by Roger French
Overweight is in ‘epidemic’ proportions all over Australia.
More than half of Australian men (56%) and over one third of women (38%)
are classified as overweight or obese. ‘Obese’ refers to more than 20%
Between 1980 and 1990 we surged in size. The average weight of women
jumped 3 kilos from 61.7 to 64.8 kilos, and for men the average rose
nearly 2 kilos from 77.0 to 78.8 kilos.
Overweight is worthy of remedial action because of long-term dangers
to health and possible adverse effects on self-esteem. But beware the
paranoia about obesity that is about. Many people of normal weight,
particularly women, are seeing themselves as fat, a false perception
which occasionally results in anorexia nervosa or bulimia.
Men typically store fat around the abdomen and women typically on the
hips. It is abdominal fat, not hip fat, that increases the risk of high
blood pressure, obesity and heart disease.
Part of the problem is that the range of foods in Australia has never
been wider or more appealing. Nor so loaded with kilojoules, especially
from fat which is more readily converted to body fat than are protein
or carbohydrates. Fast-food outlets and all-you-can-eat restaurants
are making overeating a form of entertainment.
While we eat more, we move less. Some people have no more activity than
walking from the front door of the house to the car. Even the most routine
activities are becoming redundant due to remote TV controls, automatic
garage doors, push- button car windows, elevators, escalators and so
on. In the office the need to get up and walk to a colleague’s desk
has been replaced by internal phones. In the 1990’s the average person
uses 190 kilojoules (45 calories) less per day than in the 1970’s.
The human body requires some fatty tissue in order to function properly.
With women this is around 20 - 27% of body weight and men up to 17%.
This is normal, it’s not obesity
Overweight is generally assumed to be due to excess fatty tissue. It
can also be the result of fluid retention or an above-normal amount
of muscle. Fortunately, lifestyle methods for overcoming obesity also
help prevent fluid retention.
Not all obesity is due to overeating. In fact, on average, obese people
have generally been found to eat less than thin people.
For these people, the major cause of their over-abundance of fat is
low metabolic rate in which their bodies burn kilojoules abnormally
slowly. It was only in the eighties that research discovered just how
big a part metabolic rate can play in obesity, and how we can jack up
our metabolism to beat it.
High Metabolism, Lower Weight
Firstly, what is metabolic rate? Basal metabolic rate is the minimum
amount of energy consumed when a person is fully resting physically
and mentally. We burn a certain amount of energy even when doing absolutely
nothing - pumping blood, breathing, digesting food and so on.
The assumption that fat people are greedy and eat much more than others
is, on average, wrong. Many overweight people eat significantly less
food - and fewer kilojoules - than thin people. Most obese people leading
sedentary lives eat less than active lean people.
The reason for this paradox is that low-kilojoule dieting tends to lower
metabolic rate, the very opposite effect to what is wanted. When we
continue normal activities but supply insufficient fuel, the body learns
to function on fewer kilojoules. When normal eating is resumed, the
lower metabolic rate persists and the body may now manufacture and store
even more fat than before, with the result that the person is fatter
than when they started dieting. The net result is they are now frustrated,
depressed and thoroughly obsessed with food
The exciting fact for overweight people - and also lean people who want
to stay lean - is that metabolic rate is not static and can be controlled.
To a large degree, we can regulate the speed at which our bodies burn
Research found that people who went running regularly were considerably
lighter than non-runners even though they ate 50% more kilojoules per
kilogram of body weight. Women who played 10 hours of tennis a week
and consumed 10,000 kilojoules (2,400 calories) per day were trim, while
sedentary women consuming only 5900 kilojoules (1,400 calories) per
day were overweight.
The significance of metabolic rate was realised when the researchers
found that strenuous football raises it by as much as 25% for 15 hours
after a match and by about 10% for two days afterwards. So vigorous
activity at least every second day will continuously increase metabolic
Regular, vigorous physical activity is the main factor which enables
us to increase metabolic rate quickly and easily.
Regular exercise replaces fat with muscle. Muscles increase their energy
consumption by 20 to 100 times during activity, whereas fatty tissue
never devours energy rapidly.
Because of this multiple effect on metabolic rate, physical activity
burns calories at a much faster rate than we would expect. Even when
resting, a fit person has a faster metabolism and burns more energy
than an unfit person.
Regular physical activity combined with a sensible diet of natural foods
are the essence of overcoming obesity for most people.
A bonus of faster metabolism is feeling warmer with less clothing. Feet
will not feel freezing cold in bed at night, swimming in cold water
is more comfortable, and so on.
Some obese people do overeat. These people tend to eat independently
of appetite, tucking in more in response to the aroma and sight of food,
whereas lean people tend to eat according to hunger.
True appetite is regulated by blood sugar level, blood amino-acid level
and fibre in food. When blood sugar level is low, we experience hunger.
Similarly with low levels of amino acids, the building blocks of proteins,
so that a low-protein diet can create food cravings. Fibre makes us
feel full because it demands chewing which mixes saliva with the food,
causing fibre to swell in the stomach and increase the volume of the
False appetite is usually the result of external factors that operate
on the emotions.
