The Truth About Metabolism and Fat-Storage

Kristin Davis RD

“Why can’t I eat that?”

“I used to be able to eat whatever I wanted and not gain weight.”

“I never used to worry about carbs.”

“I used to exercise to lose weight but it no longer seems to work.”

“My kids still eat cereal, bread, etc. even though I can’t.”

It seems like carb-sensitive individuals can still fall into the pity party that comes with having to pay attention EVERY DAY. Yes, it’s hard to keep track of what you eat all the time. Yes, it’s time consuming to have to plan ahead. Yes, it’s a pain to watch your friends and family dive head-first into their favorite foods while you try not to let your favorite food pleasure pass your lips.

So why is it that some people “never” gain weight and eat whatever they want, why is it harder to lose weight as we get older, and why can the kids get away with the food choices that we can’t bear to even look at?

First off, things change as we get older, like it or not, and one of those things is body fat. There, I said it. It is easy to put on the pounds as we get older.  We live sedentary lives, moving from car to desk to the couch, and we tend to be less active as we age. Work swallows up hours of our day, followed by our responsibilities as students, parents, and partners. Our own health and well-being fall off our priority list as we put others first. We also find convenience foods to be family friendly, as we stop at a variety of drive-thrus on our way home, or get food to the table as fast as it takes to microwave a frozen entrée. These foods are calorie-dense, often nutritionally void. Stressors from job security to relationships make us hurry to salve daily emotional wounds with sweet, fatty, and salty foods. And don’t forget sleep. Those previously mentioned stressors, combined with being overweight can cause lack of quality sleep time. And less sleep equals more weight gain. While one bad habit might not adversely affect you, pile on two or three and pretty soon you’re tired, overweight, hungry and moody.

But that’s getting completely off track.

The real answer lies in our individual ability to process carbohydrates. A few primary reasons for weight gain are hormones, genetics, age, and years spent on a high-carbohydrate diet.

While children haven’t been exposed as long as adults to eating too many carbs, their dietary habits will begin to affect them as they age. Getting them started on a healthy, lower carbohydrate diet may help them from ever getting as far as their parents when it comes to pre-diabetes and diabetes. So even though your 12-year-old daughter is eating pizza, French fries, and spaghetti multiple times a week, her body has not transitioned to the fat-storing that your 40-50 something body has.

Also, both Testosterone and Estrogen affect men and women differently as they age. Many women go from laying fat on hips and thighs to growing stores specifically around the middle as they reach menopause. And men may find themselves with a lower libido as their belly fat grows, decreasing their levels of Testosterone.

Genetics makes a big difference in a person’s ability to metabolize carbohydrates as well as how we store our fat reserves. That’s where body shape comes in. We can categorize ourselves, siblings and parents as pear, apple or banana (body shape, not the actual fruit), often seeing a familial similarity. If you’re a pear shape, you will always carry more body fat on the hips and thighs.

Finally, having eaten a high-carbohydrate diet for years and years can have its own effect on our ability to lose weight. Even being overweight for a long period of time can make it more difficult to lose weight. So it’s not that low-dieting doesn’t have benefit, but there may be a point of no return for some people who can no longer lose weight no matter how little carbs they consume.

While it’s not all good news, it’s information, and being informed can help you make the best decisions about your own diet and lifestyle choices. Be diligent, allow occasional indulgences, and keep going! Embracing the low-carbohydrate lifestyle is the key to success.