AM I OBESE?
If you think there’s a possibility that you’re obese, by asking this question you are taking the first step towards making some positive changes to improve your health and reduce your weight to a safer level.
What’s more, with the obesity ‘epidemic’ in the West, there’s no need for you to feel alone. In fact, each day in Britain alone, 1,000 people become obese and currently this means that around 20% of the population is classed as such. So, this is a serious issue facing a lot of people for a number of reasons, not least the modern lifestyle and diet.
But before you start to panic, read on for some obesity facts and then consult your doctor if you have any concerns. Whether you are obese or just overweight, why not make this the time to start on the road to healthier weight management and healthy weight loss success!
What is obesity?
The word ‘obese’ is often used casually (particularly in the media) without too much thought being given as to what it actually means.
Obesity is the medical term used to describe an excess and abnormal proportion of total body fat, which is harmful to a person’s health. It is now generally considered to be a chronic illness.
Most obese people are significantly overweight. However, you might be surprised to hear that this is not always the case; obesity can also (rarely) occur in people who are not significantly overweight, but have more body fat than muscle.
Skin fold measurements and bioelectrical impedance are common ways to assess obesity. However, it is most often measured by reference to a person’s body mass index (BMI) – a relatively crude calculation, which uses a person’s weight in relation to their height (the weight in kilograms is divided by the square of their height in meters (kg/m2)).
A BMI over 25 kg/m2 is defined as being overweight. Obesity is defined as having a BMI of 30.0 kg/m2 or greater, or being 30 pounds or more over your ideal body weight. Extreme obesity is defined as a BMI of 40.0 kg/m2 or more.
While these measurements offer a useful guide, it is important to note that they are not particularly sophisticated – especially as they do not take into account what could be important individual characteristics. For example, the measure is the same for males and females and for all ages of adults.
As such, at best they are just broad guidelines. Having said that, BMI does provide the most useful population-level measure of obesity and these markers provide some common benchmarks for assessment.
In the UK, results for 2013 showed that around 62% of adults were overweight or obese (67% of men and 57% of women).
The prevalence of obesity is similar among men and women, but men are more likely to be overweight (41% of men compared to 33% of women).
A substantial proportion of obese adults have a BMI of well over 30. Women are more likely than men to have extremely high BMI values.
It is predicted that, by 2050, obesity will affect as much as 60% of adult men, 50% of adult women and 25% of children (Foresight 2007).
Obesity is a complex problem with many potential causes, including social and psychological, as well as dietary and genetic factors. However, some key considerations are:
-poor diet (and resultant unstable blood sugar levels and, possibly, insulin resistance)
-lack of exercise
-emotional issues / stress (including reliance on stimulants, such as caffeine, alcohol and cigarettes)
-lifestyle / environment
-family history / genetics
-illness (including issues such as acidity, food allergies and intolerances)
Most people think that simply eating too many calories causes them to gain weight. While it is certainly true that weight gain occurs when you eat more calories than you burn, it is worth noting that the average calorie intake in Britain has dropped consistently over the last 15 years, while (as we have seen from the statistics above) the incidence of obesity has increased.
What’s more, obesity is relatively rare in countries such as China, where daily calorie intake (2,630kcals a day) is higher than that of the USA (2,360kcals) – the obesity capital of the world! In Britain, we average about 2,000kcals per day.
So, calorie intake is certainly not the whole picture. Different levels of physical activity can explain these discrepancies to a certain extent, but the main difference is the quality of the food (and calories) we eat.
Contrary to popular opinion and what you so often hear on TV, fat is not the main culprit – just as with our calorie intake, the percentage of our fat intake has also steadily declined over the years as it has been vilified in the press.
Far more likely to play a central role in obesity is a combination of eating:
-“empty” calories devoid of nutrients, from refined and processed foods
-the wrong kinds of fat (harmful saturated and ‘trans’ fats, rather than beneficial Omega oils and essential fatty acids)
-too much sugar and refined carbohydrates.
Occasionally, there are medical reasons for obesity. For example, there is a rare genetic condition called Prader-Willi syndrome, where there may be problems with controlling hunger. However, the instances where an underlying medical condition is responsible for obesity are few and far between.
