Why do I get fat

That's why people get overweight

The origin of our research was the accusation from the Quarks community that being overweight is actually easy to explain: All calories have to go through the mouth and if you discipline yourself accordingly, you would not become overweight or lose weight again.

Yes, there is something to it, but it simplifies and falsifies the discussion about obesity. Obesity has many different and usually several causes. It seems certain: Anyone can become overweight. Some get it faster, others can afford more. We will now explain to you which factors play a role in three chapters:

1. Imprinting before and immediately after birth

  • evolution
  • genetics
  • pregnancy
  • Breastfeeding phase

Let's start with the wildlife. As much as we are like great apes - we share 99 percent of our genes with them - there is one very simple difference, among other things: great apes do not become overweight. This “right” is reserved for us humans and researchers can now better explain why this is so. Okay, you are neither sitting on the couch nor stuffing chips down your throat and pouring sugary lemonade afterwards - of course. But even if it were, a person next to it would gain weight much faster.

Compared to bonobos, for example, human body fat makes up nine times more of the body. In evolutionary terms, this could be explained by the expansion of man and the stretches of thirst and hunger that he had to bridge during the conquest of all continents. From a biochemical point of view, fat is an excellent energy store and therefore our body very quickly falls into the mode of storing excess calories (unfortunately clearly visible) in fat reserves for difficult times.

Humans gain weight faster than great apes

By the way: gorillas and orangutans also have a rather boring, sedentary lifestyle, even if orangutans tend to crouch in the treetops and not on the ground. While gorillas and humans spend many hours a day sitting down, here again only humans become overweight and obese. This cannot be explained by diet alone, say researchers.
Rather, the metabolism differs between human apes and humans. In the eyes of many researchers, our species is predestined to be permanently active. No other mammal can complete a marathon route as effectively and quickly as we can. But as much as evolution has improved us over the past two million years, all of this is getting in our way in the 21st century. Today we sit more than ever before, we burn fewer calories and that in all probability leads to the fact that we take in more calories more often than we burn.

Obesity is a disease of civilization

The number of overweight people continues to rise in the 21st century, especially in developed countries and among young people. It is a dangerous interplay of our imprint and physical conception and today's lifestyle that leads to it. A lot is already set in our genes and some people are born with a higher risk of being overweight. This is the case, for example, if ...

  • ... the parents are overweight.
  • ... the mother (is) ill with diabetes.
  • ... the birth weight is particularly high.

Of course, this is not an irrevocable fate. However, the first few months (and here we include pregnancy) are particularly important in preparing every living being for the world out there. In addition to our genetic makeup and the simple sequence of base pairs, epigenetics allows us to quickly adapt to different environmental conditions.

However, malnourished children can also become overweight. Scientists in countries like India have been observing this for decades. They suspect that poor maternal nutrition leads to the epigenetic preparation of the children for a kind of drought. But if things turn out differently, these children put on weight particularly quickly and develop diseases such as diabetes more often than the average.

Likewise, the first year of life seems to lay some foundations for further development and health in further life. Breastfeeding children for a short time correlates later with overweight children and adults. It is possible that the children consume more calories and a slightly different composition with artificial food, which could have an effect for years and affect the metabolism.

One thing is certain: evolution, genetics and the weeks before and after birth program our metabolism as a child, sometimes for life - and thus influence how people process their calories every day. Some are more likely to put on fat than others and find it harder to get rid of it.

2. Brain, psyche and health

  • stress
  • Mental disorders
  • Diseases

Obesity is not just a stomach issue. For many people, the cause lies much higher in the body, namely in the brain. This is also our most energy-intensive organ, but above all an important and unfortunately often fatal control unit for our topic. The problem of not even being able to lose weight and quickly falling back into old patterns is anchored right here.

Habits are essential for human survival. But since they are controlled subconsciously, they quickly thwart our plans when it comes to ambitious diet and exercise plans. Daily relaxation routines and the tendency to snack are programmed in too much. Reasonable thinking often falls short of these subconscious decisions.

