As I founder of functional nutrition centre I have often asked my clients the crucial question – ‘Why do you want to lose weight?’ The answers vary from ‘I want to look good’ to ‘I cannot take the back pain anymore’. Rarely does anyone tell me that they want to ease the strain that they are putting on their body every day. Yes, obesity wreaks havoc on your body and is proof of bodily functions gone wrong within. I think returning your body processes to optimum is the number one reason you should be shedding those extra kilos immediately.
Being overweight puts a lot of stress on your organs and sets you up for misery that will come sooner than you think. This might sound harsh but it is the scary truth that reveals itself once you know your body.
This post will educate you on the workings of your body the relation of obesity with various illnesses and health risks. Bear in mind that most of the below health risks are not the effect of obesity but go hand in hand with it. Some of them are even the cause of obesity. For example, insulin resistance or Type 2 Diabetes leads to weight gain and not the other way round.
But first, let’s define what being overweight or obese is. This is determines by your BMI or Body Mass Index. Calculate your BMI using the following formula:
BMI of 18 to 23 normal
BMI of 24 to 25 is overweight
BMI of 26 and above counts as obese
Obesity is closely related to increased risk of type 2 Diabetes, hypertension, sleep apena, heart stroke, asthma, certain cancers, high blood pressure and high cholesterol. In fact, obesity is said to be linked with more than 50 different health problems.
Why Being Overweight is related to so many health problems?
Extra fat in your body puts strain on your cardiovascular system. Fat makes your blood thick and your arteries stiff which causes high blood pressure. Although being overweight increases all these problems it is not at the heart of all the illnesses. To know the real cause we must get to the root of weight gain itself.
Obesity is not the normal way of a body. A lot of people think that obesity is just a matter of too much eating and too little exercise. While these factors do play a role they are not enough to get you on the path to become obese. Consider the case of childhood obesity.
There are more than 10 million cases of childhood obesity in India alone! Cases of obesity are seen in children as young as 2 to 5 years today. Clearly, it’s not the result of too much food and too little exercise. Something else is going on here. Weight gain is actually a case of your cellular metabolism gone wrong.
The truth is- it can happen to anyone. Toxic load in our environment, stressful lifestyle, sedentary jobs, food allergens, poor diet and nutrient deficiency are all to be blamed for the metabolic syndrome. All these external factors lead to insulin resistance, poor metabolism and adrenalin stress in our body. It is the seed that grows into a host of other chronic illnesses including obesity. Obesity is hence a marker of metabolic dysfunctions in your body and the start of many chronic illnesses.
Diabetes and Obesity
There have been numerous studies linking weight gain with diabetes. In fact, experts have coined the term ‘diabesity’ as diabetes and obesity go hand in hand. The famous Harvard study that studied 170,000 people over the span of 10 years found that obesity increases the risk of diabetes by 20 times! However all these studies measure risk of diabetes by correlating obesity with presence of diabetes? It doesn’t necessarily mean that obesity is the cause of diabetes. In fact it may be the other way around.
Insulin resistance is at the heart of type 2 diabetes. Insulin acts as a gate pass for glucose to enter into cells for its conversion into energy. Insulin resistance happens when your cells refuse to take in the glucose and shut off to the insulin in your blood. This is caused by poor lifestyle factors, consuming too much sugar or genetics. This extra glucose in the blood is then stored in fat cells causing you to gain weight.
Insulin resistance points to a metabolic syndrome in the body and it usually precedes weight gain. This means that if you are overweight there is a good chance that you are already suffering from metabolic syndrome and insulin resistance. This is more likely if you easily put on weight on your waist.
Hypertension and Obesity
Hypertension is the measure of pressure that blood applies to the inner walls of your arteries. Abnormal glucose metabolism increases the LDL (Low-density Lipid) in blood causing the blood and arteries to thicken. This leads to high blood pressure. More cholesterol in your blood also means that the heart has to work harder to pump blood around your body and leading to increased risk of heart attack.
Observational studies have shown that obese persons are at a higher risk of many types of cancer. This includes endometrial cancer (cancer of uterus lining), liver cancer, brain tumor, gall bladder cancer, breast cancer and prostate cancer.
The exact mechanisms of how obesity causes cancer are yet to be discovered. As of now, there are only theories that best support the evidence of higher incidences of cancer in obese people.
One of the theories is that the chronic low-level inflammation that obese people often have leads to DNA damage that leads to cancer. Yet another link is the excess estrogen produced by fat tissue in obese people. Excess estrogen is known to be associated with breast, endometrial and ovarian cancer.
Fat cells also produce adipokines, hormones that can mess up the growth stimulation and inhibition mechanism of cells. Increased level of insulin in the blood is also known to help certain cancers.
Stress on Organs
All the extra body mass obviously puts strain on the organs of your body which are meant to handle much less. Increase in fat tissues means that your heart has to pump harder to reach through more blood vessels in your body. Fat deposits also diminish the lung’s capacity to hold air according to studies.
Extra weight also causes structural burden on your skeleton. Obesity usually leads to osteoarthritis, back pain and joint pains.
The relation of mental health and obesity is again the story of chicken and egg. We do not know for sure which one comes first. People with mental health issues have a two to three times higher risk of obesity and people with obesity have a 30% higher risk of mental health issues.
The reason of overlap could be the common risk factors such as stress. Cortisol levels are known to be higher in both obese and depression patients. Inflammation in body and increased stress can lead to a flight or flight response in body which can cause both depression and weight gain. Depression and obesity can lead into a vicious cycle where loss of self-esteem can lead to binge eating which leads to more weight gain. Mental health issues associated with obesity include anxiety, depression, PTSD.
The social effects of obesity may not be acknowledged medically with a term, but they are just as damaging. Not being able to fit into your favorite dress and gaining weight every week attacks your self-esteem. Constant low energy takes away your favorite activities and hampers your daily routine. Repeatedly failing to lose weight despite your intention is enough to lose confidence and give-up on life itself.
Many people with obesity become averse to interaction and avoid social events. Obesity affects not just your relations with the outside world but also your relation with yourself. Emotions of frustration, guilt, self-loathing and self-victimization are common because of the illnesses and stigma attached to obesity.
Obesity is a result of metabolic processes gone wrong. This root cause is common to many other illnesses like diabetes, cardiovascular complications and mental illness. This is the reason that weight gain goes hand in hand with so many health problems and many times is a marker for chronic illnesses to come.
In next blog we will talk about the root causes of weight gain and how to make sure your body functions run smoothly for a lifetime.