Over 650 million people worldwide are obese

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Murray Hinton
December 9, 2020 8:58 pm

As someone who has been on a weight loss journey, I can tell you that my weight loss would have been so much easier and tolerable if the information available was given in a clear and understandable way.

About 15 years ago, I followed the Atkins or low-carb diet. It was all the rage back then. I tried to remove almost all sources of carbohydrates from my diet and just focused on protein and fat consumption. My weight loss was swift, but I also lost a lot of muscle and strength. I became very irritable and would snap at the smallest things. I’d also be craving the taste of plain bread or pasta. It wasn’t sustainable for me, and I quickly regained any of the weight I had lost once I went off the diet.

Over the following years, I learnt more about the concept of being in a calorie deficit, and decided to simply reduce my calories below that of my maintenance intake i.e. that which is required to keep weight stable. Whilst being in a calorie deficit would be tolerable for several days, I would soon give in to the constant hunger. There were times when I felt I could eat 2 large pizzas in one go – that’s the hunger I felt from being in a deficit. I told myself to have more willpower and to fight through the hunger, but I’d end up losing over and over again. A few days would pass with me getting through on a calorie deficit, but it would be the constant push of hunger that would wear away at me that meant I failed consistently in losing weight.

Lots of time would go by where I simply disregarded any attempt to lose weight. I figured that being in a calorie deficit just didn’t work for me, and I looked for other methods that claimed to be successful in helping others who often failed. There are a lot out there. Those that claim to have a secret formula, others that claim you can eat whatever you want, and so on. But they, of course, never had much effect.

Ultimately I returned to the idea of being in a calorie deficit to lose weight. I believe this is almost universally and scientifically agreed upon to be the way to lose weight, though there are some voices on social media that claim otherwise. This time round, my stint with being in a calorie deficit has been a lot more successful, and by this, I mean sustainable. Before, I would eat anything and would just focus on being in a deficit. However while being in a deficit is still the most important aim, I’ve focused more on eating low-calorie satiating foods and including much more protein in my diet, which preserves muscle and leaves me feeling less hungry. I still get hungry – it is a diet after all – and there are, of course, slip ups along the way, but the sustainability of being in a deficit has been much more easier by choosing the right foods for me, which allow me to eat a lot, stay satiated and fall within a calorie deficit.

Jason Ng
September 28, 2020 10:40 am

It’s no surprise the number of obese people is so high, given the environment in which many of us live. Many towns and cities are ‘obesogenic’ environments. Let’s go back several thousand years before the advent of agriculture. Our ancestors were hunter-gatherers searching for resources, which at times would have been scarce. Long periods of time could go by without sustenance and a failed hunt could mean no food for the next few days.

Contrast the hunter-gatherer lifestyle to the lifestyle many of us live today. We have access to shops and restaurants within a short walk’s distance. Within those shops and restaurants are choices of hyper-palatable and calorie-dense foods. A short walk isn’t even needed now. We just need to tap a few buttons on our phones, and food is delivered to us within a few minutes.

The obesogenic environment promotes overconsumption of calories. Many foods are manufactured with additives that make us want to eat more, and the effort required to do so is minimal. So yes, the number of obese people around the world is high, but our societies and environments are designed in a way for this to occur.

Robert Huot
September 27, 2020 1:11 pm

650 million is a big figure. The solution that is often recommended to people to help them lose weight is a simple one. Just move more and eat less. The problem with this is that while the statement is simple, the process is anything but simple. We’re surrounded by innumerable fad diets that claim to be the way to finally help you shed those pounds. Just a few that come to mind are the carnivore, paleo, low carb, vegan, blood-type and warrior diets. We’re also bombarded with marketing from businesses selling superfoods that claim to cleanse your gut and speed up your metabolism. Then we have exercise routines that claim to ‘torch your fat’ and help you gain muscle as quickly as possible. What sounds simple, just moving more and eating less, is mired in what seems infinitesimal complexity. The problem of obesity stems from numerous factors such as social norms, eating habits, sustainability of proposed changes to one’s diet, and so on. The issue, I believe, is that there’s too much information out there, much of it unhelpful and oriented to be commercialised.

