Struggles with weight are a very common human experience, and growing even moreso. 40% of Americans are currently considered obese, with that number expected to rise to 50% by 2030. For people who are overweight, it can be a constant battle to feel at home in their own bodies, and losing weight can be very difficult for a number of reasons. However, while everybody is different and being on the heavy side can result from a variety of different factors which are not always within your control, carrying a few extra pounds isn’t always just an aesthetic concern.
Being overweight or obese (generally speaking, a body mass index [BMI] of over 30) has been associated with a wide range of other health problems which may be able to be treated or alleviated through even moderate weight loss.
There are a number of interconnected factors which may affect your risk of obesity but, broadly speaking, it results from an imbalance between the amount of calories you are taking in and the amount that you are burning.
Typically obesity describes a body mass index of over 30. You can calculate your BMI by dividing your weight in pounds by your height in inches squared and multiplying by 703. This provides most people with a decent estimate of their level of body fat but is not a precise or absolute measure – some people who are heavily muscled may register as obese on this scale.
If you are experiencing symptoms such as shortness of breath, lack of energy, or other concerning health issues related to obesity, you should contact your doctor.
Obesity is typically the result of an array of factors. Some of the most common contributors include:
Genetics: Heredity is one obesity contributor over which we, unfortunately, have no control. Your genetic makeup affects where you store body fat and how much you store, as well as your metabolism and appetite.
Lifestyle: Obesity is more likely among those who eat an unhealthy diet, drink alcohol, don’t get enough sleep, and/or live a sedentary lifestyle without regular exercise.
Socioeconomic Status: The sad truth is that poorer people are far more likely to be obese due to factors including access to healthy food and exercise.
Stress: There is a strong link between emotional stress and obesity, as stress can contribute to emotional eating and cravings for unhealthy foods. Stress can also interfere with your sleep patterns, which may contribute to weight gain.
Medical Issues: Some diseases and medications can cause weight gain, and any ailment which makes it difficult to exercise – such as back pain or arthritis – is also likely to make it more challenging to maintain a healthy weight.
Age: Obesity is not limited to any particular age group, but usually as you age your body will store less muscle mass, which slows your metabolism and increases the risk of weight gain.
Gender: More women than men are considered seriously obese.
Race: Obesity is most common in black and Hispanic adults.
The first step in diagnosing obesity is a review of your medical history and the medical history of your family to identify a genetic component. A physical exam may be performed, as well as a waistline measurement and calculation of BMI. Your doctor will review any medical symptoms that may be related to weight gain, and blood work may also be done to test for cholesterol, glucose levels, or other indicators.
Paunel Vukasinov, MD, board-certified in obesity medicine, works with patients to help them find a path to a healthier lifestyle.
Improved Diet: Dietary modification can be approached in a number of ways including cutting calories, reducing intake of certain foods, and reaching for healthier options. A Mediterranean diet, high in lean proteins, healthy oils, and fresh fruits and vegetables, is often advisable. Your doctor can help you create a meal plan that will help you lose weight.
Exercise: Moving your body is key to keeping your weight in check. This can be as simple as going for a brisk walk each day. Try to get in at least a half hour of physical activity every day.
Medication: There are prescription medications available that may help you lose weight, but keep in mind that these should not be treated as a simple one-size-fits-all solution and must be used in conjunction with healthy diet, exercise, and other appropriate lifestyle changes.
Mental Healthcare: Stress can be a major factor in weight gain, and mental health should be considered as an important part of the equation. Counseling, meditation, and alternative therapies such as acupuncture may be useful in losing weight. Don’t be afraid to reach out to others for help and support. Self-acceptance and setting realistic goals are also key. Remember: loving your body makes you more likely to treat it well.
Surgery: Bariatric surgery may be an option for some people who have had a difficult time losing weight. Procedures such as gastric bypass or sleeve gastrectomy can help lose a large amount of body weight in a short period of time, but it’s important to maintain a healthy regimen in the long-term to keep off the extra pounds.
Losing the extra weight and keeping it off can be a real challenge, and there’s no quick fix or switch you can flip to stay at a healthy weight. The most basic necessity is to continue getting regular exercise and eating a healthy diet, even after you’ve reached your goal weight.
Statistically, a higher BMI is often associated with a shorter lifespan, with a BMI of 25-35 tending to reduce life expectancy by 2-4 years and a BMI reducing life expectancy by 8-10 years (similar to smoking). Obesity increases your risk of several medical issues, including:
Obesity can overlap and interact with a wide range of medical conditions, including high blood pressure, diabetes, osteoarthritis, and heart disease.