Obesity is a complex disease involving an excessive amount of body fat. Obesity isn’t just a cosmetic concern. It’s a medical problem that increases the risk of other diseases and health problems, such as heart disease, diabetes, high blood pressure and certain cancers.
There are many reasons why some people have difficulty losing weight. Usually, obesity results from inherited, physiological and environmental factors, combined with diet, physical activity and exercise choices.
The good news is that even modest weight loss can improve or prevent the health problems associated with obesity. A healthier diet, increased physical activity and behavior changes can help you lose weight. Prescription medications and weight-loss procedures are additional options for treating obesity.
Body mass index (BMI) is often used to diagnose obesity. To calculate BMI, multiply weight in pounds by 703, divide by height in inches and then divide again by height in inches. Or divide weight in kilograms by height in meters squared.
|30.0 and higher
For most people, BMI provides a reasonable estimate of body fat. However, BMI doesn’t directly measure body fat, so some people, such as muscular athletes, may have a BMIin the obesity category even though they don’t have excess body fat.
Many doctors also measure a person’s waist circumference to help guide treatment decisions. Weight-related health problems are more common in men with a waist circumference over 40 inches (102 centimeters) and in women with a waist measurement over 35 inches (89 centimeters).
Although there are genetic, behavioral, metabolic and hormonal influences on body weight, obesity occurs when you take in more calories than you burn through normal daily activities and exercise. Your body stores these excess calories as fat.
In the United States, most people’s diets are too high in calories — often from fast food and high-calorie beverages. People with obesity might eat more calories before feeling full, feel hungry sooner, or eat more due to stress or anxiety.
Many people who live in Western countries now have jobs that are much less physically demanding, so they don’t tend to burn as many calories at work. Even daily activities use fewer calories, courtesy of conveniences such as remote controls, escalators, online shopping and drive-through banks.
Obesity usually results from a combination of causes and contributing factors:
1. Family inheritance and influences
The genes you inherit from your parents may affect the amount of body fat you store, and where that fat is distributed. Genetics may also play a role in how efficiently your body converts food into energy, how your body regulates your appetite and how your body burns calories during exercise.
Obesity tends to run in families. That’s not just because of the genes they share. Family members also tend to share similar eating and activity habits.
2. Lifestyle choices
- Unhealthy diet. A diet that’s high in calories, lacking in fruits and vegetables, full of fast food, and laden with high-calorie beverages and oversized portions contributes to weight gain.
- Liquid calories. People can drink many calories without feeling full, especially calories from alcohol. Other high-calorie beverages, such as sugared soft drinks, can contribute to significant weight gain.
- Inactivity. If you have a sedentary lifestyle, you can easily take in more calories every day than you burn through exercise and routine daily activities. Looking at computer, tablet and phone screens is a sedentary activity. The number of hours spent in front of a screen is highly associated with weight gain.
3. Certain diseases and medications
In some people, obesity can be traced to a medical cause, such as Prader-Willi syndrome, Cushing syndrome and other conditions. Medical problems, such as arthritis, also can lead to decreased activity, which may result in weight gain.
Some medications can lead to weight gain if you don’t compensate through diet or activity. These medications include some antidepressants, anti-seizure medications, diabetes medications, antipsychotic medications, steroids and beta blockers.
4. Social and economic issues
Social and economic factors are linked to obesity. Avoiding obesity is difficult if you don’t have safe areas to walk or exercise. Similarly, you may not have been taught healthy ways of cooking, or you may not have access to healthier foods. In addition, the people you spend time with may influence your weight — you’re more likely to develop obesity if you have friends or relatives with obesity.
Obesity can occur at any age, even in young children. But as you age, hormonal changes and a less active lifestyle increase your risk of obesity. In addition, the amount of muscle in your body tends to decrease with age. Generally, lower muscle mass leads to a decrease in metabolism. These changes also reduce calorie needs and can make it harder to keep off excess weight. If you don’t consciously control what you eat and become more physically active as you age, you’ll likely gain weight.
6. Other factors
- Pregnancy. Weight gain is common during pregnancy. Some women find this weight difficult to lose after the baby is born. This weight gain may contribute to the development of obesity in women.
- Quitting smoking. Quitting smoking is often associated with weight gain. And for some, it can lead to enough weight gain to qualify as obesity. Often, this happens as people use food to cope with smoking withdrawal. In the long run, however, quitting smoking is still a greater benefit to your health than is continuing to smoke. Your doctor can help you prevent weight gain after quitting smoking.
- Lack of sleep. Not getting enough sleep or getting too much sleep can cause changes in hormones that increase appetite. You may also crave foods high in calories and carbohydrates, which can contribute to weight gain.
