By Dr Indrajith P. Hathuruisngha
At present, people are keener on their appearance than ever before. Irrespective of gender, age, occupation, social status, everyone wants to look attractive, younger or handsome, and this has become more manifest with the advent of social media. The real challenge, however, is for you to look younger as you grow old. Ageing is something that we cannot prevent because it is a natural phenomenon. Weight gain becomes a concern as you reach middle age and this is more prominent, especially around your belly area. This is also known as the middle-age spread. This will make you look somewhat older, or unappealing, and even may extend to obesity, leading to certain health problems. It is a much-discussed issue, but the real question is whether it is being addressed scientifically. If you know how it happens or what causes it then it would be easier to control or tackle it. Some areas to focus on in terms of maintaining your figure that will eventually lead to a healthier and happier life in the long term, will be discussed here.
Our body needs energy to sustain life, and its operating mechanism is almost like that of a moving vehicle. The vehicle meets its energy requirements by burning fuel, and our body does the same thing with food on a daily basis. Our food contains a lot of nutrients such as protein, fat (lipid), carbohydrate, minerals and vitamins. They provide us with energy in terms of calories. If our daily calorie intake exceeds the demand, the additional amount will be stored in our body leading to weight gain. Fat is known to be the component mostly responsible for unwanted weight gain. If you can remove already existing fat in the body and also regulate further addition, you may be able to control it to a certain extent.
Fat is metabolically broken down to generate energy in our body. This is biologically called ‘lipid turnover’ and this process has been proven with C14 (a radioactive carbon) by scientists. The lipid turnover is about the capacity for storing or removing fat from our body and it happens in fat cells in the adipose tissue. Whether you are gaining weight or not, your lipid turnover rate in fat tissue will lower with age. You are therefore more likely to gain weight as you get older. In other words, weight gain is not prominent in younger people due to their higher rate of lipid turnover. It is also seemingly independent of other biological processes in our body. However, the particular concern is whether we can do something about it. We certainly can. But it is not easy, it would mean going against nature.
We cannot consider increasing the lipid turnover alone, as it is linked to other aspects such as food intake and physical exercises. Therefore, a well thought-through plan and a strong dedication is a must for achieving the desired outcomes. Here are a few ways to lose weight sensibly.
Types of exercises
Scientists have found that physical exercise is one of the ways of increasing lipid turnover. But the problem here is, what sort of exercise should one do? People often complain about not gleaning expected results even after intense exercise over a prolonged time. And most cannot find time to work out due to their busy schedule. If you are unable to exercise regularly you can engage in incidental activities such as walking or using the stairs instead of the lift. Exercising does not mean weight loss alone, as it has many other benefits.
You can start your workout in a more structured way, with aerobic exercises, such as cycling, running, swimming and hiking. Recent studies have shown that walking for extended periods is a good way to burn fat and you need to do it continuously for better results. It helps stimulate both heart function and breathing and improves the pumping of oxygenated blood to muscles. Muscles require enough oxygen to burn calories and to generate the required energy for smooth functioning of body. This type of exercise entails many benefits, such as better cardiovascular function, muscle fitness, bone and joint fitness, heart and lungs health. Eventually, it will improve the overall level of fitness and reduce chances of cancer, diabeties, cardiovascular disease and osteoporosis.
On the other hand, resistance exercises play a major role, than aerobic exercises, in weight loss. Lifting weights is more efficient as it helps to burn fat fast. Therefore, doing both these types of exercises in conjunction will be more beneficial. Apart from improving physical fitness, exercise also improves your mental health.
Sometimes, it is difficult to control weight gain by exercise alone. The control of food intake is another way of losing weight. But you need to do it wisely. Eating delicious food is an enjoyable experience. Consequently, changing eating patterns is not that easy and needs to be done systematically. You will lose weight if you reduce food intake drastically. But it is not a good move in the long run and will also not be sustainable. The food is the source of energy for your daily routine. If you do not get the adequate calories, you will be easily fatigued, tired and perhaps end up with some nasty side effects. Therefore, having a balanced diet is of paramount importance to a healthy life. Besides, you must be physically fit to be able to exercise regularly.
You may find it difficult to change your food intake at the beginning but it needs to be continued for better results. You need to set goals in your weight loss endeavour. Maintaining a food diary is a good way to start, but you need to be honest about it. You are required to write down everything you eat irrespective of the situation, what, where, when and with whom you ate. The food diary helps you cut down the discretionary calories (optional foods and drinks). However, it is all about your commitment and dedication. If you are too concerned about your weight, it is advisable to consult a doctor or dietician before changing your eating habits. It is worth noting that processed food, surgery drinks, and alcohol must be avoided.
It must be emphasised that if food intake is to be reduced, it should be done sensibly, since you might lose certain important nutrients that are required to maintain a healthy life.
