Weight Loss – Everything You Need to Know

Obesity is a growing health concern all over the developed world. Sedentary modern lifestyles and an abundance of easily accessible foods have made it common to overeat and not move enough.

Overview

Evolutionary speaking, we humans have spent most of our existence on Earth being active. Hunting, gathering, farming, manufacturing, and all-round toiling were normal daily activities until recently.

We could only eat what we caught, grew, or produce. This made food a much-appreciated commodity, something we did not waste or use too much of. Then, suddenly, everything changed. With industrial development and technological advance, especially in the last seventy years, food became affordable, abundant, and easily accessible. At the same time, the need for intense labor decreased.

The results are what we can see today, the obesity epidemic that is affecting the health and life quality of millions of people around the world. It is now estimated that 3 in 4 adults and 1 in 3 kids are overweight in America.

The increasing need to solve this problem resulted in the creation of the weight loss industry. The internet and the market are flooded with potential solutions. They came in the form of advice, diet plans, exercise routines, supplements, and medical treatments, including surgery.

All of this is causing mass confusion and makes it hard to know which food choice is the right choice. This article will serve as a comprehensive guide to help make weight loss a little easier to understand.

Weight Loss Basics

Mathematically, losing weight is a straightforward process. All you need to do is intake less energy (calories) than you spend during the day, regardless of what you are eating.  This seems very simple, but of course, it is not.

Let’s take a look at one example. A healthy average man, with normal body mass, requires around 2000 calories per day to maintain his weight. These calories can come from any source. He could choose to eat only “Mars” bars (51g). With each “Mars” bar containing around 230 calories, our example-man could eat 8 of them every day (1840 calories) and lose weight over a longer period by eating only sweets.

Now, this diet plan would be very unhealthy because it does not provide all the important nutrients, but it would nevertheless cause weight loss. We can see in this purely mathematical example that weight loss does not necessarily have to be healthy.

Only healthy weight loss benefits your overall health. This is a type of weight loss that primarily targets the deposited fat in your body and therefore lowers the cholesterol levels in the blood, improves liver function, and eases the stress on your heart.

The healthy way to lose weight is to create an energy deficit through increased physical activity, a balanced diet, and reduced food intake. It is usually not the fastest one, but it guarantees the best and long-lasting results. 

We will say more about the best methods to achieve healthy weight loss but first let’s take a look at why losing weight is important.

Weight Loss and Health – Why you should lose weight?

Losing weight has many health benefits. They are both physical and psychological. This means that that you will not only be healthier because of weight loss, you will also feel healthier and more energetic.

Apart from improving your body’s function, weight loss also makes you look better and feel stronger. This increases self-confidence and improves the symptoms of mental conditions such as depression and anxiety.

Let’s take a look at some of the most important health benefits of weight loss:

Heart health

Excess weight and heart problems go hand in hand. Together with diabetes, heart disease is most commonly associated with obesity. Being overweight puts too much stress on your heart and makes it work too hard.

Think about it this way. The engine of your car has enough strength and resources to power it, but that does not mean it can also power a ship. Your heart is the engine of your body and it works best at an optimal body weight.

When we lose weight, we reduce the heart’s workload. As the amount of body fat decreases so do the cholesterol levels in the blood. This enables the blood vessels to maintain a healthy function and reduces the risk of high blood pressure and blood clots creation. This means that the risk of stroke and heart attack is also reduced significantly.

Diabetes

Type 2 diabetes can be significantly improved by weight loss. A recent study shows that the disease can even be put into remission with significant weight loss of 5-10% body fat.

At a healthy weight, your body can manage blood sugar more successfully through better use of insulin. Weight loss also helps the pancreas, the insulin-producing gland, to restore much or all of its normal function. That is why weight loss can, in some cases, cure diabetes.

The main reason why aging is associated with the increased diabetes risk is not the age itself, but the fact that most people tend to gain weight and become physically inactive as they get older.

Joints

Overweight people are six times more likely to suffer from osteoarthritis. This is a disease characterized by loss of cartilage and damage to the joint bones. It causes pain, inability to move, and muscle deterioration due to inactivity.

The reason why osteoarthritis risk increases, in overweight people, is because a heavy body puts more pressure on the joints such as hips and, especially, the knees. This causes the joints to degrade and sparks a cycle of joint pain, loss of cartilage, bone damage, muscle weakness, insufficient joint loading, less activity, and more weight gain. Weight loss relieves the pain in the joints and improves movement.

