The Problem of Overweight—What Solution?
ARE you concerned about being overweight? Do you lose weight only to gain it again?
It may encourage you to know that being overweight—at least up to a certain point—does have its benefits. Jean Mayer, a leading nutritionist, reports that “the death rates from tuberculosis, ulcers and suicide are actually lower than average among obese persons.”
And according to Hippocrates: “Those do best who are a little fat about the belly.” One of America’s leading psychiatrists concerned with this problem, Dr. Albert Stunkard, has expressed a similar opinion. But notice, “a little fat.” Far too many persons have more than “a little.”
How can you tell whether you are too fat? One way is to look in the mirror. Another is to compare your weight with the average for your height, body build and sex. But the best way is to take between your fingers a fold of skin, perhaps at the back of your upper arm. If it is more than an inch thick, you most likely are too fat.
Disadvantages of Being Overweight
Among the disadvantages of being overweight is that it tends to slow you down and so makes you less active. Further, insurance tables show that the greater the overweight, the shorter the life-span. So the matter deserves serious consideration.
There is also the matter of romance, courtship and marriage. It is a fact that the slender figure is considered more attractive in modern societies. That is why dieting has been termed “the most popular indoor sport of the American woman.” She diets to get her man and then to hold him.
Great Interest in Reducing
Literally hundreds of books have been written on the subject of diet and reducing. And how they sell! One book’s sales amounted to a million in less than a year. Another sold five million in several years, and a calorie-counter book has reached a circulation of seventeen million in the United States.a Yearly some thirty articles appear in American magazines. In fact, it is said that “the literature on overweight, diets and related problems is bewildering not only because of its conflicting content but also because of its sheer bulk.”
Yet in spite of all this interest in reducing, 25 to 45 percent of Americans are 20 percent or more overweight and their number is rapidly increasing. This fact has caused a leading nutritionist to complain, “We just don’t know yet how to motivate the individual.” One real aspect of the problem seems to be that more than 90 percent of those who have reduced by means of some crash diet sooner or later return to the ranks of the overweight society.
What Causes Overweight?
As to the causes of overweight, there is truly a ‘bewildering array of conflicting opinions.’ There are many who insist that the problem is simply one of calories, that the more calories you eat the more you weigh. But that is not always so. Some people stay thin in spite of eating a great deal, because they lead very active lives or do hard physical labor. As Dr. W. A. Nolen, a noted surgeon, observes: “There are individual variations in metabolism (metabolism being the term we use to denote the building up and tearing down of our body tissues, both of which processes go on continually). We all know people who never seem to gain any weight, no matter how much they eat.”
Still, when all is said and done, the latest findings do seem to sum up the problem with the words: ‘Fat people don’t know when they are hungry and they don’t know when they are full.’ In some cases the cause may be the appestat, located in the hypothalamus, which governs the hunger and satiety sensations.
Since eunuchs and castrated animals run to fatness, some persons believe that lack of male hormones can cause one to tend to fatness.
Heredity is definitely a factor. Thus a London research team found that where both parents are of average weight, less than 10 percent of their children are overweight. But when both parents are obese, as many as 80 percent of their children are also overweight. That this is not solely due to similar eating habits has been demonstrated by experiments.
Medical studies also suggest that if a person in childhood develops more and larger than average fat cells, he will tend toward obesity with the advancing years. Then, with all his dieting, he will never be free of the problem. So with some persons overweight is controllable but not curable.
There are also psychological factors. You may be eating more than you should because of pressures, frustrations, disappointments, boredom, loneliness or simply idleness. Eating is also a pleasurable activity and fat people are more inclined toward this pleasure. Thus research has shown that the eating habits of people of average weight are generally governed by internal factors, such as hunger and need. But the eating habits of fat people are all too often governed by such external factors as the sight, smell or taste of food.
Then, too, as we grow older, we need less food but our appetite remains the same. Though it is common, gaining weight as one grows older is not usually the healthy thing.
A Full Cupboard of Remedies
Many, indeed, are the remedies from which you can choose. Hundreds of extremely overweight people have been helped by an operation—they have had a large portion of their small intestine removed. In this way the bowel surface from which nourishment is absorbed into the bloodstream is reduced. The measure is obviously a drastic one, not to be hastily chosen.
