Things That Make You Fat or Thin and Determine Our Weight and Health

Heather Campbell
 min read

Things that make you fat or thin aren’t necessarily related to calories.

Things That Make You Fat or Thin and Determine Our Weight and HealthIndeed, there are other mechanisms that drive the body to accumulate fat.

There are a number of hidden fattening or thinning agents, beyond calories, that determine our weight and thus our health. Think hormone balance, gut bacteria, preparation and processing of food, partially indigestible foods, and sweet and fatty foods, all things that make you fat or thin.

Other than just the amount of calories we (incorrectly) add up, what exactly are these mechanisms?

Continue reading and find out which are the things that make you fat or thin.

Things that make you fat or thin: Introduction

Below are those hidden things that make you fat or thin that affect your weight and health:


Hormones are chemical substances in our bodies that can have a lot of influence! There are hundreds of different hormones, and each hormone has its own role in the body.

Function of hormones

The bottom line is that hormones turn on or inhibit organs, tissue and cells. Hormones are thus the messengers of our body.

It only takes a small number of hormones to have a significant effect. Actually, hormones regulate almost all functions in our body.

Of course, which functions these are depends on the type of hormone. Examples include hormones that control digestion, metabolism, reproduction, emotions, and behavior.

Production of hormones

Hormone production depends on age, diet, and gender but is controlled mainly by the hypothalamus in the brain.

Hormones are produced in different places in the body. Examples include your ovaries (estrogen and progesterone) and thyroid and adrenal glands.

A person’s main hormones are testosterone, estrogen, growth hormone, insulin, and cortisol (the stress hormone).

Related: Keep your stress in check with the stress-reducing tips in our other article How to Reduce Stress? Deal with Your Internal Stress-Inducing Factors

Impact of hormone imbalance

Our system also becomes unbalanced when the balance of hormones is disturbed by, for example:

  • disease (Cushing’s disease),
  • by medication (prednisone, antipsychotics), or
  • by improper diet (sugary foods give an excessive release of insulin).

For example, an illness can cause all the calories to be pulled directly to our stomach. This, then, is not necessarily due to an unhealthy diet.

In Cushing’s syndrome, you have elevated levels of cortisol. The manifestation of this is a lot of fat deposits around your waist, a stuffed face, and just thin spindly legs and arms.

Thus, the amount, type, and location of fat deposition can be determined by disease.

Not everyone who is overweight has Cushing’s syndrome. However, you see an imbalance in hormones in many overweight people. One of the things that make you fat or thin.

Gut bacteria

Of course, we must not forget those billions of bacteria in our guts. These also claim quite a few calories for themselves and eat 30% of the sugar calories we consume.

Provided we eat those calories in natural foods like unprocessed fruits with fiber.

So what you eat in calories is not necessarily all for yourself but can be shared with your gut bacteria.

This is an easy way to lose weight. The more numerous and varied your gut bacteria are, the easier it is to maintain weight.

We kill those gut bacteria when we take antibiotics or other medications, for example.

Processing of our food

The preparation and processing of food affect the number of calories actually absorbed and is on of the things that make you fat or thin,

We process our food by cooking, sautéing, grinding, fermenting, flaming, you name it. We can then more easily absorb calories from a piece of meat or potato.

Raw versus boiled potatoes

So do you eat the potato boiled or cooked to mush? It matters quite a bit.

A cooked potato releases three times more energy in calories than a raw potato.

This is because the cooking process changes the starch structure, increasing the amount of digestible starch two to three times.

Whole-wheat bread versus white bread

Similarly, one sandwich is not the other.

For example, you can eat 800 calories in the form of a bread meal with:

  • whole-wheat bread and artisan cheese, or
  • white bread and sprinkles.

With the whole-wheat sandwich, the body is put to work much more, and it already takes almost 100 calories more than the white sandwich to digest it.

Grinding and cooking of grains

Milling grain also has an effect. The more the grain is milled, the smaller the particles.

Raw ground grain has a very different impact on the pancreas. In particular, finely ground flour produces a much greater insulin response, which is detrimental.

This has to do with the structure of the grain, not even so much with the amount of fiber. You also change that structure during cooking.

There is a strong relationship between cooking and body weight, especially with high-carbohydrate foods.

The cooking process changes the structure, and grains become much easier to digest, which means more calories are absorbed into your body.

Whole oranges vs. orange juice

Another great example is eating two oranges in pure form or drinking them in juice form.

If you squeeze the two oranges and drink them, you will get the same calories. But you get them without the white fibers of the orange.

The fiber has an inhibiting effect on the absorption of the sugars in the orange:

This has a very different effect on our hormone release and health. Few people realise that this is one of the things that make you fat or thin.

Western food

The food we eat in the Western world is a classic example of food processed in various ways.

A study done in 2015 showed remarkable results:

  • Subjects were given different meals.
  • All meals had the same amount of calories (1600 kcal) and the same amount of macronutrients (carbohydrate, fat, and protein).
  • There was only a difference in the processing. The unprocessed paleo meal weighed 25 ounces, but the processed meal weighed (due to processing) only a little less than 9 ounces.

