger

portion control

Another way of understanding appetite is to look at it from the perspective of eating for two main reasons— as a response to hunger (homeostatic) and for pleasure (hedonic).

In a review of studies differentiating the two, the researchers described that homeostatic hunger is the result of the prolonged absence of energy intake or the food itself, while hedonic hunger is strongly influenced by the availability and palatability of food in your environment. Furthermore, a 2016 study found out that intense feelings of pleasure derived from palatable foods (hedonic hunger) predicts the likelihood of losing control when eating among female college freshmen.

 

Why You Really Overeat and Binge

indulgence in ice cream

At first thought, it seems like putting an end to overeating is simply a matter of telling your brain to stop consuming food. Yet we all know that it’s not that easy, right?

Your brain may be the main driving force behind your cravings, but it’s not acting alone.

The frequency and the amount of food you finish is also influenced by a complex interaction of the following factors:

1. Genetic Influences

Your gut, hormones, and brain may be working together to control appetite, but your genetic makeup also has a say as if you’re the type to overindulge.

For instance, a London study on children revealed that genetic influences on weight and abdominal fat accumulation are high in children who are born since the onset of the childhood obesity epidemic. Furthermore, there is evidence indicating that specific genes can possibly impact your likelihood of frequent LOC (loss of control) eating episodes.

2. Environmental Influences

Environmental factors also contribute to the rise of food cravings. These factors include the atmosphere of the room and the presence/absence of distractions during meals. This also applies to social and cultural cues. Remember a time when you overindulged because everyone seems to be in the mood for feasting?

Finally, child feeding practices by parents during the first years of childhood tend to impact one’s eating behavior later in life. A review of studies on the parental influence on eating behavior revealed the following interesting findings:

  • Restrictive feeding practices by caregivers are associated with overeating and poorer self-regulation of food intake among preschool-age children.
  • Restricting access to palatable snacks and desserts like cookies in children may be counterproductive because it will eventually promote their intake.
  • Higher levels of parental control and pressure to eat healthily were associated with lower fruit and vegetable intakes and higher intake of dietary fat among young girls.

3. Psychological Influences

Did you know that not sleeping enough or getting stressed over finals week could lead to you reaching out for the cookie jar 5x a day when we’re not actually hungry?

It turns out that your appetite and hunger regulation is also influenced by these behavioral factors.

In fact, evidence from longitudinal studies suggests that chronic life stress may be linked to weight gain, with a greater effect seen in men.  Furthermore, your work schedule can also impact how much you eat. A study revealed that shift workers may be particularly vulnerable to the tendency to eat the largest meals in the evening as they remain awake longer during the times when you naturally feel hungry for high calorie sweet, salty, and starchy foods.

 

Your Action Plan to Curb Overeating (Without Depriving Yourself)

Whether it’s stress or social pressure that’s driving you to overeat, we all know how frustrating it is to realize that you gave in to your cravings (again!). The good news is you can do something the next time you’re about to open your third bag of chips.

For a start, consider the following easy yet sustainable solutions to put an end to overeating, minus the horrible feeling of self-deprivation.

1. Learn to recognize the difference between homeostatic and hedonistic hunger.

As mentioned earlier, you can eat because you’re hungry but you can also eat for pleasure.

It can be a struggle to figure out the difference between the two because it requires you to be more mindful and listen to your body. As a result, misinterpreting these signals can lead to overeating.

While these cues will differ from one person to another (as well as depend on the time of day), you can learn to recognize your motivation for eating and adjust your eating habits by asking the following question:

Am I eating as a response to a physical cue (e.g. growling stomach, headache) or am I eating because I am feeling stressed, anxious, or overjoyed?

Whether you’re stressed about deadlines or bummed about your annual employee performance review, talking to a friend or journaling may be more helpful than emotional eating.

2. Be mindful of your “food environment”.

food environment

Your “food environment” may be divided into two parts:

  1. Your social interaction and the overall atmosphere of your environment
  2. How your food is served

To help promote a positive food environment, consider the following best practices:

  • Keep an eye on your portions.

Before eating two bagels in one sitting, savor one piece instead. Furthermore, you might also want to use smaller plates and bowls to avoid taking in too much when you’re in a buffet. Research reveals that larger plates can make a serving of food appear smaller, and smaller plates can lead people to misjudge the same serving size of food as being significantly larger.

  • Press pause (whether on your TV or phone) until you’re done with lunch or dinner.

When you’re distracted, you tend to eat mindlessly. As a result, you’ll be less sensitive to satiety cues because your brain is paying more attention to other things.

  • Be like the Okinawans in Japan by only eating until your 80 percent full.

Known for having one of the longest life expectancies in the world,  Okinawans call this practice as “Hara Hachi Bu”, and this can be a useful guideline to help stop overeating.

  • Eat slowly.

A Greek study found that eating at a slower pace tended to increased fullness and reduce hungry feelings in overweight and obese participants.

