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Obesity and Its Causes, Symptoms and Treatment

Carrying a great excess of weight in relation to your build and height.


Causes of Obesity

In the developed world the days are gone when eating was purely and simply for survival. The 1500-3000 calories that most people need arc there in plenty.

Eating has become a focus for many other things: a social affair, a business event, even a fashion statement. Food is marketed in appealing and convenient ways. It is cheap, abundant and desirable, ready to eat at the flick of a switch. It is little wonder that babies arc overfed, becoming children who graze all day, then adults who eat instant convenience foods containing sugar and large quantities of fat and salt.

It is important not to overfeed babies as there is evidence that fat children grow into fat adults, and obesity is an increasingly serious problem in childhood. The fat child will experience ridicule quite apart from future health problems.
A slow route to obesity

The obese are rarely relentless gluttons who have guzzled themselves into fatness. It takes just a small but regular excess intake of food over many years to accumulate into obesity.

Whatever calories are not needed each day the body turns into fat and puts by for a ‘rainy day’: a bit on the hips, a bit on the belly until eventually there is more than a bit everywhere and the rainy day never comes.

Physical causes or inherited from parents?

There is some truth that obesity is all to do with glands or genes, or parents or depression. Underactivity, however, is a more likely cause. People who do not walk or exercise but eat as much as an athlete arc heading straight for trouble. Comfort eating is universal. Never has it been so easy, nor the comfort so dangerous, with salt-, sugar- and fat-enriched cakes and biscuits rather than fruit or vegetables.

There are a few gland problems that lead to overweight. The most probable is an underactive thyroid gland, but this is less common than many believe (see Thyroid prohi.kms).

There is some evidence that obesity is partly inherited. Doctors do not yet know how significant the ‘obesity gene’ is. It may explain obesity in some individuals who are apparently resistant to normal dietary control, but it is inconceivable that the gene has spread in a generation or two to cause the widespread obesity that is now seen across the developed world.

Symptoms of Obesity

After being weighed and measured, you can be compared to a table of ‘normal’ height and weight. But what if everyone is already overweight? If you weigh an ‘average’ weight the table will tell you that you arc average even if, objectively, you are overweight. A more meaningful statistic overcomes this problem with averages: it is called the body mass index (BMI).

General effects

Imagine a large sack of potting compost weighing 25 kg/ 55 lb. This is equivalent to a modest degree of overweight. Mentally place that across your shoulders and stand up. You would experience pressure on your hips while sitting; as you stand your knee joints will groan and your hips twinge. Although you have only stood up, already a thin Him of sweat coats your brow. You walk, feeling clunks in your ankles, knees and hips on each step and that is just on the level. You plod up a gentle slope that feels like a mountain; by now your heart is racing, your breathing is short, your shoulders ache, you feel tired. You are experiencing obesity.

Your joints, heart and lungs are under strain and you face early osteoarthritis and high blood pressure, increasing the risks of heart disease and stroke. In terms of specific effects, the overweight are prone to skin infections, especially in warm moist areas beneath the breasts and between the upper thighs. Diabetes is a likelihood. The sheer enjoyment of life is reduced because of awkwardness and self-consciousness.

Treatment of Obesity

Overweight people have to take the mental step of accepting that the control of the problem is in their own hands. It is unproductive and too easy to blame the food industry, stress of work or depression, although these may all play a part.

Targets and diets

Using the BMI, calculate your target range of healthy weights you may feel more comfortable a little heavier or lighter within that band. Then calculate how long it will take to reach that weight on the basis of losing 0.5-1 kg/1-2 lb a week. This may seem a surprisingly long time, but it has taken you a lifetime to reach your current weight. By losing weight slowly you lose true excess fat. Crash diets appear successful but it is mainly fluid that is lost, which reaccumulates rapidly.

All diets share one property: eating less, although the details vary. The aim is to eat 1000-1200 calories a day. This must include all snacks and nibbles, which are so easily ‘overlooked’. Most people lose weight steadily on such a regime. Some people are truly more resistant and need an 800-1000 calorie diet; these must be specially designed for the individual to be nutritionally sound, balancing fat, carbohydrate, protein and vitamins. There is a weight-loss diet for everyone, although for some it will be uncomfortably low in calories.

Exercise and other manoeuvres . . .

As well as reducing energy intake, you should increase your energy output to really make a difference. Walking just 1.5 km/ 1 mile as briskly as possible three times a week is a target that everyone should be able to incorporate into their lifestyle. Appetite-suppressant drugs are frowned upon, because their effects are temporary and they can be addictive. Several
appetite-suppressing drugs are now banned because of concerns about side effects on the heart. Orlistat is a more recent drug that causes the body to excrete fat.

Surgery for obesity fluctuates in popularity. It is possible to staple the stomach, clamp the jaws or even remove part of the intestine. These drastic measures are resorted to only alter careful psychological assessment.

Commonly Asked Questions

How dangerous is overweight?

Modest overweight, i.e. a mil of 25-30, is not necessarily a significant health risk. True obesity – a BMI above 30 – carries significant hazards for the heart and joints.

How should I choose a diet?

Healthy diets should include fat, carbohydrate, minerals and vitamins – it is unhealthy to exclude one thing, such as fat, completely. Do check the nutritional content of dietary drinks and foods. You will lose weight on any crash diet in a week, but it is not good for long term results.

Can I lose weight without following a particular diet?

Aim to eat less and exercise more. Strategies include using smaller plates (which still look satisfyingly full), eat only at meal times, eat slowly. Don’t snack; if desperate nibble on fruit or vegetables.

Complementary Treatment of Obesity

Complementary therapists are likely to recommend gentle exercise, reducing calories and healthy eating, as well as specific treatments. Be wary of any tablets for weight loss, no matter how natural the ingredients appear. No diet should make you feel ill or involve bizarre foods. Aromatherapy is excellent for raising self-esteem; try one of the following oils in the bath (six drops) or as inhalations (two to four drops in a bowl of water or on a handkerchief): cypress, fennel, rosemary, lemon, juniper or black pepper. Diet – it is vital to get sound advice from a nutritional therapist or a naturopath. Hypnotherapy can identify and release emotional or psychological causes; suggestion is used to change eating and lifestyle habits. Ayurveda – some preparations restore metabolism and eliminate toxins. Other therapies to try: homoeopathy; tai chi/chi kung; autogenic training; healing; chakra balancing.

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