Being obese means having excess body fat. Obesity is often confused with being overweight. The latter means weighing more than normal. The weight of your muscles, bones, and fat determine your overall weight. Both obesity and being overweight are not good for the health. The reason behind obesity? It is pure mathematics -- when the number of calories you consume is more than what you burn, the excess is stored in the body as fat. Factors such as having calorie-dense, high-fat food, not getting enough exercise, and a sedentary lifestyle, lead to obesity. However, there are other factors as well that can cause obesity, such as hereditary, certain health issues such as diabetes, hypothyroidism, etc. 

Obesity is very detrimental to health as it can make you prone to several serious health issues such as diabetes, cardiovascular diseases, breathing troubles, arthritis, mental health illnesses, etc. However, shedding a little fat, just 10-15% of it, can decrease your chances of getting these serious diseases. You can lose weight by having a calorie deficit, but do note -- a balanced, diet, exercising more and making healthy lifestyle choices, such as getting 7-8 hours of sound sleep daily, meditation, limiting alcohol intake, quitting smoking, etc.

What Are The Reasons Behind Obesity?

Although there are genetic, metabolic, and hormonal factors that play in, the fundamental reason behind obesity is eating more than you need. This has largely increased with the popularity and increasing intake of calorie-dense, high in fat and sugar fast foods and beverages. Generally, people who are obese consume more than enough calories before they feel full, or feel hungry sooner. Many also eat as a coping mechanism for stress and anxiety. 

Another reason is the sedentary lifestyle. More and more jobs require you to move too little, or not at all. The change in the mode of transportation, growing urbanisation, and new-age convenient options such as lifts, and escalators, all play a role in making you obese. 

Diseases That Cause Weight Gain

As we saw that energy imbalance, i.e. consuming more calories than you burn, is a primary cause of obesity. However, if you eat right, and exercise well, but are still gaining weight, an underlying health condition might be the reason. Here are some health issues that lead to weight gain:

  • Hypothyroidism: This is a condition in which your thyroid gland becomes less active, i.e. they produce less thyroid hormones. These hormones are crucial as they determine your metabolism, i.e. how many calories you burn. If your thyroid gland gets less active and releases less hormones, this slows down your metabolic rate, leading to weight gain. 
  • Insulin: Many people who take insulin to manage their diabetes undergo weight gain. They take insulin to control their blood sugar level from spiking. However, they eat more to prevent their sugar level from getting too low. This makes them consume more calories than they need, leading to weight gain.
  • Ageing: As you age, you get less active, which can make you lose muscle mass. This is detrimental as muscles are good calorie burners, and when they weaken, so does your ability to burn calories, and thus you gain weight. Not just age, if withy time, you eat the same number of calories but exercise less, you lose muscle mass, which makes you gain weight over time.
  • Steroids: Corticosteroids are used for the treatment of several health conditions, including asthma and arthritis. However, when used for a long time, it leads to an increase in appetite, which in turn causes weight gain. To avoid this while on steroid treatment, pay focus on what you eat. Avoid calorie-dense foods that are unhealthy. Have plenty of fresh fruits, and vegetables, drink enough water and have foods that help improve your underlying condition.
  • Cushing’s Syndrome: This is a rare condition in which your body has a large amount of stress hormone, called cortisol. Prolonged use of steroids or a tumour are the possible reasons behind it. One of the symptoms of Cushing’s syndrome is weight gain. The treatment options include limiting the intake of steroids, or removal of the tumour through surgery.
  • Stress And Anxiety: Stress, anxiety, and depression have become quite common. But how people react to them and cope are different. Some lose their appetite leading to weight loss. However, some use food as a coping mechanism, thus causing weight gain. If you know you eat when distressed, it is better to develop other coping mechanisms, than gorging. Such coping options include picking up a hobby, talking to someone, going for a walk, doing physical activities such as yoga, meditating, going for a massage, or writing in a journal.
  • Sleep deprivation: Several studies show that lack of sleep might lead to weight gain. Although the reason is not properly understood, a theory is that, when sleep-deprived, your body produces more ghrelin, which is the hunger hormone, and less leptin, the hormone that induces the feeling of fullness. Whatever be the reason, you know that when you are sleep-deprived, you lack energy and feel tired, and then you eat more to get your energy level back.
  • Fluid Retention: You gain weight when some part of your body retains water. This can happen if you stand for too long or right before periods.
  • Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS): This is a common condition that affects millions of women worldwide. When suffering from PCOS, the woman’s ovaries do not function normally. Weight gain and difficulty in losing it are its symptoms. The other primary symptoms include irregular periods, excessive facial hair, trouble getting pregnant. However, the exact cause for PCOS is currently not known, it is largely understood to be a result of hormonal imbalance, when your body produces too much insulin and testosterone.

