In Helen Fieldings’ cult novel Bridget Jones’s Diary, frustrated singleton Bridget Jones seems to wage an endless battle against the bulge, and if you will permit me to quote a longish paragraph, sums up very nicely what it is that most of us hate about being fat. Here it is: “I hate communal changing rooms. Everyone stares sneakily at each other’s bodies, but no one ever meets anyone’s eye. There are always girls who know that they look fantastic in everything and dance around beaming, swinging their hair and doing model poses in the mirror saying, ‘Does it make me look fat?’ to their obligatory obese friend, who looks like a water buffalo in everything.”
Not the kindest of descriptions, that, but I have to say most fat people (and let’s not hide behind such terms as ‘big’ or ‘a little overweight’ or ‘differently weighted’ or ‘horizontally gifted’) absolutely hate the way clothes do nothing for them. And while that is a cause worthy of our concern, I wouldn’t say it is the biggest reason to lose weight. Of course, none of us would mind looking as though we had just got off the ramp wearing the latest designer dreams, but the point is, there is, to my mind, a bigger reason to lose weight.
Very simply, being fat equals being ill.
Losing weight is a global concern
There’s no way to put this gently, so I’m not going to try, but the fact is that thin people live longer than fat people. Medical research has established that obesity – roughly defined as more than 25 percent body fat in men and more than 32 percent in women – is one of the biggest threats to good health, and the worrying news is that a little over 20 percent of the United State’s total population is clinically obese.
And though I mention the US as an example, the urge to lose weight has gone global, to the extent that we are witnessing the emergence of an entire industry built around weight loss. For example, a friend who was in India recently told me about a reality show on one of the TV channels that pits very fat people against each other in a race to lose as much weight as possible over the course of a few months. In the end, the biggest loser wins. Sounds familiar? Yes it does, because we know all about NBC’s The Biggest Loser, but the thing is that the globalization of a show themed on losing weight merely proves my assertion.
Excess fat has been proved to directly or indirectly cause heart disease, cancer, and diabetes. Scared? You ought to be, because a National Health and Nutrition Examination survey found that three out of four Americans (that’s 75 percent, in case you want it rubbed in) die of either heart disease or cancer; and roughly 80 percent of those deaths are associated with lifestyle diseases born out of inadequate exercise.
Losing weight impacts your health
Let’s take heart disease, for instance. Once you are obese, it takes more of an effort to breathe, simply because the heart has to labor harder to keep the blood circulation going, to the lungs as well as to other organs. The overwork takes its toll by enlarging the heart so that blood pressure rises and heartbeats become irregular. If that weren’t bad enough, obesity has also been linked to higher levels of cholesterol, and in extreme cases, this means that the arteries are narrowed owing to plaque deposits on their walls – a classic symptom of arteriosclerosis.
Not immediately fatal, arteriosclerosis is nonetheless potentially so, because as the deposits grow, vital organs like the brain, heart and kidneys are deprived of blood because the narrow arteries can no longer deliver enough blood to them. In a vicious cycle, this means that the heart is forced to pump harder, and so blood pressure rises. Get the drift? Small wonder that nearly 25 percent of all heart problems are linked to obesity.
Then there’s cancer. Medical research has established that excess body fat acts as a sort of warehouse for carcinogens, though research on this subject continues. While more women are likely to suffer from breast and uterine cancer owing to the presence of excess body fat, obese men are under threat from colon and prostate cancer.
Finally, there’s diabetes. This is not the forum for a medical discussion, but you have to know that whether or not you develop diabetes depends on how far the balance between blood sugar, body fat, and insulin within your body is upset. The problem, as you may guess, begins with excess blood sugar, which is stored in various vital organs. When these organs can’t take any more sugar, it is turned into body fat. But when sugar levels exceed the maximum capacity of the fat cells, the pancreas starts to produce more insulin to control sugar levels, and thus you have diabetes, a potentially fatal disease that can in turn spawn such grave conditions as heart and kidney failure and blindness.
Losing weight impacts your lifestyle
“At the beginning of the 21st Century, obesity has become the leading metabolic disease in the World. So much so, that the World Health Organization refers to obesity as the global epidemic. In fact, obesity is a common disease affecting not only affluent societies but also developing countries. Currently 300 million people can be considered as obese and, due to the rising trend in obesity prevalence, this figure could double by year 2025 if no action is taken against this threat.” (Extract from a 2004 research paper by Xavier Formiguera and Ana Cantón of the Obesity Unit of the University Hospital in Catalonia, Spain.)
The inescapable fact is that obesity is a ‘lifestyle disease’, so that when you lose weight, apart from the obvious health benefits, you also acquire a healthier lifestyle and a mental shot in the arm. Trainee psychologist Priscilla Sayers, who has been conducting a study on the psychological impacts of obesity among people aged 18-35 years in Philadelphia, says losing weight successfully is one of the best ways to increase low self-esteem. “It really makes a difference to a person’s lifestyle when she or he loses weight. I have seen people become more outgoing, better dressed, and more confident – all because they lost 20 pounds in four months,” she says.
Hard to beat, isn’t it, the combination of improved health and lifestyle? And to think that losing weight is all that you have to do.