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Watch your weight maam!

Obesity is a problem of great frustration for many people. It has been proved that life expectancy is shorter in overweight individuals. For example if weight is twenty percent in excess than the average, life expectancy is decreased by twenty percent in males and ten percent in females.


There are numerous weight reduction regimes, yet the long-term success rate with all of these is limited. Because it is difficult to maintain desirable weight once a person becomes obese, it is better to prevent being overweight, beginning early in life.

Causes of Obesity

Obesity is caused by an intake of calories beyond the body’s need for energy. It is better to have some understanding of the problems of the individual before therapy can be effectively instituted: A thorough physical examination, a dietary history and an investigation of habits relating to activity, rest and family and social relationships are important.

Eating too much becomes a habit for many people. The amount of food is not necessarily excessive, but it is the extra foods beyond the calorie need that account for the gradual increase in weight. For example the extra pats of butter, the spoonful of jelly or the preference for a rich dessert. Excessive amounts of carbohydrate rich foods are sometimes eaten because they are cheaper than lower calorie fruits and vegetables. The many labour saving devices at home and in industry reduce the energy requirement. Most people enjoy sports as spectators rather than as participants, riding rather than walking to school or work is common practice even for short distances.

Eating can be a solace for the individual who is bored, lonely, discontented or depressed. Food often becomes the focal point of the day for those with little else to do or who are not motivated to seek another outlet for their problems.

Several investigations have shown that there is a high correlation between obesity in parents and their children.

Prevention of obesity

The most vigorous efforts to prevent obesity should be directed to those individuals who are most susceptible, namely children of obese parents and children who have stocky frames. Certain periods of life are also likely to bring about obesity. Men of normal weight often begin to gain weight in the twenties and early thirties and women are more likely to gain in the mid thirties and forties. Weight gain following pregnancy is common. If these trends are recognized, the individual can elect to reduce calorie intake, or increase exercise or both.

Treatment of obesity

In order to consider the treatment successful, the following two criteria must be satisfied.

  1. The weight loss must be such that desirable weight according to body frame and state of health is achieved.
  2. The desired weight should be maintained. The important components of treatment are calorie restriction, nutrition education, exercise, and psychological support.

Some techniques that have been used successfully to control food intake includes:

  1. Eating only at a specific time and place.
  2. Learning to eat more slowly.
  3. Omitting other activities such as reading or watching television while eating.
  4. Using smaller plates and placing portions directly on the plate rather than serving family style.

One year follow up results indicate that regaining the weight lost is common unless an exercise or emergency component is built into the programme.

Calorie restricted diets

Many widely-accepted, nutritionally-sound diets are available and are designed to bring about steady weight loss, to establish good food habits, and to promote a sense of well-being. Such diets must be palatable, must fit into the framework of family food habits, and must not require additional expense or long preparation time. Basic consideration in planning weight reduction diets includes the following:

Energy: A diet that provides 800 to 1,000 kilo calories below the daily requirement leads to a loss of 3 to 4 Kg. (6 to 8 lbs) monthly. This gradual loss does not result in severe hunger, nervous exhaustion, and weakness that often accompany drastic reduction regimes. For most men 1,400 to 1,600 kilo calories are a satisfactory level, and for women 1,200 to 1,400 Kcal are indicated.

Diets that supply 1,000 Kcal or less are rarely necessary. In many elderly people, satisfactory weight loss is achieved only when energy intake is limited to 1,000 to 1,200 Kcal. This is because of their reduced basal metabolism and reduced physical activity.

Milk: It is advised that skimmed milk be used instead of whole milk. One cup of skimmed milk (4 ozs) contains 12 gms of carbohydrate, 8 gms protein and 80 calories. Yoghurt made of skimmed milk should be taken instead of whole milk.

Meat: Boiled, baked, steamed chicken, fish, mutton and beef should be eaten. Gravies and fried meat should be avoided. The amount of fat ingested from meat will depend upon the cut that is used. Lean cuts of beef and mutton, liver, egg yolk, kidney and brain have higher content of fat, so these should be avoided. Fish with coloured flesh is somewhat higher in fat content than that with white flesh.

One meat serving weighs one ounce, like 4 servings or 4 ozs. One serving is equal to one egg or one oz. Fish or ground meat or chicken or stewing meat or dried beans and pulses half cup cooked. One serving contains 7 gms protein, 5 gms fat and 70 calories.

Vegetables: Vegetables with high water content such as spinach, cabbage, lettuce, cucumber are correspondingly low in calories as compared to vegetables such as potatoes, sweet potatoes, beetroot, lime beans, etc. Dried beans and peas are much high in calories and these should be avoided.

One vegetable serving is 1/2 cup cooked or 1 cup raw. One exchange of vegetable contains about 5 gms carbohydrate, 2 gms protein and 25 calories.

Fruits: Banana, mangoes, grapes and canned foods are high in calories. Apples, oranges, lemon, papaya, grape fruit contain very little calories. One serving of fruit contains 10 grams carbohydrates and 40 calories.

Breads: One bread serving contains 15 gms carbohydrate, 2 gms protein and 70 calories. 1 serving of bread is 1 bread slice or 1/2 cup cooked rice or 1/2 cup cooked noodles or spaghetti or macaroni or 1/2 chapatti, roti or naan.

Fried rice, and all bakery products such as cakes, biscuits, chips, pasteries, pies, etc. should be avoided.

One serving of fat contains 5 gms fat and 45 calories. One serving of fat is equal to one teaspoon of butter, or one tablespoon of cream cheese, or 1 tsp of oil or ghee.

Butter, ghee, dried nuts salad dressings are rich in fat. Instead, vegetable oils, and margarine should be used in limited amounts.

A great deal of flexibility in food choices is possible with the exchange lists. One important consideration is the safety value of the diet. Proteins and fat remain in the stomach for long; hence more allowances should be divided approximately equally, between the three meals.

Some plans permit six meals a day instead of three. In these, some protein should be provided at each feeding. Part of the success of a reducing diet depends upon learning to be content with smaller portions of food and less concentrated food.

Foods to restrict or avoid

Some of these foods in the following list are permitted in specified amounts, but others are best avoided altogether.

High fat foods: Butter, margarine, cheese, chocolates, cream, ice cream, fat meat, fatty fish, or fish canned in oil, fried foods of any kind such as doughnuts, and potato chips, gravies, nuts, oil, pastries, and salad dressings.

High Carbohydrate foods: Breads of any kind, candy, cake, cookies, corn, cereal products such as macaroni, noodles, spaghetti, pancakes / waffles, sweetened or dried fruits, legumes such as Lima beans, navy beans, dried peas, potatoes, sweet potatoes, honey, molasses, sugar, syrup, rich puddings, sweets.

Beverages: All fountain drinks including malted milk and chocolate. Carbonated beverages of all kinds, rich sundaes and sweetened drink mixes.

To lose weight is not easy. To maintain the desired level of weight is even more difficult. It is essential for an overweight person to learn that a change in food habits is essential not only for losing weight but also to maintain the desirable weight.


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