In today’s world, most of us could stand to lose a few pounds—something we have come to think of as just being “normal.” In fact, the level of obesity in our society has risen to the point that two out of every three American men are considered overweight or obese, and the number is even higher for U.S. women.
Even worse are the health problems associated with carrying extra weight, and even though being a few pounds heavier than you should be may seem average today, it also elevates your risk for cancer, diabetes, heart disease and other dangerous health conditions. (1)
However, there are measures you can take to help you live a more healthy, energetic and slim life which may be as simple as changing some of your diet and exercise habits for the better.
But, maintaining a healthy weight requires discipline, although learning just what obesity is, what its dangers are, and what causes it may be all the motivation you need to change things for the better!
What is Obesity?
Obesity is a condition which is classified as a person having a body mass index (BMI) of 30 or more, with a “normal” BMI being between 18.5 – 24.5. BMI is calculated by dividing your body’s weight in kilograms by your height in meters squared (kg/m2), although it is not a perfect measurement of body composition or the health of an individual. This is because such factors as muscle mass and bone density can cause a person to register as overweight or even obese, even though they have low body fat and are otherwise perfectly healthy.
Waist circumference is also sometimes used to determine body mass, though less commonly than BMI. It, too, has some controversy over how accurate it is, since it merely states that women with a waist circumference of more than 35” or men with a waist size of over 40” are considered overweight. This doesn’t factor in the overall size of a person, which can make a healthy waist circumference go up or down, making this a rather subjective measurement. (2,3)
Better yet, a simple and surprisingly accurate measure of body fat health is the “pinch test,” in which if you are able to “pinch-an-inch,” you may need to lose a few pounds. This should be done around your midsection, and you simply pinch a fold of skin between your thumb and index finger. If you can pinch-an-inch, you are like most of us who can stand to lose some body fat.
However, if you can grab substantially more than that, it is time to seriously consider doing something about it!
Do keep in mind, though, that while factors such as overeating, poor eating habits and lack of activity can cause weight gain, other factors such as decline in hormone production, genetic makeup, and food allergies can also be the cause of extra pounds around the middle. (4)
What Causes Obesity?
While there are more than one cause of weight gain, the main reason tends to be our modern diet which consists of too many processed foods, empty calories and simple carbohydrates. Couple this with our busy lifestyles which typically involve long hours of sitting in front of computer screens, high levels of stress, and little time for physical activity, and this becomes the “perfect storm” for packing on the unwanted pounds.
And, it isn’t just adults who are in danger of unhealthy weight gain, since childhood obesity rates have also risen in the U.S. to the point that as many as one in three children are now overweight or obese. (5)
However, perhaps the biggest dietary culprit for adult or childhood weight gain is processed sugar and other forms of processed simple carbohydrates which provide calories faster than our bodies can burn them. And, what your body can’t immediately use it stores, which is what fat is—energy which your body is saving for later.
Stress also plays a role in fat metabolism, since it induces your body to release the stress hormone cortisol. Since cortisol is the body’s “fight-or-flight” hormone, its purpose is to prepare muscles for activity (flight), which means elevating the body’s blood sugar for a quick burst of fuel. Unfortunately, when you are continually stressed, your body keeps sending sugar to the blood while simultaneously stimulating your appetite for more fuel, which usually comes in the form of sugar cravings. This also causes an insulin reaction, which increases the risk of diabetes and other diseases associated with it. If you need a little help with stress, here are 6 ways to manage stress and anxiety.
Other reasons for weight gain may be hormone imbalance, certain medications, or genetics, although it should also be noted that for families which obesity “runs in,” common dietary traits among family members is often the culprit. (6,7)
The Health Dangers of Being Overweight
Of course, you may be wondering just what all the fuss is, since everyone today seems to have at least a little “muffin top.” But, something else which is more common these days than in the past are chronic diseases, such as diabetes, heart failure and stroke, which are all likely related to those seemingly innocuous muffin tops.
In fact, even though we may see ourselves as perfectly healthy so long as we aren’t morbidly obese, we are not, since research suggests that of an estimated 4 million deaths per year which are related to high BMI, 40% happened to those who were considered overweight, but not yet obese. (8)
And, those extra pounds are likely elevating your risk for:
- High blood pressure
- Heart disease
- Kidney disease
- Gallbladder disease
- Breathing problems
Of course, this means that losing a few pounds can greatly increase your chances of living a longer, healthier life!
Natural Obesity Prevention
When it comes to getting rid of extra weight, it usually just takes a few lifestyle changes along with the willpower to make them stick. This can mean changing from a diet of convenient fast foods low in fiber and nutrition to one of natural whole foods which includes plenty of proteins, healthy fats, fiber and complex carbohydrates, along with an increase in your daily physical activity. Yes, joining a gym or taking up running is great if you are able to do so. Getting outside and taking a brisk walk several days a week can do wonders for you, as well. However, for those with limited time, simply taking measures such as using the stairs instead of the elevator or walking rather than taking the bus can add health benefits which dieting alone will not.
Caution: It is best to avoid the allure of shedding pounds quickly with the latest crash diet. This is because crash or starvation diets rarely—if ever—work, and even though the dieter may see some immediate results, the tendency is for all the weight to be regained nearly as immediately as it was lost.
Since hormone decline and imbalance can also cause obesity, making sure you don’t have hypothyroidism or other hormone imbalances is important. If you are not getting adequate amounts of iodine in your diet, for instance, your thyroid can’t produce certain hormones necessary for a healthy metabolism. (10) One of the best ways to tell if you have hormone decline or imbalance is by evaluating what symptoms you are experiencing. Take our symptom checker to find out what’s going on.
If your cortisol levels are high due to stress, consider using adaptogen herbs, such as Ashwagandha, Panax Ginseng, Astragalus or Holy Basil, which are known to help alleviate adrenal fatigue. Relaxation techniques such as breathing exercises or yoga are also good ways to reduce stress and cortisol, as are regularly scheduled times away from the office for relaxing hobbies and other things you love. (11, 12)
And of course, exercise is not only a great way to relieve stress, it has the added benefit of speeding up your metabolism and burning extra calories, along with many, many other health benefits.
Obesity is a growing health problem in our society, and one we can largely blame on our modern lifestyle and eating habits.
However, whether you can pinch an inch or an entire handful, it is in your best interest to change a few of your habits to help you get back down to a healthy weight. By exercising daily and eating a diet which includes plenty of fresh, preferably organic fruits and vegetables, lean grass-fed meats, wild-caught fish, and poultry while avoiding processed foods and simple carbohydrates, you can more easily shed pounds and keep them off for good.
But, it all starts with you and your desire to live a healthier, happier and leaner life!
Could Hypothyroidism Be the Cause of Your Weight Gain?
If you are doing everything right – eating a healthy diet, exercising regularly and getting plenty of sound sleep each night – but you are still gaining weight, then something could be going on with your metabolism. Take our symptom checker to find out if low thyroid function could be the culprit.
1) Obesity in the United States
2) Is Being a Little Overweight Really OK?
3) Understanding Your Weight and Health: What is Obesity?
4) Do My Food Allergies Make Me Look Fat?
5) Sugary Drinks and Obesity Fact Sheet
6) Stress, Hormones, and Weight Gain
7) 5 Ways to Beat Stress-Induced Weight Gain
8) Being Overweight, Not Just Obese, Still Carries Serious Health Risks
9) Iodine, Iodine Metabolism and Iodine Deficiency Disorders Revisited
10) Smart Girl’s Guide to Adaptogens for Hormonal Balance and Stress
11) 16 Simple Ways to Relieve Stress and Anxiety