Obesity is perhaps one of the biggest epidemics that we currently face in the twenty-first century. The temptation of Fast Food and processed food products can make becoming obese incredibly easy, alongside the fact that many of us don’t work active jobs like we may have done a hundred years ago.
In fact, in 2016, more than 650 million adults over the 18 were obese. Obesity can cause issues for a person’s health and self esteem. It is, however, something that can be prevented in many circumstances, and something that can be managed. Here’s our ultimate guide to preventing obesity.
What is Obesity?
Obesity is generally characterized by a person’s weight and the amount of body fat that they have. It can also sometimes be measured by BMI. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention classify someone with a BMI of more than 30.0 as obese.
Thankfully, it is a disease that can be prevented and managed if a person wishes to manage it. It’s important to note a few things though. Obesity is not your fault, especially since there are a wide variety of factors that contribute to whether a person is obese or not.
It’s not simply an issue about food either - sometimes it can be attributed to mental health, or to a medical condition that makes it hard for people to lose weight, such as Poly Cystic Ovarian Syndrome in women.
It’s a complicated, nuanced disease with a number of causes. At its most basic level, obesity occurs as a result of continuously taking in more calories than you burn.
How To Prevent Obesity
So how exactly do you prevent obesity? Here are just a few suggestions.
Eat a Healthy Diet
Often, the first step to take in preventing obesity is ensuring that you eat a healthy balanced diet. This does not mean to gravitate towards a ‘quick fix’ diet that asks you to cut out certain food groups.
Losing weight and keeping it off comes down to creating a sustainable lifestyle for yourself, and if you don’t think that cutting out an entire food group is sustainable for you, don’t do it!
So, what should you eat? It’s important to note right off the bat that you don’t necessarily need to cut out certain foods such as sweets or sugary drinks, unless they are likely to be a trigger food for you. You can eat what you want as long as it’s in moderation. It’s just a matter of eating according to your caloric needs.
To simplify this, let’s say that you require 2000 calories in order to survive, without exercise - all you are doing is lying in bed at this point. This means that you can theoretically eat 2000 calories of any type of food, and you may not gain or lose weight.
To lose weight, you would need to be in a calorie deficit, so for instance 1500 calories. To gain weight, you would need to be in a calorie surplus, for instance 2500 calories.
So, you can eat pretty much anything, but this may not necessarily be healthy for you. It’s all about keeping a balance. Eat the things that you like in moderation, but try to fill most of your diet up with healthy foods.
This includes a good balance of fruits and vegetables, oats and grains and healthy fats and omega 3s. Make sure that you’re including a good balance of your macronutrients - carbohydrates, protein and fats.
You can even make modifications to some old favorite meals, such as this modification on the KFC Zinger Burger! You may even find that you have a lot more fun in the kitchen when you try to switch up your eating habits. In short, just try to gravitate towards low calories that are high in good nutrients.
Another thing that can contribute to your weight is the amount of physical activity that you get in a day. Using the example above, if you’re not moving a lot and eating 2500 calories and your maintenance calories to survive are 2000, then you’re eating in a calorie surplus which can cause weight gain.
On the other hand, If you are exercising a lot on a regular basis, your caloric needs increase so you will likely need to eat more.
It is recommended that you get around 150 to 300 minutes worth of physical activity into your week in order to maintain or lose weight, combined with a healthy eating regime.
This can sound quite daunting, especially if you are used to mainly sitting still for most of the day. However, you don’t need to do it all at once. You can stagger this time throughout the week, and gradually build up to more exercise as the weeks go on and you feel more comfortable.
You also don’t need to run on the treadmill on the gym for an hour if you don’t want to. Some great forms of exercise to do while trying to lose weight include:
- Brisk walking
- Weight training
- Martial arts
You don’t need to do anything that sounds boring to you - think about the things that you like to do, and make it work for you. If you enjoy playing Just Dance on your Xbox, then you can do that to lose weight if you enjoy it! The important thing is to just get some form of physical activity into your day.
Moderate Alcohol Consumption
You may be surprised to learn that consuming alcohol can actually have a pretty big effect on your weight. This is because alcohol is quite high in calories - some alcohol may even contain as much as seven calories per gram!
This is pretty big, especially in comparison to carbohydrates and protein. Not only this, but it’s very easy to drink a lot of alcohol, meaning that you’re racking up those calories pretty quickly.
When your inhibitions are relaxed as a result of drinking, you may also be more likely to eat too. For instance, some people may like to buy a takeaway on a night out after drinking.