Dangers of obesity
Obesity not only impacts a person’s confidence, more importantly, it is a serious health issue. It accounts for more than 30,000 premature deaths and costs the British National Health Service close to £1billion per year.
Recognised as a chronic disease since 1985, obesity is actually the second leading cause of preventable death, surpassed only by cigarette smoking.
Obesity can have a negative impact on almost every aspect of health and the proper functioning of the body and its systems. However, it has been established as a major risk factor, in particular, for:
-high blood pressure
-heart disease and stroke
-and even some cancers in both men and women.
Once a person is obese, their risk for diabetes goes up a massive 70 times and, once diabetic, their risk for heart disease goes up 8 times.
A common-sense approach to dealing with obesity
As you may already know, obesity is not an easy problem to tackle. At an individual level, it demands courage, patience, will-power, commitment, a desire to learn and change, and a proactive and positive attitude. The understanding and support of those around you (in terms of family members, friends and medical professionals) is also invaluable.
You might choose to seek additional support from experts such as nutritionists, dieticians or personal trainers, particularly in the early stages of your healthy weight loss regimen – to ensure you are getting off to a good start.
However, if you are going to tackle your obesity yourself (having of course first consulted your doctor as appropriate), there are a few key principles to bear in mind that will help to keep you on the right track:
1. Improve your diet: One of the biggest “secrets” to successfully losing weight and keeping it off for the long-term is to eat a diet that keeps your blood sugar levels stable, which in turn will help to ensure that your appetite is controlled and you don’t overeat.
This is pretty easy to achieve if you eat a well-balanced diet, high in natural whole foods and low in processed foods. Part of this includes choosing the right kind of carbohydrates and fats (as already mentioned above).
2. Keep your blood sugar levels stable: Select foods that are going to have a small effect on your blood sugar levels, such as vegetables, beans, lentils, whole grains and fish. Avoid sugary and unnaturally sweet foods, such as fruit juice concentrates, sodas, sweets, chocolate, pastries, certain breakfast cereals etc. Of course, that is not to say that you can never have a treat! But it should be just that, an occasional indulgence.
Also try to eat only low-GL carbohydrates. GL stands for Glycaemic Load – a unit of measurement that tells you exactly what a particular food will do to your blood sugar. Foods with a high GL have a greater effect on your blood sugar, which (as we’ve seen) isn’t desirable if you are trying to slim down. In contrast, foods with a low GL encourage the body to burn fat, which is what we’re aiming for. Examples of low-GL foods include apples, avocados, beans, broccoli, celery, eggs, fish, peppers, tomatoes and many more.
What’s more, try to only eat low-GL carbohydrates with protein-rich foods (ideally, lean or plant-based protein). This helps to reduce hunger, as well as the tendency to store fat. This means eating, for example, fish with rice, tofu with vegetables or beans with pasta.
3. Don’t avoid the good fats! Another important part of a balanced diet is ensuring a good daily intake of healthy fats. While this may feel counter-intuitive when you are trying to lose weight, as mentioned above, Omega oils (and essential fatty acids in particular) are a vital part of a healthy body – including your body’s ability to maintain a healthy weight through an efficient metabolism.
The right type of fats actually help you burn fat! One of the most common weight loss mistakes is to believe that a calorie is a calorie – this is far from the truth. A calorie of saturated fat leads to a very different outcome to a calorie of essential fat (which is used by the brain, the immune system, the skin, the hormone system and the heart).
As such, a diet designed to tackle obesity in a healthy way should incorporate significant amounts of Omega 3 fats, as well as Omega 6 and Omega 9 in balanced proportions. In practical terms, this means incorporating Omega-rich foods into your daily diet, such as oily fish, avocados and flax seeds.
4. Never skip meals to slim down: While it may be tempting to drastically reduce your calorie intake or start skipping meals to lose weight faster, don’t do it. While it may produce results in the short term, you are likely to pile on even more weight down the line as your will-power breaks. What’s more, it is very bad for your health.
It is important to realise that there are no short-cuts to healthy weight loss; it is a process. Just as it took you some time to reach your current weight, you are not going to lose it overnight.
Even when you are trying to slim down, it is important to make sure that you are getting a broad spectrum of nutrients (particularly during times of limited food choice). Choosing the right kinds of healthy foods will help you to stay full and satisfied, without loading up on calories. This is a recipe for success.