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Our Weight and Our Health Part 1: Simple Strategies

"The modern lifestyle and diet has changed significantly, and the impact on our health has been widespread."

In Part 1 of his four-part series on weight and associated health concerns, Dr. Keller Wortham, MD, will discuss the ways the modern diet and lifestyle has changed, and how these changes have impacted our health. We'll learn how to calculate body mass index, which health implications associated with weight issues to look out for, and most importantly, Dr. Keller will share some simple, easy to implement strategies to start feeling better and healthier right away.

Video Highlights

  • 01:19: Discussing Weight with Your Physician
  • 02:09: Definition of Overweight/Obesity
  • 03:53: Causes of Obesity/Overweight
  • 04:15: Diet
  • 05:25: Our sedentary lifestyle
  • 6:02: Other factors
  • 7:02: Health problems Associated with Obesity
  • 09:22: Simple Strategies for Managing Weight
  • 10:10: Diet Choices
  • 11:47: The Importance of Sleep
  • 12:54: Stress relief
  • 15:18: Wrap Up

If you’re suffering from being overweight or from obesity, you’re not alone. Approximately one in three adults in the US or one in five children are diagnosed as obese today. This affects over 40% of the US population, with 93 million people suffering from obesity. It’s important to understand that this is not something to feel shame about. The modern lifestyle and diet has changed significantly, and the impact on our health has been widespread… And the only reason to even discuss weight is to address associated health issues.

Discussing Weight with Your Physician

When examiningany patients, it’s important for physicians to discuss health and weight. A few questions they may ask are:

  1. How do you feel about your weight?
  2. How do you feel about your body?
  3. Do you notice anything in your health that you think might be related to your weight or to weight gain?

Definition of Overweight/Obesity

There are a lot of ways to define these terms. However, typically we use a body mass index (BMI) to define obesity. A body mass index is something that you calculate by using an equation involving your weight and your height. So it’s a comparison of how tall you are and how much you weigh. The equation is very easy to find online. If you want to check your BMI, there are plenty of calculator apps you can download to your smart phone, as well as online calculators you can look at. According to the standard definitiion, if your BMI is over 25, you’re considered overweight and if your BMI is over 30 then you’re considered obese. Obesity is a term that has a lot of weight to it (no pun intended) but it is merely a medical term.

There are also other ways to calculate how your weight is affecting your health. It can be calculated using body fat percentage, or a DEXA scan, which measures bone mineral density, or electrical impedance, but BMI remains one of the easiest ways. Obviously, there are some things that can affect this ratio; if you’re a very muscular person, or if you have big bones, that can sway the equation one way or another, so there’s no hard and fast rule.

Causes of Obesity/Overweight

Obesity is generally a problem that results from our modern lifestyle. There weren’t nearly as many people struggling with this several decades ago, and the issue has been growing due to a variety of factors. These include:

Diet

What we eat has a large effect on our metabolism, our bodies, and our weight. The main issue is processed food. These include packaged foods, and processed drinks like sodas. "Processed foods" mean that we’ve gotten some kind of naturally occurring substance and then pulverized it, manufactured it, changed it, so that it no longer resembles the way it existed in nature. It’s lacking its fiber, and lacking a lot of the vitamins that it should have, and is often full of added fats, added sugars, and many other chemicals that aren't found in nature.

Our sedentary lifestyle

The days of hunting and gathering our food are long gone. In some ways, that’s good, as we now have many opportunities for skilled workers to use their talents to improve the world. The down side is, we are not using as much physical energy to find and grow food, or build our own houses. Now, we sit at a desk all day, we drive to work, and we spend a lot of time doing very little from an energy standpoint.

Stress

This is a major factor. The stress of our modern lifestyles that can pump up your cortisol and actually lead to weight gain.

Sleep

Nearly all of us are sleep-deprived and as you lose sleep, this can have also a profound effect on some of the hormones in your body and your overall lifestyle.

Other Factors

Beyond that, there are other things in our food sources that we might not even think about. The hormones that are injected into a lot of the animals that they’re cultivating and farming, the antibiotics that we use on those same animals, the pesticides, and herbicides... all of these chemicals that are going into our food are fundamentally changing the nature of what we eat.

Health problems associated with Obesity

As we gain weight, above and beyond what is generally considered healthy, we might start to experience potential health problems. These include:

Heart Disease

This is a combination of things like blood pressure going up, cholesterol going up and other issues... These things put a lot of stress on our cardiovascular system, which is kind of like a pump and pipes in your body. So as you put more pressure into that system (blood pressure), and as you put more cholesterol corrosion into the system, it's a bit like a plumbing system with rust in it experiencing increasing water pressure until a blowout occurs. In the case of your body, that blowout might be a stroke or a heart attack.