Alcohol also doesn’t contain any nutrients and most likely won’t fill you up either, so you’ll want to eat more calories on top of the empty calories that you get from alcohol to keep you full. It all adds up!
This isn’t to say that you need to cut alcohol out of your diet completely, though. After all, it’s all about moderation, as we’ve already mentioned. If you want a glass of wine every now and then, that’s okay.
Cutting out alcohol completely may be difficult, so it’s better to take a different approach. For instance, set yourself a limit on how much you drink a day. Try to see if you can avoid drinking for a few days each week, instead opting for a drink on certain days.
You may also wish to opt for drinks that are low in alcohol or drinks such as wine, as these are much lower in calories than drinks such as beer and cocktails. It can also help to drink on a full stomach.
Stress is pretty prominent in modern society - we always feel like we have to be on the go, and there’s always something to worry about. It may seem difficult, but it is important to practice relaxation techniques, especially since stress can influence our eating patterns.
This, in turn, can lead to obesity if eating as a result of stress becomes a habit. One particular study even showed that stress can actually influence eating patterns and can encourage cravings for foods that are high in calories.
Relaxing can be hard, but there are a number of things that you can do to reduce your stress levels and relax. For instance, you could practice something like mindfulness. If you can, it can also be helpful to reduce things in your life that are triggers for stress. Most importantly, make sure that you take some time for self care when life feels a little overwhelming.
Get Enough Sleep
Sleep can have a huge impact on your overall well being. Unsurprisingly, it can also have an affect on your weight.
In fact, when you don’t get enough sleep it can affect your hormones and this can then make you feel much hungrier.
If you haven’t had enough sleep, you may find yourself desiring foods that are very high in calories or carbohydrates. This in turn can result in gaining weight.
Getting enough sleep can be pretty difficult for a lot of people, especially if you have a lot on your mind.
There are some techniques that you can employ to help you to get to sleep though, such as turning your phone off for a while before going to sleep, and having a night time routine that helps you to wind down more easily before you get to sleep. Oh, and stay away from the caffeine!
If you are struggling with getting sleep, it’s worth speaking to a doctor for further advice as they may be able to help.
Monitor Your Weight
Of course, monitoring your weight is important if you want to prevent obesity.
All it takes is a few months of eating increased amounts of calories and you are likely to see that weight pile on, especially if you also aren’t very active.
Make sure that you weigh yourself regularly to ensure that you are still at a healthy weight for your height.
It’s also worth mentioning that the scale can be triggering for many people, in which case there are other ways to monitor your weight, including:
- Seeing how your clothes fit
- Taking waist measurements
- Keeping an eye on how you feel
- Using fat calipers to check bodyweight.
If you are struggling with your body image and stepping on the scale is upsetting though, it’s important to make sure that you get help as this could be a sign of an underlying mental health condition.
Causes and Contributing Factors of Obesity
Ultimately, the biggest cause of obesity is eating more calories than you actually require in order to survive. Generally you will gain weight if you eat an increased number of calories over time though, rather than just eating a lot on one day and eating your maintenance calories for the rest of the week.
Since our bodies don’t necessarily need the extra calories for fuel, the calories are then stored as fat instead. Eventually, as time goes on the extra calories that you eat every single day can add up and cause you to gain weight.
We don’t move quite as much as we did around a hundred years or so. Many of us now have office jobs which require us to be sedentary throughout the day. Then we may come home to sit on the couch for a few hours to watch TV, rather than getting outside to go for a walk or participating in an active activity.
This means that we aren’t burning as many calories. If you combine this inactivity with increased calorie intake, you may see that numbers on the scale gradually creeping up as time goes on.
You will gain weight if you eat more calories than you burn. With that being said, not all foods were made equally.
One piece of broccoli is going to contain a lot less calories than a small bar of chocolate.
Therefore, if you eat a lot of foods that are high in calories and aren’t considered to be ‘healthy’, you are more likely to gain more weight.
Of course, you most likely aren’t going to gain weight just from eating one single McDonalds, but if you have a McDonalds for every breakfast, lunch and dinner every single day, those calories are going to add up pretty quickly.
Stress can wreak havoc on our bodies in so many ways, but it’s especially annoying when it results in weight gain. So why do we gain weight when we’re stressed?
When we’re stressed, our cortisol levels usually rise. When cortisol levels rise you also tend to get higher levels of insulin, and as a result you may find yourself reaching for that bag of cookies or the KFC instead of the fruits and vegetables in your fridge.