Surround yourself with people who are taking steps to eat more mindfully.

Whether it’s your co-worker who’s into calorie counting or your brother who’s a geek when it comes to meal planning, being around others who eat mindfully will help reinforce your own good habits and perhaps teach you some new tips and tricks as well.

3. Make tiny adjustments to your daily habits that may impact your eating behavior.

Curbing overeating is not about making massive changes in your life but rather making tiny adjustments to your daily habits.

Going on a “healthy” detox diet or juice cleanse right after binging may help your weight loss temporarily, but it’s not sustainable in the long run. Instead, you’ll likely end up going through the same cycle of overeating, feeling guilty, restricting yourself, and giving in again to cravings. That’s why making smaller healthy changes is more effective for changing your lifestyle permanently.

These are three examples of tiny adjustments you can make to your daily habits.

  • Stop skimping on sleep, pronto.

As mentioned earlier, lack of sleep can lead to eating more and sabotage your weight loss efforts. Are you struggling to get a good night’s sleep? Establishing a consistent bedtime routine may be a good start. An irregular bedtime schedule is linked to poor sleep quality.

  • Eat breakfast when you can.

There may be some exceptions (like when you’re doing intermittent fasting), but skipping your morning meal usually leads to overeating because you end up feeling famished throughout the day. On the other hand, a healthy high protein breakfast has been shown to stabilize blood sugar levels, increased satiety, and reduced hunger cues.

  • Do whole food swaps instead of cutting out certain foods entirely or adopting crazy diets.

Remember how high-calorie food that’s loaded with salt and sugar tends to encourage overeating? That why food choices are important. By opting for whole food alternatives, you will eventually reduce your cravings for unhealthy sweets and salty treats.

Don’t just adopt the latest trending diet and toss all the junk food residing in your fridge right away. A good rule of thumb is to have at least 80 percent of your daily meals from whole food sources and devote the rest to the not-so-healthy food items. And when the craving hits reach for a healthy snack like fruit or nuts. By doing so, you won’t feel deprived, which in turn can lead to another binging episode.

Special Note on Food Addiction

A lot of people can relate to overeating (because it happens to the best of us too!) but food addiction is a different story. If you feel that your binging episodes has turned into more than just a bad habit that you can change, seek professional help.

The Takeaway: Mindful Eating Can Go a Long Way for Your Body Composition

mindfulness with food

If you’ve noticed, the majority of the points discussed in the action plan has something to do with mindfulness.

Recognizing if you’re truly hungry or simply eating as a response to stress or other environmental factors requires constant practice and a heightened sense of self-awareness.

The idea of mindfulness may sound like a meditation fad or just another self-help woo-woo. However, mindfulness-based interventions in addressing compulsive overeating and other obesity-related eating behaviors have gained popularity recently. In fact, a systematic review of related studies on the topic supports its efficacy.

Overall, beating overeating and taking your body composition seriously begins with this single step—uncover the reason behind your binging habit. Keep in mind that you need to know the “why” first before diving into the “how” of putting an end to your tendency to overeat. Once you figure out your “why” the benefits are tremendous: a healthier relationship with food, weight loss, and a better sense of control. Good luck and here’s to a happier more mindful life.

***

Kyjean Tomboc is a nurse turned freelance healthcare copywriter and UX researcher.  After experimenting with going paleo and vegetarian, she realized that it all boils down to eating real food.

Is Your Dad Bod In-Style or Unhealthy?

By Uncategorized

Men have been working out to increase muscle mass for decades. Every generation comes up with new phrases that refer to this phenomenon, such as getting “ripped” or “swole” or “yoked,” as a result of men searching for the optimal physique that has been influenced by athletes, movie stars and other public figures.  In recent years, a new opposing trend has emerged in pop culture known as the Dad Bod. Instead of marveling at the muscular look, celebrities and every-men alike have embraced a rough-around-the-edges approach to the male aesthetic.

The term Dad Bod has been used to classify men who are slightly overweight and don’t possess a sculpted frame. The positive attention this new trend has received could be seen as an effort to promote a positive self-image in men who otherwise may have had some insecurities about the way they look. Society embracing an archetype that is more attainable by a higher percentage of the male population is an uplifting occurrence and allows men to realize that you don’t have to have the perfect body to be considered healthy and attractive. The human body does need a certain level of fat to survive, as fat serves as an insulator for your core body temperature and aids with hormone production. However, with obesity rates higher than ever, it’s important to emphasize weight management and metabolic health, so recognizing body types that are close to the optimal body fat range is a good start to improving general health.

