Dr. Manny's Notes: The Top 8 Factors That Contribute to Weight Gain

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First, I have a confession_ I used to never care about what I ate. Not only that, I also loved take-out foods-mostly because of my crazy work schedule. And oh, I wasn't the most athletic guy. In fact, I didn't start exercising until I was in my thirties, when suddenly I realized that I had to do something to keep my body healthy.

Does this sound familiar? Honestly, it seems like we've all got some pounds we could shed-and we're in big company (yes, pun intended). But seriously, this is no joking matter: the statistics about obesity in this country are far from funny. Can you believe that by 2010, three-quarters of the U.S. population will be overweight? And if that didn't shock you, check this out: statistics show that 80% of our kids are suffering from weight-related afflictions, like arthritis? The consequences of extra weight are devastating. So here's my question: how did we get here?

FAST FOOD:Just walk through a supermarket or down Main Street will explain part of the weight gain: our diets. Fast-food meals are usually brimming with artery-clogging, heart-attack-causing amounts of calories, fat, and sodium. And while most fast-food chains have added healthy or light items to their menus over the past couple of years, you need to check out the whole package and ask yourself these questions: Is it fresh? Does the dressing have a ton of sugar and chemicals in it? Am I really getting the nutrition I need? The answers are probably no, yes, and no.

MONEY:The other excuse I often hear for falling into poor eating habits is the one that includes the bottom line: money. Wee, my friend, I'd be the first to tell you that eating healthy ain't always cheap. I don't have to tell you that budgets are much tighter than waistlines: trying to justify buying healthier choices, versus what your pocketbook allows, can be real tough.

TIME:In addition to money, the other commodity many of us are short on is time. I know how it is: you've got a big 20 minutes (or less!) for lunch. Sure, you tryto make your lunch from time to time. But it's not easy-and there's a place on the corner that offers you a super quick and cheap lunch.

STRESS:The fact of the matter is that because people are so busy running around like maniacs, they're not eating as they should. Especially moms! Having one or more kids to care for, getting them off to school in the morning, getting involved in their after-school activities and sports, not to mention their own work, and being part of the sandwich generation (caring for elderly parents as well) all adds up to crazy schedules, unhealthy eating, and in many cases a seeking of foods that immediately satisfy (chips, brownies, candy, cookies, soda, ice cream) but don't promise benefits in return.

LACK OF EXERCISE OR PHYSICAL ACTIVITY:It's a logical equation really. Ask anyone who's not sleeping what they want to do and I guarantee that working out is going to be at the bottom of the list. The thing about exercise is that it needs to be done, but it has to be something that fits your schedule. If you can swing getting up early to go to yoga or take a jog before work, do it! If a lunch hour workout is what you can fit in, then you should! (Just don't skip lunch!) This doesn't mean that it will be easy, but it will help and you will see and feel the results physically and mentally-almost immediately.

HORMONES:Ask any woman and you'll hear the same thing: appetites grow and fade depending on the time of month. Most women I know feel incredibly peckish that week before their period, and snacking often leads to the avalanche effect...

SNACKING-THE WRONG WAY:Most of us parents know that we've got to have the snacks on hand, right? Any trip, whether it's a walk to the park or a drive to the supermarket, requires keeping a few treats nearby-for the kids, that is. Here's the problem: we grown-ups like to snack, too!

LACK OF SLEEP:Sleep deprivation can also affect appetites-not to mention everything else. It's true; the less we sleep, the weaker we are in terms of being able to fend off not only increased emotional sensitivity, but crazy cravings for comfort foods. Also, did you know that sleep patterns can be disturbed by many things that you consume-including food additives and caffeine?