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Weight Management (cont.)

What Affects Your Weight?

Genetic makeup—what you inherit—plays the biggest role

When we say "genetic makeup," we're talking about everything you inherited from your ancestors, from the color of your eyes or the shape of your toes to the way your brain works and the way your body stores fat.

Your genetic makeup has a very big effect on your weight. It affects:

  • Your basal metabolic rate. That's the rate at which your body uses energy (calories) at rest. Some people are born with higher basic metabolic rates than others. These people naturally burn more calories than the rest of us.
    • Regular physical activity can raise your metabolic rate.
    • Very low-calorie diets will lower your metabolic rate. A lower metabolic rate makes it easier to gain weight, because you don't burn calories as fast.
  • Your body signals, such as your appetite and feeling hungry or full.
  • Your fat distribution.
    • Some people have slim legs, some have heavy legs. You can't change where your body stores fat.
    • Men store more fat in the belly as they age, and women store more fat in the hips and thighs.

Nutrition—what and how you eat—also affects your weight

The average American mealClick here to see an illustration. contains too many calories. It also contains too much saturated fat, cholesterol, animal protein, salt, alcohol, and sugar.

It can be hard to make healthy food choices:

  • Emotions and easy access to fast foods and snacks are among the many things that influence our food choices today.
  • Lack of time leads many people to eat on an irregular schedule or skip meals. People who do that have more trouble staying at a healthy weight than people who eat regular meals.
  • Sometimes a food that seems like a healthier choice may not be. A low-fat cookie may have less fat, but usually it is high in sugar and has the same number of calories as a regular cookie. Potato chips that are "cholesterol-free" may still be high in fat and calories.

For more information, see the topic Quick Tips: Cutting Calories.

Physical activity—how much you move—is the third factor that affects your weight

Being physically active is an important part of staying at a healthy weight.

  • Regular activity helps you stay fit. When you're fit, you feel better and have more energy for work and for your family. When you're fit, you burn more calories, even when you're resting.
  • Even if you are overweight or obese, you will benefit from being more physically fit. Improving your fitness is good for your heart, lungs, bones, and joints. And it lowers your risk for heart attack, diabetes, high blood pressure, and some cancers. If you already have one or more of these problems, getting more fit may help you control other health problems and make you feel better.
  • Moderate activity is safe for most people, but it's always a good idea to talk to your doctor before you start an exercise program.

eMedicineHealth Medical Reference from Healthwise

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