Weight Management & Obesity

  • Too much food or too little exercise? The myth of weight gain

    Many have blamed the current obesity epidemic on the food and beverage industries, with the increased consumption of high-calorie foods and sugary drinks being the primary cause of our society's ever-increasing waistline. Although it is true that having a healthy and nutritious diet is important for weight control and a healthy life, researchers found it's in fact the lack of exercise that is the primary contributor of being overweight.

    The study, conducted by researchers from Stanford University and published in the American Journal of Medicine in July 2014 analysed US National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey between 1988 to 2010 and found that the average BMI increased by 0.37% per year in both men and women and the average waist circumference increased by 0.37% per year in women and 0.27% per year in men in the past two decades. The prevalence of obesity and abdominal obesity has increased substantially, especially in young women aged between 18-39.

    Interestingly, in contrary to popular notion, the calorie intake remained steady in the past 2 decades; the daily carb, fat and protein consumptions had not altered significantly either. What changed was the significant decrease in the amount of leisure time physical activities in the general population. The percentage of people reported no physical activity had jumped from 19.1% to 51.7% for women and 11.4% to 43.5% for men between 1994 and 2010.

    The study also identified the prevalence of abdominal obesity in normal-weight women. Indicating women are more prone to gain weight around their waist than men on a population level, at least in America. Abdominal obesity can increase the risk of mortality even in young people with normal BMI. It is defined by waist circumference of 88cm and more in women and 102cm and more in men. This increase in waistline is primarily caused by a lack of physical activity.

    No one is denying that a healthy, balanced diet is essential for body weight control. However, the increased prevalence in obesity is not correlated with increased calorie intake, as we were made to believe. The ever-increasing waistline of the population is in fact associated with the ever-decreasing amount of physical activities we do. Your health is in your own hands. Be sure try to eat well, but more importantly, stay active. There are no shortcuts to good health, and nothing replaces good ol' physical activity.

  • Weight loss, a personal journey

    According to the World Health Organization, over 67% of Australians were considered overweight in 2007 (BMI greater than 25), doubling the figure in 1995. Being overweight and obese can lead to many health-related complications later in life and is costing the government tens of billions of dollars a year. On the other hand, people are spending billions of dollars each year on weight loss/maintenance related products and services and yet, the society as a whole is still getting fatter, with many failed to lose weight and reaching their targets.

    Even though the theory of weight loss can be simply put into one little equation of balancing calorie intake and calorie expenditure, it is not that easy to achieve. I know what it feels like, being handsomely overweight back in my early undergrad years and had experienced several failed attempts of shedding any fat. I eventually lost about 20% of my body weight aided by: the desire of wanting to feel good about myself and my health; a friend Jay (the now owner of AminoZ) who suggested to me that may be I should do a 12-week challenge with him; and being a scientist to be, my own version of the 12-week challenge.

    I lost 13kgs during the first 12 weeks and my weight continued to decline for a further 10kgs in the next 3 months even after reverting back to a normal everything-rich diet from a somewhat high-carb, low-fat diet that I initially employed, which was not the best diet for losing weight as we now all know. My weight has since plateaued and remained stable and I have been enjoying the rewards of a new life since, feeling healthier, more energetic and fitter than ever. That was my third try at losing weight, both previous attempts had resulted in failure. So what did I do differently the third time around?

    I've never really thought about this question until recently, after seeing people going out of their ways practicing different diets and trying out varieties of exercise regimes in an attempt to shed fat and fail. I never bothered with what types of exercises I did nor did I care much about the contents of foods I ate, as long as they were "low fat". In fact, I was so unfit at the beginning, 10 minutes on the treadmill at the speed of 8km/h was enough to exhaust me for the rest of the day, that was pretty poor for someone who's close to 190cm in height, 8km/h almost feels like walking. I did try my best to avoid the obvious "unhealthy" food though, stuff like pizzas, KFC, creamy sauces and deserts, and tried to eat at home for as much as I could. However, one of my staple "healthy" diets at the time was to have an entire pack of pasta with an entire can of meat sauce from Coles in one meal…well, you get the idea.

    So here we go, no specialized weight loss exercises, no ultra scientific-diets, no pills and no ultrasonic fat busters (trust me, been there, done that), I became one of the privileged few who managed to lose weight effectively and stayed light. You might think I'm a special case, but I think not. There are others I know of who had also lost weight in a similar fashion and stayed there. This is not luck, as there are really no short cuts in weight loss, it is something else. What was different for me the third time around was that, this time, I took it personally.

