Weight a minute: a closer look at obesity and weight loss.

Weight gain and obesity have become global epidemics that threaten the health of people worldwide as they are linked to many chronic diseases. According to the Food and Nutrition Research Institute (FNRI) the prevalence of obesity and overweight among adults (<=20 years old) in the Philippines has increased from 31.1% to 37.2%from 2015 to 2018.  This means that, more Filipinos are struggling with weight gain.

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), worldwide obesity has nearly tripled since 1975 and showed more than 1.9 billion adults (18 years and older) were overweight and over 650 million were obese in 2016.  To define overweight and obesity by WHO standards, overweight is BMI (Body Mass Index) greater than or equal to 25, and obesity is BMI greater than or equal to 30.  These numbers are lower if you are of Asian descent (<= 23 for overweight and <= 25 for obese). 

Elevated BMI is a major risk factor for noncommunicable diseases such as, cardiovascular diseases (mainly heart disease and stroke), diabetes, osteoarthritis, and some cancers (including endometrial, breast, ovarian, prostate, liver, gallbladder, kidney, and colon).  The risk for these noncommunicable diseases increases alongside increasing BMI. 



What have we been missing?

Quality over Quantity of Calories

When it comes to dieting and weight loss, we’ve put too much emphasis on calorie counting and calorie restriction. What we end up overlooking is that it is the quality of the food that we eat rather than the quantity of what we eat.


The first and most basic purpose of our food is our source of energy.  We breakdown the food that we eat and use it as a source of energy to fuel our bodily processes.  To understand why we need to focus more on the quality of the calories we consume, we have to understand that Food is information. The breakdown products of the food we eat, interact with and “talk” to our cells and our genes, and has the ability to turn them on or off.  Hence, we emphasize the quality of the calories we consume. Understanding how the body utilizes the number of calories within a can of soda versus a cup of vegetables, is understanding how the body metabolizes those calories, and other responses such as hormones, neurotransmitters and cell messengers.  Calories are not created equal and some calories will definitely make us gain weight while others can support our weight loss.


Let’s go back to that can of soda.  Once you drink it, it leads to an increase in your blood sugar, as well as your insulin level.  In excess of what fuel your body needs, insulin drives them into your fat cells.  If you keep consuming meals that have too much sugar, you are actually fueling weight gain. Because that can of soda has too much sugar, it will lead to a very high and rapid spike in your blood sugar and insulin. This in turn leads to you feeling hungry quicker.  You consume all the energy from your sugar-laden, nutrient-depleted soda and even though it’s only been a couple of hours since you last had something to eat, your body thinks that it’s starving.  Then you’re out again looking for next meal much sooner than expected. 


Now let’s look at that cup of vegetables.  The vegetables will trigger a different biochemical response in the body.  The information from  breakdown products of the vegetables influence our biochemistry and our genes in a very different way.  Whereas, the soda triggers a high sugar spike eventually leading to increased hunger and more fat storage, the vegetables are more likely to keep your blood sugar balanced, make you feel full, and decrease fat storage. 


Losing weight is a challenge.
It is more of a challenge to keep the weight off. 

For those that have gone on diets, more often than not, whatever weight they lose, they gain right back, or gain even more.  When they lose weight, they lose muscle and fat.  When  they regain all that weight, they gain it back in fat. The muscle that was lost are actually key contributors in metabolism because it burns more calories than fat does.  So, gaining all weight back in fat slows down metabolism and makes it even harder to lose all that weight in the future.  There is a science and a system to weight loss.

Again, it goes back to understanding the kind of biochemical processes our food is intertwined with and not just trying to starve yourself or limit the amount of calories you consume.  It involves understanding how different factors influence our metabolism. If we can understand what can slow it down, then we’ll have a better idea how to increase our metabolism. 

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