How To Determine If You Are Obese?

Body Mass Index, or BMI, is the most common tool to determine if you are obese. You can easily calculate your BMI as tons of BMI calculators are available online. BMI between 18.5 and 24.9 means you have normal body weight, that between 25 and 29.9 means you are overweight. If that comes out to be more than 30, that means you are suffering from obesity.

Although widely used, BMI is not considered to be the most effective as it is not a good reflector of your body fat. For example, the BMI of many athletes might come in the overweight or obese category, but their body weight largely comprises muscle mass and not body fat. Also how much a person should weigh depends on several factors, such as height, structure, and ethnicity, and using a uniform marker is not a good option. Hence, many doctors measure the person’s waist circumference to determine if he/she is obese or not.

Effect Of Obesity

Obesity increases your risk of getting serious health issues:

  • Cardiovascular Diseases: Obesity often leads to high blood pressure and cholesterol levels, which are both risk factors for getting cardiovascular diseases. 
  • Diabetes: Obesity can lead to insulin resistance and type 2 diabetes.
  • Digestive Issues: When suffering from obesity, you might also suffer from heartburn, liver problems, and diseases linked to the gallbladder.
  • Sleep Issues: Obese people often suffer from sleep apnea, which is a serious health problem in which your breathing gets obstructed while sleeping. 
  • Arthritis: Obesity might lead to inflammation. It also increases the pressure on the joints. These factors might give you serious health issues such as osteoarthritis. 
  • Fatty liver: Obesity can also give you fatty liver disease. 
  • Cancer: Obesity also increases the risk of getting several kinds of cancers, such as that of colon, esophagus, liver, gallbladder, pancreas, kidneys, prostate, breast, uterus, cervix, and ovary.
  • Mental Health Issues: Obesity can also make you prone to mental health issues such as depression.

How To Lose Weight?

The treatment for obesity depends on the cause. For example, if a poor lifestyle is the reason, improve it by getting proper sleep, and making the right food choices. If an underlying health condition is a reason for your weight gain, focus on that, to cure that disease, or lowering its symptoms. Here are some ways you can lose weight:

  • Diet: For losing weight, you need to go calorie deficit. However, rather than focusing obsessively on calories, focus on the quality of food you eat. Avoid highly processed foods that are rich in fats and sugars. Instead, have plenty of fruits and vegetables, whole grains, legumes, and nuts.
  • Physical Activity: Just like a proper diet, getting enough physical activity is crucial to both lose and manage weight. Hence, get regular physical exercise, which can be anything, from, walking, jogging and swimming to dancing, playing a sport to doing Yoga. Not just weight loss and management, it has other health benefits too, such as it lowers stress and improves mood, and lowers your risk of getting several serious health issues.
  • Sleeping: As you saw that lack of sleep can make you gain weight. Hence, get at least 7-8 hours of sound sleep daily.
  • Medicines: Often, doctors prescribe certain medicines to help you lose weight. Some medicines regulate your hunger level, reducing your urge to eat, others reduce your intestines’ ability to absorb fats. However, medication cannot be the single treatment for weight loss and must be combined with other treatment options, such as lifestyle changes. These medicines also have side effects. Also, you cannot take them if you have certain health issues or are on other medication(s). In any case, do not take medicines for weight loss without your doctor’s recommendation.
  • Surgery: When lifestyle changes or medicines do not work, and you develop certain obesity-related complications, in that case, your doctor might prescribe you surgery. This treatment largely works on altering certain part of your digestive system, thus, lowering the amount of food you eat.

Losing weight is hard, but living with obesity is even harder as it lowers the quality of life and makes you prone to several serious health conditions. Making small lifestyle changes gradually can go a long way in not only making you lose weight but also improving the overall quality of your life.