Beating the Bulge: The Change in Approach to Managing Obesity

Jarrod Wilson (Exercise Physiologist – Burnie)

Weight loss that is successful and sustained…. Why is it so difficult?

With the ever-present health issue of tackling obesity, there has been emerging research to support a change in the way we should perceive and address the psychology, trends and practice for those people who may be carrying a ‘little extra’.

On latest review, approximately two thirds of Australian people – aged 18 years and over – are classified as overweight and obese. It is undoubtedly a pressing issue requiring extensive resources and funds to support, here in Australia and the world over.

However, without getting too caught up in the overwhelming statistics on this topic, let’s first explore the reasons why some people are more susceptible to being overweight/obese (and why they may find it extra challenging to lose the kgs)…

Firstly, we must start by clarifying that obesity is not a choice and that individuals who are overweight/obese do not ‘lack willpower’! People, generally, do not choose to put on weight, unless there is a premeditated psychological or medical/physical reason for doing so. Instead, people become overweight or obese as a result of multiple factors, including those in relation to their biology and psychology. Environmental and social influences also play a major role. Interestingly, it has been well established that adults who faced adversity through childhood (e.g. trauma, stress, and deprivation of basic social needs) are more likely to develop obesity. Additionally, those who have a high genetic risk for developing obesity and those who are exposed to lifestyles conducive to overeating and physical inactivity, are also more likely to be an unhealthy weight.

The process of becoming overweight/obese is therefore not as simple as the age-old phrase ‘calories in vs calories out’ may suggest. In theory, if an individual overeats and consumes too many calories for what their body requires for energy expenditure, then they increase body weight – this is good in theory, but in practice it is much more complicated! We must therefore re-evaluate the entire process if we are to start to turn the wheel in the direction of more favourable health outcomes and statistics.

So, if telling someone who is overweight/obese to “eat less and move more” does not work for the majority, what does?

…………….Education, education and then some more education…………….

If you desire to lose weight, it is important to firstly develop a more informed understanding of the factors that influence the process of obesity. Let’s take a look at some of these…

Biological Influences

Genetic Influences

There is strong evidence that genes play a role in obesity; that is, genes can explain some of the reasons why some people are more susceptible to becoming overweight/obese. For example, certain genes can prompt some individuals (and not others) to overeat in response to environmental stressors or triggers.

Stress

There is very strong evidence showing a link between stress and obesity. Such stressors include an individual’s mental health, financial insecurity, family relationships, and even daily worries – such as time constraints and deadlines – and these can be sufficient to affect weight gain, both directly and indirectly. We won’t get into the finer detail of how this stress response links to obesity within the body, but do understand that it is very important to manage your stress if you are be successful with your weight loss goals.

Psychological Influences

Eating Behaviours

Our eating behaviours and habits are shaped from a young age and also from what foods we are exposed to most. Therefore, an individual’s preference for a certain food tends to be associated with what they are familiar with and what they know. Food preferences develop from a young age and are well established once adulthood is reached. Consequently, it can become difficult to make changes to a well established diet if strong food preferences have existed since childhood. It is therefore vital that parents learn to expose their children to a wide range of foods including fruit, vegetables, and whole grains from a young age. Children are then more likely to develop healthier relationships with these foods, shaping their food choices and preferences into adulthood.

Food Cues

Individuals who are more responsive to external food cues are susceptible to eating more – particularly tastier, higher calorie foods. This can be a problem for people who are exposed to ready-available, energy dense foods that are advertised by food companies in a way to maximise sales. We also get internal food cues from how food makes us feel. Some individuals are less likely to recognise the sensation of being ‘full’ following a meal. Consequently, these individuals have a less obvious cue to stop eating and are therefore susceptible to overeating.

Emotional Eating

It has also been identified that some individuals are more likely to be emotional eaters. In response to stressful circumstances and positive/negative emotions, many people turn to food. When emotional eating is frequent, it becomes an issue that requires attention.

There are many other influences that have been linked to obesity, including mental health problems, psychological adversity, social and economic status, early life nutrition and beliefs about obesity. In short, the process of losing weight is easy in theory – you reduce the calories and increase the physical activity – but the long version is far more complex. A deep understanding about the many contributors to obesity is the best tool you can equip yourself with!

The Goal for More Widespread Weight Loss Success

We must change the stigma associated with obesity. Individuals who are overweight or obese who are shamed or blamed because of their weight, are likely to develop further weight-related problems due to an increased stress response and a decline in self-confidence and motivation. Such complications from weight stigma include unhealthy eating patterns and avoidance of physical activity. Similarly, we must not relate obesity to an individual’s willpower or discipline, as this is not the cause for their weight gain.

My Tips for Successful Weight Loss (beyond the basic “eat less, move more”):

  • Recognise and understand your influence(s) and act on them.
  • Be honest with yourself and realistic.
  • Be prepared and have a plan.
  • Educate yourself – this cannot be stressed enough! By learning more about foods and exercise, you have a more informed knowledge about what approach is required for you to change your lifestyle so that weight loss is both possible and also sustainable.

Please keep in mind that this blog has really only scratched the surface on this topic. Obesity is clearly one of the more significant issues of our time, and it is so, largely because of the multiple complexities that are associated with obesity in Australia and the rest of the developed world.

For help with your weight loss journey, seek advice from someone who understands the complex nature of weight management and the unique influences that prevent sustainable weight loss. The Exercise Physiologists at Coastal Physiotherapy’s Burnie clinic understand weight management. They can work with you, through the challenges, to improve your health and wellbeing!

For appointment with Simon, Jarrod, or Emily, please contact our Burnie clinic on 64314586.

References

https://www.bps.org.uk/news-and-policy/psychological-perspectives-obesity-addressing-policy-practice-and-research

https://exerciseright.com.au/why-weight-loss-isnt-the-best-motivation-to-workout/