Kaitlyn Mora
December 30, 2020 7:51 pm

I believe that a main contributor to high obesity numbers is responsibility. Personal responsibility to look after your own health and societal responsibility to look after each other. Societal responsibility also includes the government. How are they helping? Are nutrition labels on foods accurate? Are they taxing harmful foods appropriately? Do they regulate food manufacturing practices?

The environment you are in certainly plays a part. If many people around you eat a lot, chances are you’ll do the same. I have a friend who was in a relationship with someone who snacked a lot. When they broke up, my friend soon lost a lot of weight. She no longer snacked throughout the day, as she did when she was with her ex. Societal pressure and imitation is real.

Also does society place pressure on governments to see how foods are being processed? When I was in high school I went to the USA for a student semester exchange. I went with other students and when we came back home, we had all gained weight! The first few weeks when I was back home I found myself needing to eat more than usual to be satisfied. Why is this? Are more additives and appetite enhancers being put into food there?

Normalisation is powerful as well. Once you get into the habit of doing something, it can be hard to break out of it. That’s why diets have such a high rate of failure. A few years ago there was a personal trainer here who decided to put on weight to prove that you can be out of shape, and then get into shape. He took his weight up to a dangerously high level, according to a doctor who monitored him during this experiment. When the personal trainer tried to lose weight, it wasn’t as easy as he expected it to be. He found it hard to stick to his diet and was caught eating a pizza when he was meant to be eating low calorie meals. This was because he had normalised himself to eating junk food and lots of calories during that period of weight gain. He didn’t anticipate this obstacle to losing weight.

I agree when people say personal responsibility is important. It certainly is. But societal responsibility is important too, and I don’t think we’re there yet. Climbing to the top of a mountain is doable, but it’s much harder when you have certain aspects of society are designed to weigh you down.

Devin Graff
December 10, 2020 11:33 pm

Obesity in some cases is a phenomenon derived from globalisation. Certain countries have actually been accused of exporting obesity. Tonga has a massive obesity epidemic, with 90% of the population overweight or obese, and many people have pointed the finger at mutton flaps exported from New Zealand. These flaps, which have a 40% fat content, are considered unworthy of consumption by people in New Zealand and are often used in dog food. However the exported produce is eaten by people in Tonga. The situation has got so bad that some dentists are even wiring jaws shut so people can go on a liquid diet to lose weight!

There’s a cultural tradition in Tonga to offer food to guests. If more food is offered, this is a sign of greater respect. But one can’t just point to tradition and culture as the cause of the obesity problem in Tonga. Actually there’s an argument that obesity is a problem in Tonga because people are disregarding their culture. Traditional diet in Tonga consisted of dishes made of fish and vegetables. But natural, whole foods are now looked down upon. There’s an allure to having something foreign, whereas traditional Tongan foods are viewed as inferior.

Although obesity is still a huge problem in the west, films and documentaries such as Super Size Me, awareness and educational programs, and the promotion of health and fitness have reduced the popularity of overconsumption. So western food manufacturers and restaurant corporations are looking abroad to sell their calories. The target of these calories are countries like Tonga, which may not have an advanced public understanding of the health concerns associated with overconsumption. And the result is what we see now; an obesity epidemic.

Alex Bakalov
October 20, 2020 7:50 pm

With such a large number of obese people and a clear need for people to manage their weight, there’s also the danger of dubious products being sold that claim to satisfy that need. There’s been a lot of commotion over the years about ‘superfoods’ that can torch belly fat and how a person took this simple pill and lost 50lbs in a matter of weeks. I remember about 10 years ago, people were raving about acai berries. I don’t hear much about them now. The far-flung claims never really matched reality. I even fell for the hype of one product that was a topical cream that claimed to burn fat while I slept. I just had to rub the cream in the area I wanted to lose fat, and the cream would get to work. Unsurprisingly it didn’t do much and I’ve come to realise that one can never depend on a product, even if it’s touted as a breakthrough miracle product endorsed by X, Y and Z, to do the work for you.