The focus on Dad Bods have provided a positive shift in visual standards and self-image, which is very beneficial for the male population, but they can also promote dangerous habits as well. Here is how you can tell if your Dad Bod is a good look or evidence of an unhealthy lifestyle:

Avoid These Behaviors

Dad Bods are thought by many to be caused by typical “dad” activities: eating a lot, drinking a lot, and exercising very little. You have probably seen on multiple occasions the “TV Dad”, sitting in his arm chair with a big plate of food and a beer, glued to his big screen. Making these activities an everyday routine can be a recipe for disaster on your health. While having the chiseled muscle tone of a bodybuilder seems like a far cry for TV Dad and other regular joes, moderation is almost always the way to go, and achieving your Dad Bod look shouldn’t exclude you from living a healthy lifestyle.

Overeating 

Overeating is a common problem in the present day, as taking in more calories than you need leads to the body storing the excess as fat. Too much body fat leads to a myriad of health issues, such as metabolic syndrome and diabetes. Overeating over extended periods of time can also lead to the development of visceral fat, which is a dense collection of fat tissue that sits in the trunk and surrounds the organs. Visceral fat is harder to get rid of, and often forms as a result of weight gain during adulthood. Its presence in the abdominal region causes the risk of hypertension to increase significantly, especially in younger men. It’s never too early to take control of your diet, as the habits you pick up during your college years can have long-term consequences and build an unhealthy base for your Dad Bod. Limit your caloric intake, and add more variety to your diet to avoid developing visceral fat around your waist.

Lack of Exercise

One way to offset the extra calories and combat the metabolic conditions that can be caused by a poor diet is regular exercise. However, even if you don’t think you carry a bunch of extra weight, a regular exercise regimen is important to ensure that you aren’t skinny fat. You don’t need to possess the muscle tone of a bodybuilder, but skeletal muscle tissue plays a large role in breaking down carbohydrates and promoting other regular body functions. The only way to develop muscle tissue is through exercise, so it can’t be ruled out even if you believe you have reached an acceptable weight.

An easy way to determine if you have solid metabolic health, no matter what body type you have, is to examine your lean muscle mass compared to your body fat. Those with Dad Bods should consider adding an exercise program to their daily routine, especially resistance training, as the benefits are too vital to pass up.

Excess Alcohol Consumption

Plenty of men have enjoyed an ice-cold beer, or two, or three… you get the point. The “beer belly,’ which is often considered the flag for dad bods, is also a common sign of years of excessive alcohol consumption. Alcoholic beverages aren’t inherently unhealthy, as moderate alcohol consumption (1 drink per day for women and 2 for men) can actually have positive health effects. The line between alcohol benefiting your health and hurting your health is an extremely fine one, as that second or third drink pushes you into excess alcohol consumption, which brings similar health problems as overeating or a lack of exercise.

The “beer belly” also refers to the collection of visceral fat, which emphasizes the need for moderation, as the collection of fat around the organs is difficult to get rid of, and carries an elevated risk of metabolic syndrome. While a perfectly trim waist does not need to be the goal for every man, avoiding adding mass through too many drinks is crucial to preventing metabolic syndrome and creating a healthy body.

Find a Happy Medium

The magic of the Dad Bod is that imperfections are appreciated instead of judged. Perfection is a goal that can’t be reached, but a healthier lifestyle is easily attainable. In order to have a Dad Bod that is also healthy, you must find a happy medium between positive body image and healthy body composition.

Applying the Dad Bod mindset to your daily choices is a great way to improve your health. Instead of tackling an intense diet, emphasize making a few healthy choices. Pick a smaller portion at your next meal or add some color to your plate with different produce options. With the obesity epidemic affecting populations all over the world, simple methods to improve nutrition can make all of the difference.

The formation of the Dad Bod trend has addressed a troubling side effect of social media, in which individuals work to develop the appearance of a successful life, instead of actually doing the work to create that success. Embracing your Dad Bod means separating the stigma of working out, which is now viewed as obsessive and self-involved. Exercise should be viewed as a therapeutic activity which is used to improve emotional and physical health. Working out doesn’t have to completely transform your appearance. It can just transform your quality of life.

Maintain Your Healthy Dad Bod

You have a Dad Bod, which wasn’t a big deal 10 years ago, but now is the desired look. That’s a great position to be in, but don’t let the trend negatively affect your health. Remember that having a Dad Bod doesn’t preclude you from making healthy choices. Moderation in eating and drinking is key, and exercise is a valuable addition to your daily life. Instead of seeking perfection in your appearance and lifestyle, just appreciate how you look and strive to improve your unhealthy practices little by little.

The Dad Bod trend is an encouraging development in the world of self-image. If used correctly, a positive shift in social norms and overall health can occur. The “perfect physique” should be whatever Bod you have now, but your health and body composition can still be a work in progress. Strive for regular improvement, not perfection. That’s what the Dad Bod is all about.

**

Evan Hadrick is a former collegiate track athlete who graduated from the University of Miami and currently works as a track & Field/Cross Country coach and athletic administrator in Dallas, TX. You can read more of his work at StateoftheU.com, where he is an assistant editor contributing sports commentary about University of Miami athletics.