The meals were found to have a totally different impact on the release of satiety hormones in the gut and insulin released by the pancreas.

In the end, the subjects received very different signals from the gut hormones due to the processed food:

  • more residual hunger,
  • less saturation, and
  • less incentive to eat less.

Partially indigestible foods

Nuts and legumes such as peanuts, pistachios, and almonds are less fully digested.

For example, when we eat almonds, we take in 65 calories per serving and not the 85 listed on the label.

So the energy in food is not fully absorbed by the body. In fact, a small portion leaves the body undigested and ends up in the stool or urine.

Some foods have a protective layer to survive our own digestive process. Think of pits and seeds that you just leave back in the toilet bowl.

This is convenient because those seeds then have an ideal portion of fertilizer to grow and flourish. This is how plants protect their own offspring.

So it doesn’t matter how many calories they contain, you poop them out again anyway.

Sweets and fatty foods

Some nutrients in food drive us to eat even more. For example, cookies. One cookie becomes two, becomes three… and so on.

Fat and sweetness are addictive

Scientists have understood why some food products, mainly processed fat and sweets, fool the brain and make us want to eat more and more of them (e.g., French fries and potato chips).

This is called hedonic hunger and means a passionate need for food while there is no real hunger.

Our bellies are full, but our brains are racing. Think about your last feast. There is always room for dessert after an overflowing meal.

Sweets and fatty foods stimulate an area of the brain called the reward center.

The reward center in the brain ensures that certain behaviors are rewarded with a pleasant feeling.

These are mainly behaviors that are important for the species’ survival, such as eating and sexual activity.

The reward center is located in the midbrain. The midbrain is involved in instincts, desires, thirst, hunger, and emotions such as anger and fear.

Alcohol and drugs can stimulate the reward center in a very powerful way. That’s why you start to feel good after using this kind of substance.

This addiction is related to dopamine

Dopamine is one of the signaling substances (neurotransmitters) found in the brain that stimulates the reward center.

Research shows that our brains respond to fatty and sweet foods even before putting them in our mouths.

Just the sight of a delicious cake can be enough to trigger our reward center.

Dopamine is released after the sweetness comes in contact with the taste buds on our tongue. This gives us an intense feeling of momentary pleasure.

Getting off sugar can be as intense as quitting alcohol or smoking for some people.

One also experiences withdrawal symptoms, which is called sugar withdrawal syndrome.

So sugar addiction is not an odd term. It turns out to be very difficult to resist treats with fat and sugar, especially if we suffer from stress or trauma.

Sugar is then the only thing that can briefly take away a nasty flashback. And that is in the list of things that make you fat or thin.

Evolution of our relationship with sweet and fatty foods

In our distant evolutionary past, these sweets were rare treats that were very welcome for our sustenance in harsh times.

Going all out on a rare sweetness increased our chances of survival as primal humans.

But in modern times, this instinct works against us with candy on every counter.

Whereas the challenge very early on was to find enough to eat every day, the challenge now is to resist an overabundance of sweets and fats.

Relationship between hunger and obesity in a new light

Eating when we are not actually hungry (so-called hedonic hunger) has more to do with the feeling that food gives.

When people overeat, it is always about tasty, sweet, and fatty treats, not healthy foods like fruits, vegetables, or lettuce.

This allows the relationship between hunger and obesity to be seen in a different light.

This means that traditional behavioral therapy in overweight people may be getting it all wrong.

Indeed, it has less to do with behavior or lack of self-control and more to do with the chemical property of the easy snacks to produce an incredible feeling of satisfaction in our reward center.

This has a powerful comfort function for some people with, for example, a traumatic past.

Our environment is also crucial in fighting obesity

When surrounded by delicious treats, it is almost impossible to stay away from them. Adjusting our environment to remove temptations from sight is essential.

In terms of combating obesity, the message seems simple: We gain weight simply by eating too much or not exercising enough.

So we can lose weight simply by eating fewer calories and exercising more.

However, some consistently count calories and make sure they really eat less, but still appear to lose weight with difficulty.

Or they manage to lose some weight after following a calorie restriction diet. However, this then just comes back after a while.

In fact, our way of eating also has a significant impact on our weight. Sweets and fatty foods are quickly overeaten, not because we are hungry but because they are addictive.

This makes obesity and diabetes a social issue that can actually be addressed on a large scale and not just at the level of the individual.

For example, it is not so far-fetched that a government would implement specific rules that try to protect us from this impulse to eat more fat and sweets.

Things that make you fat or thin: Conclusion

How many calories we take in is erratic and depends on several factors:

  • the hormone balance in our bodies,
  • how our bodies process food with the help of the bacteria in our guts,
  • how we processed the food (cooking, pressing),
  • how the food was processed (think grinding grains),
  • how much of the food our bodies can actually digest, and
  • whether we succeed in limiting sugary and fatty foods.

RelatedWhy Do We All Age Differently? Key Factors Explained

About Heather Campbell

As a nutritionist, my field of specialization is science-based nutritional advice but more importantly, it is my goal to share capturing and inspiring stories, examples and solutions which can help plus-size individuals overcome their specific difficulties. Read More