Eating can mean happiness and intoxication

There are also certain areas in the brain that do anything but help us lose weight. In mice, for example, researchers were able to identify certain brain circuits and processes that put us in a kind of intoxicated state when we eat high-calorie food - among other things, chocolate makes you happy, exactly as it is called.
Animal experiments also indicate how crassly our bodies are thirsting for more and more calories: In experiments, rodents, for example, have also accepted short electrical shocks in order to get a sugary solution. It would be as if the person were dealt a slightly painful blow every time they reached for the lemonade - and still not stop.

People eat more when they are stressed

Even during the meal, some people do not feel full. Scientists have long assumed that the "satiety hormone" leptin is responsible for this. It was thought that in overweight people it did not reach the brain in sufficient concentration. In the meantime, however, it has been shown that there are no differences between slim and fat people. The cause of the lack of satiety must therefore lie in the nerve cells.
In stressful situations in particular, many people reach for chocolate bars or other sweets - and it actually works. The problem: In today's working world, stress is part of everyday life. The reaching for sweets then happens regularly and our brain subconsciously stores how much these two things belong together more and more.

We are duped when we eat

We often eat faster in the hectic pace. The problem: The feeling of satiety then only turns on hesitantly - and even so, we have consumed more calories. A simple but common practical tip is therefore: We should take more time to eat, chew in peace and let the body react to the nutrients. Protein-rich meals are even more satiating, so the effect can be further increased without going hungry.

This article explains what needs to happen so that we are really full.

In general, we should listen more to ourselves when it comes to eating, because what the food industry and fast food restaurants put in front of us satisfies our primeval human desires, but rarely has anything to do with healthy, natural nutrition. When it comes to additives and composition, the main thing is to eat more and want to do it again next time.

We explain here how much protein-rich food and satiety are related

Psychological stress can set a vicious circle in motion

Obesity arises and increases not only in one's own body, but also in living together with the environment. Those who become overweight over time have a difficult time in today's society. The ideal of beauty in times of Instagram and Co. gnaws at self-confidence and increases shame. This is stressful for people who are overweight, some of whom isolate themselves more and more or no longer want to take part in many social activities - in sports and leisure, however, these are precisely those that would be good for them (health). For those affected, a disparaging look can be enough. A certain disgust for fat (obesity) is particularly insidious. It makes healthy people aware of the health effects, but at the same time it inhibits those affected from becoming active.

In depressive, stressed phases, however, the subconscious can signal again: sugary food makes you feel better - and the vicious circle continues.

In this article we explain why fat shaming can make you sick

Other diseases can also lead to the inevitable piling up of pounds. A long enough sleep is one of the prerequisites for staying slim. People with chronic sleep problems are overweight more often than the average. Anyone who is affected by this is not self-inflicted if they are overweight. Likewise, but rarely, hypothyroidism is responsible for preventing the metabolism from working as it does in most other people.

One thing is certain: Stress, mental disorders, illnesses: Not only does our body influence whether people gain weight, the psyche also plays its part - and usually makes the situation of those affected worse.

3. Environment and behavior

  • social environment
  • nutrition
  • Activity and sport
  • Education and job

In addition to body and mind, the social environment in particular plays a decisive role in how likely it is to become overweight. The environment in which a person grows up is a trigger-down factor, so it also influences the other points that we have listed: Diet, activity and education usually inevitably depend on how and where you grow up.

These factors are largely externally influenced into adulthood. The person has no influence on whether they grow up in an academic or educationally disadvantaged family or how much value their parents place on education. As a rule, trends in income and leisure activities can be determined by the level of education of the parents and the environment.

The rough rules here are: Socially weak people may be more likely to be overweight because ...

  • ... processed, high-calorie and sugary foods are consumed more frequently, while fruits and vegetables are less common.
  • ... they exercise less in their free time, spend more time in front of the television or smartphone and thus mostly sitting.

This is also one of the reasons why we tend to gain weight with age. From the age of 30 onwards, muscle mass disappears without sufficient exercise and training. But it is one of the most loyal energy consumers in our body. Anyone who breaks down, however, is very likely to build up fat mass.