- Stress. Many external factors that affect mood and well-being may contribute to obesity. People often seek more high-calorie food when experiencing stressful situations.
- Microbiome. Your gut bacteria are affected by what you eat and may contribute to weight gain or difficulty losing weight.
Even if you have one or more of these risk factors, it doesn’t mean that you’re destined to develop obesity. You can counteract most risk factors through diet, physical activity and exercise, and behavior changes.
People with obesity are more likely to develop a number of potentially serious health problems, including:
- Heart disease and strokes. Obesity makes you more likely to have high blood pressure and abnormal cholesterol levels, which are risk factors for heart disease and strokes.
- Type 2 diabetes. Obesity can affect the way the body uses insulin to control blood sugar levels. This raises the risk of insulin resistance and diabetes.
- Certain cancers. Obesity may increase the risk of cancer of the uterus, cervix, endometrium, ovary, breast, colon, rectum, esophagus, liver, gallbladder, pancreas, kidney and prostate.
- Digestive problems. Obesity increases the likelihood of developing heartburn, gallbladder disease and liver problems.
- Sleep apnea. People with obesity are more likely to have sleep apnea, a potentially serious disorder in which breathing repeatedly stops and starts during sleep.
- Osteoarthritis. Obesity increases the stress placed on weight-bearing joints, in addition to promoting inflammation within the body. These factors may lead to complications such as osteoarthritis.
- Severe COVID-19 symptoms. Obesity increases the risk of developing severe symptoms if you become infected with the virus that causes coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19). People who have severe cases of COVID-19 may require treatment in intensive care units or even mechanical assistance to breathe.
Natural Ways to Lose Weight
1. Add Protein to Your Diet
When it comes to weight loss, protein is the king of nutrients. Your body burns calories when digesting and metabolising the protein you eat, so a high-protein diet can boost metabolism by up to 80–100 calories per day.
A high-protein diet can also make you feel more full and reduce your appetite. In fact, some studies show that people eat over 400 fewer calories per day on a high-protein diet.
Even something as simple as eating a high-protein breakfast (like eggs) can have a powerful effect.
One of the best things you can do to become healthier is to base your diet on whole, single-ingredient foods. By doing this, you eliminate the vast majority of added sugar, added fat and processed food.
Most whole foods are naturally very filling, making it a lot easier to keep within healthy calorie limits.
Furthermore, eating whole foods also provides your body with the many essential nutrients that it needs to function properly. Weight loss often follows as a natural side effect of eating whole foods.
Processed foods are usually high in added sugars, added fats and calories.
What’s more, processed foods are engineered to make you eat as much as possible. They are much more likely to cause addictive-like eating than unprocessed foods.
Studies have shown that the food you keep at home greatly affects weight and eating behavior. By always having healthy food available, you reduce the chances of you or other family members eating unhealthy.
There are also many healthy and natural snacks that are easy to prepare and take with you on the go.
These include yogurt, whole fruit, nuts, carrots,and hard-boiled eggs.
Eating a lot of added sugar is linked with some of the world’s leading diseases, including heart disease, type 2 diabetes and cancer.
Since sugar goes by many names in ingredient lists, it can be very difficult to figure out how much sugar a product actually contains.
Minimizing your intake of added sugar is a great way to improve your diet.
There is actually truth to the claim that drinking water can help with weight loss.
Drinking 0.5 liters (17 oz) of water may increase the calories you burn by 24–30% for an hour afterward. Drinking water before meals may also lead to reduced calorie intake, especially for middle-aged and older people.
Water is particularly good for weight loss when it replaces other beverages that are high in calories and sugar.
Fortunately, people are realizing that coffee is a healthy beverage that is loaded with antioxidants and other beneficial compounds.
Coffee drinking may support weight loss by increasing energy levels and the amount of calories you burn. Caffeinated coffee may boost your metabolism by 3–11% and reduce your risk of developing type 2 diabetes by a whopping 23–50%.
Furthermore, black coffee is very weight loss friendly, since it can make you feel full but contains almost no calories.
Refined carbs are carbs that have had most of their beneficial nutrients and fiber removed. The refining process leaves nothing but easily digested carbs, which can increase the risk of overeating and disease.
The main dietary sources of refined carbs are white flour, white bread, white rice, sodas, pastries, snacks, sweets, pasta, breakfast cereals, and added sugar.
Intermittent fasting is an eating pattern that cycles between periods of fasting and eating.
There are a few different ways to do intermittent fasting, including the 5:2 diet, the 16:8 method and the eat-stop-eat method.
Generally, these methods make you eat fewer calories overall, without having to consciously restrict calories during the eating periods. This should lead to weight loss, as well as numerous other health benefits.