Is Your Dad Bod In-Style or Unhealthy?

By Fat mass, Health

Men have been working out to increase muscle mass for decades. Every generation comes up with new phrases that refer to this phenomenon, such as getting “ripped” or “swole” or “yoked,” as a result of men searching for the optimal physique that has been influenced by athletes, movie stars and other public figures.  In recent years, a new opposing trend has emerged in pop culture known as the Dad Bod. Instead of marveling at the muscular look, celebrities and every-men alike have embraced a rough-around-the-edges approach to the male aesthetic.

The term Dad Bod has been used to classify men who are slightly overweight and don’t possess a sculpted frame. The positive attention this new trend has received could be seen as an effort to promote a positive self-image in men who otherwise may have had some insecurities about the way they look. Society embracing an archetype that is more attainable by a higher percentage of the male population is an uplifting occurrence and allows men to realize that you don’t have to have the perfect body to be considered healthy and attractive. The human body does need a certain level of fat to survive, as fat serves as an insulator for your core body temperature and aids with hormone production. However, with obesity rates higher than ever, it’s important to emphasize weight management and metabolic health, so recognizing body types that are close to the optimal body fat range is a good start to improving general health.

The focus on Dad Bods have provided a positive shift in visual standards and self-image, which is very beneficial for the male population, but they can also promote dangerous habits as well. Here is how you can tell if your Dad Bod is a good look or evidence of an unhealthy lifestyle:

Avoid These Behaviors

Dad Bods are thought by many to be caused by typical “dad” activities: eating a lot, drinking a lot, and exercising very little. You have probably seen on multiple occasions the “TV Dad”, sitting in his arm chair with a big plate of food and a beer, glued to his big screen. Making these activities an everyday routine can be a recipe for disaster on your health. While having the chiseled muscle tone of a bodybuilder seems like a far cry for TV Dad and other regular joes, moderation is almost always the way to go, and achieving your Dad Bod look shouldn’t exclude you from living a healthy lifestyle.

Overeating 

Overeating is a common problem in the present day, as taking in more calories than you need leads to the body storing the excess as fat. Too much body fat leads to a myriad of health issues, such as metabolic syndrome and diabetes. Overeating over extended periods of time can also lead to the development of visceral fat, which is a dense collection of fat tissue that sits in the trunk and surrounds the organs. Visceral fat is harder to get rid of, and often forms as a result of weight gain during adulthood. Its presence in the abdominal region causes the risk of hypertension to increase significantly, especially in younger men. It’s never too early to take control of your diet, as the habits you pick up during your college years can have long-term consequences and build an unhealthy base for your Dad Bod. Limit your caloric intake, and add more variety to your diet to avoid developing visceral fat around your waist.

Lack of Exercise

One way to offset the extra calories and combat the metabolic conditions that can be caused by a poor diet is regular exercise. However, even if you don’t think you carry a bunch of extra weight, a regular exercise regimen is important to ensure that you aren’t skinny fat. You don’t need to possess the muscle tone of a bodybuilder, but skeletal muscle tissue plays a large role in breaking down carbohydrates and promoting other regular body functions. The only way to develop muscle tissue is through exercise, so it can’t be ruled out even if you believe you have reached an acceptable weight.

An easy way to determine if you have solid metabolic health, no matter what body type you have, is to examine your lean muscle mass compared to your body fat. Those with Dad Bods should consider adding an exercise program to their daily routine, especially resistance training, as the benefits are too vital to pass up.

Excess Alcohol Consumption

Plenty of men have enjoyed an ice-cold beer, or two, or three… you get the point. The “beer belly,’ which is often considered the flag for dad bods, is also a common sign of years of excessive alcohol consumption. Alcoholic beverages aren’t inherently unhealthy, as moderate alcohol consumption (1 drink per day for women and 2 for men) can actually have positive health effects. The line between alcohol benefiting your health and hurting your health is an extremely fine one, as that second or third drink pushes you into excess alcohol consumption, which brings similar health problems as overeating or a lack of exercise.

The “beer belly” also refers to the collection of visceral fat, which emphasizes the need for moderation, as the collection of fat around the organs is difficult to get rid of, and carries an elevated risk of metabolic syndrome. While a perfectly trim waist does not need to be the goal for every man, avoiding adding mass through too many drinks is crucial to preventing metabolic syndrome and creating a healthy body.

Find a Happy Medium

The magic of the Dad Bod is that imperfections are appreciated instead of judged. Perfection is a goal that can’t be reached, but a healthier lifestyle is easily attainable. In order to have a Dad Bod that is also healthy, you must find a happy medium between positive body image and healthy body composition.

Applying the Dad Bod mindset to your daily choices is a great way to improve your health. Instead of tackling an intense diet, emphasize making a few healthy choices. Pick a smaller portion at your next meal or add some color to your plate with different produce options. With the obesity epidemic affecting populations all over the world, simple methods to improve nutrition can make all of the difference.