Re-gaining weight once exercise stops
When you lose weight by controlling food intake, your metabolism slows down automatically. Then the brain stimulates hunger, making you want to eat more to gain the required energy. Scientists have found that our body has remarkable resistance against weight loss but not for weight gain. This has become an intriguing point of interest among the people who want to shed a few extra kilos. According to another scientific revelation, weight is regained particularly as fat mass and not in lean mass. This finding has discouraged many who work towards sustainable weight loss. However, there is no clear cut explanation and more research is being done to understand the science behind it.
In general, you could either eat less and exercise less or eat more and exercise more. Whichever the method you apply, the one you should remember is that food intake is more important of your weight loss regime and it is about incorporating physical activity with food intake.
Types of food to eat
People often worry about what to eat and avoid. Your food should have three main characteristics; low in calories, promotes fat burning and slow in digestion. When you feel hungry, you tend to eat more. But if you can suppress your hunger, you can reduce your food intake. Therefore, you must select the food that keeps you full longer. In other words, the foods which slow down the metabolism and control your appetite. What are these food; those food with a high level of fibre, contain water or are rich in protein. Beans, chickpeas, lentils, eggs, nut and oatmeal are highly recommended. It is always good to add some grains to your breakfast as they are rich in fibre. Our nation is blessed with a variety of green vegetables, fruits, meat, fish and grains.
You must also stick to healthy food and stay away from fast or junk food. Always choose food rich in fibre, antioxidants, vitamins and nutrients. There are plenty of options for affordable meals. Expensive food should not be resorted to in the weight loss plan. Our staple food is rice, same as most other Asian countries. But you must choose brown rice instead of white rice. This is because brown rice is low in calories and contains important elements such as phytonutrients, fibre and starch.
Adding green vegetables to the diet as much as possible is a good move. For instance, cabbages, low in calorie, contain antioxidants and vitamin C. Similarly, cauliflower is a very low-calorie option and has vitamins such as C, K, and B6. Moreover, cauliflower and carrot have calorie burning properties.
Bananas help keep full longer and put you on fat-burning mode. You must not forget to add fruits and nuts to your main meal. Apple, orange, avocado and almonds are rich in antioxidants, vitamin C and fibre. This will help shrink your waistline and keep your hunger at bay longer. It is best to add yoghurt or curd as a dessert to your main meal, because yoghurt and curd are packed with protein and will help you feel full for longer. These are just a few examples out of many affordable options available and you have to be wise enough to choose healthy food for your daily intake.
The Body Mass Index (BMI) is a good indicator to assess your condition for the weight loss plan. It indicates the ideal weight of an average person based on height. A general physician or a family doctor can easily tell you your BMI value or you can do it by yourself if you are familiar with the index.
According to the World Health Organisation’s (WHO) classification, people with an IBM value between 25.5 and 29.9 fall into the overweight category. If this value is above 30, it is considered obese and immediate doctor or dietician consultation is recommended. They will advise you how to control your food intake systematically. The BMI of a healthy person is usually 18.5 to 24.9 and should not drop below the minimum threshold. It must be emphasised that the purpose of eating is to sustain life and should not be driven by gluttony. Therefore, you must avoid taking additional calories. It is all about self-control.
If the situation is irreversible, one can still opt for bariatric surgeries. These types of surgeries are varied and the doctor decides what sort of surgery is suitable for each individual. Bariatric surgeries involve removal or shortening of a part of the stomach, with gastric bands, by altering the path of the intestine. However, there are pros and cons of such surgeries, and therefore, must be considered the last resort. You must be in charge of your own health before things get out of hand.
Advertisements and weight loss
Weight loss seems to be a good marketing tool, with various advertisements attempting to coax consumers to buy certain products. For instance, some advertisements showcase a pretty athletic woman drinking tea, claiming that she got her athletic figure by drinking a special kind of tea. Do you think that they have a secret recipe for weight loss? They don’t, but they know what you want and the demand in the market. The science behind this is simple. Because tea, particularly green tea has fat-burning properties. Apart from that scientists have found that green tea is full of antioxidants, has the potential to fight against inflammation, improve metabolism, boost energy, and refresh your body. Therefore, drinking green tea, instead of opting for advertised products, is a healthy and smart choice.
Non-fat milk or milk powder advertisements are another fad. We all know that milk is a good source of nutrients but fat is the killer. In general, mammalians, including humans need milk during infancy but not in adulthood. You may drink fresh milk if required but not milk powder. This is because vital nutrients are removed during the processing of milk powder and you are forced to drink a product which is low in nutrients. However, manufactures have different formulas to please consumers. Eventually, you get very little in return, but hoodwinked by misleading advertisements, spend hard-earned money.
The most important aspect of weight loss is the lipid turnover rate in the body. People often overlook it or do not have a grasp on the scientific facts. Weight loss maybe short term and you need to know how to make it sustainable. A combination of aerobic and resistance exercises offers a lot of health benefits and can help achieve sustainable weight loss, if undertaken in conjunction with food intake control.
(The writer is a lecturer at the Department of Applied and Environmental Chemistry, CRTAFE, Geraldton Campus, Western Australia.)