Our habits and behaviours play a major role in determining our health. This is even truer when it comes to chronic and complex conditions like obesity. You must have heard doctors and fitness gurus say that lifestyle changes are the best way to treat obesity. Why is this so? What role does your lifestyle play in the development of obesity? What other treatment options are available for managing obesity? Let’s understand the importance of forming healthy habits and routines for treating obesity and transforming your health.
You can calculate your BMI by using the following formula:
Body Mass Index = Weight in kilograms ÷ Height in meters2
The main cause of obesity can be explained as consuming more calories than your body can burn. These excess calories then get stored in your body in the form of fat.
However, obesity is a multifactorial disease that is influenced by many aspects, which include:
As weight gain is caused by consuming more calories or energy than you burn or spend, lifestyle habits and family history become major contributors to weight gain and obesity in most individuals.
When talking about family history, the general assumption is that it refers to the genetic likelihood of inheriting a condition like obesity from parents. Most people fail to realise that family history also comprises the environmental factors present during childhood and behaviours that are learnt from close family members.
The lifestyle habits of the parents have a significant impact on the habits of children as they grow up. Most children have similar dietary habits and activity levels as their parents. Similarly, studies have also shown that children of parents who smoke or consume alcohol are twice as likely to pick up these habits from their parents later in life. This, along with a predisposition to obesity, which also runs in families, can affect your weight both as a child and an adult.
Thus, the habits and behaviours we are surrounded by as children can influence our behaviour and lifestyle as adults. Children of individuals with obesity are thus more likely to develop the condition due to genetics and behavioural risk factors learned from parents or family members at a young age.
The following are some of the key lifestyle factors that can contribute to weight gain and obesity:
Your dietary habits are a crucial aspect of managing obesity. Consuming foods that are rich in simple carbohydrates, saturated or trans fats, and added sugar is one of the primary causes of weight gain in most individuals.
Controlling your calorie intake is one of the easiest ways to lose weight. However, when talking about restricted calorie intake, it is important to not overdo it. Fad diets that severely restrict your food intake can do more harm than good as they often eliminate whole groups of foods from your diet. This could result in nutritional deficiencies, leading to several health issues.
Try to avoid foods that are rich in simple carbohydrates and empty calories, and instead replace them with nutrient-rich foods that are made up of protein, fibre, healthy fats, and complex carbohydrates.
Portion control is also key to losing weight through diet. Knowing how much food you need to consume per meal is just as important as knowing which foods to eat. Portion control along with a well-balanced diet can help you manage your weight in a healthy and sustainable way. Consult your doctor or a nutritionist to formulate a healthy diet plan that works for you.
Regular exercise and an active lifestyle are other key aspects of weight management. Exercise helps you burn more calories and boost your metabolism, both of which are essential for weight loss. Additionally, exercise also helps you avoid chronic illnesses and the complications associated with them.
Most experts recommend at least 30 to 60 min. of moderate-intensity physical activity every day, for 5 days a week to lose weight. If you are not used to exercising, start with multiple 10 to 15 min sessions and build up to 60 min of exercise gradually.
Include different types of exercise like cardio, strength training, and flexibility exercises for an overall improvement in your physical fitness. Consult a fitness expert or a physiotherapist to formulate an exercise plan that promotes sustainable weight loss.
When you are stressed, your body releases a hormone called cortisol in response. Cortisol can lead to insulin resistance in your cells, as well as redistribution of fat around your abdomen, both of which can contribute to obesity.
Chronic stress can also give rise to unhealthy coping mechanisms like binge eating, smoking, excessive alcohol consumption, sedentary lifestyle, disturbed sleep, etc., all of which can contribute to weight gain.
Thus, managing stress in a healthy way is important for treating obesity. Practising relaxation techniques like deep breathing exercises, meditation, yoga, etc., or making more time for hobbies and socialisation can also help you lower your stress levels.
If you are concerned about stress and its effects on your health, discuss it with your family and friends, or with medical professionals like your doctor or a psychologist.
Though they may appear unrelated on the surface, your weight is closely tied to the duration and quality of your sleep. Sleep deprivation, however minor, can lead to an increase in the amount of stress hormone (cortisol) and hunger hormone (ghrelin) released in your body. This can lead to an increased appetite and overeating, which may cause weight gain.
Doctors recommend 7 to 9 hours of sleep every night to maintain your weight and for optimum health. Regular exercise, relaxation techniques, switching off electronic devices an hour before bed, and practising good sleep hygiene can help you sleep better. If you are still experiencing trouble falling or staying asleep, discuss it with your doctor.
The nicotine in tobacco smoke can cause insulin resistance in your cells and accumulation of fat around the abdomen. Though smoking may initially cause weight loss due to appetite suppression, it can lead to obesity in the long term. Studies have found that heavy smokers and chronic smokers are more likely to be obese when compared to light smokers or non-smokers.
Quitting smoking can have several health benefits, weight loss being one of them. If you are trying to quit tobacco use, you can consult a physician, psychologist, or a de-addiction specialist who can help you formulate a plan of action.
Regular and excessive alcohol consumption can affect the way your body stores and burns fat. Also, most types of alcohol that are made from starch or sugars (wine, beer, ciders, etc.) are high in calories. Thus, regular consumption may lead to obesity.
Alcohol can increase your appetite and also cause you to make unhealthy food choices, both of which can also contribute to weight gain. Thus, avoiding or limiting alcohol consumption can help you in managing your weight.
There are other treatment options for obesity that involve medical intervention to induce weight loss. Your doctor will consider recommending the following options only if you have been unable to lose weight with lifestyle changes:
Prescription medications that can suppress appetite (liraglutide, sibutramine, phentermine) or alter the way your body absorbs fat (orlistat, beta-methylphenethylamine) are used in the treatment of obesity.
These medicines may cause side effects like headaches, heartburn, constipation, abdominal pain or discomfort, loss of bowel control, tiredness, etc and it is best to take them up only after medical advice.
Also, consult your doctor before taking any herbal remedies or dietary supplements that claim to aid in weight loss.
Recently, several devices have been approved by medical agencies for managing obesity. These devices are usually implanted into your stomach or abdomen through minimally invasive surgical procedures. These devices include:
These devices often cause side effects like abdominal discomfort, back pain, nausea, vomiting, digestion issues, heartburn, infections, etc.
Weight loss surgery or bariatric surgery includes making changes to your gastrointestinal tract to reduce the amount of food you can eat and also decrease the number of calories and nutrients that are absorbed from your food.
Side effects of bariatric surgery include chronic nausea and vomiting, bowel obstruction, acid reflux, heartburn, infections, etc.
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