I recently saw a programme on TV. It was a talk-show with Tyra Banks as the host. The unfortunate subject was an obese young teenage girl. That’s being politically correct. She was FAT. The issue? The young girl had a bad relationship with her mother and Tyra Banks was going to help them patch things up. All her life, the young girl said, she had been having a problem with her weight, and her mother was making things so hard for her. As a child, her mother would restrict her food intake. Starving, she would be forced to raid the refrigerator at night just to satisfy her hunger. Things got worse when her mother resorted to padlocking the fridge at night. She had to eat different food from her siblings, who were all thin. All that had made her depressed, giving her a low self-esteem. She felt her thin mother and her other thin siblings were just picking on her for being fat, because she had a different father. The problem? Her mother.
Tyra then interviewed the mother. She admitted that maybe her methods had been harsh, but she was only concerned for the girl. And no, she never felt that she loved the girl less just because her father and her had broken up.
The outcome ? The problem was the mother. She had been judgmental, not accepting the girl for who she is. Afterall, her father was on the large side. It wasn’t her fault. Tyra felt they should kiss and make up. She told the girl she was beautiful, and to never let anyone tell her otherwise.
So what’s wrong with the whole story ? To me, the girl was FAT. She really was. She must have had a BMI of 33. While I agree maybe the mother may have been a little over the top with her methods, she wasn’t wrong in trying to get the girl to lose weight.
Most people associate being fat as a social, cultural problem. With thin being the new beautiful, being fat is ugly. Unfortunately, being fat is not just a cosmetic problem. It’s associated with a whole host of medical problems. I’ll list a few here.
High Blood Pressure (Hypertension)
Type 2 Diabetes
High cholestrol. Abnormal levels of these blood fats are a risk for heart disease.
The poor girl was a walking health hazard. Yes, she should not have to put up with extreme methods of controlling her food intake. Yes, her self-esteem should have been built up, not put down. But she cannot be allowed to remain the way she is. People in the developed world are getting bigger and bigger every year.
There are some medical conditions associated with obesity – eg. a low thyroid function, certain medications, Polycystic Ovary Syndrome. Doctors will be able to determine if obesity is secondary to an underlying problem.
But for the majority of people , their main problem is simple – they eat too much. They’ve eaten more than their bodies can burn, and over time, that leads to weight gain. Other causes include physical inactivity. Many people aren’t very physically active. They spend hours in front of TVs and computers doing work, schoolwork, and leisure activities. In fact, more than 2 hours a day of regular TV viewing time has been linked to overweight and obesity.
Some other reasons for inactivity ? Relying on cars instead of walking to places, fewer physical demands at work or at home because modern technology and other conveniences. People who are inactive are more likely to gain weight because they don’t burn up the calories that they take in from food and drinks.
The environment doesn’t always help. Lack of neighborhood sidewalks and safe places for recreation, not having area parks, trails, sidewalks, and affordable gyms makes it hard for people to be physically active. Long hours at work leave people with no time to be physically active . Oversized food portions. mean too much energy in. Over time, this will cause weight gain if it isn’t balanced with physical activity. The lack of eating healthy foods such as fresh fruits and vegetables coupled with food advertising from food companies makes things worse. Often children are the targets of advertising for high-calorie, high-fat snacks and sugary drinks. The goal of these ads is to sway people to buy these high-calorie foods, and often they do.
Unfortunately, genes and family history play a part. The unfortunate girl at the beginning of this article blamed her father. Her mother and siblings were all thin because they came from a thin father. There’s a certain amount of truth in that. Studies on identical twins raised apart have shown that. However, if a family adopts healthful food and physical activity habits, the child’s chance of being overweight or obese is reduced.
Emotional factors play a part too. Some people eat more than usual when they are bored, angry, or stressed. Over time, overeating will lead to weight gain and may cause overweight or obesity. Maybe our young girl was emotionally distressed as a result of her mother’s misguided attempts to control her weight.
Whatever the reason, the sad truth is, obesity will increase her health risks.
The first step is to set the right weight loss goals to losing and maintaining weight. Just losing 5 to 10 percent of your current weight over 6 months will lower your risk for heart disease and other conditions. The best way to lose weight is slowly. A weight loss of 1 kg a week is do-able, safe, and will help you keep off the weight. It also will give you the time to make new, healthy lifestyle changes.
For long-term weight loss success, lifestyle changes have to be made. Focus on the intake of calories from food and drinks and the amount of physical activity a day. Over time, these changes will become part of everyday life.
So the main steps?
1. Eat right.
A diet low in total, saturated, and trans fat; cholesterol; and sodium (salt) will help to lower your risk for heart disease. Cutting down on fats and added sugars also can help you eat fewer calories and lose weight. Examples include :
Fat-free and low-fat milk and milk products such as low-fat yogurt, cheese, and milk.
Lean meat, fish, poultry, cooked beans, and peas.
Whole grain foods such as whole wheat bread, oatmeal, and brown rice. Other grain foods like pasta, cereal, bagels, bread, tortillas, couscous, and crackers.
Fruits, which can be canned (in juice or water), fresh, frozen, or dried.
Vegetables, which can be canned (without salt), fresh, frozen, or dried.
Canola or olive oils and soft margarines made from these oils are heart healthy. They should be used in small amounts because they’re high in calories.
Don’t eat : Foods that are high in saturated and trans fats and cholesterol. Saturated fat is found mainly in:
Fatty cuts of meat such as ground beef, sausage, and processed meats such as bologna, hot dogs, and deli meats
Poultry with the skin
High-fat milk and milk products like whole-milk cheeses, whole milk, cream, butter, and ice cream
Lard, coconut, and palm oils found in many processed foods.
Trans fat is found mainly in:
Foods with partially hydrogenated oils such as many hard margarines and shortening
Baked products and snack foods such as crackers, cookies, doughnuts, and breads
Food fried in hydrogenated shortening such as french fries and chicken.
Cholesterol is found mainly in:
Organ meats such as liver
Whole milk or whole-milk products, including butter, cream, and cheese
Limiting foods and drinks with added sugars, like high-fructose corn syrup, like those found in many desserts, canned fruit packed in syrup, fruit drinks, and nondiet drinks. Check the nutrition label on food packages for added sugars like high-fructose corn syrup. Drinks with alcohol also will add calories, so it’s a good idea to watch alcohol intake.
2. Eat less!
Cutting back on portion size is a good way to help you eat fewer calories .
3. Stay active!
This will help burn calories. Aim for at least 30 minutes of moderate-intensity physical activity at least 3 days a week.
If you’re obese, or if you haven’t been active in the past, start physical activity slowly and build up the intensity a little at a time. Try to do to do more “everyday” activities such as taking the stairs instead of the elevator and doing household chores and yard work. Then progress to walking, biking, or swimming at a slow pace. Gradually build up the amount of time you exercise or the intensity level of the activity.
A daily, brisk walk is an easy way to be more active and improve your health. Use a pedometer to count your daily steps and keep track of how much you’re walking. Try to increase the number of steps you take each day.
Other examples of moderate-intensity physical activity include dancing, bicycling, gardening, and swimming.
For those who are still unable to achieve significant weight loss in spite of all these measures, doctors may prescribe weight loss medications like sibutramine or orlistat. More drastic options, such as weight loss surgery may be needed for people with extreme obesity (BMI of 40 or greater) when other treatments have failed or those who have life-threatening conditions as a result of their obesity.
In summary, obesity is NOT merely a cosmetic problem. It is a medical condition with associated health risks. Prevention is best. And this can be done by eating sensibly and staying active.