Weight is assessed by taking a person’s body mass index (BMI) - this is your weight in kilograms divided by your height in metres squared. Ideal BMI is 18.5-25. If your BMI is between 25-29 you are ‘overweight’. If your BMI is between 30-40 you are ‘obese’. A person with a BMI over 40 is termed ‘morbidly obese’. The latest data from the *NHS Information Centre reveals a marked increase in the number of people in the UK who are obese. Obesity increased from 13% in 1993 to 24% in 2011 for men and from 16% to 26% for women.

Being overweight can affect the way you feel on a daily basis and can put your long-term health in jeopardy. In the near-term being overweight may make you feel tired and affect your ability to sleep (often causing you to snore). It can also affect self-confidence. In the long-term it increases your likelihood of problems such as heart disease, diabetes, back-pain and arthritis. But losing weight is easier said than done....

Symptoms of being overweight

Daily problems:

  • Breathlessness
  • High blood pressure
  • Snoring & difficulty sleeping
  • Tiredness
  • Joint & back pain
  • Low self-esteem

Long-term problems:

  • High blood pressure
  • High cholesterol
  • Heart disease
  • Stroke
  • Type 2 diabetes
  • Depression

What causes people to become overweight?

The main cause is eating too much and moving too little. If you consume calories (units of energy in food) but fail to burn it off through physical activity, the calories get converted into fat cells. Genetics may predispose a person to a slow metabolism (which means it takes longer to burn up calories) making it harder to lose weight but even in these circumstances, weight loss is still possible.

Some medical conditions (such as problems with your thyroid gland) may make weight gain more likely and certain medicines can cause weight gain as a side-effect. Common ones that do this include: corticosteroids (steroids), antidepressants and some oral contraceptives.

How to lose weight

There are many private and some NHS weight loss groups. These focus on a reduction of food energy intake (usually by about 600 calories a day). You’ll also be encouraged to swap unhealthy food choices such as fast food, for healthy ones such as fruit, veg and whole grains. Fat and sugar intake will be limited.

Dieting works best in combination with exercise. Your GP or health advisor can help you determine how to start and how to exercise safely. You will most likely build up slowly to 30 minutes of moderate intensity exercise on at least five days of the week. Moderate intensity means that you are breathing slightly more than normal, but you can still comfortably talk as you exercise. When you are able, you should consider extending the amount of exercise to 45 minutes, and keep increasing this as your fitness level improves.

If you are obese you may be offered medication - but only in combination with a low fat diet and other weight loss strategies. The only medication currently prescribed is orlistat. This works by blocking the action of an enzyme (a protein that controls chemical reactions in the body) to prevent undigested fat being absorbed into your body. Instead the fat gets passed out with your faeces (poo) - leading to weight loss.

Where obesity is life-threatening weight loss surgery may be offered (bariatric surgery). This is a last resort. Surgery may involve ‘gastric banding’ where the stomach’s size is restricted forcing you to eat less, or gastric bypass which changes the way the digestive system absorbs food.

Alternative Remedies & Self-help

There are all kinds of remedies that people try for weight loss but some which may prove effective include:

  • Green tea - this contains a class of antioxidants which have been associated with an increased metabolism and the ability to stimulate fat burning.
  • Fish Oil - the omega-3 fatty acids in fish oil help change the way the body uses fat. Some studies suggest instead of storing it, the body burns fat as fuel.
  • L-Glutamine - when blood sugar levels drop, cravings tend to follow because your brain isn't getting the fuel it needs. L-glutamine instantly fuels the brain, and stops the code red that makes you crave sweets and starchy foods.

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