Green tea is a natural beverage that is loaded with antioxidants. Drinking green tea is linked with many benefits, such as increased fat burning and weight loss.
Green tea may increase energy expenditure by 4% and increase selective fat burning by up to 17%, especially harmful belly fat. Matcha green tea is a variety of powdered green tea that may have even more powerful health benefits than regular green tea.
Fruits and vegetables are extremely healthy, weight-loss-friendly foods.
In addition to being high in water, nutrients and fiber, they usually have very low energy density. This makes it possible to eat large servings without consuming too many calories.
Numerous studies have shown that people who eat more fruits and vegetables tend to weigh less.
If you eat too fast, you may eat way too many calories before your body even realizes that you are full.
Faster eaters are much more likely to become obese, compared to those who eat more slowly.
Chewing more slowly may help you eat fewer calories and increase the production of hormones that are linked to weight loss.
Eggs are the ultimate weight loss food. They are cheap, low in calories, high in protein and loaded with all sorts of nutrients.
High-protein foods have been shown to reduce appetite and increase fullness, compared to foods that contain less protein.
Furthermore, eating eggs for breakfast may cause up to 65% greater weight loss over 8 weeks, compared to eating bagels for breakfast. It may also help you eat fewer calories throughout the rest of the day.
Chili peppers and jalapenos contain a compound called capsaicin, which may boost metabolism and increase the burning of fat. Capsaicin may also reduce appetite and calorie intake.
15. Take Probiotics
Probiotics are live bacteria that have health benefits when eaten. They can improve digestive health and heart health, and may even help with with weight loss.
Studies have shown that overweight and obese people tend to have different gut bacteria than normal-weight people, which may influence weight.
Probiotics may help regulate the healthy gut bacteria. They may also block the absorption of dietary fat, while reducing appetite and inflammation.
Of all the probiotic bacteria, Lactobacillus gasseri shows the most promising effects on weight loss.
16. Get Enough Sleep
Getting enough sleep is incredibly important for weight loss, as well as to prevent future weight gain.
Studies have shown that sleep-deprived people are up to 55% more likely to become obese, compared to those who get enough sleep. This number is even higher for children.
This is partly because sleep deprivation disrupts the daily fluctuations in appetite hormones, leading to poor appetite regulation.
Fiber-rich foods may help with weight loss.
Foods that contain water-soluble fiber may be especially helpful, since this type of fiber can help increase the feeling of fullness.
Fiber may delay stomach emptying, make the stomach expand and promote the release of satiety hormones.
Ultimately, this makes us eat less naturally, without having to think about it.
Furthermore, many types of fiber can feed the friendly gut bacteria. Healthy gut bacteria have been linked with a reduced risk of obesity.
Just make sure to increase your fiber intake gradually to avoid abdominal discomfort, such as bloating, cramps and diarrhea.
1. Exercise and activity
Increased physical activity or exercise is an essential part of obesity treatment:
- Exercise. People with obesity need to get at least 150 minutes a week of moderate-intensity physical activity to prevent further weight gain or to maintain the loss of a modest amount of weight. You probably will need to gradually increase the amount you exercise as your endurance and fitness improve.
- Keep moving. Even though regular aerobic exercise is the most efficient way to burn calories and shed excess weight, any extra movement helps burn calories. Park farther from store entrances and take the stairs instead of the elevator. A pedometer can track how many steps you take over the course of a day. Many people try to reach 10,000 steps every day. Gradually increase the number of steps you take daily to reach that goal.
2. Behavior changes
A behavior modification program can help you make lifestyle changes and lose weight and keep it off. Steps to take include examining your current habits to find out what factors, stresses or situations may have contributed to your obesity.
- Counseling. Talking with a mental health professional can help address emotional and behavioral issues related to eating. Therapy can help you understand why you overeat and learn healthy ways to cope with anxiety. You can also learn how to monitor your diet and activity, understand eating triggers, and cope with food cravings. Counseling can be one-on-one or in a group.
- Support groups. You can find camaraderie and understanding in support groups where others share similar challenges with obesity. Check with your doctor, local hospitals or commercial weight-loss programs for support groups in your area.
3. Weight-loss medication
Weight-loss medications are meant to be used along with diet, exercise and behavior changes, not instead of them. Before selecting a medication for you, your doctor will consider your health history, as well as possible side effects.
The most commonly used medications approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for the treatment of obesity include:
- Bupropion-naltrexone (Contrave)
- Liraglutide (Saxenda)
- Orlistat (Alli, Xenical)
- Phentermine-topiramate (Qsymia)
Weight-loss medications may not work for everyone, and the effects may wane over time. When you stop taking a weight-loss medication, you may regain much or all of the weight you lost.
Written by: Omojo Emeje