Emotions And Attitudes to Food
Compensation, Consolation, Reward: Early in life a child is taught by
adults to regard food as compensation for suffering or unhappiness.
A hurt child is offered a cake or a sweet for consolation. A food treat
is given as a reward for good behaviour, or food is presented as evidence
of the parent’s love.
We learn to associate food with things other than hunger so that later
in life we are likely to use food to console ourselves when depressed
or as a sedative for anger.
Cues - Often we eat according to certain cues, particularly set mealtimes,
whether we are hungry or not. Advertisements for take-away foods or
confectionery or the sight of cakes, chocolates, snack foods, etc, tend
to arouse false interest in food
Stress - Eating tends to go hand-in-hand with intense mental activity.
Food is commonly used as a sedative for stress.
To Counter False Appetite
Resisting these pressures and temptations to eat requires a fair amount
of determination but it can be done. Here are some of the tricks that
may be used:
Write down every item you eat and how much of it over a week. Record
your mood at the time, where you were and what you were doing. From
this record look for cues that arouse your interest in food. Do you
have an urge to nibble while reading or watching TV? Do you eat because
you are depressed or angry? Do your meals go on and on, or do you graze
on snacks throughout the day?
If reading or watching TV are a cue to eat, or if snacking is a problem,
make a rule that you can eat generous amounts of food but only at mealtimes
and only in the diningroom and not while carrying out other activities.
If there is an urge to keep eating after an adequate dinner, go for
a walk, make a phone call or commence some other activity immediately
after the meal is finished.
Find other ways of coping with negative emotions like anger, resentment,
frustration or depression. Go for a walk, write a letter, become absorbed
with a hobby or play tennis or golf, and so on.
To focus and strengthen your mental efforts, set one-day goals. These
can be extremely effective, which is why Alcoholics Anonymous uses them.
At the beginning of the day you might set the goal, “Just for today
I will eat only at mealtimes and just enough to satisfy hunger.” Remind
yourself of this goal each time you are tempted by food during the day,
and at the end of the day praise yourself for having accomplished your
goal. If you are feeling inclined the next day, set the goal again,
and also the day after that, and so on, each time praising yourself
for achieving your goal. As the days go by, you feel better and better
about yourself and it becomes easier to achieve your purpose.
Decide in advance on rewards that you will give yourself al the end
of each day or week that you succeed in not overeating. It might be
a long-distance phone call, a visit to a friend or a yoga class, or
at the end of the week buying a new dress, shirt or some novelty.
Let there be no guilt associated with food in any way. You have hurt
nobody but yourself, so why feel guilty! Guilt is a negative emotion
and likely to turn your attention even more to food for consolation.
Should you be unable to overcome preoccupation with food, the assistance
of an organisation such as Overeaters Anonymous would be well worthwhile,
as group solutions to such problems tend to be very successful. In general,
keep your mind off food by becoming as involved as you can with other
people and group activities.
Overeating is easier to avoid on a balanced diet of natural foods than
when hoeing- in to processed foods. Under Natural Health Dietary Guidelines
(to be explained in detail next issue), approximately 3/4 of the diet
will be fresh fruits and vegetables - foods which contain from 75% to
95% water with fibre made bulky by this high water content. If the daily
meal plan is based on 500 grams of fresh vegetables and 500 grams of
fresh fruit, a generous 1 kg in all, the total energy supplied by these
foods would be only around 1,650 kilojoules (400 calories).
Compare this to just one standard meat pie supplying exactly the same
kilojoules or one large hamburger supplying 2,500 kilojoules (600 calories),
not to mention the vastly better nutritional content in the form of
vitamin C, other vitamins, minerals and fibre in the fruits and vegetables,
along with their total absence of saturated fat, cholesterol, refined
sugar and refined salt.
Under these guidelines, added to the fresh fruits and vegetables - for
a person of average size - are:
Approximately 85 grams of protein-rich food, which means legumes, nuts,
seeds, free-range eggs or soft cheese
Approximately 60 grams of dried fruit.
Starchy food in the form of perhaps four slices of bread or 200 grams
of potatoes; up to 30 grams of oil, butter or cream as a garnish.
The energy content of this day’s eating ranges from 5,500 to 7,500 kilojoules
(1,300 to 1,800 calories) depending on the combination of foods.
So a balanced diet of natural foods, ignoring any snacks or treats,
supplies a range of approximately 5,500 to 7,500 kilojoules, in contrast
to an orthodox diet containing processed foods which could easily supply
one and a half times as many kilojoules.
With natural foods we can be satisfied with a full stomach three times
a day without overeating, with the added bonus of having about the healthiest
Should increased activity require more fuel - as indicated by true appetite
- simply increase the quantities of all food types, keeping fresh fruits
and vegetables to approximately 3/4 of the total, except that more emphasis
would be placed on carbohydrate-rich foods - fresh fruit, dried fruit,
potatoes and grains. Be sure not to overdo grains as these are acid-forming
and can be mucus-forming.