The formation of the Dad Bod trend has addressed a troubling side effect of social media, in which individuals work to develop the appearance of a successful life, instead of actually doing the work to create that success. Embracing your Dad Bod means separating the stigma of working out, which is now viewed as obsessive and self-involved. Exercise should be viewed as a therapeutic activity which is used to improve emotional and physical health. Working out doesn’t have to completely transform your appearance. It can just transform your quality of life.

Maintain Your Healthy Dad Bod

You have a Dad Bod, which wasn’t a big deal 10 years ago, but now is the desired look. That’s a great position to be in, but don’t let the trend negatively affect your health. Remember that having a Dad Bod doesn’t preclude you from making healthy choices. Moderation in eating and drinking is key, and exercise is a valuable addition to your daily life. Instead of seeking perfection in your appearance and lifestyle, just appreciate how you look and strive to improve your unhealthy practices little by little.

The Dad Bod trend is an encouraging development in the world of self-image. If used correctly, a positive shift in social norms and overall health can occur. The “perfect physique” should be whatever Bod you have now, but your health and body composition can still be a work in progress. Strive for regular improvement, not perfection. That’s what the Dad Bod is all about.

**

Evan Hadrick is a former collegiate track athlete who graduated from the University of Miami and currently works as a track & Field/Cross Country coach and athletic administrator in Dallas, TX. You can read more of his work at StateoftheU.com, where he is an assistant editor contributing sports commentary about University of Miami athletics.

How Body Fat Sabotages Your Immune System

By Uncategorized

If there’s one thing everyone can agree on, it’s that no one likes being sick.

What if there was something you could do to improve your health and reduce your sick days?

As it turns out, having a healthy body composition contributes to a stronger immune system, helping you to resist minor infections and reduce your risk of getting serious diseases, like heart disease and diabetes.

What’s a healthy body composition? Put simply, there are two main areas of focus: sufficiently developed muscle mass and a body fat percentage in a healthy range  (10-20% for men; 18-28% for women).

Unfortunately, over ⅔ of Americans are classified as overweight, with a shocking 1/3 of Americans classified as obese . Americans are on average heavier than any other time in history. There has been a similar increase in heart disease and diabetes diagnoses. That is why the CDC says obesity is an epidemic in this country.

How does this tie back into the immune system and your health? It all has to do with the nature of body fat.

What Happens When Your Immune System Activates

When your body gets sick – due to a bacterial infection, a virus, etc. – the body’s defense system gets triggered, causing inflammation.  This is thanks to your “innate” immune response: your body’s all-purpose defense mechanism that serves as the first wave of defense against foreign invaders.

The infected area becomes red and swollen due to increased blood flow, which can be unsightly and uncomfortable. Think of what happens to your nose when you get a cold. That’s inflammation.

This reaction is caused by white blood cells called macrophages and the proteins they emit called cytokines (this word will be important in a minute). These cytokines encourage inflammation.

You may have not thought of it this way before, but inflammation that’s triggered by your immune system is typically a good thing. That means your body is releasing the appropriate hormones and proteins, activating your white blood cells to start the recovery process, and working to defeat the infection.  If there wasn’t any inflammation, your body would be in serious trouble.

So if inflammation is what naturally occurs when your body’s immune system is triggered, how does inflammation relate to body fat, body composition, and obesity?

When Inflammation Becomes Permanent

When white blood cells cause inflammation, it’s a sign that your body’s immune system is properly functioning. Inflammation begins, white blood cells attack the foreign invader, the invader is neutralized, and the inflammation subsides.

This is how your body’s defense system naturally works. However, white blood cells aren’t the only type of cell that have the ability to emit cytokines.  A second type of cell that can emit cytokines and cause inflammation are adipocytes or fat cells.

Most people know that your body stores excess calories as fat so that you can use it later for energy if food becomes scarce.  

Just recently, scientists have learned that fat is an active endocrine organ, one that can secrete a whole host of proteins and chemicals, including inflammatory cytokines.

What happens when your body keeps adding on more and more adipose tissue?  Cytokines are released by your fat cells, triggering inflammation. In fact, obesity is characterized by researchers as “ a state of low-grade, chronic inflammation.

This means that increased fat cells puts your body in a constant state of stress/immune response. Your body is always in a state of inflammation; your immune system is permanently “switched on.”

Think of your body’s immune system like your body’s crack team of defenders, highly trained and designed to repel any and all foreign invaders.  In this scenario, your adipose cells are like enemy agents planted in your home territory. Their mission is to spread fear of an attack at all times, and they trick your defenders to be on high alert at all times.

As you might have guessed, perpetual, never-ending inflammation isn’t good for the body.

