This is a very common and complex health topic. Most Americans are heavier than their optimum weight, so in that sense they are overweight, but most are not obese, which I would define as being overweight to a degree that clearly increases our health risks. Being overweight could also be defined in terms of what we think and feel about ourselves, as the psychological attitude toward our weight is so very important. Some people, mostly young women, may think that they are overweight and eat sparingly, when they are actually malnourished and underweight.
Most "overweight" people are very fickle about their weight-control regimens. They will try any and many programs, mostly short-term crash diets that focus on calorie restriction or a single food group, such as the high protein diet. The up-and-down weight syndrome may lead us to the path of lifelong obesity.
Quick weight loss is not the aim of this program. That is relatively easy to do time and again. The only healthy and effective long-range weight reduction plan is to have a balanced and healthy lifestyle such as described throughout this book, and to find the diet and eating habits that allow us to reach and maintain our "right" weight.
Working to change our dietary habits and following the many guidelines and diet suggestions discussed here can really make a difference. With moderate to active regular exercise, we can all be close to our optimum weight. We must realize, though, that this optimum weight may not be quite as low as that of the body we idolize or even as low as that listed in the ideal weight charts. Heredity, conditioning, and metabolism, as well as percentage of body fat, will influence what is ideal, or healthy, for each of us.
Significant excess weight—more than 30 pounds—and more extreme obesity are some of the bigger health concerns of the Western world. The over-intake and under-utilization of food and the storage of excess fuel in our body as fat and waste create a serious nutritional disease. This problem contributes to many more serious diseases, such as cardiovascular disease, cancer, and diabetes—the three most life-threatening, chronic degenerative conditions in our society. Obesity is an important risk factor in all of them; in addition it causes a general decrease in longevity.
Medical Problems Related to Obesity
|High cholesterol levels||Gout|
|Heart disease|| Liver disease|
|Kidney disease||Menstrual problems|
Mother. Weight problems begin early; the majority of overweight adults had some problem with their weight as children or adolescents. Genetics clearly plays a part, but our ability to distinguish its effects from those of conditioning and environmental stimuli is very limited. We can say that children of overweight parents have a greater tendency to be overweight. Our mother is usually the first one to feed us, and early on we develop patterns of eating and relating that often influence us for life. And for many this pattern with mother continues, with moms trying to nourish us on many levels throughout life. Counseling concerning the relationship with mother helps many overweight people clarify the issues and desires related to food and may allow new motivations to come forth.
Motivation. Most overweight people know that ups and downs in weight do not work. Fad diets may be fun, but they are usually frivolous, because 80–90 percent of people who lose weight with them then regain the weight lost or sometimes even more, and this is less healthy than just staying the weight we are. We need a lifetime plan, and this is where motivation comes in. Gathering our deeper strength by focusing on the long-range vision as well as the quick benefits, and continually telling ourselves that we can do it, is what will help to overcome our weight problem. It has been conditioned very deeply. Most people think more about the immediate benefits of the slimmer body or better appearance, often believing it will please another, than the lifelong health risks of being overweight. Emphasizing both may help improve motivation.
Overeating and poor habits are hard to change but easy to develop. I know from experience. It is easy to simply say change the diet, but without the motivation and the ability to break through our psychological barriers, it is very difficult to make major changes. I found it very successful to first change the types of foods I ate to a more natural-food diet. Sugars, fats, and refined foods can easily be replaced with more wholesome choices. These refined and rich foods may increase our hunger as well as add low-nutrient calories. (Complex carbohydrate foods fill us with fewer calories and reduce our appetite.) Thus, reducing their intake usually makes a difference in calorie and nutrient intake, and often in our metabolism and general health, which will influence our weight. Then we can move on to deal with our more difficult habits. Isolating and eliminating allergenic/addictive foods is difficult only for a few days. Then, eating a variety of foods will minimize other possible allergens in the diet. Really, we need to create a new, stable lifestyle approach to give us the right body weight and energy, and the effective level of metabolism to maintain them.
Metabolism. There are several theories regarding the effects of our metabolism on our weight, and I am convinced that they each describe important factors. Our basal metabolic rate (BMR) is the rate at which our body burns calories to maintain its functions at rest. It is affected by our gender, age, diet, activity level, thyroid function, amount of sleep, amount of body fat, body temperature, weight, and likely, by our genetics. We need a certain number of calories to maintain our weight with a regular exercise level. We can calculate our acceptable calorie intake by figuring the number of calories required to meet our basic needs (BMR) and adding to it the extra calories used in exercise and mental activity. Formulas for doing this are provided in many nutrition books, such Jane Brody’s Nutrition Book.
Overweight: Theories and Causes
|Metabolic rate||Excess calories and/or fats|
|Set point ||Excess sugar refined foods|
|Fat cell type and number||Overeating|
|Slow liver metabolism|
|Family Influences||Nutrient deficiencies|
|Hereditary||Low thyroid function|
|Eating patterns||Lack of exercise|
|Food choices ||Food allergies|
|Family relationship||Yeast infection|
|Food as security substitute||Parasites|
|Psychological attitudes ||Insuline insensitivity|
|Self-image within family||Emotional factors|
| ||Fat body self-image|
"Set point" theory is a newer way of describing this complex metabolic process. This theory applies to what our body "thinks" is normal and the set point is actually the amount of body fat our body tries to maintain. Obese people have a higher set point than trimmer ones. This may be related to the number of fat cells, which may in turn be tied to genetics and early eating patterns.
The set point theory suggests that our body works like a thermostat. When we diet and consume fewer calories, our body reacts as if a starvation crisis is upon us, with compensatory responses, such as lowering the BMR, the rate at which we burn calories, in an attempt to conserve calories and weight. The end result is that we can maintain the same weight on fewer calories. This theory makes sense, considering our long-term experiences with weight reduction.
Regular dieting, especially the low-calorie starvation diet, is met with ever greater difficulty in maintaining weight loss and often results in faster rebounds. As our weight goes up and down, our metabolism seems to slow, as it does with age, and it becomes harder and harder to lose weight. Once established, our personal set point and level of body fat are not easily influenced. Our set point, and thus our weight, might even go up. Our body really needs regular exercise and a long-term, steady, lower-calorie diet plan to adapt to a lower weight and better energy efficiency, or "turning our thermostat down."
The "fat cell" theory also applies here, and seems to correlate with the "set point" philosophy. It has been shown that we each develop a specific number of fat cells in our body. This mainly occurs at certain times of life—before birth, during infancy, and during the adolescent growth phase. This may be genetically determined, but it also appears that if we are overfed or overeat during these times, we may create more fat cells. At other times, as in our adult life, we increase only the size of our cells. When we take in more calories than we use, our cells and fat stores get bigger. So a trim person may have a lower number of cells, or the same number of smaller cells than a heavier person, but when we lose weight and become thinner, our fat cells become smaller.