Being overweight is a common problem these days. In many ways, it’s thought of as being ‘a disease of modern times’. We have more sedentary jobs, labour-saving devices, widely available convenience food and our leisure time consists of using a computer or other device, or watching TV. Technology has certainly made aspects of modern life more convenient for us, but it has also made us more prone to gaining weight. Some experts call the modern world ‘an obesogenic environment’ which essentially means that the environment is geared towards making us gain weight. When people are overweight, there can be many causes.
People consume more energy than they burn off– This is a question of what is known as energy balance. Taking in more calories than you need over a period of time will lead to weight gain, most likely in the form of fat. We are no longer like our ancestors who often didn’t know where their next meal was coming from, though sadly, we are still biologically hard-wired to store energy wherever possible.
People don’t lead active lifestyles- A lot of people aren’t active enough. They drive to work, sit in front of a computer all day, drive home then watch TV in the evening. People drive rather than walk, own a lot of labour-saving devices and generally have less opportunities to be generally active. Scientists say that an inactive lifestyle is as bad as smoking in terms of causing premature death.
Our environment is not geared towards helping us be more active– A lot of parks and recreation grounds are used to build houses on. The less green space there is in the vicinity of where people live, the less active they are likely to be. Lack of leisure facilities such as gyms is a factor also.
Longer working hours– People have less opportunity to be active as they spend more time at work and commute further to work these days.
Foods are sold in much larger portion sizes- Food portions sold in restaurants and cinemas could probably easily feed 2 people. Cheap staple foods like pasta and rice are often overserved. Think about the portion sizes you dish out at home. The psychology of this usually stems from when we are children and we are told to finish everything on our plates. Over time, this just equals more calories taken in and leads to weight gain.
Good food can be expensive- Good quality lean meat and other healthy foods can be quite expensive, especially for families on a budget. However, investing in a decent cut of meat and then making meals from leftovers is a great money-saving way to prepare healthy meals.
Unhealthy food is widely advertised– It’s not to say that we are all robots who will do whatever we are told by the big food manufacturers, but have you noticed how many fatty and sugary foods and drinks are advertised on TV and in magazines. If you have ever had to drag your child away from the confectionery stand in the supermarket you will understand exactly how powerful these adverts are.
Genetics– This is often a controversial subject, but studies have shown that genetics can be a strong influence on whether someone is predisposed to gaining weight or not. Being overweight tends to run in families, though we should not forget that this may partly be due to activity and eating habits within the family unit. Genes do determine where you store fat on your body, and how much fat you do store however.
Some health conditions are linked to weight gain– hormonal problems such as an underactive thyroid and polycystic ovary syndrome may cause weight gain. The thyroid controls metabolism and if the thyroid isn’t producing enough of the hormone it needs to do this, your metabolism slows down and you will gain weight. Polycystic ovaries are caused by a hormonal imbalance and this results in weight gain.
Medication can cause weight gain- Medications such as steroids and antidepressants can cause you to put on weight. Such medications can increase your appetite or make you retain water.
Emotional eating– Some people use food as a comfort when they are bored or upset. Extra calories taken in when the body doesn’t need them leads to weight gain.
Quitting Smoking- Some people gain weight when they stop smoking. Smoking suppresses the appetite and when you quit, you can notice an increase in your appetite. But gaining a few pounds is not a health risk compared to smoking.
We gain weight as we age– age-related muscle loss can lead to weight gain, as muscle requires more calories to maintain it. If you aren’t as active as you used to be but you’re still consuming the same amount of calories, you will gain weight. Hormonal changes lead to the familiar ‘middle age spread’, abdominal weight gain that particularly affects women after the menopause.
Pregnancy causes weight gain– Weight gain during pregnancy is normal and required for the healthy development of the baby, but many women fail to lose the weight afterwards, then gain more weight in subsequent pregnancies, and the cycle repeats itself.
Lack of Sleep means we are more likely to be overweight– Research shows that being sleep deprived increases our risk of obesity. If we lose sleep, we are tired and this often leads to us making the wrong food choices. We choose sugary and fatty foods that we think will ‘perk us up’.
The health risks of being overweight
We know that being overweight can cause serious health problems, including diabetes, high blood pressure, heart disease, osteoarthritis, sleep apnoea and some cancers.
Type 2 diabetes is largely caused by lifestyle factors and a change in lifestyle is often one of the recommended first line treatments when you visit your Doctor. In diabetics, the blood sugar or glucose is higher than normal. Over time, having excess sugar in the blood can cause heart disease, kidney damage, stroke, gangrene and problems with the eyes. Risk factors for diabetes as well as being overweight include being inactive, having a poor diet and carrying excess abdominal fat. Being overweight can cause a condition called insulin resistance. This means that excess blood sugar can’t be absorbed by the cells of the body. So the excess glucose is left to float around in the bloodstream where it causes damage. Losing weight and exercising can help your body become more efficient at using up the excess sugar in the blood.
High blood pressure can have no symptoms, but it can cause serious problems, such as heart disease and stroke if left untreated. If you are overweight, your heart needs to pump harder to get the blood around your body. Weight loss and changes to your diet, particularly reducing salt intake and quitting smoking will all help to reduce your blood pressure. If lifestyle changes have no impact on your blood pressure, you may need medication. High blood pressure can be hereditary.
Heart disease is an umbrella term for certain conditions that can affect your heart. A common problem is a narrowing and hardening of the arteries. This can reduce blood flow back to the heart. This can cause a heart attack to occur as not enough blood or oxygen is getting to the heart for it to function normally. If you are overweight, you have an increased risk of conditions that can lead to heart disease, such as high blood pressure and high blood glucose. Losing weight will improve circulation and your heart won’t have to work as hard.
