Understanding Obesity: A General Guide

Unless you’ve been living under a rock for the last decade or so, you’ve probably heard that obesity is an issue in the developed world and it’s only getting worse. The problem is that there’s so much speculation and misinformation out there that it’s becoming increasingly difficult to determine what’s real and what’s not.

In this article, we’re going to talk about what obesity is, what causes it, what methods are used to determine it, and what steps you can take to start losing that extra weight if you happen to be a sufferer yourself.

What Is Obesity?

Simply stated, obesity has absolutely nothing to do with the way your clothes fit or your body shape at all, it’s when one’s body has too much fat. That’s it. When you’re carrying around too much fat for your body’s liking, it starts to rebel.

Your joints definitely feel the extra weight you’re carrying around, but they’re far from the only thing that’s affected by it – Your blood sugar, heart, and other organs are all at risk too. The extra fat cells can also contribute to hormonal changes; combined with the inflammation, your odds of developing a chronic medical condition skyrocket in comparison to that of a healthy person.

How Obesity Affects Your Body

Carrying around more weight than you should means that your bones, organs, joints, and muscles have to work a lot harder than they should. A high body fat percentage can also raise your blood pressure and cholesterol which increases your chances of eventually having a stroke or developing heart disease. The extra weight can also bring forth or worsen conditions such as asthma, sleep apnea, or back pain. It’s kind of a catch 22 situation because the extra weight makes it harder for obese people to exercise (more weight = more energy needed).

Another major concern is that the inflammation caused by the extra weight can actually damage otherwise healthy cells, which might lead to an increased risk of certain types of cancers. Because the extra weight can cause your body to respond inadequately to insulin (which is produced by your pancreas and is responsible for regulating your blood sugar), obese people are more likely to develop Type 2 diabetes as well.

What Causes It?

The obvious answer here is that consuming extra calories when you shouldn’t is the cause, but it’s really not as open and shut as you might think. Plenty of other factors come into play as well, such as whether or not a person has access to parks, sidewalks, and other places where they can be active. Also, a person is more likely to be obese if they’re unable to afford healthy foods – Junk foods are full of empty calories, so one should not be surprised to hear that people who live off of these types of foods seem to feel hungry all the time.

Another contributing factor, and one that has less to do with social demographics, is emotional eating. The fact of the matter is that a lot of people choose to calm different emotions (stress, anger, boredom, depression, etc.) with food. Eating a box of cookies and washing them down with a pint of ice cream is most certainly counter-intuitive, but it’s also pretty common.

Genetics play a role to a certain extent too, but what you might be surprised to hear is that your friends contribute just as much. Harvard studies 12,000 people and found that if someone gains weight, everyone around them tends to as well (regardless of whether they’re near the person or not, that’s how socially contagious it is.

Air pollution, bacteria, viruses, and other things have also been floated around as contributing factors for a while now, but there isn’t enough research to prove that any of these things definitely cause obesity. Of course, there’s still plenty to be researched and discovered but as it stands, these things do not qualify.

The Waist Size, At Home Check

Though this isn’t a foolproof method by any means, you can definitely check to see whether or not you should call and make a doctors appointment with nothing more than a tape measure. If you’re a woman, your waist should be no more than 35 inches around; men are given an extra five inches. Any more than that and you’re likely carrying around too much belly fat

Getting Diagnosed

If you suspect that you might be obese, you should make an appointment with your doctor. If nothing else, this will give you confirmation. When you get there, the doctor or nurse will most likely weigh you on a scale and might also measure your waist. You may or may not be asked to answer some questions about your lifestyle as well.

When all is said and done, your doctor may just say that “you’re overweight”. All that means is that you’re slightly heavier than what’s considered a normal or healthy weight. You might still want to lose a couple of pounds, but it’s not at all the same thing as being obese.

If you do end up being diagnosed obese, you can take comfort in the fact that a) you can absolutely work towards beating this, and b) you’re not alone – It’s estimated that more than one in three adults are considered obese in the US alone.

Your doctor may then go on to discussing BMI and/or The Edmonton Scale with you. Here’s a quick rundown on what all of that means so that you’re not left in the dark:

Your Body Mass Index (BMI)

Your BMI is super easy to calculate. There’s a machine at nearly every pharmacy that will calculate it for you or you can just plug your height and weight into an online BMI calculator. You’ll then be met with a number; here’s what they mean:

  • A BMI of 18.5 or less means that you’re underweight.
  • A BMI between 18.5-24.9 is considered normal.
  • If your BMI is between 25 and 29.9, you’re overweight.

30+? Now we’re in obese territory.

If you score higher than 30, your doctor may even go over the different categories of obese with you. Here’s what they mean:

  • A BMI between 30 and 34.9 is considered Obesity Level 1.
  • If your BMI ranges from 35-39.9, you fall into Obesity Level 2.
  • 40+ is Obesity Level 3, sometimes referred to as ‘morbid’ obesity.

The BMI is an okay system for some people, but it definitely has it’s flaws too. Because it only accounts for height and weight, it doesn’t decipher fat from muscle. As such, an incredibly fit athlete might end up falling into the overweight or even obese category. Conversely, a super inactive person can register as normal but actually still be very unhealthy. And the formula won’t show you where the fat on your body is worst or account for different ethnic groups, either.

Nevertheless, it’s still recommended to doctors by the CDC as the first step in diagnosing obesity and it’s never a bad idea to have a rough estimate anyway.

The Edmonton Scale

The Edmonton Scale takes your BMI reading to the next level by relating it to your overall health. After asking you a few questions, he or she might put you in a category. Here’s what those categories mean:

Stage Zero: Your weight doesn’t seem to be causing you any health issues at all.

Stage One: You might have some aches and pains or your blood pressure might be a little bit higher than it should be, but any issues are mild.

Stage Two: You’ve developed a chronic disease related to your obesity (sleep apnea, type 2 diabetes, etc.), and you have trouble doing everyday things. You also probably don’t feel well most of the time.

Stage Three: Your weight has caused some serious issues. Things such as heart attack, stroke, and the like.

Stage Four: This is as high as the scale goes. At this point, your weight is considered life-threatening.

If your doctor doesn’t use this system, consider bringing it up yourself or at least asking about how your weight is likely affecting your overall health.

How To Reverse It

If you’ve ever tried dieting before, you know it can be excruciatingly difficult and seemingly pointless. That’s because fighting obesity is a lot more than just counting calories and making sure that you head out for a walk around the block; fighting obesity requires you to change your entire lifestyle.

If you’re an emotional eater, you’re going to have to find something else to do every time you get a little stressed out. If you’re someone who doesn’t like the taste of vegetables, you’re going to have to spend some time exploring different cuisines (in small portions, of course) until you find things you enjoy.

Exercise doesn’t need to be boring either. If walking isn’t your thing, try swimming or dancing. When you’re having a good time, it doesn’t feel like you’re working to lose the weight at all.

One more thing to keep in mind: Because our bodies are more inclined to gain weight than they are to lose it, you might find that you plateau after you lose 20 or 30 pounds. Switch up your routine or consider hiring a personal trainer to help get you over the hump, but remember to keep your doctor in the loop too so that he or she can keep an eye on your overall health.

Even if you’ve been obese for as long as you can remember, there’s definitely a way out if you want it. Commitment, dedication, and an amazing support system can go a long way in helping you become a better you. Always remember that it’s not about losing weight, it’s about being healthy enough to live a long, happy, completely fulfilling life.

If you’re obese, what steps are you taking to become a happier, healthier person? Let us know in the comments section below.


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