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Obesity: an ongoing pandemic.

The number of people being overweight, or worse, being obese, has tripled in the past decades and steadily continues to rise, even amongst children. 

One of the major factors at play here, is the shift in the global food system. People have easy access to processed foods and drinks with very high energy content, conveniently promoted in a clever way by the multinationals that produce them. And of course, other personal lifestyle and socio-cultural factors play a modifying role. 

Being overweight means that a person weighs more than what is recommended for someone of that age, height and sex, and has a Body Mass Index (BMI) between 25 and 30.
Obesity means being so overweight that it becomes a pathological state, with a BMI of over 30. 

*Note: BMI is not the most precise indicator because it doesn’t take in to account the ratio between lean muscle mass and body fat. 

It increases the risk substantially for various modern time diseases and conditions, like e.g. cardiovascular disease, high blood pressure, diabetes type 2, gall stones, sleeping disorders, depression, spine and joint degeneration.  

Now, let’s be clear from the beginning, not everybody who is overweight needs to be told: “you have been eating too much!”. Unfortunately some people are predisposed to pack on a pound because of e.g. genetics, underlying conditions or certain (necessary) medication use. This means that for those people it will be more difficult to lose some weight, no matter how healthy their diet is. 

Nonetheless, we should always focus on the modifiable factors present in each individual. 

Losing weight in a healthy way

As a physiotherapist with over 23 years of practice, I have treated many clients who came to see me because of the consequences of them being overweight. And with the proper guidance, the majority of them were able to reverse their condition and get back on track, feeling healthy and vital again. 

When you look at the research on different diets, the conclusion is actually quite simple. Most of them work for the same reason: a calorie deficit. Some diets, like the low-carb high-protein diet, seem to do a bit better to lose weight faster in the short-term, but should probably not be sustained for a long period of time.

It is absolutely necessary to create a negative energy balance. What does this mean? A person should use more energy (= calories) than he/she/X ingests in a day. The ideal combination to do so: take up less calories from food by choosing natural, unprocessed foods in rational portions and burning more calories through increasing daily physical activity. 

I know, easier said than done you say, that’s why I always recommend seeking help from the right healthcare professionals: medical doctors, nutritionists, physiotherapists, personal trainers, psychologists or health coaches. 

Do you need them all? Probably not. Some of you might have more difficulties with the diet part, others with training or finding the motivation in general. Different professionals can help with different aspect of tackling overweight issues. 


Tackle obesity: where to start?

To find the motivation to start this journey, one firstly needs to understand the necessity, being to reduce health risks and improve your quality of life. This is a very serious matter to consider and all the research tells us you shouldn’t take this lightly. 

Secondly you should find a diet that suits your needs and preferences. That will make it easier to adhere to it. This might be tricky because we are continuously bombarded with new hypes and magic crash diets, so stick to the science. It might be necessary to try out different methods and that is perfectly fine. Some long-term diets that are backed up by science are the Mediterranean diet, the flexitarian diet (vegan or vegetarian that allows for the occasional intake of animal foods) and the DASH diet (Dietary Approach to Stop Hypertension) that focusses on improving cardiovascular health. 

The general agreement is that a varied diet should consist of natural whole foods, with restricted sugar and refined carbohydrate intake to maintain balanced blood sugar levels, sufficient proteins to control appetite and healthy fats for cell structure and energy metabolism. This will get you all the nutrients you need, as well as the necessary fibers to promote a good transit. 

The third step is to get your activity level up. Now, where to start depends entirely on your current physical state. Some of you might have to start with 30 minutes a day of brisk walking, others can take on weight training or even high intensity interval training (HIIT). I specifically mention weight or resistance training and HIIT because they are considered the superior training methods for weight loss. The most important thing is to build up progressively to avoid injury. Seek professional help to get you up and running (literally if you like running; if not, something else).

Some extra help from food supplements?

As many diet hypes as there are, even more weight loss supplements are thrown at our heads these days. But what supplements are really worth taking during a weight loss journey, according to the research?

  • Phaseolus Vulgaris or white kidney beans extract (3000mg/day) and Epigallocatechin gallate (EGCG) from green tea (500mg/day) can reduce the absorption of nutrients.
  • Caffeine (300mg/day) and chrologenic acid (200mg/day) derived from coffee can help reduce the appetite and increase energy use.
  • Capsaicinoids from chili pepper (10mg/day) and L-Carnitine (2g/day) can increase fat mobilization.
  • Resveratrol (200mg/day) and Conjugated linoleic acid (4g/day) help inhibit fat formation. 
  • Lipoic acid (600mg/day) helps lower blood glucose levels. 
  • Probiotics, that help improve gut health, are helpful in reducing body weight, BMI and waist circumference.
  • Mushroom extracts help lower blood lipids and cholesterol, boost the immune function and have anti-inflammatory potential, ideal to battle the chronic low grade inflammation often present in people with overweight or obesity. 

I hope this article gave you some clarity on what to do if you want and/or need to lose some weight. Make sure you prepare yourself well and ask for professional help. It is a lot easier with the right support. 

All the best,

Tom Van Biesen
Registered Physiotherapist


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