A stroke happens when the flow of blood to a part of your brain is interrupted, either by a blood clot or when a blood vessel in the brain bursts. High blood pressure is a major cause of strokes, so controlling your blood pressure is very important.
Being overweight increases the risk of developing some cancers, including breast cancer, colon cancer, kidney cancer and cancer of the uterus. Cancer is an out of control growth of cells which damage healthy tissues. Research has implicated fat cells in having a role in cell growth which can lead to cancer. Healthy eating habits and staying active can reduce the risk of cancer.
Sleep apnoea is a condition where someone actually stops breathing in their sleep momentarily. The condition can make someone feel very tired as they don’t get a restful sleep and it can even cause heart failure. If someone is carrying excess weight, they are more likely to have this condition. They may have fat stored around the neck which will make put pressure on the airway, restricting it and making breathing more difficult.
Osteoarthritis is a condition that causes pain and stiffness in the joints. You will often hear it referred to as ‘wear and tear’. It is related to aging, injury or being overweight. The extra weight puts pressure on the joints and the other connective tissues. Losing weight will reduce the strain on the joints. Becoming more active can reduce pain and increase joint mobility.
What are typical weight control measures?
Exercise can help to control our weight. Current guidance says that we need to be moderately active for 150 minutes per week. This means doing an activity such as brisk walking. It is also advised that you do some form of strength and conditioning training twice per week.
To ensure your diet is as healthy as possible, fill half of your plate with vegetables and choose whole grains instead of white bread and pasta. Ensure you eat lean protein such as lean cuts of meat, beans, nuts and seeds.
But there is something else that is often touted as a weight loss aid, and is an essential part of a healthy diet. Our body needs it to function, mentally and physically…you guessed it, water.
Drinking water is a natural and inexpensive way to nourish ourselves and control our weight. It helps keep the skin plump and helps our bodies function in the best way they can.
Being dehydrated can result in weight gain. The sensors in the brain for thirst and hunger are very close together so if you allow yourself to become dehydrated, the body can get confused and think that you’re hungry.
Drinking plenty of water can help the body break food down and properly use the nutrients. It also helps flush out toxins which have accumulated in the body.
If we are dehydrated, our organs don’t function as well either, particularly the liver which is the main organ in the body for detoxification.
The best way to use water for weight loss is to drink it throughout the day in 8-16 ounce servings. Drinking water prior to meals improves digestion and can also fill the stomach, causing you to eat less. Water is a great appetite suppressant in general, but it’s additional detoxifying benefits aid weight loss as well. Weight gain caused by water retention can be remedied by drinking more water. It might seem counter- intuitive to take on more water but the more dehydrated the body is, the more it will hold onto water.
Get into the habit of kickstarting your metabolism and hydration levels first thing in the morning with a glass of warm water with a slice of lemon.
What does the research say?
A research study from Virginia showed that drinking water before every meal promoted weight loss. 2 glasses of water appears to be the optimum amount for weight loss. Studies were based around middle aged and older people so there is more scope for expanding the trials to younger people. Study participants consumed around 90 calories less after they had drank the water. This might not sound like a lot but it would create a healthy calorie deficit over time.
There’s also the fact that if people are drinking water, they aren’t drinking sugar-laden calorific sodas that can pile on the pounds. Our intake of sugary drinks has increased dramatically in recent years, and this is blamed for the increasing level of obesity.
Another study went further and combined the water drinking with a low calorie diet. Participants were divided into 2 groups, one who drank 2 cups of water prior to a meal and the other group who didn’t. Every participant followed a low calorie diet plan throughout the study period. After 12 weeks, the group who drank water lost 15.5 pounds, compared to the group who didn’t drink water, who only lost 11 pounds. The group who drank water also kept the weight off after a year. Some of them even continued to lose weight.
Water has no calories and it makes you feel full. If you drink more water and less sugary soda, you are bound to lose weight. It’s not some sort of magic weight loss remedy but it can play a role in detoxifying the body and helping our system to function as well as it can. Even diet sodas are okay, according to the scientist who carried out the study, as these can also fill up the stomach. The only concern would be that the artificial sweeteners can warp our tastebuds and lead to possible sweet cravings.
The ‘8 glasses of water per day’ rule might be a myth. Experts say that you should let your thirst guide you. Obviously you will need to take on more water to replenish the body’s stores if you exercise a lot or you live in a hot climate. The recommendation from the researchers involved in the study is that women drink 9 cups of water per day and men drink about 13 cups.
Though remember there is such a thing as having too much of a good thing. If you drink too much water, it can cause a serious condition called hyponatraemia, which upsets the balance of sodium in the body. This can cause confusion, nausea, disorientation and even swelling of the brain.
It seems like every day there are new products, diets or exercise fads designed to help us lose weight. Sadly, most of these ‘miracle’ products are expensive, don’t really work or they are unsustainable.
We waste time and money on these new solutions when often, the answer to staying healthy and maintaining a healthy weight is right in front of us all along.
Drinking water to stay healthy is nothing new. We know that being hydrated keeps our skin healthy and keeps our system running as well as it can. Our bodies are made up of 70% water, it is the stuff of life.
Water is the best diet product going. What other product or foodstuff hydrates your body, improves the look of your skin and all of this for 0 calories?
Research into weight management is complex and wide-ranging, and it may be hard to accept that the key to maintaining a healthy body weight is as simple as drinking a glass of water. But maybe it really is.