Applying these dietary guidelines should normally provide the nutritional
requirements to facilitate shedding fatty tissue - including:
Adequate fibre for a full stomach.
Adequate protein to prevent sugar craving without it being excessive.
Too much protein is harmful.
Adequate essential fatty acids to facilitate high metabolic rate. May
be supplied by oil on salads, flaxseed (linseed), nuts or avocados,
etc. Ensure adequate vitamin E to protect these fatty acids by taking
fresh wheat-germ oil capsules if in any doubt. Adequate minerals and
vitamins, especially B vitamins, to enable the body to burn sugar fully.
Have well-spaced meals so that each meal is completely digested before
starting the next meal. Eating too soon results in putrefaction and
fermentation, producing toxaemia and fluid retention and very likely
contributing to cellulite.
Avoid the causes of fluid retention wherever possible, particularly
salt, caffeine, tannin, hormone therapy and some man-made chemicals.
Have a satisfying breakfast, preferably of fruit alone. If this seems
inadequate, add something simple like plain yoghurt, sunflower seeds,
a few nuts or muesli. Some people find that if they eat starchy grain
food early in the day, they want more starchy foods later in the day,
and in the end are eating too much.
Other Causes of Obesity
Hypoglycaemia (low blood sugar) - Most commonly caused by excessive
sugar consumption, or by stress, stimulants or allergies. Sugar remains
in the cells and is converted to fat.
Adrenal Exhaustion - Usually the result of stress or nutritional deficiencies
such as vitamin B5. Insufficiency of adrenalin means that sugar is not
fed back to the bloodstream when blood-sugar level is low, resulting
Diabetes - Treating diabetes requires medical supervision under most
State laws. Sugar intake must be carefully regulated to avoid causing
a harmful sugar surplus or deficiency.
Allergies - Persistent allergies are a source of physiological stress,
and may lead to adrenal exhaustion and hypoglycaemia.
Hypothyroidism (insufficient thyroid function) - Commonly due to iodine
deficiency, or may be due to deficiencies of vitamin A, vitamin E, zinc,
manganese or molybdenum or possibly other nutrients.
Abnormally High Oestrogen Levels - Associated with ovarian cysts, the
contraceptive pill, hormone therapy, etc, excess oestrogen normally
depresses thyroid activity, resulting in low metabolic rate and obesity.
Depressed Function of Sugar-Burning Enzymes - The burning of sugar in
cells to release energy requires a series of enzyme-promoted changes,
the enzymes in turn being activated by vitamins BI, B2, B3 and B5. Deficiency
of these vitamins causes sugar to build up and possibly be converted
to fat. To break down excess protein requires another B vitamin, B6.
Deficiency of essential fatty acids - Depresses metabolic rate, so we
need to consume some (not too much) unsaturated fat to reduce any tendency
If regular physical activity combined with a diet of natural foods,
does not succeed in reducing obesity, it will be necessary to investigate
whether one or more of the above conditions or other possible causes
of obesity are present. Professional guidance will be most helpful,
and often necessary to achieve results.
Dangers of Obesity
If obesity is not dealt with, there is a high risk of long-term harm,
including the following :-
High blood pressure and heart failure - Each extra kilo of fatty tissue
means there will be a vast number of extra blood vessels requiring blood
to be pumped through them, increasing blood pressure and overloading
the heart. Blood pressure often falls with weight reduction.
Osteoarthritis may result from the greater strain placed on the joints
by the extra weight.
Diabetes - The extra tissue increases the demand for insulin, and fat
decreases the effectiveness of insulin, which can lead to diabetes.
Kidney disease may result from the associated high blood pressure.
Gallstones are thought to be more common with obesity.
Increased Risk In Surgery - Should surgery be required for any purpose,
more anaesthetic will be required, creating a greater risk of complications.
Sleep Apnoea - This occurs mainly, though not only, in obese men. If
the airways are closed for 3 to 4 minutes, this can result in death.
Reproductive Disorders - Supplementing the work of the ovaries, adipose
tissue also produces oestrogen. Excess fat producing excess oestrogen
may result in menstrual problems, breast cysts, cancer of the breasts
or uterus and so on.
There is no such thing as the ideal weight for all people of the same
height. Weight-for-height tables have been devised to estimate the weight
at which we are healthiest, and although not an infallible statement
of what an individual’s weight should be, the tables are a useful guide
and are presented here in the form of a chart, courtesy of the Australian
The ideal weight for each of us is discovered by considering how we
look and how we feel. By living a healthy lifestyle - fanaticism excluded
- we will eventually come to know the weight at which we are fittest
and healthiest and have the most energy - without artificial stimulation
from substances like caffeine.
Professional Assistance - For people in whom obesity is a stubborn challenge,
reducing can be a long, slow process, and this is where professional
help on a live-in basis can be invaluable. After achieving an initial
reduction under guidance, it is then much easier to continue the process
at home. The Natural Health Society has seen many people successfully
reduce weight at the closely-affiliated (and also not-for- profit) Hopewood
Health Centre at Wallacia NSW (near Sydney), where Natural Health principles
are applied and expert supervision is available.
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