In that moment, you may feel calmer and more comfortable after eating the foods, but in the long run you may gain weight if you often feel stressed and reach for food to cope. It can also be a vicious cycle, since gaining weight may cause you to feel stressed and unhappy, which in turn can result in eating more and gaining more weight.
There are a number of different medical conditions that can also cause or result in obesity, too. Some of these conditions may make it more difficult for people to lose weight. Some examples of these conditions include:
- Cushing’s syndrome
- Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS)
There are also certain medications that can result in weight gain, such as hormonal birth control pills, medications that are used to treat type 2 diabetes and antipsychotic medications.
If you think that you are struggling to lose weight or you are gaining weight because of a medical condition, it’s imperative that you speak to a doctor. They will be able to help you to treat the condition or to manage the symptoms more easily.
Symptoms Of Obesity
Usually someone is diagnosed with obesity based on their body fat and their BMI. A person that has a BMI of over 30 is obese. You’re classed as overweight if your BMI falls in the range between 25 and 30, however.
BMI essentially gets your height and weight, and gives you a scoring based on the two parameters. Your BMI is basically your weight in kilograms, then you divide that by your square height in meters to find your scoring.
If you want to figure out your BMI based on pounds and inches, you would divide your weight in pounds by height in inches squared. Then you would multiply this with a conversion factor of 703. Or, to make it easier for yourself, you can just find a BMI calculator online that will tell you the answers so that you don’t have to do all of the calculations yourself.
Here is how someone is classed based on their BMI:
- Below 18.5 - Underweight
- 18.5 - 24.9 - Healthy Weight
- 25.0 - 29.9 - Overweight
- 30.0 and Over - Obese
For instance, let’s say you’re 5 foot 9. If you weighed 125 to 168 lbs then you would be classed as a healthy weight. If you weighed 203 lbs. or above then you would be classed as obese, since your BMI would be 30 or higher. In addition to that, someone can also be morbidly obese. This is when the BMI exceeds 25.
BMI is a somewhat flawed system since it doesn’t account for body weight caused by other things such as muscle, so you will usually also get your diagnosis based on other factors such as your body fat. For instance if an athlete has a BMI over 25 and they had a lot of muscle thanks to their training they would still be considered to be overweight.
BMI is calculated a little differently for children and teenagers - it’s based on their age and their sex and is measured in BMI percentiles instead.
If you have an excessive amount of body fat, then you’re usually classed as obese.
This is also usually relative to your height though, since 170 lbs is a much higher body weight for someone that’s only 5 foot than it is for someone that’s 5 foot 11, for instance.
It may also be measured in terms of body fat percentage. For instance, if you have a body fat percentage of over 25% and you’re a male, you’re classed as obese.
If you’re a woman, you’re considered obese if you have a body fat percentage of over 33%. If you are obese you may also have a waist circumference of over 102 cm if you’re a male, and a circumference of over 88 cm if you’re a woman. You may also appear to have more fat in certain areas if you have lots of weight on your body.
People that are obese can sometimes suffer with issues relating to their respiratory function. This can often mean that they struggle with their breathing, especially after periods of physical activity, such as walking up and down the stairs or doing a workout.
This can happen for a number of reasons. For starters, you are carrying around extra amounts of weight - that can be a lot harder for your body to carry around.
Asthma is also slightly more common in individuals that are obese. Having a lot of extra body fat can affect your diaphragm which can make breathing a little more difficult.
One of the biggest problems with obesity is that for some people it can actually result in mobility issues. It can be a lot harder to move around when you’re carrying excessive amounts of fat on your body.
Not only does this make it harder to breathe, but it also means that there’s a lot of extra pressure put on the limbs and the joints. This may mean that moving is painful for you, and you may get a lot of pain in your joints and back every day.
You may also be at higher risk of osteoarthritis, since there’s extra stress on the joints that carry most of the weight and there’s extra inflammation in the body.
When to see a doctor
If you notice any severe complications of obesity, such as struggling to move or breathe, or if you’re struggling to continue with daily functioning, you should go and see your doctor.
Some severe complications will require extra monitoring, and your doctor should also be able to help you with any more unpleasant symptoms. It’s better not to leave it go unchecked as this could result in further complications. If you are concerned, it’s in your best interest to see a doctor.
If you think that you may be obese then it’s also definitely worth speaking with your doctor. Your doctor will be able to help you to lose weight and will show you ways that you can change your lifestyle.