Immune system

Deposited fat acts as an endocrine organ. This means that fat secrets hormones and cell signaling molecules called cytokines. By doing so it disrupts normal communication between these “chemicals” and other tissues and organs which results in a weakened immune response.

Too much fat puts the immune system out of balance and increases the risk of various infections, such as:

  • Stomach infections
  • Herpes
  • Gum infections
  • Nose and sinus infections

Weight loss boosts the immune system, making it more responsive and healthier. This means less susceptibility to various infections ranging from a common cold to autoimmune diseases.

Sleep

Sleep apnea is more common in overweight people. Most people think it is just snoring, in reality, it is a very serious health issue.

Sleep apnea causes you to stop breathing, repeatedly, during sleep. This happens because the upper airway collapses and cuts off the oxygen tunnel. Lack of oxygen, caused by sleep apnea, puts a lot of stress on the heart, and can cause serious damage over time.

Excess body fat narrows the airways and puts weight on the lungs. Both of these factors inhibit normal breathing.

Sleep apnea affects around half of obese adults. It disrupts the sleep and by doing so it disrupts the metabolism. This results in elevated inflammation, hormonal disruption, rapid cell aging, and opens the doors to chronic diseases.

Surgery and childbirth

Some medical treatments, such as surgery, are considered significantly riskier when performed on overweight and obese people. This is because complications are more likely to occur in these patients.

Overweight people are more likely to experience:

  • Postoperative infections
  • Incisional hernia (even post-laparoscopy)
  • Catheter-site infections

Overweight patients are also harder to intubate and are at risk of other, obesity-caused, health issues such as heart disease, which can prevent them from getting treatment.

Overweight women also have a higher risk of complications during childbirth, including eclampsia.

The irony is in the fact that overweight people are more likely to need surgery, compared to people with a healthy weight.  That is why weight loss is so important, it reduces the need for surgery and the risk of postoperative complications.

Mental health

Our weight should not define us, we are beautiful or handsome at every weight, but taking care of our bodies boosts self esteem. The improved body image, due to weight loss, contributes to the feeling of satisfaction, happiness, and increases self-esteem.

After weight loss, and especially a significant one, people tend to change a lot. With the newly found confidence, they often find the motivation to experience new things in life, change a job, and interact with other people more often.

Weight loss has been shown to improve depression and anxiety symptoms, stabilize the mood, and increase the overall quality of life.

Lifestyle Benefits of Weight Loss

With all the health benefits, the lifestyle benefits are there too. People who have lost a lot of weight often enjoy a more active social life and report:

  • Improved energy levels
  • Decreased stress
  • Greater confidence
  • Improved mood
  • Improved body image
  • Improved sex life
  • Improved vitality
  • Better sleep

Most people become more active after weight loss, they learn from the weight loss process and recognize the needs of their body much better. This is often followed by healthier dietary habits and other benefits.

How to Lose Weight

Earlier we explained the mathematical principle of losing weight. Eat less food (energy) than you use or use more energy than you eat. However, there are numerous practical methods to use this principle in real life.

The most popular of these methods involve various diet plans combined with exercise. Let’s take a look at some of the most popular diet plans.

Popular Diet Plans

Diet plans have been around for a long time. They tend to evolve with time and change according to the new scientific discoveries in medicine and nutrition. The following are five currently popular diet plans.

Keto Diet

The main purpose of the ketogenic diet is to shift the body’s main source of energy from carbohydrates to fat. The human body normally reaches first for the easily accessible energy source; sugar, which comes from carbs. Since the modern diet is extremely rich in carbs, this energy source is abundant.

There are so many carbs in the typical western diet that the body of the average individual cannot use them all up. So, it stores the excess carbs in the liver as glycogen and in the fat cells as fat. This process is among the leading causes of obesity.

What keto diet does, it removes the carbs from the diet almost completely. When this simple energy source is cut off, the body starts burning the stored reserves for energy. First, it reaches for the easily accessible glycogen and then to the fat deposits.

In this process, the liver converts fat into ketone bodies to provide energy for the brain. Hence, the name keto diet.

Carb-rich foods such as sweets, sodas, fruits, fruit juices, potato, corn, rice, flour, etc. are of the keto menu. Foods that should be eaten while following the keto diet plan are:

  • Meat
  • Fish
  • Dairy products – except milk
  • Most vegetables
  • Mushrooms
  • Unsweetened tea and coffee

Intermittent Fasting

Intermittent fasting (IF) is a weight loss method that is gaining popularity worldwide.