Sabotaged Immune System

Obesity causes a state of chronic inflammation, and this causes your immune system to become compromised.  Chronic inflammation is a serious issue and can lead to the development of minor and serious illness and conditions.  Here are a couple examples:

  • Influenza (the flu)

You may remember several years ago that there was a particularly deadly strain of the flu virus called H1N1.  As hospitals started to fill up with the sick, doctors in Spain noticed something: overweight and obese patients were beginning to show up in disproportionate numbers in intensive care units, and they were staying for longer than people who were not obese or overweight. Increased inflammation due to increased pro-inflammatory cytokines appeared to be a leading factor contributing to their increased flu risk.

Stories like these led  researchers in Canada to analyze the flu records for the previous 12 years, stretching from 2008 back to 1996. They found that people who were obese were more likely to come into the hospital for respiratory diseases than those who were not obese. They concluded that obese people were an “at risk” population during flu seasons due to their compromised immune response.

  • Heart Disease

Heart disease is the leading killer of adults in the United States.  Although there are many factors that can contribute to heart disease, recent research has pointed to inflammation caused by obesity as one of the most significant factors contributing to its development.

The main culprits are, again, the cytokines produced by excess fat in the body.  These cytokines cause inflammation of the walls of your arteries, causing damage to the arteries and increasing pressure. Blood pressure is the force of blood pushing against the walls of your blood vessels. When you have high blood pressure, it means that your heart isn’t pumping blood effectively, and it starts to enlarge. An enlarged heart is a significant risk factor that can lead to heart failure if steps aren’t taken to remedy it.

  • Diabetes

Diabetes is a condition characterized by insulin resistance – the inability of your body to remove excess sugar from your blood. Just like heart disease, there are many related factors that lead to the onset of type 2 diabetes, and obesity has long been associated with the development of diabetes.

However, with the discovery that fat is an active tissue that can secrete cytokines and wreak havoc on the immune system, researchers have been able to show a link between obesity, inflammation, and insulin resistance. Increased inflammation was shown to disturb a whole host of processes and the endocrine system. When obesity and the subsequent inflammation is left unchecked for a long time, it increases the risk of developing insulin resistance, and eventually diabetes.

Who’s At Risk?

A compromised immune system and inflammation aren’t issues that only concern overweight people.

Many people know that being overweight and obese is unhealthy and can lead to serious diseases over time.  Admittedly, poor diet and low levels of activity contributing to heart disease and diabetes over time in obese people isn’t exactly news.

Unless you start to take into account what the word “obese” actually means.

Classically, obesity has been defined by having a high Body Mass Index (BMI), a way of expressing the relationship of your weight vs. your height.  If your BMI exceeds 25, you’re labeled “overweight,” and once your BMI increases beyond 30, you progress into different levels of obesity.

Doctors have used BMI for obesity assessment for years, but unfortunately, BMI has led to confusion by inappropriately labeling people as obese or overweight when they are not, or healthy when they should be aware of their obesity risks.

Obesity doesn’t always simply mean “fat.” What obesity does mean is the excess accumulation of body fat, but what’s excess for you might not be for someone else. It is possible to have a “normal” BMI but a lot of excess fat; this is called being “skinny fat.”  Crucially, skinny fat people share many of the same metabolic risks as people who have high BMIs, including the risk of inflammation and a faulty immune system.

This is why you should look at having too much body fat not only as a problem for people who are visibly overweight, but also for people who don’t have enough muscle relative to how much body fat they have.

One way to determine whether you’re at risk is to have your body composition analyzed.  This assessment method will reveal your body fat percentage, a number that you can use to understand if the amount of fat you have is healthy or excessive for someone of your size.

How To Get Your Immune System Back In Line

Fortunately, because researchers have been able to identify body fat (and particularly, internal visceral fat)  as a major cause of inflammation and a compromised immune system, they’ve also been able to measure improvements when body fat is reduced. The goal to getting your immune system to function properly again is to stop it from being perpetually triggered.

In a study that followed obese patients who lost weight with caloric restriction and bariatric surgery, the researchers observed a significant reduction in immune system activation, which means less inflammation.  This reduction in immune activation occurred before and after surgery, which indicates that surgery isn’t always necessary: just the reduction of fat mass – and specifically, visceral fat.

Improving your body composition through a mix of strategies that promote fat loss and muscle gain can allow you to reduce your fat mass in a healthy manner that doesn’t require drastic measures like bariatric surgery.  Although this process can and will take time, the effects of having an improved and healthy body composition are immense, not the least of which is reducing overall body inflammation and having your immune system function properly again.

Healthy Immune System, Healthy Life

We’ve gone over a lot of very technical stuff here, so let’s go over the main points for you to take away.

  • Excess Body fat sabotages your immune system by leaving it permanently triggered
  • Inflammation caused by body fat makes you sicker and more vulnerable to disease
  • You can reduce and reverse these changes by reducing your body fat
  • Anyone can be at risk, depending on their body fat percentage, not their weight

No one likes being sick, and no one likes having to manage diseases like diabetes that stick around for a lifetime. To help you avoid these problems, one of the best ways to determine if your body fat is excessive and/or causing inflammation is to have your body fat percentage determined.

