The Burden of Unnecessary Weight

The burden of unnecessary weight

The burden of unnecessary weight will arguably be the largest global public health concern over the next century. There was a time when food was hard to come by, and people had to work hard to obtain it. Obesity was only seen amongst the wealthy privileged classes, and so a disease like diabetes was rare. Two things have happened in the past hundred years or so which has changed much in most of the developed world. Firstly, wealth has increased so that food is no longer difficult to obtain, and there has been a significant increase in readily available and cheap high-calorie foods. Worryingly, while this has been the staple diet of the masses in the developed world for decades, it is becoming increasingly commonplace in the developing world. This article will focus on the basics of weight gain. What obesity is, its harms, and how it can be managed, will be tackled at a later date.

To help understand weight issues, we can start off with a few basics. There are three important things to consider: 1) how much we take in, 2) how much (energy) we use up, and 3) how fast we process energy, which is our personal metabolic rate.

So, to gain weight, we have to consume more than we use up. We gain weight faster if our personal metabolic rate is slow, because when it’s slow it means we use up the energy much more slowly and end up storing more of the energy as fat since it isn't being used up. There are no hard and fast rules as each individual is unique. Furthermore, our personal metabolic rate changes as we get older and if our bodies change, for example, during and after pregnancy, or if we gain (unnecessary) weight.

Let’s look at each of the three aspects in a little more detail:

1) Intake: Everything we eat and drink contributes to how many calories we consume. We have to choose the food we eat including type, portion size, how often, etc. carefully. Even many drinks are calorie-rich, including sugary fizzy drinks and fruit juices.

2) Output: There is a certain amount that we use up every day (see metabolic rate below). Furthermore, physical activities will help us to do 3 things: use up more of the calories we've consumed, burn off excess fat, and increase our personal metabolic rate. We should try to aim for 150 minutes of aerobic activity each week, for example 30 minutes for 5 days of the week. The exercise time starts when we notice our breathing becoming faster, we start to sweat, and our heart rate picks up pace. Activities can include brisk walking, swimming and running.

3) Metabolic rate: this is predetermined, but we can change it a little by exercising. If we have a slow rate, we should be very careful about what we eat and how much as it is going to be difficult to burn it off. We should also take on more exercise than even the recommended amount, but remember to build up exercise tolerance slowly. Many people complain that they eat little but still put on weight – it’s unfortunate that their metabolic rate is so slow but if they are putting on weight, it means they are eating too much for their needs and need to cut down how much they eat and exercise more.

With this basic understanding of weight gain (and loss), we can work on making changes to take back control of our weight. The above points will be discussed in more detail in the coming weeks with practical steps in how to make, and maintain, changes, if Allah SWT wills.

Disclaimer: the above article denotes the professional medical opinion of the author, and the general advice contained therein should not be used in isolation as personal medical advice. It is always recommended that you see a medical professional such as your own GP for any personal matters.


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