Why some people don’t gain weight

Anita Marlay, R.D., L.D.
Special to the Lake Sun, USA TODAY NETWORK
What you eat is more important than what you weigh.

You probably know someone who seems to be able to eat anything they want, never exercises and yet maintains a trim figure. Meanwhile, it seems you must pay attention to every bite to keep from gaining weight. It may appear they can maintain their weight without effort, but if you truly scrutinize their lifestyle, you may find good reasons why they can control their weight.

Genetics. Thin parents tend to have thin kids, just as overweight parents tend to have overweight kids. This is part genetic but also part lifestyle. Genetics does play a role in how and where your body stores fat. It also can influence your metabolic rate, which is how many calories you burn, and your hormone sensitivity. However, genetics is not a deciding factor on whether you’ll be thin or overweight.

Favorable biological factors. Some people have faster metabolic rates that allow them to burn more calories than others do, and there is little we can do to change our metabolic rate. The more lean tissue or muscle mass a person has, the more calories they burn. The length of the small intestine, where most nutrients are absorbed, matters as well. People who have a longer small intestine tend to weigh more.

Perception. Some people appear to eat whatever they want, but they aren’t actually eating more. They may compensate for calories by eating less at another meal. They may snack less or eat smaller amounts. They may simply be a slower eater.

Appetite regulator. Hormones send signals that tell us if we are full or hungry. Thinner people just might be more sensitive to those signals, making it easier to resist cravings or simply resist eating unless they are hungry.

Sleeping pattern. Cortisol is one of the hormones that regulate hunger. Sleep deprivation leads to the stimulation of cortisol, which leads to hunger.

Types of food. If you notice someone who seems to eat a lot, check the kind of food they are eating. They may be filling up on nutrient-dense foods that have few calories. Foods that are highly processed have many calories in smaller portions.

Health condition. You can’t tell about a person’s health just from their weight. Maybe there are underlying health conditions that make gaining weight difficult. Hyperthyroidism and uncontrolled diabetes are two examples.

Activity. Some people just get more daily activity than others. Fidgeting, pacing, having an active job or just working in more daily movements can burn extra calories. Likewise, a person you think doesn’t exercise may be getting their workout in before you even get up.

Lifestyle. Do they drink alcohol? Soda? Do they eat out frequently? All of these things can add extra calories that may mean the difference between maintaining and gaining weight.

Eating disorder. Perhaps they have bulimia or binge eating disorder. They may eat large quantities of food only to vomit it up later or go days without eating afterward.

Priorities. Some people place a higher emphasis on the way they look. They may weigh every day and adjust their daily diet according to the scale.

Just because a person is skinny, doesn’t necessarily mean that they are healthy. A person can be “skinny fat,” meaning they have a normal weight range and look healthy, but they can have underlying health problems, such as vitamin deficiency, high blood pressure, inflammation, auto-immune disease, elevated lipids or high blood glucose.

Remember: What you eat is more important than what you weigh. Stick with a diet that emphasizes nutrient-dense foods such as fruits, vegetables, beans, nuts, unrefined grains, and fish, while minimizing red meat, simple sugars and processed foods. Focus on a healthy lifestyle with weight as a secondary consideration.

Air Fryer Fish Sticks

Serves 2

8 ounces skinned cod, cut into 1 inch strips

½ tsp garlic powder

½ tsp Old Bay seasoning

¼ cup flour

1 large egg

½ cup panko bread crumbs

1 Tbsp chopped fresh parsley

Coat air-fryer basket with cooking spray. Preheat to 400 degrees.

Sprinkle cod with garlic powder and Old Bay. Place flour in a shallow bowl. Beat egg in a second shallow bowl. Combine parsley and bread crumbs in a third bowl. Dredge each piece of fish in flour, then egg, then bread crumbs. Place on a plate.

Place fish in air-fryer basket, and coat with cooking spray. Cook until browned and crisp, about 4-6 minutes.

Nutrition Information: 168 calories, 2 g fat, 16 g carbs, 1 g fiber, 18 g protein, 491 mg sodium

Anita Marlay, R.D., L.D., is a dietitian in the Cardiopulmonary Rehab department at Lake Regional Health System in Osage Beach, Missouri.