    That's right, weight loss is a very personal journey. In order to be successful, one needs to go through the following eight stages:

    1. Recognition (wholeheartedly acknowledge the weight issue)
    2. Desire (the strong desire to lose weight)
    3. Justification (to understand the precise reasons for wanting to lose weight)
    4. Vision (to imagine yourself at where you want to be, in this case, after you achieved your weight-loss goal)
    5. Hunger (to crave about achieving the goal, enough for you to do something about it)
    6. Action (autonomous action driven by own desire)
    7. Discipline (continuously driven by stages 1-5)
    8. Reward (enjoyment of everything about yourself and life)

    As you can see, weight loss is a journey of self-acceptance, self- discipline and self-empowerment. It is all in our own psychology, and it is our own responsibility. The problem with many who tried but failed to lose weight, my old self included, is that, with so many products and assistance available to aid weight loss, we are squandering this responsibility to something/someone else. For many, this is the recipe for failure. Personal trainers, gym equipment, diets, even pills are there to assist you to lose weight according to your own personal circumstances. However, they are not the reason that you can/cannot lose weight. I've seen many complaining about certain weight loss products "doesn't work", and then the same people would move on and searching for weeks to find the next magical product that still "doesn't work". It's a vicious cycle. One cannot rely on anything else other than themselves to lose weight.

    Researchers from Cornell University conducted a simple study to investigate just how important a role phycology can play in weight loss. The study found that people who saw exercise as a chore were more likely to eat more fattening food to reward themselves post-exercise, and consequently rendered the exercise ineffective for weight loss. On the other hand, people who saw exercise as being "fun" were more likely to eat less and eat healthier. The findings of this study substantiated the notion that successful weight loss is a personal journey, and it's a difficult journey. Once the responsibility of this journey is in others' hands, you are likely to lose your focus in the face of difficulty, which would eventually lead to failure. You don't need to find exercise "fun", but you need to do it on your own terms, be proud about it and embrace stages 1-5 of weight loss as listed above.

    Please allow me to stress that it is absolutely fine if you seek help or use products, but only at your own volition. Consider helps and tools as mere assistants to your success rather than necessities. Remember, weight loss is a personal journey, and you will only succeed if you take the full responsibility yourself. One might ask if I was going to lose weight again would I employ a more scientific exercise regime accompanied by a more clinically proven diet? The answer is yes, only because I know better now and one should always make the most of their resources to maximize their success. However, following a better regime doesn't necessarily translate into getting better results. Many failed to lose weight even with all the help in the world while many others, myself included achieved our goals by following rather flawed exercise regimes and diets. I took the responsibility of my health into my own hands and did it because I wanted it and I did it on my own terms and it worked, it was personal and it is sustainable. I wouldn't want it any other way.

  • Yacon syrup for weight loss?

    Yacon syrup has recently been dubbed as the new miracle drink to aid weight loss. This sweet tasting juice is extracted from the sweet potato like roots of Yacon plants, which is thought to be one of the best sources of fructooligosaccharides, the indigestible sugar molecules that have the ability trick your brain into thinking you just had sugar. Yacon syrup is low in calories, and rich in prebiotics. It has shown to be able to reach the gut flora after ingestion, which can lead to a number of positive effects on health and metabolism. In short, even without the weight loss effect, Yacon syrup is a natural, healthier alternative of sugar and other synthetic sweeteners.

    But can Yacon syrup assist weight loss? To date, the weight loss effect of Yacon syrup in humans was only investigated in one study, which was published in the journal of Clinical Nutrition in 2009. During the study, researchers observed the effects 2 daily doses of Yacon syrup on obese and slightly dyslipidemic pre-menopausal women during a 120-day period. The study found that 0.14g fructooligosaccharides/kg body weight/day of Yacon syrup equivalent, that is around 0.25g Yacon syrup/kg body weight/day is safe for human consumption and significantly reduced body weight, waist circumference, BMI, low-density lipoprotein (LDL)-cholesterol levels and fasting serum insulin levels of the test subjects compared to the placebo. In fact, the group consuming Yacon syrup lost 15kg on average in the 120-day period, which I would say is quite remarkable.

    The limitation of the study, other than the obvious gender bias, was the small number of subjects used. In addition, no further studies investigating the weight loss effect of Yacon syrup were found. Therefore, the results of the study should be taken with a grain of salt. One study does not mean it is scientifically proven. Nevertheless, Yacon syrup is natural and a good source of soluble fiber, take one or two teaspoons of the syrup 30 minutes to 1 hour before each meal may aid digestion, and may even aid weight loss in the long run. Remember, although safe, too much Yacon syrup can cause stomach discomfort, so reduce intake if you are experiencing any side effects.