Diabetes

This is a condition in which your blood sugar starts going up, resulting in a host of health problems. We’ll talk about this more in another article, but essentially, your body needs glucose, or sugar, for energy. When blood glucose is too high, your body isn’t able to make enough insulin, which is the hormone your body uses to convert the glucose to energy.

Other Health Issues

There are some other issues that might seem to be less obviously associated with excess weight, including asthma which can increase as weight increases, and arthritis, or other inflammatory conditions. Some inflammatory skin issues may also crop up, such as Acanthosis nigricansareas, which is characterized by areas of the skin that just seem to be a little bit darker. This is a skin condition associated with being overweight. Sleep apnea, which involves losing the ability to get oxygen into your system while you sleep, can occur as well.

Easy to Implement Strategies to Manage Weight

The most important thing, especially when you’re going to talk with your physician, is to know your BMI, so that you can talk about it openly. If you have concerns about your weight, or about some of the symptoms you may be experiencing, then knowing that number will be a good starting point.

Diet Choices

As you are shopping for yourself, and making your eating choices, try to stay away from processed foods as much as you can. This means that if you’re in a typical supermarket, you should try to shop as much as possible from the aisles around the perimeter. This includes the produce section, the dairy and egg section in the back, and the meat section. Opt for produce like delicious spinach, berries, grapes, and dark, leafy greens. When you get into those aisles in the middle where all the cereals and crackers, pasta, canned foods, and frozen foods are kept, then you’re moving toward things that have been a lot more processed. They’ve added a lot of sugars, fats, and salts, and taken away the fiber, and these foods generally have more toxins and fewer nutrients than natural foods.

The Importance of Sleep

If you’re not getting enough sleep, it’s going to be very challenging for you to lose weight. It is very important to figure out how you can maximize your sleep. The standard is between seven and nine hours each night, which in this day and age seems like a luxury. There are two specific hormones that change, especially when you’re sleep deprived. These are ghrelin and leptin. Basically they are hormones that are responsible for shutting off your appetite when you’ve had enough to eat, and also telling you that you’re full. If they get out of whack, you’re getting the wrong signals to your brain and you’re basically going to be eating when you don’t need to and eating more of what you don’t need.

Stress Relief

Stress is tough. We live in a stressful world where things are coming at us from all sides. Stress was an important thing for our ancient ancestors because it usually meant something serious was happening, like a tiger was about to eat you, or a storm was coming in and you needed to take shelter, or sometimes people experienced nutritional stress, from not getting enough calories. Today, we tend to get stressed about things that are often not existential crises or life-threatening, but they can still have a really profound effect on our health.

Whatever you can do to relax, do it — whether it be taking a bath or exercise, which increases endorphins, burns calories, and reduces cortisol levels. Cortisol is the main stress hormone and when cortisol goes up, it leads to weight gain, and to the destruction of a lot of the tissues in our bodies, as well as weakening of ligaments, tendons, and skin. It also increases insulin levels which cause weight gain. There are a lot of health problems tied to high cortisol. You need to get those levels down by getting proper sleep and by finding ways to relax. You could use music, hiking, or going up to the mountains and experiencing nature, which is a great for stress relief. In fact, there is a recent study that actually shows people who live in more forested areas have inherently less stress. But if you don’t have time for a hike, try reading a book, or breathing exercises.

As you start to put all these things together; proper nutrition, good sleep, exercise, stress relief, you can start to turn the tide on your metabolism and on your lifestyle. This can feel like really major changes, and it could feel overwhelming, but you can try implementing them slowly or one at a time. If these appear to be too overwhelming, don’t panic. Start small! Dr. Wortham recommends three simple tasks:

  1. Stop drinking any sugary drinks, including Coke, sports drinks, and chocolate mocha, caramel lattes from Starbucks or anything like that. Just stick to water, tea, coffee (if you don’t have issues with caffeine), and some limited dairy products.
  2. Have a glass of water before any meal. If you don’t like plain water, try a sparkling water. These are good because they don’t have added calories, they don’t include added artificial sweeteners. They're just basically carbonated water and some flavoring.
  3. Make one of your meals every day a salad with a protein on it. Even if your other meals aren’t healthy, you can deal with that in time, you’ve just got to start somewhere. Get something like spinach, a protein like cheese, turkey, chicken, shrimp, or tuna, and then a nice salad dressing such as organic olive oil, or delicious avocado oil, which are all healthy fats, balsamic vinegar, or lemon juice.

If you do the above, you’ll start to see some movement. It is baby steps. We’ll dig into these topics in more detail in future videos and articles, so stay tuned.

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