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Fighting obesity requires a multifaceted approach that covers your diet as well as your overall lifestyle. The aim is to consume a well-balanced diet that is low in calories and high in nutrients, fiber, and protein while staying physically active and doing regular exercise.
If you are at a high risk of becoming overweight or obese, eating healthy and staying active can help prevent it, provided you start early and remain consistent. (1)
Favorable dietary and lifestyle modifications may be enough for some people to overcome their weight struggles, but people with severe obesity may need medication or bariatric surgery to achieve proper weight loss.
What Is Obesity?
Obesity is a chronic disease that has emerged as a global epidemic. It is defined as a mammoth increase in body fat, which leads to multiple short- and long-term health consequences. (2)
Body mass index (BMI) is the standard tool to measure obesity. It is calculated by dividing a person’s weight in kilograms by the square of their height in meters. (3) If your BMI is 30 or above, you are diagnosed with obesity.
Other parameters such as your waist circumference can also be used for screening this condition.
Nutritional Guidelines for Obesity Management
Research has shown that many nutrient-rich foods that help decrease the onset of various chronic ailments, such as diabetes and heart disease, are also good for weight management. These include fruits and vegetables, whole grains, and nuts.
Conversely, processed foods, carbonated drinks, and refined drinks that contribute to the onset of such chronic diseases also lead to unwanted weight gain, paving the way for obesity. (4)
While this is true, one must remember that every person has his/her own body type, medical history, and nutritional requirements, and so one diet plan cannot be blindly used for everyone.
You will have to work with your dietitian and doctor to customize a healthy diet plan that meets all your needs while also facilitating weight loss. (5) There are many different variations of healthy eating that help not only with healthy weight management but also in the prevention or treatment of some common chronic illnesses.
Here are some of the most widely adopted diets for weight management:
1. Mediterranean diet
- The Mediterranean diet largely comprises whole grains, lentils, vegetables, fruits, fish, nuts, and olive oil.
- It includes moderate amounts of poultry, eggs, and dairy. (6)
- It lowers the overall intake of unhealthy trans fats, refined grains, added sugar, and processed foods including meat options.
2. Plant-based diet
- The vegetarian diet excludes all kinds of meat but allows dairy products and only includes plant-based foods such as vegetables, fruits, whole grains, beans, and legumes.
- The vegan diet excludes all kinds of meat and dairy products and only includes plant-based foods such as vegetables, fruits, whole grains, beans, and legumes.
- The flexitarian diet is mainly plant-based but allows the occasional intake of meat and dairy products. (7)
3. Low-carb diets
- Many varieties of low-carb diets work on the principle that you mainly reduce your carbohydrate intake and up your protein and fat intake in its place.
- The ketogenic diet is a very-low-carb diet that demands that you retain only 10% of your daily carb intake while eating more of fats and proteins. (8)
- Some low-carb diets are more lenient and allow up to 40% of daily carbohydrate intake and replace the remaining with fats and proteins.
4. Very-low-calorie diets
- A very-low-calorie diet (VLCD) restricts your energy intake to 800 calories a day. (9) This is an extreme diet that can induce rapid weight loss but may not be safe or suitable for many. Thus, you must consult your doctor before adopting this diet plan for managing obesity.
- VLCDs are mainly recommended for people who suffer from certain obesity-related complications that require them to lose weight fast. (9)
- In any case, VLCDs should only be followed for 12 weeks at a stretch and under the supervision of your doctor.
Everyone’s body is built differently, and no single weight loss diet plan works for all body types.
The foremost thing you need to achieve this weight goal is to replace your unhealthy food choices with healthy ones. This means avoiding deep-fried, high-sodium, high-sugar, and processed foods, carbonated beverages, and alcohol.
Fruits and vegetables focus more on the nutritious, fibrous, and leafy green varieties while limiting the intake of starchy ones like potatoes and cassava.
Cut down your sugar consumption and unhealthy fats (saturated and trans fats) to a minimum while deriving your energy from natural sugars (like fructose in fruits) and healthy unsaturated fats. Some of the best dietary sources of unsaturated fats are nuts, fish, soybean, avocado, canola oil, and virgin olive oil.
Add more protein to your diet as it makes you full quickly and for a prolonged period without adding to your calorie intake. This helps in reducing your overall appetite. Besides fish, meat, and poultry, you should also consume legumes and beans to get your daily fill of protein.
Reduce your sodium intake to less than 5 g per day.
Diet Programs and Fad Diets
The Internet and fitness magazines are filled with a variety of fad diets that demand extreme dietary control to achieve quick weight loss, but they usually fall flat when subjected to scrutiny.
Even if starving yourself or depriving yourself of key food groups helps you lose the extra pounds, it does so at the expense of your overall health. You fail to meet your body’s nutritional requirements, which hampers its functioning and renders it weak. Plus, the weight loss results are rarely sustainable.
The minute you break from your dietary restrictions, you will gain the extra weight back just as quickly as you lost it. (10) However, there are some popular diet programs that are safe and approved by both scientific and medical experts. But then again, you will have to try them to see if they suit your body needs.
The focus should be on fostering healthy dietary choices that can be adopted for a lifetime so that you can lose the weight and keep it off, but without compromising on your nutritional needs.
If you are overweight or obese, it’s best to consult a nutritionist or obesity medicine specialist to formulate a diet plan for you.
Caution: If you are taking prescription medication or suffering from any chronic ailment, you must first consult your doctor before trying any new diet or making major dietary changes.
How Prevalent Is Obesity?
The CDC says the prevalence of adults with obesity in the USA was 42.4% in 2017–2018, which makes it the most common chronic disease in the country. (11)
What Are the Causes of Obesity?
Genetics, hormones, environmental factors, or a combination of these. Some environmental factors include poor nutrition, lack of physical activity, high stress levels, poor sleep, and over-the-counter and prescription medications.
Thousands of genes play a role in the onset and development of obesity, but having specific genes doesn’t necessarily mean you will develop obesity.
Another big factor in the development of obesity is hormones.
Complications of Obesity
Obesity decreases the lifespan by up to 8 years and is associated with many chronic diseases, such as:
- Heart disease – heart attack and stroke
- Type 2 diabetes – more than 85% of these patients also suffer from overweight or obesity (12)
- High blood pressure
- High cholesterol levels
- Acid reflux
- Liver disease
- Sleep apnea
- At least 13 types of cancers, including breast, colon, esophageal, kidney, liver, stomach, uterine, thyroid, and pancreas
For many people suffering from obesity, simply eating less and moving more will not produce long-term weight loss. Treatment must be individualized to the needs of the person and can include improving nutrition and increasing physical activity.