Overcome challenges

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What do sleep, stress, genes, and the environment have to do with your weight?

These and other things in your life can affect what you eat, how hungry you feel, what foods you crave, and how well you burn calories. But that doesn't mean losing weight is out of your control. Learn how these forces work (and how to overcome them) and make better choices to reach your get-healthy goals.

Your environment

Photo of a kid in a bike carrierFood advertising, lack of outdoor exercise space, jobs that require lots of sitting (and a long commute), the availability of cheap, unhealthy food — these are all things in our environment that add to the national weight problem.

The solution? Find ways to stay physically active. One way to move more and also help the planet is to take public transportation. Most people who get the recommended amount of exercise each week get it while walking to and from transit stations and stops.

Want to make an even bigger impact? Be an active voice. Get involved in your local government and councils. Asking for more parks, bike paths, or playgrounds is a great way to promote healthy activities within your community.

Your body and weight loss

The body naturally responds to weight loss by increasing hunger signals and by lowering metabolism. In fact, the metabolism drops even more than it is supposed to from weight loss. This means that your body is trying to re-gain weight that you’ve lost. This typically happens after you lose just 5% or 10% of your starting weight. Some people refer to this as the “weight loss plateau.”

What can you do to overcome this? Sometimes not very much except pay extra attention to your diet and physical activity patterns after you hit the plateau. It is actually harder to keep off the weight than it is to lose it at the beginning. This is part of why the idea of a “diet” that you go on and off is not the right way to think about your food intake. Your healthier eating patterns have to be maintained over the long term, otherwise the weight will come back. Exercise is very helpful for keeping off the weight off. In particular, it is important to include strength training in your routine, because this builds muscle which increases your metabolism.

You can read more about successful weight loss maintainers in the National Weight Control RegistryKaiser Permanente is not responsible for the content or policies of external Internet sites, or mobile apps. (NWCR).

Genetics

You probably have a friend who is able to eat all he wants and never seems to pack on a pound. Or maybe you know someone who can always say no to dessert. How do they do that? It may be due to their genes.

Consider this:

  • Even more than a child's weight, parents' weight is an important sign of obesity risk in children under 3 years old.
  • A child is 3 times more likely to be an obese adult if 1 parent is obese, and 10 times more likely if both parents are obese.

Genes play a big role in weight, including:

  • body shape and size
  • how well you burn calories
  • where you store fat
  • how well you can control your appetite

Think you have obesity genes? There are still a lot of things you can do to avoid being overweight or obese.

Prevent more weight gain.
It's easier to prevent weight gain and obesity than to lose weight and keep it off, especially if you come from an overweight or obese family.

Exercise regularly.
Make fitness a regular part of your routine. If you haven't exercised in a long time, start slow by taking a walk around the block or a few laps in the pool. Get more ideas to ease into exercise.

Watch your diet carefully.
Eating well is one of the best things you can do for your health. Smart choices and portion size can make a big difference in your weight goals. See 20 ways to cut 100 calories a day.

Learn more about genetics.

Sleep

The less you sleep, the more likely you are to be overweight or obese, develop diabetes, and prefer eating foods high in calories and carbohydrates. Lack of sleep throws off the natural rhythms of our hunger hormones which can increase appetite and contribute to overeating. Aim for at least 7 hours a night. Most of us still need an average of 8 hours per night of sleep.

A healthy sleep environment and a regular bedtime means longer, more restful sleep.

Help your kids sleep well so they have plenty of energy to stay active.

Dream is an online program that can help you get better sleep without medications.

Stress

We live in a stressful environment, and real-life pressures can put you in nonstop nibble mode. Eating as a way of dealing with stress or as a way to calm yourself can lead to weight gain, which leads to more stress.

Working relaxation into your busy day can help. Try these powerful tools that keep tension in check (and look for classes at your local Kaiser Permanente facility): 

Learn more about eating and emotions to find healthier ways to cope.

Reviewed by: Adam Tsai, MD, Robert Riewerts, MD and Trina Histon, PhD, March 2016
Additional Kaiser Permanente reviewers

©2016 Kaiser Permanente