Managing weighty goals

  • Health
  • Sunday, 09 Feb 2003

HOOI YOU CHING finds out why you should lose weight and explores some of the problems inherent in any weight loss attempt

HOW many of us are guilty of making New Year Dissolutions? Yes, that annual ritual of making new resolutions swearing off smoking, junk food and slothfulness, only to find yourself breaking every resolution, especially the one on losing weight, year after year.  

A study by the American Cancer Society has shown that prostate and colorectal cancer is higher in obese men, while cancers of the uterus, cervix and ovary have a higher prevalence in obese women. Also, post-menopausal obese women are said to be at greater risk for breast cancer.  

So, the next time you step onto the scales, and find the needle pointing 7kg to 10kg in the wrong direction, you know it’s time to seriously do battle with the bulge. Unfortunately, many people are losing the battle instead of the bulge.  

Says Pauline Low, who is Weight Management Information Centre (WMIC) executive director, the majority of us who want to lose weight are constantly making recycled resolutions that have little impact or effect few positive changes in our lifestyle.  

“Many people keep repeating the same pledge to lose five, 10 or even 25kg year after year but to no avail. One of the reasons most people fail to achieve their goals of losing weight is because they started off their efforts without asking one very important question: ‘Am I ready?’” 

According to Low, those who want to shed the kilos and keep in shape should think about their reasons for wanting to lose weight and decide if these motivations are strong enough for a long-term commitment.  

Five pounds of body fat - imagine having 10 times the amount of that in excess your body.

“You have to ask yourself, are you dieting to get in shape so you can easily slip into that swimsuit hanging in the closet or because the doctor told you your next heart attack could be fatal?  

“Being overweight and obese can lead to many types of life-threatening diseases such as heart disease, Type 2 diabetes, stroke and hypertension. It also substantially raises the risk of illness from high cholesterol, gallbladder diseases and arthritis. 

“Weight loss that is more permanent is more often the result of long-term health considerations than short-term goals such as an upcoming class reunion,” says Low at a press briefing on How To Keep Your Weight Management Goals

She explains that it is important to contemplate recent changes in life as these new situations can determine the success of one’s weight management goals.  

“If you’ve just gone through an important change in your life – marriage, divorce, a new job or a new baby – it is good to consider postponing changes in your diet and exercise habits. Individuals should ask themselves ‘Can I cope with one more change?’” 

Studies have shown that anxiety due to emotional triggers tends to be counter-productive to weight loss programmes. When one keeps dwelling on negative emotions, one is distracted from goals and left with little energy for exercise or cultivating healthy eating habits.  

Furthermore, a highly stressed person is usually aversive and inattentive towards their dieting plan. In fact, depression can cause weight gain as a result of individuals going on a binge. 

“People fail in their quest because they want to lose weight in the largest of volumes in the quickest time. They expect quick results from their weight management plan, which means a faster exit from their restrictive diet.  

Pauline Low says that a balanced diet based on the food pyramid and regular exercise is essential to fight the bulge.

“That is not being realistic. If you expect to lose more than 1kg a week, you’re setting yourself up for failure. On the other hand, half or up to 1kg per week is the recommended healthy weight loss,” says Low, adding that for diets to work, they shouldn’t be viewed as a temporary measure but rather as a life-long commitment. 

Low, who is a physiotherapist by training, says that exercise is important in any weight-loss programme. However, when it comes to dealing with weight problems, she laments the fact that many individuals lack willpower.  

She believes that people should stick to their intentions instead of making excuses why dieting and exercise aren’t flushing the fat.  

“There are no short-cuts to weight loss. You have to include exercise as part of your weight-management regime to expend your calorie intake. Therefore, you have to ask yourself honestly whether you are willing to include walking, jogging or any type of physical exercise as a permanent feature in your daily life,” she says. 

Before one embarks on a weight loss plan, one is encouraged to discuss goals with family members. Low observes that a supportive and understanding social network of family and friends creates a positive reaction in the dieter.  

“Talk over your plans with your loved ones. What are their expectations and fears? For instance, your spouse may worry that your new slim figure will make you more attractive to others. It is good to know how others react, whether you want them to cheer you on, nag you when you lapse or just leave you alone.”  

The importance of losing weight has been constantly reiterated by health experts. In a booklet published by WMIC (which is a non-profit association of health professionals whose interest lie in the study of weight problems), it states that obesity triggers hormonal abnormalities in humans. Testosterone levels are decreased in men while obese women have a higher incidence of menstrual irregularities.  

In terms of cardiovascular risk factors, epidemiological studies show that there is a 3mmHg increase in systolic and 2mmHg increase in diastolic blood pressure for every 10kg increase in body weight above normal. For every 10% increase in relative weight, there is an estimated 6.5mmHg increase in systemic blood pressure. 

The National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey II conducted by the US-based Centre for Health Statistics revealed that obese people have an almost three-fold increased risk of hypertension and a nearly two-fold increased risk of high cholesterol compared with normal weight subjects.  

Data from the same study also showed that Type 2 non-insulin-dependent diabetes mellitus is three times more common in the obese. Furthermore, increased stress on weight-bearing joints in obese patients results in progressive degenerative disease like osteoarthritis.  

When you compare the risks of health problems against the advantages of weight management, more should be done to invest in the latter.  

For example, a weight loss of 5% to 10% can result in significant benefits to your health, such as a reduction in blood pressure, blood glucose (if you’re diabetic), cholesterol and triglyceride levels as well as improving the way you feel and look.  

Strategies for weight management 

  • MAKE health, not appearance, your weight management priority. 

  • Focus on healthy eating, not on dieting. 

  • Have a balanced diet from the food pyramid. For example, eight 12 to servings of carbohydrates such as bread, rice and cereal should form the basis of a healthy diet. One should consume at least three to five servings of fruits and greens while two to three servings of fish, poultry, meat and legumes are adequate. One to two servings of milk and dairy product is recommended.  

  • Experts recommend a combined total of 30 minutes of mild to moderate physical activity, three to four times a day. Before beginning any exercise programme, be sure to consult your physician.  

  • Prescription medication may be part of a weight management programme for obese patients. Consult your physician and dietitian about possible side-effects and efficacy of drug therapies. 

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