4 Environmental Factors That Affect Your Waistline

Your diet is at the mercy of its surroundings.

October 27, 2015
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You do your best to meal plan, exercise, and watch your diet, but your weight loss efforts continute to go unnoticed. Spoiler alert: It could all come down to your surroundings. 

From the foods you have readily available, to your constantly-fluctuating hormones, an arsenal of internal and external factors influences how much we eat. And it seems when we override our internal needs by continually giving in to external temptations, our internal regulation of food intake eventually becomes severely disrupted. 

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An altered internal physiology, along with the external presence of foods engineered to be extremely tasty—high in sugar, fat, and salt and low in satiety-inducing protein and fiber—explains why we're fatter than ever before. It's also part of the reason why we're more likely to eat cheesecake after a big meal, even though we're stuffed, than a boiled potato.

Even though you do your best to eat well, you're still at the mercy of your environment, which can have a powerful effect on your food choices. Check out these four ways your surroundings are destroying your weight loss progress:

1. If a food costs less and takes little effort to prepare, we tend to eat more of it.
Food companies know this. It's part of their gospel. After all, would you be more likely to eat a piece of chocolate cake sitting right in front of you that costs nothing or to run to the store, buy the ingredients, and make it yourself? I think the answer is obvious. That's why having readily accessible, convenient foods in your house is a disaster waiting to happen. Food that is immediately accessible is more likely to be eaten than food that takes more effort to prepare.

2. If we eat with lots of people, we tend to eat more.
I'm a big fan of social gatherings where we share food with friends and loved ones. It's one of the joys of life. However, the research shows that when we eat with six or more people, we tend to eat 72 percent more calories. I think that's partly because we get lost in conversation and the social ambiance and become less mindful of what and how much we're eating.

More: 5 Ways to Maintain Your Diet While Eating Out With Friends

3. Stress can make us eat more.
In the short term, stress causes the hypothalamus to provide corticotropin-releasing hormone, which suppresses appetite. The brain also sends messages to your adrenal glands to pump out the hormone adrenaline, which triggers the body's fight-or-flight response and temporarily puts eating on hold. But if stress persists, it's a different story. The adrenal glands release cortisol, and cortisol increases appetite. Sadly, it doesn't increase your appetite for healthy foods. As you likely know, when you're stressed, you seek out foods high in fat, sugar, or both, which seem to calm the brain by inhibiting further activity in the parts that produce and process stress and related emotions.

4. Lack of poor-quality sleep can make us eat more.
Sleeping and eating are intricately related. Animals subjected to total sleep deprivation for prolonged periods end up eating dramatically more food. In humans, the effects of lack of sleep or poor-quality sleep are similar and could be a significant contributing factor to our weight-gain epidemic. In 1960, American adults slept an average of 8 to 8.9 hours per night, whereas in 2002, research conducted by the National Sleep Foundation indicated that the average duration had fallen to 6.9 to 7 hours.

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Normally, sleep is facilitated by a rise in melatonin and a drop in cortisol as the sun begins to set and our environment gets darker. During sleep, we see a greater release of growth hormone (for building and repairing cells) and a decrease in adrenal stimulation. However, inadquate or poor-quality sleep disrupts all of these responses, more readily activating our stress-response pathways, which tell our bodies to hold on to fat.

Additionally, sleep loss alters the ability of our hunger hormones—leptin and ghrelin—to accurately signal caloric need to the brain, leading to excessive caloric intake when food is freely available.

Think you had total control over your weight loss? Conquer these envorinmental saboteurs and finally see the difference. 

Adapted from The All-Day Fat-Burning Diet 

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