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There are people who appear to remain slim almost magically, no matter what they eat and whether they formally exercise or not. Janaki Bahri, the 29-year-old mother of a boy who just celebrated his first birthday, is one of those people. She has always been slim and petite and returned to her pre-pregnancy size within six months of the baby’s birth.

Bahri is an active person but is not someone who works out regularly. She says that she has not worked out in over a year and a half and didn’t have to exercise to lose her pregnancy weight. If you ask her how she remains slim, her instinctive reply is: “It’s genetic; my father is exactly the same way."

Meanwhile, urban India is putting on more weight now than ever before because we are putting more energy into our bodies than we are using up, consistently. Lancet published a paper in November 2010 that looked at the growing health concern of obesity in developing nations like India, Brazil and China. The study was led by Daniel Chisholm and his colleagues at the health division of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) and found that dietary habits and a sedentary way of life were causing an energy surplus in our bodies and fuelling the obesity epidemic.

Food, our energy-giving source, is burned by our bodies in three ways, via our basal metabolic rate (BMR), the thermic effect of food, and physical activity. BMR is the rate at which we consume energy at rest and approximately 60% of all the energy expended by our bodies is because of our BMR. The more lean body mass we have, or the more muscle mass we have, the more our BMR, which is why trainers at gyms keep asking people to lift weights. Eleven per cent of our energy expenditure is on digesting the food we eat, what scientists call the thermic effect of food. Our physical activity burns the remaining 29% of the energy*. This physical activity is through formal exercise like jogging and swimming and through everyday activities like typing on the computer, shopping, cooking, standing in a line, etc.

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