The interesting thing about IF is that it is not a classic diet plan. We say this because IF does not forbid or favor any particular type of food. In this sense, IF is more of an eating pattern than a classic diet.

Intermittent fasting is characterized by interchanging periods of eating and fasting. The length of these periods can vary. For example, a person can eat for eight hours each day and then fast for sixteen hours. Another popular method is 24-hour fasting 2 or 3 times a week.

During fasting, the body starts to use stored fat for energy. Also, it adjusts hormonal levels and initiates cell-repair processes. Fasting also improves insulin sensitivity and makes stored fat more accessible.      

Paleo Diet

Paleo diet is another popular eating regimen intended for weight loss. This diet is based on the foods that were available during the Paleolithic era (10.000 years ago and before).

During this period humans practiced the hunter-gatherer lifestyle. There was no farming or any kind of intensive food production.

The diet of the Paleolithic man consisted mostly of nuts, seeds, roots, fruits, vegetables, fish, and meat. These are also the foods that the paleo diet promotes under the presumption that the human body did not have time to genetically adjust to modern foods during the last 10.000 years.

Therefore, the paleo diet forbids the use of dairy products, grains, potatoes, sugar, legumes, or any processed foods.

Mediterranean Diet

Mediterranean diet is considered more of a healthy lifestyle than a weight loss program. It is based on the dietary habits of the population living around the Mediterranean Sea, such as Greece and Italy.

This diet is strongly associated with reduced heart disease risk. A prominent characteristic of the Mediterranean diet is the limited intake of red meat.

The main components of the diet are:

  • Fish
  • Vegetables
  • Fruits
  • Whole grains
  • Eggs
  • Poultry
  • Olive oil
  • Cheese
  • Herbs (basil, rosemary, oregano, etc.)

The Mediterranean diet is rich in healthy fats originating from fish and olive oil. Some experts also point out the regular but moderate use of red wine.

Exercise and Weight Loss

Exercise is the best way to increase the level of physical activity and daily calorie needs. Exercise also boosts metabolism and helps build muscles, which further increases the number of calories a person’s burn in a day.

There are many ways to increase physical activity, ranging from walking, cycling, and swimming to long-distance running. Physically inactive people should increase their level of activity based on their current health and in moderation.

It is recommended to seek professional advice (doctor, personal trainer, etc.) before starting any new exercise regimen. 

Available Medical Treatments

Modern medicine has made huge progress in treating obesity. However, most medical weight loss treatments are invasive or purely surgical. Other, less popular, methods include the use of weight loss prescription medications and hormonal therapy.

In recent years, surgical methods of treating extreme, life-threatening obesity have become very popular. These procedures usually result in significant weight loss that can be permanent if it is followed by a proper diet. 

Liposuction

Liposuction is often wrongly associated with the ability to completely remove unwanted fat deposits. In reality, liposuction has limited effects. It is a surgical procedure intended to slim down certain areas of the body. This means that through liposuction we can remove limited quantities of fat locally.

This procedure is not without risks. It is invasive, requires the use of anesthetics, and can have serious complications such as fat embolisms. 

Weight Loss Surgery

There are several types of weight loss surgery that are used to treat severe obesity. All of them are invasive and risky (mostly because of the patient’s weight). Weight loss surgery usually shrinks or bypasses a portion of the gastrointestinal tract. Thus providing limited space for the future intake of food, which makes overeating physically impossible.

The most popular methods of weight loss surgery are:

  • Bariatric surgery – removal of a portion of the stomach or the small intestine.
  • Gastric sleeve (gastric band) – significantly shrinks the stomach by enveloping it inside a gastric sleeve (band).
  • Gastric bypass – reduces space inside the gastrointestinal tract by bypassing a large portion of it.

Nowadays most weight-loss surgical procedures are laparoscopic (performed through a small incision).   

Pros

  • Weight loss
  • Improved quality of life
  • Longer life expectancy
  • Improvement of obesity-related medical conditions (type II diabetes, sleep apnea, high blood pressure, etc.)

Cons

  • Potential short-term complications (infections, bleeding, breathing problems)
  • Potential long term complications (nausea, diarrhea, malnutrition, abdominal hernias)
  • Potentially serious complications (pulmonary embolism, heart attack, leaks in the gastrointestinal system)

The Bottom Line

If you are overweight, you are putting your health at risk. The longer you maintain the unhealthy weight, the greater this risk becomes. Obesity is associated with numerous physical and mental health problems. Therefore, losing weight should be a high priority for everyone who is affected.

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