  • Fruit juice makes you fat

    Juicing is becoming increasingly popular these days, walking around any shopping centre you will surely be confronted by long lines of people waiting in front of juice bars. Rich in fibre and nutrients, fruits are definitely healthy if consumed in appropriate quantities. However, such goodness isn't all directly transferable into your beloved fruit juice. The juicing process generally breaks down most fibre, coupled with the 100% pure and freshness that most people prefer, which means you can drink up to 4-5 apples in a single standard serve, what you have left is a relatively nutritional drink that is at least comparable to full strength Coke in terms of the contents of simple sugar and calories. One SMALL glass of fresh juice a day is really all you should drink.

    Don't get me wrong, fruit juice can be healthy to some people when consumed moderately, but it's also fattening and high in sugar. The problem with juice is in the high sugar content and a lack of fibre. The sugar in fruits is bound within fibrous structures so that it's broken slowly during digestion. One glass of 100% juice contains more fruits than you should eat in one serving, without the fibre that makes eating real fruits healthy. The large amount of sugar gets absorbed very quickly and some can turn into fat. Even though fruit juice contains plenty of vitamins and antioxidants, the high sugar content renders it nutritionally poor calorie for calorie wise compares to real fruits. Scientists have found that eating 3 portions of fruit a day can reduce the chance of diabetes by 18%. However, drinking a glass full of fruit juice a day can actually increase the chance of type 2 diabetes by 18%. One study has found that sucrose consumption without the corresponding fibre, similar to the contents of a fruit juice, may increase the risk of metabolic syndrome, liver injury and obesity. It was recommended that children should refrain from drinking fruit juice in favor of eating whole fruits in order to reduce the risk of obesity.

    Drinking 100% fruit juice is not an alternative to eating real fruits. It's fattening and can be unhealthy. If you really like your daily dose of juice in the morning, make sure to dilute it and only drink in moderation (a small cup). If you want to use juice as a form of meal replacement, forget it, it won't make you full and you might as well go and eat a real meal with an equivalent calorie content. If you need to freshen up after a work out, drinking water is your best bet. If you want to lose weight, avoid at all cost!

  • Is eating saturated fat making us fat?

    Saturated fat and trans fat have been publicly demonised as the "bad fats", which have turned many of us away from consuming traditional foods containing high levels saturated fat such as butter and bacon and opting for low-fat alternatives. While most people on the street would have trouble telling saturated fat and trans fat apart, they are actually very different. Saturated fat occurs naturally and is generally found in animal products such as red meat and full cream milk. Trans fat on the other hand, is mostly made by partial dehydrogenation of oils, a process that makes the fat easier to cook and harder to spoil than naturally occurring oils. Trans fat has been found to increase the risk of cardiovascular disease, increase unhealthy cholesterol and can cause abdominal obesity. Saturated fat on the other hand, despite all the bad publicity from marketers, healthcare professionals and even government agencies, is not all that bad compared to many of the so called healthier alternatives.

    While saturated fat can increase both HDL and LDL cholesterols levels in the body, there is currently no concrete evidence associating saturated fat consumption with increased risk cardiovascular diseases (Siri-Tarino et al 2010, American Journal of Clinical Nutrition; Mente et al 2009, Archives of Internal Medicine). On the other hand, despite the findings in scientific studies showed that consuming saturated fat can make you gain weight, historic population figures painted a very different picture. In 1960, 45% of the calories came from fats and oils in an average American's diet, with 13% of the population considered obese and only fewer than 1% of the people had type 2 diabetes. Remember, that was before the invention of most of the low-fat alternatives so people were actually consuming a healthy dose of saturated fat each day. Today, Americans are eating a lot less fat, 12% less to be precise, however, 34% of the population is obese, that's 21% more than that of in 1960 and 11% of the people have diabetes. Correlation does not equal to causation, but these figures are staggering considering pretty much everyone blames the obesity epidemic on fat consumption.

    In my previous articles I mentioned that the current obesity epidemic is mainly caused by a lack of physical activities and a lack of sleep. Here may I add the third item to that list: too much carbs and sugar. That's right, many low fat alternatives contain high levels of carbohydrates and/or sugar. The increased consumption of carbohydrates and sugar will increase the risk of weight gain.

    I believe that if we all revert back to the fatty diet of the old days and perform regular exercise the current obesity epidemic would go away. The content of saturated fat in the food we eat is irrelevant as long as we eat natural, whole foods and have a good lifestyle. Replacing saturated fat with low-fat alternatives high in carbohydrates will probably make you fatter. Saturated fat consumption is not to blame for the ever-increasing waistline of the society.

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