By Michael Spira
One of the major obstacles to successful weight control is lack of understanding. In plain terms, ignorance may be bliss but it certainly does not lead to shedding of excess pounds.
For example, many overweight people claim that their problem is due to their "glands". They believe that they have some kind of metabolic disease that causes them to pile on the weight. In fact, only occasionally is this so. In a very small proportion of overweight people a simple blood test, arranged by a GP, may show that the thyroid gland is underactive. In such a case thyroid hormone replacements may help the weight problem. But I must stress that thyroid problems are rarely the cause of excess weight.
Diabetes and Excess Weight
A much more common link between excess weight and metabolic disease is Diabetes. Middle-aged and elderly people who are overweight are far more likely to develop type 2, that is non-insulin dependent, diabetes. Often, merely shedding the excess weight leads to good control of the disease. Diabetes is a serious condition, which significantly increases the risk of coronary heart disease and stroke.
Excess weight and obesity are major health problems. In the UK, one in three adults are overweight, and one in six adults are obese - which means they carry surplus body weight of 20% or more.
But Why Are You Overweight?
One of the most common remarks I hear from overweight clients is: "But doctor, I hardly eat anything at all. My weight has nothing to do with the food I eat." Ridiculous as such a comment may sound, there is a grain of truth in it. Since the end of World War Two, the amount of food we eat has actually lessened, whilst at the same time our average body weight has risen. Whilst this may seem a puzzle, there is a very simple explanation.
During the past few decades we have watched more and more television, we spend more time in front of computers, we use cars where before we used our feet or bicycles, and we use lifts and escalators instead of stairs. We have become less active. So, although we consume less calories now than a few years ago, we also burn up far fewer calories than before.
What we weigh depends on a simple balance: the calories we consume against the calories we burn. Or, put more simply, food versus exercise. Yes, we may not seem to eat very much, but if we are couch potatoes we still end up piling on the weight.
This is one example of poor public knowledge about excess weight. Another has to do with the best way to shed those excess pounds. Ask most people and they will tell you: "Diet". Again, there is some truth in the answer, but it is far from complete.
And What Can You Do About It?
For a start, most people's idea of "diet" is to go on some kind of masochistic hunger-driven eating plan, which forbids all of their favorite foods. Yes, as long as you stick to such a program you will probably lose weight, but at what cost? Anyone who has followed such a regime knows that it is impossible to stick to it for long, and when the diet is eventually abandoned all those pounds come tumbling back on even faster than they went away.
With experience, and with professional guidance, some people eventually learn that the only way to diet sensibly is to follow a healthy, balanced diet with lots of fresh fruit and vegetables, not much fat, and moderation in all things.
This approach, providing it is combined with regular moderate exercise -- such as walking for 30 minutes 4 days a week and weightlifting 3 days a week -- does in fact, yield results.
Note the important features: a healthy balanced diet and exercise. Without exercise it is virtually impossible to lose weight and, even more importantly, to maintain a healthy weight. Which brings us on to another area of ignorance. Maintaining weight is the name of the game. Almost anyone can lose weight. The trick is to keep it off.
The tendency to be overweight is a lifelong condition. Like diabetes or high blood pressure, you don't "cure" it - you aim only to "control" it. Unless you continue to work at it, excess weight has an unpleasant habit of coming back. But the process really does not have to be unpleasant. Good healthy food in moderation and reasonable exercise help to shape a fitter and more energetic body, which makes for a more enjoyable lifestyle.
Don't Believe the Hype
Finally, one more common piece of ignorance. Many like to believe that you can "cure" excess weight and obesity with pills. Sadly, no magic bullet is yet available, nor is it likely to be for many years to come. The answer for the foreseeable future will remain the same: eat less, exercise more. Don't allow yourself to believe the common points of ignorance to do with obesity. Instead, arm yourself with knowledge. If you need extra help, see your doctor, practice nurse or local slimming club.
Losing weight is simple, which is not to say that it is necessarily easy. But don't make it even more difficult by believing that which is not true.
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