What about using drugs? With drugs, whether the kind that depress the appetite or the kind that speed up the metabolism, you always have to reckon with side effects. Well has it been said: “No easy way is safe; no safe way is easy.”
Some recommend self-hypnosis. Others have been helped by joining the Overeaters Anonymous or the Weight Watchers. But in view of the risk associated with hypnosis in any form, it is most unwise to resort to it to solve a problem of overweight. And, as to the other methods, a dedicated Christian might well ask himself how such association would affect him spiritually.—1 Cor. 15:33; 2 Cor. 6:14-18.
There are also what are called the “fad diets.” Among those that might be mentioned are the three-day prune diet, a diet of grapefruit and hard-boiled eggs, and a diet of only milk and bananas. A real problem with all these “fad diets” is that they are not desirable on a permanent basis. Most “acceptable” reducing diets are relatively high in protein; the caloric reduction is obtained by reductions in fats and carbohydrates. While they may be called high-protein diets, there is actually no increase in protein intake.
Another approach, quite simple as well as economical, is total fasting. Regarding it, Current Therapy 1970 states: “The total abstinence from food for 1 day every 3 to 10 days has been employed for years. The benefit to be derived from a caloric deficit of 2500 to 4000 calories once or even twice a week is quite real. In persons normal except for the obesity, the risks involved are minimal. For 7 to 10 day fasts, the newer procedure, observation under hospital conditions is advised.”
Good Sense and Self-Control
Of course, the simplest (but not the easiest) solution is to avoid getting overweight. Prevention is better than cure. Parents should be concerned about their children getting a right start as regards wholesome eating habits. But once you are overweight you must reconcile yourself to the fact that there will be considerable hardship and deprivation before the rewards appear that will seem to make it all worth while.
As one medical textbook puts it: “A patient who has successfully lost weight must be prepared for a lifetime of vigilance if he is to maintain his success. Nonetheless, the benefits to be expected from weight loss justify the utmost effort on the part of both the physician and patient to bring about and maintain optimal weight.” As another authority on nutrition put it, “I don’t think you can be healthy without some self-denial.” Putting it even stronger, another specialist states: “The importance of lack of character and will power as shown by the uncontrollable self-indulgence manifested in the obesity problem must be faced.”
You must also keep in mind that controlling your eating habits is only part of the requirement. There is also the matter of exercise, increasing your physical activity. Says a leading medical textbook: “Decreased activity rather than increased food intake is recognized in many obese persons, particularly obese women . . . A program of gradually increasing exercise is an important part of the treatment of obesity.” Keep in mind that a two- to three-mile walk each day has real value.
The following are some of the practical ways that leading American nutritionists and other doctors keep their weight down:
Their family cook cooperates. This is as important as self-discipline if any in the family want to keep their weight down.
They eat slowly. Most seriously overweight persons are fast eaters. Eat slowly and enjoy less food more.
Foods that taste good but have little real nourishment are kept to a minimum in their diet. You too might benefit by cutting down on sodas, pies, pastries, cookies and cakes.
Some of them avoid all alcoholic beverages. If you are serious about controlling your weight, you might well do the same.
“Mrs. Stare [wife of one of America’s foremost nutritionists] never, but never, fixes any fried food.” Foods that are roasted or baked can also be delicious.
They avoid seconds at mealtimes. They also cut down on all fats, whether dairy, meat or vegetable. A simple tip—dilute salad dressing with tomato juice.
Concerning desserts, Dr. Jean Mayer says: “I avoid them like the plague.”
Another thing that many have learned to be careful about is snacks, eating between meals. If you must, then eat celery stalks, carrot sticks, slices of pickles or small pieces of fresh fruit.
Of course, your attitude about food is only half the battle. The other is being willing to exercise, to climb stairs instead of taking the elevator, to walk to the corner store rather than take the car.
If you have good reason for reducing, you can. But it means taking matters seriously. If you have a tendency to fatness, then for you, as Dr. Jean Mayer puts it, “the price of thinness is eternal vigilance and discipline over diet and exercise.”
a A calorie is a unit of energy supplied by food. A tablespoon of honey contains 100 calories. A mature man engaging in average activity requires 3,000 calories a day; a woman of similar age and circumstances, about 2,200.