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I'm a 20 year old girl and I'm an employed programmer. My job consists of so-called "coding" all day long. I don't want to say that I don't get off of the computer at all, but the time I spend doing something else is small.

I used to weigh like 37-42 kg; now I'm nearly 60kg. I eat what I want to eat. I've never followed any kind of regime or diet. Yet I put on some weight in the past year. I was wondering why that happened, since, in my opinion, I haven't greatly changed my lifestyle. The only thing that's different is that I go to work to sit on the computer, not like when I was in highschool. I have never intentionally exercised.

I just want to know why I put on lots of weight now when I did not before? Is it because of puberty, where I was growing and using a lot of resources? Or is it that my body can't handle that much of physical inactivity?

My logical thinking cannot understand that the lifestyle was always the same, but the body's reaction are different. Can someone explain this?

  • Is there a specific fitness / metabolic question you're seeking an answer for; other than sitting for long periods, while eating too much for your current activity level, will likely lead to you getting fat and potentially picking up a variety of related health conditions. – arober11 Jun 7 '15 at 11:05
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    related: fitness.stackexchange.com/questions/6/… – Eric Jun 7 '15 at 16:03
  • Metabolic rate slows down that makes body keep more fat. A habit sit all day may follow by related habits like consuming less water, more sweets and doing less and less exercises. You physically may not find a time to cook proper food, visit a gym or at least walk 10K steps. As you get older you can see why exactly people start changing life habits, if you can hard work all day long you are smart and have enough strength to do that. Once body getting older the body need support (heathy food, physical activity) to do the same amount of work. – Anatoly Jun 7 '15 at 17:22
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    As a mid-30's programer who is dealing with ongoing back issues due to a sedentary lifestyle, do yourself a favor and get a standing desk NOW, in addition to picking up some extra after-work hobbies that get you moving. – Graham Jun 8 '15 at 18:21
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While I can't give you the exact reason why your body has gained weight without any apparent changes in lifestyle other than prolonged sitting; I can confirm that prolonged sitting does create negative consequences in the body. All of the points you raise may contribute, but metabolic changes are probably the key.

Consequences of Prolonged Sitting

  • Gaining weight, aging too quickly, postural imbalances, vascular changes and even an increased risk of mortality are all possible consequences in a sedentary lifestyle. If you are spending 8-10 hours per day sitting without counterbalancing it with regular breaks and some moderate to intense activity, the results you've seen so far will only increase. And unfortunately according to a 2012 JAMA Internal Medicine study:

    Prolonged sitting is a risk factor for all-cause mortality, independent of physical activity.

    The association between sitting and all-cause mortality appears relatively consistent across women and men, age groups, BMI categories, and physical activity levels and across healthy participants compared with those with preexisting cardiovascular disease or diabetes mellitus.

What Changes in the Body with Prolonged Sitting

  • What exactly is happening when you sit for prolonged hours is not exactly certain. However, it is generally acknowledged that prolonged sitting results in greater odds of dying early from all causes including heart disease and cancer. Expending less calories causing weight gain may be part of the reason, but prolonged sitting also causes metabolic changes. According to Dr. van der Ploeg:

    Prolonged sitting has been shown to disrupt metabolic function resulting in increased plasma triglyceride levels, decreased levels of high-density lipoprotein cholesterol, and decreased insulin sensitivity,”

Besides the metabolic changes and the fact that the body requires less calories when sedentary than it does with activity, other negative changes can occur in the body. Consider these changes:

  • Postural Changes

    Muscles that are in a shortened position from sitting (such as hip flexors) tighten and can lead to muscle and postural imbalances which can lead to neck and back pain. This q/a addresses postural exercises including stretching and strengthening.

  • Adaptations in the Work Place

    A variety of changes can help your reduce your sitting time. Simply setting an alarm and getting up at regular intervals to walk, go to the bathroom or perform some desk side exercises with resistive bands or an exercise ball can help. More elaborate equipment such as sit to stand desks can help to reduce sitting time by 224% (66 minutes per day). Treadmill walking desks and sitting on an exercise ball for portions of your work day can also encourage movement.

