I know the title is a little bit harsh, but it sums up what I want to talk about. It’s pretty complex as to why people get fat, and I discuss it in more detail in my “The Weight of the Nation” post. Here I want to discuss it not so much in a context of causes related to lifestyle, choices, habits and resources, but rather from a simple physiological standpoint.
When people consume calories, those calories can be used for things like building and repairing tissues, protecting organs, or providing fuel in the form of muscle glycogen and blood glucose (among other things). When we move and exercise and burn calories, our bodies’ first priority is to replenish stores of glycogen and to repair tissues. If we don’t move and exercise, none of this is necessary to meet these metabolic demands. We wind up with calories our body doesn’t necessarily need, so we just store it as fat.
It is still mind-boggling to me that most people don’t understand the very simple equation of weight gain or weight loss. We need to burn more calories than we consume in order to lose weight. Many people want to make this basic equation more complicated than it really has to be. In my professional experience, many people are willing to really commit to exercise and do the work to spend the calories. Where the trouble often lies is in the number of calories they are consuming in a day. It’s incredible.
So, before jumping to anything too fancy in terms of helping people with their weight loss goals, start with an explanation of the basic equation of calories in and calories out. You can also explain where extra calories go to live when they aren’t repairing, rebuilding, or giving us the energy we need to survive another one of my blog posts. When we are young and growing and very metabolically active, we take it for granted that calories will get burned for us. As we age, and work with aging populations, the real work comes with making good choices when it comes to nutrition and controlling calories.
As far as what we can do with respect to nutrition, unless we are a licensed or registered dietitian, it’s much more limited than you might think. This is where scope of practice comes in, which I plan to talk about in future posts. Keep an eye out for more on that!