When you go to your doctor, there are a few different questions that you can ask them to make sure that you get the best outcome. For starters, you can ask for advice about what weight you should be trying to achieve. You can usually find this out by checking your BMI yourself.
You can also ask how long it may take to reach your weight loss goal. It’s important to note in this respect that it’s not a good idea to consistently try to lose more than around 1-2 lbs. a week.
If you are very overweight and are just getting started with trying to lose weight you may find that you shed much more weight than this at first, but eventually the weight loss will begin to taper off.
You may also wish to ask what affect your weight loss may have, and whether there’s a chance that an underlying health issue could be having an impact on your weight. Your doctor may do some tests to see what’s going on.
You can also ask what sorts of medications you’re taking may have an impact on your weight, and you can ask if there are any specific things that you can be doing to maximize your efforts.
Risks Associated with Obesity
Obesity can actually cause a higher risk of someone suffering with cardiac arrest.
One study from the Journal of the American Heart Association found that people who were obese with a BMI of a minimum of 27.5 had a three times higher risk of suffering from cardiac arrest after 3 years than people at a healthy weight
People that are obese also have a higher risk of hypertension. This is essentially the amount of pressure that your blood will put onto the inside walls of your arteries.
In short, it’s high blood pressure, which can be quite dangerous, especially if you’re obese. If you struggle with hypertension, a doctor may choose to put you on medications such as antihypertensives.
Alternatively, your doctor may also ask you to lose weight and if that helps the blood pressure they may choose to stop giving you medication.
Some of the main medications used for hypertension are calcium channel blockers, low dose diuretics or ACE inhibitors. You’re at the highest risk for hypertension if your BMI is higher than 30, though high blood pressure can occur in any individual.
Diabetes is a serious condition that can massively impact someone’s life, and unfortunately being obese is a large risk factor. Of course, it isn’t entirely known what in specific causes diabetes, but a large amount of people with Type 2 diabetes are obese.
You are especially at risk of getting diabetes if you have a lot of extra body fat around your abdominal region. There are a number of reasons for this.
For starters, the fat on your body can release a lot of inflammatory chemicals and as a result your body responds less to its own insulin. This results in something called insulin resistance, which is one of the key markers of Type 2 diabetes.
Having a lot of body fat can also change your body’s metabolism. Your body is more likely to put fat molecules into the blood and as a result this can make your body less sensitive to insulin.
Losing weight can often help to prevent diabetes or at least to help with the symptoms of it.
Being overweight or obese is one of the biggest causes of cancer. This doesn’t necessarily mean that if you are overweight or obese that you will definitely get cancer at some point, but it is certainly a big risk factor.
Your risk can also depend on a number of other things such as your genetics and your current age. Your fat cells are to blame for the risk of developing cancer when overweight or obese.
The fat in your body can result in your cells dividing much more frequently, and as a result this can cause cancer. The fat cells can also impact your growth hormones, and your sex hormones. It can even mean that you get more inflammation in the body which again, results in the cells dividing more quickly.
There are a few main types of cancer that are thought to be linked with obesity. This includes bowel and breast cancer, thyroid cancer and kidney cancer. This is not an exhaustive list, however, as obesity can put you at a higher risk for other kinds of cancer too.
It is thought that excessive amounts of fat around your abdominal region will put you at a higher risk of developing cancer.
A lot of people from all sorts of different backgrounds can suffer from sleep apnea, but obstructive sleep apnea is more likely to be experienced by people that are overweight or obese.
You may also find that if you are obese your sleep apnea symptoms are much worse too. The main reason for this is if you have extra weight on your body, you are more likely to have fat deposits in your neck.
This is known as pharyngeal fat. As a result, your upper airway can be blocked. The walls of your chest can also become compressed.
This can be problematic. If you struggle with sleep, you may also struggle with weight gain, since you produce a lot less leptin when you haven’t slept enough. Leptin and ghrelin are responsible for your hunger cues, and if you don’t have enough leptin and you have too much ghrelin, you’re much more likely to reach for those unhealthy foods.
If you are obese, you may be more likely to develop osteoarthritis.
Osteoarthritis is one of the most common types of arthritis in general, but you’re even more likely to develop it if you’re obese or overweight. This is because of the extra pressure that your body weight puts on your knees.
As a result, your joints are more likely to become damaged. The inflammation caused by fat cells can also result in osteoarthritis.
Losing some weight can go a long way in helping to prevent osteoarthritis, and for managing the symptoms if you do end up having it.