  • Regular Exercise Program

    Although you have never intentionally exercised, you may find that with your present occupation, a regular exercise program is now a necessity. A good exercise program should include some cardio-vascular exercise (walking, swimming, cycling etc.), flexibility and postural exercises, as well as strengthening exercises using some form of resistance - resistance bands, weights, kettlebells, or bodyweight.

Break up prolonged sitting throughout your day to negate the negative health consequences. And when you are ready to start an exercise program, you'll find lots of info here or just ask more questions.

Also, this site does not address diet, but what you eat and how much you eat are important.

  • quality answer. references, summarized, formatted. – Eric Jun 8 '15 at 0:29
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    @Eric, thanks but I sat too long writing it! – BackInShapeBuddy Jun 8 '15 at 7:57
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Weight gain is basically a matter of three factors. I suspect that at least one of these has changed for you.

Food intake

Human beings are very bad at monitoring their food intake. You may think that you're eating the same things in the same quantities, but you probably aren't. The easiest thing to do is to grab a notebook (or your tablet) and any time you eat or drink anything, note it down (with quantity if possible, even if it's a rough measurement). I would wager that you're taking in more calories than you think in the form of snacks and meals (even seemingly healthy ones). Don't forget to include alcohol consumption (I don't know where you reside, so I don't know if you're of a drinking age), which often throws people off with how many empty calories are involved. You may also find that you're snacking more often, "programming fuel", and those calories add up too. I know that, on my desk, I have a jar of peanuts. That's 160 calories per ounce, and it's easy for me to consume handfuls when I'm tracking down a bug.

Exercise

You may not have been doing any sort of structured exercise, but you may have been doing more incidental exercise, whether it was walking to and from school, or doing more stairs. Don't underestimate the impact of walking a few hundred feet each day to get to the bus, particularly if it involves impromptu jogging when you realize the bus is about to pull away. I'll be honest. Exercise has only mild effects on weight gain, but what it does do is help shift your weight toward more healthy tissues, muscle and bone instead of fat.

Basal metabolism

The ugly truth is that our metabolisms do slow down as we age, and the early 20s is one of the places people start to notice it. You can get it up a bit through moderate exercise, but otherwise, it's basically dependent on your height, weight, and age. There really is no way to boost it, despite what all of the magic herb companies would like you to believe. There are no fat-burning pills. There's some evidence that longterm sedentary work can also reduce it, although it's hard to separate that out from diet and exercise.

Summary

So, what to do? It's really pretty simple. Start some mild exercise, even if it involves getting up and walking around the neighborhood at night. Try to find something that's fun for you. Sports can work for that too, even something which seems purely recreational like bicycling or roller-skating. Try to find friends to do it with you. Try to cut down on excessive consumption of calories. This may consist of cutting down on sodas and having smaller containers of snacks on your desk so that you don't eat the whole bag of nuts over the course of a day. Basal Metabolism Rate, you can't do much about that, but there's evidence that measures as small as standing up once every 20 minutes or walking around for a minute every hour on the hour are enough to nearly reverse the negative effects of prolonged sitting. Personally, I combine that with getting up to refill my coffee mug and/or water bottle. As a bonus, as a programmer, I find that stepping away from a problem often gives me some new insights (although, caveat, you need to make sure you're not in the middle of something that will take you 20 minutes to get back into).

Good luck! The fact that you're asking questions is a good first step.

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It's really, really hard to assess the impact of your lifestyle changes. Lets say you unintentionally spend 100 kcal less per day on activity, this is equal to a short walk or bicycle trip per day, or some household work.

100 kcal per day is 36500 kcal in a year, one kg of fat is about 7000 kcal, which means you may add 5 kg in a year.

It's even more difficult to assess the amount you eat, 100 kcal of food 1/3 of a regular mcdonalds fries, 30 grams of candy or one soda can, a very small amount.

Your basal metabolism will decrease as you get older as well.

So there are many possible reasons why one might add weight without making any conscious lifestyle changes. Most people have no problems keeping a healthy weight until about 20, then they start getting fat (me included :) ), I don't know your height, but 60 kg could definately be an appropriate weight and nothing to worry about.

  • I like your examples. – Tonny Madsen Jun 14 '15 at 5:44

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