Obesity and Its Impact

Beyond the Scale: Understanding obesity and its impact. | 4 min read

In today’s health-conscious society, the conversation around obesity often gets bogged down in numbers and scales. However, the true essence of tackling obesity lies in weight loss and fostering a healthier future for individuals. Obesity is a complex, chronic health issue that impacts millions worldwide, not merely affecting physical appearance but profoundly influencing overall health, mental well-being, and quality of life.

The health implications of obesity

We all know that with being overweight and obese comes a myriad of health issues. Excess body fat increases the risk of developing type 2 diabetes, heart disease, high blood pressure, certain cancers (endometrial, breast and colon), fatty liver and stroke, to name a few. It can also lead to obstructive sleep apnoea and osteoarthritis, making daily activities challenging and impacting the quality of life. Obesity also has a profound effect on a woman’s fertility. Not only does it affect the chances of conceiving, but it also impacts the risks of maternal and foetal complications during pregnancy and labour. On a psychological level, obesity can contribute to low self-esteem, depression and anxiety.  

While obesity and the negative health consequences affect both men and women, being obese has been shown to take a particular toll on men, affecting, amongst other things, their hormones, sexuality, and prostate health. 

The role of sleep in weight management

Sleep plays a pivotal role in managing weight. A lack of sleep can disrupt hormonal balances, specifically increasing ghrelin (the hunger hormone) and decreasing leptin (the hormone that signals fullness), leading to increased appetite and weight gain. Furthermore, insufficient sleep can reduce motivation for physical activity and increase cravings for high-calorie foods.

Diseases contributing to weight gain

Certain medical conditions can predispose individuals to weight gain, complicating the obesity issue. Conditions such as hypothyroidism, polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS), depression, and Cushing’s syndrome directly affect metabolism or appetite, leading to an increased risk of obesity. Medications for these conditions can also contribute to weight gain.

Mental health and obesity: A two-way street

The connection between mental health and obesity is profound. Obesity can contribute to low self-esteem, depression and anxiety, while mental health disorders can increase the risk of becoming obese. Emotional eating, low energy levels, and decreased motivation for physical activity are common in individuals struggling with mental health issues, contributing to weight gain.

Strategies to maintain a healthy weight

Preventing obesity requires a multifaceted approach that goes beyond dieting to include healthy, sustainable lifestyle changes and mindset shifts:

  1. Adopt a balanced diet: Focus on nutrient-rich foods 

over calorie-dense options. Meal prepping for the week ahead on a Sunday is a simple way to eat more nutritious foods instead of constantly getting takeout and fast food.

  1. Stay physically active: Aside from dieting, exercising is one of the most common ways to shed extra kilos. Aim for at least 150 minutes of moderate aerobic or 75 minutes of vigorous activity each week.
  2. Prioritise sleep: Ensure 7-9 hours of quality sleep per night to regulate hunger hormones.
  3. Manage stress: High stress can lead to emotional eating; find healthy outlets like exercise or meditation.
  4. Stay hydrated: Sometimes thirst is confused with hunger; drinking water can prevent unnecessary snacking.
  5. Seek support: Whether from family, friends, or professionals, support is crucial in maintaining healthy lifestyle changes.

Instead of focusing on how your weight is affected, concentrate on positive changes and engaging in healthy activities. Prioritising the adoption of healthy lifestyle habits that influence long-term eating and exercise patterns is more beneficial than depending on medicine such as Glucagon-Like Peptide 1 receptor (GLP1) agonists (e.g. semuglutide), which may have dubious long-term effectiveness, carry high costs, and pose potential adverse effects.

Foods that support a healthy weight

Choosing a diet that works for you and your body is essential. Incorporating certain foods into your diet can play a significant role in preventing obesity:

  1. Leafy greens: High in fibre and low in calories, enhance the feeling of fullness.
  2. Whole grains: Rich in fibre, they help maintain stable blood sugar levels, reducing hunger.
  3. Nuts and seeds: Though high in calories, they are nutrient-dense and promote satiety.
  4. Lean proteins: Foods like chicken, fish, and legumes can keep you full longer and maintain muscle mass.
  5. Berries: Low in calories but high in fibre and antioxidants.
  6. Yoghurt: Greek yoghurt is exceptionally high in protein and supports gut health.

You may have encountered a bias that portrays obesity as a personal choice or a moral failure. If you’re looking for medical advice regarding obesity, chances are you’ve already made several attempts to manage it on your own.

The encouraging news is that ongoing research leads to medical breakthroughs that offer new hope for treating obesity. It may require some exploration to find the right approach for you, but with the support of your healthcare provider, you can regain control of your health. Even a tiny amount of weight loss can positively affect your overall health, and making healthy diet and lifestyle changes can lead to long-term benefits. 

Sources and references consulted

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