A Hummingbird feeds on nectar. Image courtesy of Unsplash.com
At 90 years of age, my mother is overweight. The degenerative arthritis that has dogged her for five years, limits her movement. She uses less energy/fuel from the food she eats and it ends up being stored as fat in the body. To be strong and well, she needs to be on her feet. Her physician wants her to shed off almost ten kilograms.
I, for one, fell ill last year and lost a lot of weight. My physician wants me to gain at least 5 more kilograms of weight if I am to enjoy good health.
One of my childhood friends has for some years struggled to lose weight.
Apparently, phases of heavy and low weight may dog us for life!
“I definitely have body issues, but everybody does. When you come to the realisation that everybody does that- even the people that I consider flawless- then you can start to live with the way you are.’’- Taylor Swift.
Your body weight affects your health in many ways;being underweight or overweight increases the risk of illness. Keeping body weight within a healthy range is essential for optimum health and wellness.
Body weight is related to your age, size and height. The ideal body weight should be within the normal range of age, gender, height, body type and ethnicity.
Body Mass Index (BMI) is a simple index of weight-for-height that is commonly used to classify overweight and obesity in adults.
BMI is calculated as follows : Weight in Kilograms divided by the square of the height in metres.
The World Health Organisation(WHO) defines overweight as having a BMI greater than or equal to 25 and obesity as having a BMI greater than or equal to 30. BMI applies to most adults 18-65 years.
Overweight and obesity result in abnormal or excessive fat accumulation that may impair health and cause more deaths than being underweight.
Some important facts from the WHO website: www.who.int
- Worldwide obesity has nearly tripled since 1975.
- In 2016, overall about 13% of the world’s adult population were obese – 11% men and 15% women.
- BMI is the same for both sexes and for all adult ages. For the children, age has to be considered.
- Overweight and obesity are linked to more deaths worldwide than underweight.
- Sub-Saharan Africa and Asia have more underweight people than obese.
- The fundamental cause of overweight and obesity is an energy imbalance between calories consumed and calories expended.
- Obesity is preventable. The best time to start is during childhood.
The most important factors that cause overweight are :
1. An increased intake of energy-dense foods that are high in sugar and high fat.
High sugar content foods cause high blood sugar resulting in type 2 Diabetes, increasing the risk of heart disease, heart attack, stroke and kidney disease. The excess sugar is stored as glycogen in the liver and muscles and the rest converted to fat.
High fat content foods increase significantly the risk of heart disease by increasing the bad cholesterol LDL- Low Density Lipoprotein, which causes inflammation and clogging of the arteries. They also decrease the good cholesterol, HDL- High Density Lipoprotein that protects the arteries.
2. Physical inactivity- According to the WHO, the fundamental cause of overweight and obesity is an energy imbalance between calories consumed and calories expended.
The consumption of cheap, processed foods that are high in energy, fat and salt but low in nutrients combined with a sedentary lifestyle are a silent killer.
Approximately 2 million deaths per year are attributed to physical inactivity. Sedentary lifestyles are among the 10 leading causes of death and disability in the world. A sedentary lifestyle increases all causes of death, doubles the risk of cardiovascular diseases, type 2 Diabetes and obesity. It increases the risk of colon cancer, high blood pressure, osteoporosis and depression and anxiety.
Most office workers spend eight hours or more seated on their desks. In some communities there are no sports or leisure facilities. Inactivity affects our health and wellbeing.
The food we eat is digested in the small intestine and absorbed as simple molecules into the blood. Inside the body cells, the molecules are burned up to release the chemical energy that the body needs to function- breathing, maintaining body temperature, circulating blood, digesting food, waste disposal, building and repairing cells and maintaining brain activity.
One gramme of fat has 9 Calories
One gramme of carbohydrates has 4 Calories
One gramme of Protein has 4 Calories
One gramme of alcohol has 7 Calories.
Whatever food you eat – carbohydrates, fats, proteins or alcohol, the excess in the blood is converted into fat for storage in the body. The body can use it later if required. This explains why a starving person who takes water every day, on average takes 45-61 days to die of starvation.
