What is obesity?
Obesity is the single most common problem that doctors see in their practices. According to data from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey, more than two-thirds of adults in the United States are overweight or obese. Unfortunately, it’s also a risk factor for a host of disorders.
The risk factors for those who are overweight or obese are type 2 diabetes, coronary heart disease, high LDL (“bad”) cholesterol, stroke, hypertension, nonalcoholic fatty liver disease, gallbladder disease, osteoarthritis (the degeneration of the cartilage and the bone of the joints), sleep apnea and other breathing problems, some forms of cancer (breast, colorectal, endometrial, and kidney), complications of pregnancy, and menstrual irregularities.
And since heavy people are likely to consume high quantities of toxic food, their immune systems are depressed, leaving them susceptible to any virus or bug that happens to be going around at home or in the office.
In fact, the rising occurrence of obesity can be traced in part to our attempts to fight it. Take the low-protein, high-carbohydrate diet that in the early 1990s was universally espoused as healthful: people filled up their plates with so much pasta, bread, and fat-free sweets that they actually ended up eating more calories—and, of course, gaining more weight. Other strategies, such as appetite suppressants and extreme diets, do indeed help people lose weight short-term.
But they’re also too dangerous to use for long, so at some point those people have to return to a lifestyle that is healthful. Because many “diet gurus” haven’t taught people how to put healthful eating in the context of their daily routines, they soon put the weight right back on.
There are several reasons why a person is susceptible to obesity. Genetics is an obvious factor that makes it more difficult for some people to lose weight. This inherited condition makes some people more likely to put on weight from simple-carbohydrate consumption.
Insulin levels spike upward and result in fat deposition. This problem is compounded by the fact that the average American consumes 150 pounds of sugar each year! In addition, some researchers feel that the body has a genetically programmed “set point.” This refers to the theory that the body tries to maintain a set metabolic rate at which calories are burned, especially the fat cells.
For people with a genetic susceptibility, it is even more important to be diligent with the diet and lifestyle recommendations we make. Also, nutritional supplements can help to lessen genetic tendencies.
The amount of calories someone consumes is an obvious reason for weight gain. Consuming too many calories without burning them results in a simple mathematical reality—weight gain.
To stay within a certain parameter for your metabolism, it is helpful to grasp the concept of general calorie amounts of commonly consumed foods.
The second important concept, after calorie consumption, is the calories expended through movement and exercise. The more calories that are utilized for energy, the fewer that will go toward fat accumulation. In this technologically advanced and television-addicted society, people are expending far fewer calories than they used to.
Hormone balance is also important for the prevention and the treatment of obesity. Many hormones in the body have an effect on metabolism. The most notable are thyroid hormones, which greatly influence the metabolic rate in our cells. However, several others hormones, such as DHEA, testosterone, and growth hormones, have powerful effects as well.
We have also found that an estrogen and progesterone imbalance contributes to fat deposition and water retention, and thus to weight gain. This seems to be particularly true for women who use synthetic hormones. A hormone balance must also take into account the level of the brain hormone serotonin.
Low levels of this neurotransmitter contribute to feelings of hunger and to sugar/carbohydrate cravings. There are natural ways to optimize this neurotransmitter. Further research in this field will shed more light on the role of neurotransmitters and obesity.
Toxins in the body also pose a problem for people who are overweight.
Many of the chemicals that people are exposed to interfere with normal cell function, including metabolism. Pesticides, heavy metals such as mercury, and other toxins are a part of our polluted world. Interestingly, many of these toxins are stored in fat tissue in order to prevent damage to vital body organs, such as the brain and the heart.
In addition, a diet that is devoid of nutrients leads to nutritional deficiencies. The body does not burn fat by magic but requires several vitamins, minerals, and enzymes to do so efficiently. It appears that certain nutrients can help in the prevention and the treatment of obesity. While none should be considered “magic bullets,” they can in some cases be quite helpful as part of a comprehensive weight or fat-reduction protocol.
The mental and the emotional, as well as the spiritual, well-being of a person cannot be ignored in regard to obesity. Imbalances in these areas often supersede genetic and physical reasons for weight gain. For example, many people with depression and anxiety consume comfort foods as a way to feel a false sense of love or worth. Some patients with obesity first began to have problems with weight after experiencing an unresolved emotional trauma. Treating the whole person is of paramount importance with obesity.
Determining a Healthy Body Size: Two Tests
Test #1 : Body Mass Index
The body mass index, or BMI, helps you determine the appropriate weight for your frame. For most people, the BMI test is more reliable than scales or height/weight charts are, but you should know that people with very muscular physiques may come up with a misleading reading. Because muscle weighs more than fat, many professional athletes have high BMIs—although, clearly, they don’t need to lose weight.
Here’s how to calculate your BMI. After each step are sample calculations, made for a person who is 5’8″ and 150 pounds:
1. Write down your height in inches:
(5’8″ = 68 inches)
2. Multiply the number in Line 1 by .025:
(68 X .025 = 1.70)
3. Square the number in Line 2:
(1.70 X 1.70 = 2.89)
4. Write down your weight in pounds:
5. Multiply the number in Line 4 by .45:
(150 X .45 = 67.50)
6. Divide the number in Line 5 by the number in Line 3:
(67.50/2.89 = 23.36)
Interpreting the Results
If your BMI is between 18.9 and 24.9, you are considered to be of a healthy weight. Like everyone else, you need to eat well and exercise, but if you take the second test here and it doesn’t indicate a health risk, you don’t need to lose pounds. If your BMI is 25 or higher, there’s a good chance that you need to lose weight. If you have any weight-related health problems like heart disease, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, joint or back pain, or diabetes, you should make a concerted effort to burn more calories than you take in.
People who smoke, who drink heavily, or who have a family history of the diseases listed previously would also be wise to lose weight. If you don’t have any of these concerns, it’s possible that you are simply a large but healthy person. Take the second test to further assess your health risk.
If your BMI is below 18.9, you may be underweight. If you’re an otherwise healthy adolescent who does not have an eating disorder, you’re probably just going through a phase. When you get a little older, your metabolism will likely right itself. Adults, however, should talk to a doctor about what a low BMI means for them as individuals. And anyone who suffers from an eating disorder should get professional help right away.
Test #2: Waist Circumference
Measure your waist circumference, using your navel as the defining point of your waist. For men, a waist circumference of more than forty inches is considered a health risk. Women should not have a waist circumference of more than thirty-five inches.
Since fat cells produce hormones that affect metabolism and inflammation, large waists are an indicator of possible future health problems, especially of cardiovascular conditions like heart disease and high blood pressure. If you have a large waist circumference, you should read these pages for advice about losing weight.
1) If you have a high BMI but have a normal waist circumference, are healthy, have no family history of weight-related disease, and don’t drink excessively or smoke, your weight is probably just fine. 2) If it bothers you, or if you sense that your weight is slowing you down or affecting your health, see your doctor for an individual assessment. And remember: Even if you don’t need to lose weight, you should still eat well and exercise on a regular basis.