Once you have your body fat percentage, you can compare it against the normal ranges for men and women.  For men, you’ll want to be no higher than about 20% body fat; for women, try to stay under about 28%. These ranges may vary slightly depending on whichever source you consult, but these are good guidelines and agree with the ranges set by the American College of Sports Medicine and American Council on Exercise.

If you reduce your fat mass to a healthy range, you will subsequently reduce inflammation and boost your immune system. Having a killer “beach bod” may not motivate you, but what about a healthy body and fewer sick days?

Everyone should see the value in that.

 

How Body Fat Sabotages Your Immune System

By Fat mass, Health

If there’s one thing everyone can agree on, it’s that no one likes being sick.

What if there was something you could do to improve your health and reduce your sick days?

As it turns out, having a healthy body composition contributes to a stronger immune system, helping you to resist minor infections and reduce your risk of getting serious diseases, like heart disease and diabetes.

What’s a healthy body composition? Put simply, there are two main areas of focus: sufficiently developed muscle mass and a body fat percentage in a healthy range  (10-20% for men; 18-28% for women).

Unfortunately, over ⅔ of Americans are classified as overweight, with a shocking 1/3 of Americans classified as obese . Americans are on average heavier than any other time in history. There has been a similar increase in heart disease and diabetes diagnoses. That is why the CDC says obesity is an epidemic in this country.

How does this tie back into the immune system and your health? It all has to do with the nature of body fat.

What Happens When Your Immune System Activates

When your body gets sick – due to a bacterial infection, a virus, etc. – the body’s defense system gets triggered, causing inflammation.  This is thanks to your “innate” immune response: your body’s all-purpose defense mechanism that serves as the first wave of defense against foreign invaders.

The infected area becomes red and swollen due to increased blood flow, which can be unsightly and uncomfortable. Think of what happens to your nose when you get a cold. That’s inflammation.

This reaction is caused by white blood cells called macrophages and the proteins they emit called cytokines (this word will be important in a minute). These cytokines encourage inflammation.

You may have not thought of it this way before, but inflammation that’s triggered by your immune system is typically a good thing. That means your body is releasing the appropriate hormones and proteins, activating your white blood cells to start the recovery process, and working to defeat the infection.  If there wasn’t any inflammation, your body would be in serious trouble.

So if inflammation is what naturally occurs when your body’s immune system is triggered, how does inflammation relate to body fat, body composition, and obesity?

When Inflammation Becomes Permanent

When white blood cells cause inflammation, it’s a sign that your body’s immune system is properly functioning. Inflammation begins, white blood cells attack the foreign invader, the invader is neutralized, and the inflammation subsides.

This is how your body’s defense system naturally works. However, white blood cells aren’t the only type of cell that have the ability to emit cytokines.  A second type of cell that can emit cytokines and cause inflammation are adipocytes or fat cells.

Most people know that your body stores excess calories as fat so that you can use it later for energy if food becomes scarce.  

Just recently, scientists have learned that fat is an active endocrine organ, one that can secrete a whole host of proteins and chemicals, including inflammatory cytokines.

What happens when your body keeps adding on more and more adipose tissue?  Cytokines are released by your fat cells, triggering inflammation. In fact, obesity is characterized by researchers as “ a state of low-grade, chronic inflammation.

This means that increased fat cells puts your body in a constant state of stress/immune response. Your body is always in a state of inflammation; your immune system is permanently “switched on.”

Think of your body’s immune system like your body’s crack team of defenders, highly trained and designed to repel any and all foreign invaders.  In this scenario, your adipose cells are like enemy agents planted in your home territory. Their mission is to spread fear of an attack at all times, and they trick your defenders to be on high alert at all times.

As you might have guessed, perpetual, never-ending inflammation isn’t good for the body.

Sabotaged Immune System

Obesity causes a state of chronic inflammation, and this causes your immune system to become compromised.  Chronic inflammation is a serious issue and can lead to the development of minor and serious illness and conditions.  Here are a couple examples:

  • Influenza (the flu)

You may remember several years ago that there was a particularly deadly strain of the flu virus called H1N1.  As hospitals started to fill up with the sick, doctors in Spain noticed something: overweight and obese patients were beginning to show up in disproportionate numbers in intensive care units, and they were staying for longer than people who were not obese or overweight. Increased inflammation due to increased pro-inflammatory cytokines appeared to be a leading factor contributing to their increased flu risk.

Stories like these led  researchers in Canada to analyze the flu records for the previous 12 years, stretching from 2008 back to 1996. They found that people who were obese were more likely to come into the hospital for respiratory diseases than those who were not obese. They concluded that obese people were an “at risk” population during flu seasons due to their compromised immune response.