After the body has used some calories for basic body function, physical activity burns the extra calories allowing a limited amount to be converted into fat for storage. Most of us are aware that if the energy you take in is higher than the energy you expend, excess calories are changed into fat leading to weight gain. If you take in less calories than you expend, you tend to lose weight. The ideal situation is for you to watch what you eat while at the same time undertake regular physical activity to burn off the excess calories and keep your weight within the normal range for your age, gender, height and ethnicity and get adequate sleep. This is what is considered as a ‘’ Healthy Lifestyle’’. It keeps you fit, energetic and reduces the risk for disease.
The benefits of regular physical activity are determined by the intensity, the duration of the exercise and your body size. Vigorous exercises like running, swimming burn up more calories per minute than brisk walking. Physical activity exercises the heart and increases the blood flow to the brain- improving memory and brain function. It also strengthens both bone and muscles and improves balance. To get maximum benefit from exercise, it has to be done every day for a minimum of 30 minutes.
Many children lead sedentary lives by spending hours on the couch watching TV or getting lost in their digital comfort zone; playing video games or just chatting on their smartphones.
The long COVID -19 pandemic lockdown proved to us that one does not need a gym to stay healthy. You can schedule an exercise programme at home. You can walk around the home, undertake stretching exercises, skip a rope, dance, ride a bicycle or climb the stairs. Strong health habits power your health and increase your productivity.
As they say, “Your health is your responsibility- Manage your health before the doctors start managing it for you.’’
Low and Middle –income countries have a high risk of underweight due to undernutrition. Underweight and overweight co-exist in some African countries like mine. As I write this post, some people living in the drier areas are starving in Karamoja, one of the districts in northern Uganda. The famine is a result of a combination of drought and displacement arising from insecurity, cattle rustling, poverty and climate change. The area is becoming increasingly hot and dry and the season of torrential rains has become shorter. This food insecurity has affected the children, pregnant women and the elderly most.
It should be noted that there is no ideal body weight for all people so each individual has to learn to develop a healthy relationship with her/his body as well as cultivate a healthy lifestyle to stay strong and healthy. We have to pay attention to the food we eat since it is burned to produce the fuel we need to be alive and active.
“No amount of self- improvement can make up for any lack of self –acceptance’’ – Robert Holden
The internal process by which the food we eat is converted to the chemical energy and expended in the cells of our bodies, is known as metabolism and is closely linked to one’s body weight and muscle mass.
I spent years trying to add on some weight until I learned that my Basal Metabolic Rate was on the higher side of normal. Like the hummingbird, I use a lot of energy for any task. The humming bird is among the smallest birds in the world but has the highest metabolic rate of any animal. It burns calories about a hundred times of an elephant and about 77 times faster than humans!
To get the energy to fuel that high level of activity, it needs to consume its weight in nectar every day! It flits from flower to flower sucking up all the nectar.
The likes of us with faster metabolism, use a lot of energy for any activity like breathing, walking. We
tend to eat more food without gaining weight. We struggle to put on weight.
Those with a slow metabolism like my friend, burn fewer calories in activity, storing the excess as fat in the body. They only eat a little to gain weight but find it hard to lose weight by cutting calories as they naturally require less food to sustain themselves and their body weight. My friend is active; walks, swims, works on the farm regularly and eats little but is still overweight.
As we age, our muscle mass declines and this slows down our metabolism.
Each individual has to take responsibility to control overweight and obesity by :
- Limiting energy intake from total fats and sugars
- Increasing consumption of fruit and vegetables, legumes, whole grains and nuts, what is often called the Mediterranean diet.
- Engaging in regular physical exercise.
It requires a lot of discipline but it is doable and pays high dividends healthwise.
“You can’t hate yourself happy. You can’t criticize yourself thin. You can’t shame yourself worthy. Real change begins with self-love and self –care.’’ – Jessica Ortena
Have you accepted yourself and begun living a healthy lifestyle to protect, to promote your health and feel good about yourself?