If you generally sprinkle sand, soot and grease into the petrol tank of your car, then you would not be at all surprised if it spoils. Our body requires fuel to maintain health and vitality. If we eat junk, then our body will not perform at an optimum level. Junk diets predispose us to illness and health breakdown. Stress can be generated by improper diet. If we overeat and put on excess kilograms, then our self-image suffers, and you may suffer depression. What constitutes a healthy weight? This and other questions we shall try to answer in this issue.

There may be no consensus among health experts as to what constitutes a healthy weight, but there is a good walking definition based on the ratio of weight to height. This takes into account that tall people have more tissue than short people, so they tend to weigh more. This ratio is known as the Body Mass Index (BMI). It is calculated by dividing your weight in kilograms by the square of your height in metres. For example, if you weigh 80 kg and you are 1.68 m tall, then your BMI will be 80/1.682 which is equal to 28. A healthy weight is one that equates with a BMI less than 25. By convention, overweight is defined as a BMI of 25 to 29.9 and obesity is defined as a BMI of 30 or higher. Muscle and bone are denser than fat, so an outlet or a muscular person may have a higher BMI but may not be fat. It’s this very thing that makes weight gain in adults such an important determinant of weight-related health. Few adults add muscles and bone after the early 20s, so nearly all that added weight is fat. Fat deposition around the body has also been found useful as a determinant of a healthy weight. Not all fat is equal. Fat around the waist and the chest have been found to be more dangerous than the one found in other parts of the body. It is also possible that the abdominal fat isn’t worse than the fat around the heaps or thighs, but instead may be a reflection of overall body fat accumulation that the weight measurement alone may not be able to capture. The way to measure your waist is to wrap a flexible measuring tape around your midsection where the sides of your waist are the narrowest. This should make even with your navel while keeping the tape parallel to the floor. Research has demonstrated that a waist larger than 40 inches for men and a waist size of 35 inches for women increases the chance of developing heart disease, cancer or other chronic diseases. Though these are pretty generous values, they should serve as useful benchmarks.

What Makes Us Gain Weight?

This is simply a function of how much of calories you take in versus how much calories you burn. If you eat more than you burn, you will definitely add fat. If you burn more than you take in, you will lose weight. Let us examine some factors that influence weight gain –

  1. Genetic disposition: Some of us are more prone than others to gain weight
  2. Diet: The quantity of your food has a strong impact on your weight.
  3. Physical activity: The more active you are, the more calories you burn. A sedentary lifestyle is more prone to weight gain.

Achieving or Maintaining Healthy Weight

  1. Don’t set out to do the impossible: People tend to be unrealistic in their desire to achieve the weight of their dream. You should start by setting an initial goal of losing 5 to 10% of your present weight. This may be more appropriate than trying to fit into a wedding dress after 20 years of marriage and four children. The trick is that you don’t have to stop there. Achieving the initial goal gives you added impetus to set out another goal and achieving it. Breaking your weight loss into manageable chunks makes it easier to achieve your dream weight.
  2. Be deliberate and consistent: Dieting to many implies going hungry and depriving yourself. It may not be either. If you cut out just 100 calories a day, the equivalent of one bottle of Coke or your bedtime snack, you would weigh 4 kg less after a year. If you add a brisk 30-minute walk five times a week, you could be 9 to 10 kg lighter.
  3. Exercise! Exercise!! Exercise!!! The more you work your muscles, the more calories you burn even when you are not active.
  4. Watch your meal: Eating meals that make your blood sugar and insulin shoot up and crash may contribute to weight gain. Some of these kinds of meals will be considered in later issues in this series on nutrition and diet.
  5. Drink water: When thirsty, reach out for water rather than a bottle of soft drink. Those things don’t actually quench thirst. They really were not designed to. Don’t mind all advertising gimmicks.
  6. Eating style: Before you start to eat, ask yourself why you were eating. Sometimes we eat when we are bored, anxious or even angry. Find other ways of dealing with your mood fluctuations apart from eating. Be mindful of what you eat. Make sure you are choosing what you eat and not just eating because you have to or because a plate of food is set before you. Form the habit of eating slowly. Eating fast short circuits the signals your digestive system generates to indicate it is full. Slowing down gives your stomach and intestines time to send these messages to your brain.

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