  • Heart Disease

Heart disease is the leading killer of adults in the United States.  Although there are many factors that can contribute to heart disease, recent research has pointed to inflammation caused by obesity as one of the most significant factors contributing to its development.

The main culprits are, again, the cytokines produced by excess fat in the body.  These cytokines cause inflammation of the walls of your arteries, causing damage to the arteries and increasing pressure. Blood pressure is the force of blood pushing against the walls of your blood vessels. When you have high blood pressure, it means that your heart isn’t pumping blood effectively, and it starts to enlarge. An enlarged heart is a significant risk factor that can lead to heart failure if steps aren’t taken to remedy it.

  • Diabetes

Diabetes is a condition characterized by insulin resistance – the inability of your body to remove excess sugar from your blood. Just like heart disease, there are many related factors that lead to the onset of type 2 diabetes, and obesity has long been associated with the development of diabetes.

However, with the discovery that fat is an active tissue that can secrete cytokines and wreak havoc on the immune system, researchers have been able to show a link between obesity, inflammation, and insulin resistance. Increased inflammation was shown to disturb a whole host of processes and the endocrine system. When obesity and the subsequent inflammation is left unchecked for a long time, it increases the risk of developing insulin resistance, and eventually diabetes.

Who’s At Risk?

A compromised immune system and inflammation aren’t issues that only concern overweight people.

Many people know that being overweight and obese is unhealthy and can lead to serious diseases over time.  Admittedly, poor diet and low levels of activity contributing to heart disease and diabetes over time in obese people isn’t exactly news.

Unless you start to take into account what the word “obese” actually means.

Classically, obesity has been defined by having a high Body Mass Index (BMI), a way of expressing the relationship of your weight vs. your height.  If your BMI exceeds 25, you’re labeled “overweight,” and once your BMI increases beyond 30, you progress into different levels of obesity.

Doctors have used BMI for obesity assessment for years, but unfortunately, BMI has led to confusion by inappropriately labeling people as obese or overweight when they are not, or healthy when they should be aware of their obesity risks.

Obesity doesn’t always simply mean “fat.” What obesity does mean is the excess accumulation of body fat, but what’s excess for you might not be for someone else. It is possible to have a “normal” BMI but a lot of excess fat; this is called being “skinny fat.”  Crucially, skinny fat people share many of the same metabolic risks as people who have high BMIs, including the risk of inflammation and a faulty immune system.

This is why you should look at having too much body fat not only as a problem for people who are visibly overweight, but also for people who don’t have enough muscle relative to how much body fat they have.

One way to determine whether you’re at risk is to have your body composition analyzed.  This assessment method will reveal your body fat percentage, a number that you can use to understand if the amount of fat you have is healthy or excessive for someone of your size.

How To Get Your Immune System Back In Line

Fortunately, because researchers have been able to identify body fat (and particularly, internal visceral fat)  as a major cause of inflammation and a compromised immune system, they’ve also been able to measure improvements when body fat is reduced. The goal to getting your immune system to function properly again is to stop it from being perpetually triggered.

In a study that followed obese patients who lost weight with caloric restriction and bariatric surgery, the researchers observed a significant reduction in immune system activation, which means less inflammation.  This reduction in immune activation occurred before and after surgery, which indicates that surgery isn’t always necessary: just the reduction of fat mass – and specifically, visceral fat.

Improving your body composition through a mix of strategies that promote fat loss and muscle gain can allow you to reduce your fat mass in a healthy manner that doesn’t require drastic measures like bariatric surgery.  Although this process can and will take time, the effects of having an improved and healthy body composition are immense, not the least of which is reducing overall body inflammation and having your immune system function properly again.

Healthy Immune System, Healthy Life

We’ve gone over a lot of very technical stuff here, so let’s go over the main points for you to take away.

  • Excess Body fat sabotages your immune system by leaving it permanently triggered
  • Inflammation caused by body fat makes you sicker and more vulnerable to disease
  • You can reduce and reverse these changes by reducing your body fat
  • Anyone can be at risk, depending on their body fat percentage, not their weight

No one likes being sick, and no one likes having to manage diseases like diabetes that stick around for a lifetime. To help you avoid these problems, one of the best ways to determine if your body fat is excessive and/or causing inflammation is to have your body fat percentage determined.

Once you have your body fat percentage, you can compare it against the normal ranges for men and women.  For men, you’ll want to be no higher than about 20% body fat; for women, try to stay under about 28%. These ranges may vary slightly depending on whichever source you consult, but these are good guidelines and agree with the ranges set by the American College of Sports Medicine and American Council on Exercise.

If you reduce your fat mass to a healthy range, you will subsequently reduce inflammation and boost your immune system. Having a killer “beach bod” may not motivate you, but what about a healthy body and fewer sick days?

Everyone should see the value in that.

 

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