Severe COVID-19 Symptoms
There are a number of different risk factors for COVID-19, but obesity can sometimes cause much more severe COVID-19 symptoms than what you would see in someone at a healthy weight with no other underlying conditions.
This is mainly because of the high levels of insulin in the blood and the impact that a person’s weight can have on their respiratory system. Obesity is also linked with having a weaker immune system, which means that people who are obese may be less likely to fight off the virus as well.
One of the things that can make you more likely to experience a stroke is being obese or overweight. This is for a number of reasons. As we’ve already discussed, your risks for having high blood pressure, and other complications such as heart disease and type 2 diabetes increase if you have a higher bodyweight.
In addition to this, having excess weight can also result in you having clogged arteries that may be more narrow. This can massively increase your risks of experiencing a stroke.
Your weight can have a very large effect on your heart and circulatory system. As such, being obese or overweight can also put you at higher risk of developing heart disease.
In fact, the CDC estimates that one in four deaths every year happen as a result of heart disease. There are a few reasons as to why you’re more likely to develop heart disease if you’re obese.
For starters, your weight can have a huge impact on your cholesterol. As we’ve previously mentioned, you are also more likely to have high blood pressure if you are obese, and this can result in issues with your heart.
Finally, you’re more likely to have diabetes if you are obese, which in turn can put you at a higher risk for having heart disease.
Another side effect of being obese is that it can massively impact your fertility. The American Society for Reproductive Medicine (ASRM) even says that obesity is the cause of fertility issues in around 6 percent of women.
There are a few different reasons for this. For starters, the fat cells in your body can change your androstenedione hormones into female hormones that are called estrone.
This can impact the metabolism in your brain that can regulate how the testicles and ovarian functions work. As a result, you may sometimes experience infertility.
It also impacts male reproductive function too. This is because your body temperature can often be higher when you are obese, which in turn can heat up the scrotum area. You may also be more likely to deal with hormonal imbalances, which in turn impact sperm count and motility.
Thankfully, a lot of couples find that some infertility issues can be resolved by shedding a couple of pounds. It’s worth speaking with your doctor if you have fertility issues, whatever the case.
Since an erection depends on proper function of the blood vessels, some people that are obese may struggle with erectile dysfunction.
Having excessive amounts of body fat can sometimes result in damage to the blood vessels, and it can also impact your testosterone levels.
These things combined can impact your ability to get and maintain an erection. As such it can also tie in to your fertility.
For many men, losing weight can help with erectile dysfunction. In return, you are likely to get much better sexual experiences too!
Some people that are overweight or obese report having issues with the digestive system.
In fact, obesity has actually been linked to higher chances of having gastroesophageal reflux disease, or GERD for short.
You may also be more likely to have gallstones, which could sometimes result in a need for surgery.
Obesity can often go hand in hand with many gastrointestinal issues.
Some examples of this include Barrett’s esophagus, gastric cancer, erosive gastritis, cirrhosis, gallstones, liver disease and acute pancreatitis.
People who are obese may also be more likely to deal with everyday gastrointestinal issues such as diarrhea.
Depression and Low Self Esteem
There is some evidence to suggest that people who are obese may be more likely to struggle with issues such as depression and low self esteem.
The depression could be caused as a result of issues with self esteem due to body image, or it could be caused as a result of the health problems that obesity can cause. Issues such as depression are often associated with things such as living a sedentary lifestyle or overeating.
This can also have a knock on effect too, as some people may be more likely to eat more when they feel anxious or depressed. This in turn can result in further weight gain, causing a vicious cycle.
A lot of people that are overweight or obese can struggle with eating disorders.
This can include conditions such as bulimia or binge eating disorder.
Emotional eating can also be a big issue in this respect.
People can experience body dysmorphia for a wide range of different reasons, but one reason is due to weight. Society places a lot of emphasis on how someone should look and what they should weigh, and if someone doesn’t fit that ideal they may experience body dysmorphia.
This is essentially when someone places extra emphasis on every tiny flaw in their appearance, and it can result in other issues such as avoiding social situations and self harm.
Some people that struggle with their weight may feel ashamed of how they look and may feel like they don’t fit in.
People can also sometimes be discriminated against because of their weight.
As a result, they may be more likely to isolate themselves from others. This can lead to intense feelings of loneliness.
Obesity is a pretty common thing for Americans, but it can be prevented by following these tips. Hopefully with our guide, you can find techniques to prevent obesity going forward.