The food we eat every day contributes to our well-being providing us with the nutrients we need for a healthy body and the calories we need for energy. If we eat too much, however, the extra food turns into fat and is stored in our bodies. If we over eat regularly, we gain weight, and if we continue to gain weight, we may become obese. Obesity means accumulation of excess fat in the body and is considered to a chronic disease. It is found to have many serious long-term consequences for health and is defined as having a body mass index of greater than 30. The BMI is a measure of weight relative to height.
Weight gain occurs when there is intake of more calories than the body requires. If the food provides more calories than the body needs, the excess is converted to fat. Initially, fat cells increase in size. When they can no longer expand, they increase in number. If one loses weight, the size of the fat cells decreases, but the number of cells does not.
Obesity has many causes. The reasons for the imbalance between calorie intake and consumption vary by individual. Age, genes, psychological makeup, and environmental factors all may contribute.
o Genes: Obesity tends to run in families. This is caused both by genes and diet and lifestyle habits. The good news is having obese relatives does not guarantee that you will be obese.
o Emotions: Some people overeat because of depression, hopelessness, anger, boredom, and many other reasons that have nothing to do with hunger. This doesn’t mean that overweight and obese people have more emotional problems than other people. It just means that their feelings influence their eating habits, causing them to overeat. In some unusual cases, obesity may be used as a defense mechanism because of the perceived social pressures related to being more physically desirable, particularly in young girls.
o Environmental factors: The most important environmental factor is lifestyle. Eating habits and activity level are partly learned from the people around. Overeating and sedentary habits are the most important risk factors for obesity.
o Age: People tend to lose muscle and gain fat as they age. Their metabolism also slows somewhat. Both of these lower their calorie requirements.
o Pregnancy: Women tend to weigh an average of 4-6 pounds more after a pregnancy than they did before the pregnancy.
o Certain medical conditions and medications can cause or promote obesity, although these are much less common causes of obesity than overeating and inactivity.
o “Glands” (hormonal problems) are rarely the cause of obesity.
o Obesity can be associated with other eating disorders, such as binge eating or bulimia.
o The distribution of body fat also plays a role in determining risk of obesity-related health problems.
Gaining weight is easy but losing it is very difficult.
For most people who are overweight or obese, the safest and most effective way to lose weight is to eat less and exercise more. Eating less and exercising more, will help in losing weight. It is as simple as that. There are no magic pills. Diets that sound too good to be true are just that. Any good diet plan will include exercise. It helps to increase metabolism and is one less opportunity to eat during the day. One should exercise for at least 30 minutes, 5 times a week. Regular exercise also helps heart and lungs and lowers triglyceride levels that can cause heart disease. It also increases the HDL (“good cholesterol”) levels. Even simple measures such as taking the stairs instead of the elevator and short walks eventually add up to a lot of calories burned. Medical treatment of obesity focuses on lifestyle changes such as eating less and increasing activity level.
There are medications that can promote weight loss, although they work only in conjunction with eating less and exercising more. Most medications that promote weight loss work by suppressing the appetite. Some medications used in the past have been shown to be unsafe and are no longer available. The newer appetite-suppressing medications are thought to be safe, but they do have side effects and may interact with certain other drugs. They are used only under the supervision of a health care provider. Reversing obesity and its health risks requires changing the habits of a lifetime. Thinking about one’s eating habits and patterns contributes to eating less. Having some insight into the overeating habits helps reaching the weight goal. Small changes can make a big difference. One extra biscuit a week can lead to a gain of 5kgs a year and cutting that biscuit out of the diet will lose the same amount.
Start with some small changes today so that others can notice a big change in you tomorrow.