Obesity has become one of the greatest health threats facing women, as it is linked to many serious diseases that result in premature death. Over two-thirds of adults are overweight and nearly one-quarter obese. Children, and adolescents are becoming increasingly overweight and obese, resulting in diseases and a predicted shortened life expectancy.
There are several methods used to determine whether a person is overweight or obese. The most commonly used method is the body mass index (BMI), which com- pares your height and weight to a standard. To calculate your BMI, take your weight in kilograms and divide that by your height in metres squared (Kg/m2).
A BMI between 18.9 and 24.9 is considered normal, a BMI between 25 and 29.9 is classified as overweight and a BMI greater than 30 indicates obesity. Studies have shown that the greater the BMI, the greater the risk of developing health problems, such as heart disease and diabetes. A drawback of this method is that it does not look at body composition (amount of fat), which is an important determinant of disease risk.
Women with more than 30 percent body fat are considered obese and at significant risk of developing health problems. Recommended ranges of body fat are 15–25 percent for women.
Numerous studies have found that women who maintain a lean body live longer, suffer less disease, and enjoy a better quality of life. If you are overweight or obese, it is important to know that even small losses can improve your health when you lose weight. Women can by just losing 10–15 percent of excess weight reduce their blood pressure, blood sugar, cholesterol, and triglycerides.
SIGNS & SYMPTOMS Of BEING OVERWEIGHT
• Fatigue and lethargy
• Increased body fat
• Shortness of breath
Note: Those women who are carrying excess weight are at increased risk of developing heart disease, cancer, diabetes, and the complications that come with these diseases. Excess weight also increases one’s risk of breathing disorders, gall bladder disease, sexual dysfunction, osteoarthritis, and stroke. The emotional consequences—low self-esteem, depression, and anxiety—can be just as serious. In order to lose weight, women need to be aware of the risk factors that contribute to weight gain.
• Excess calorie intake; poor dietary choices
• Hormonal imbalances (high insulin; low thyroid, testosterone, DHEA, or growth hormone)
• Lack of physical activity
• Lack of sleep (increases appetite and promotes food cravings)
• Low metabolic rate (rate at which calories are burned at rest)
• Medications (antidepressants and hormones)
• Stress (causes hormonal alterations that increase appetite and reduce metabolism)
Lifestyle changes should be the first approach to lose weight. Women, in cases where this isn’t enough, may be prescribed a drug to help promote weight loss. Sibutramine is an appetite suppressant. Side effects include high blood pressure, irregular heartbeat, seizures, nervousness, anxiety, tremors, and insomnia. Orlistat is a fat blocker that reduces absorption of fat from meals. This product may cause loose stools, fecal incontinence, abdominal cramps, and nausea.
If a hormonal disorder (such as low thyroid) is suspected, you may be referred to an endocrinologist.
For women who are extremely obese and at risk of serious health consequences, and where lifestyle changes or drugs have not helped, a surgical procedure may be done to reduce the size of the stomach.
For most women, sensible lifestyle changes can often help you lose weight. Women need to adopt the following tips to lose and maintain a healthy weight.
Avoid fad diets. There is no good evidence supporting safety and efficacy, and some can be dangerous. For example, the once popular low-carb diets lead to nutrient deficiencies, constipation, depression, and bad breath. A detoxification program, such as a juice cleanse, can eliminate stored toxins and help the body recover from addictions, such as sugar. This should be done only for a few days and under the supervision of a health professional because drastically reducing calorie intake can lead to nutrient deficiencies, muscle wasting, fatigue, and a reduced metabolism.
Foods to include:
• Quality proteins, such as lean meat, poultry, fish, beans, soy products, nuts, and seeds are essential for building and maintaining muscle mass, which drives our metabolism. The recommended amount of protein is based on body weight and activity level. For the average person, a daily intake of 0.8 to 1 g per kilogram, or 0.5 g per pound of body weight is adequate. Body-builders and those involved in intense exercise require more protein.
• Nutrient-dense, low-glycemic carbohydrates such as fresh fruits, vegetables, legumes (beans, peas, and lentils) and whole grains (multigrain breads, brown rice/pasta, oats, and flaxseed) are high in fibre, which fills us up and aids digestion and elimination. Fibre also balances blood sugar and insulin levels, which is important in regulating appetite and energy levels to help lose weight. Women should aim for five to 10 servings of fruits, vegetables, and legumes and two servings of grains daily.
• Healthy fats such as those found in cold-water fish, olive oil, nuts, and seeds provide us with essential fatty acids (healthy fats), which are essential for health and disease prevention.
To lose weight, women should eat five times daily: three small meals and two snacks between meals. This will help keep metabolism and energy levels high. Do not skip meals as this can increase appetite, reduce metabolism, and lead to binge eating.
Foods to avoid:
• Processed and fast foods, candy, cookies, and sweets are high in sugar and fat calories and low in nutritional value.
• Limit refined grains (white bread/pasta/rice) as these foods are broken down quickly into sugar, causing fluctuations in blood sugar and insulin levels, which can increase appetite and promote fat storage.
• Avoid saturated and hydrogenated fats, which are high in calories, promote weight gain, and are linked to heart disease and cancer.
• Reduce alcohol intake as these drinks are high in empty calories.
• Cut down on salt as using the salt-shaker and eating salty snack foods and processed foods can cause fluid retention.
To help lose weight, women need to adopt these lifestyle suggestions
• Boost your activity level: Regular physical activity is essential to achieving a healthy body weight. Aim for 30 minutes to one hour of moderate-intensity activity daily. Do a combi- nation of:
- Cardiovascular activities such as walking, cycling, and swimming, which promote fat loss by burning calories and stored fat.
- Resistance activities (working out with weights, exercise bands/tubes, or machines) help to build lean muscle mass, which will elevate your metabolic rate so that you burn more calories.
- Stretching promotes flexibility and relaxation, and reduces injuries. Spend at least five minutes stretching your muscles after a workout.
• Reduce stress, which can trigger appetite and food cravings and increases the production of cortisol, a hormone that promotes fat storage around the abdomen.
• Get adequate sleep as lack of sleep increases production of the hormone ghrelin, which stimulates appetite and can also reduce production of growth hormone, an important regulator of our metabolism.
If you have decided to lose weight, women should set reasonable goals, make small, gradual changes to their lifestyle, and be patient as it takes time to lose weight, but the rewards are worthwhile.