So, today saw the Chief Medical Officer Dame Sally Davies give an interview to the BBC about women’s health. The headline read “Obesity – the biggest threat to women’s health”. This caught my eye for three main reasons: a) I’m a woman, b) I used to be morbidly obese with a BMI of 52, c) I specialise in helping women who are overweight and obese to become fitter and healthier.
According to the statistics she gave, 62% of women aged between 45yrs and 54yrs are either overweight or obese. What does that mean exactly? Well, if you are a woman 5’2″ tall and have two female friends in the same age bracket and height, then two of you will weigh more than 62kg (9st 10.5lbs). For women 5’4″ tall, you will be 66.1kg (10st 5.5lbs) or over, 5’6″ tall 70.3kg (11st 0.5lb), and 5’8″ tall 74.5kg (11st 10lbs).
The circumstances by which a woman finds herself entering the ‘overweight / obese’ category are many and various. We live in what’s called an ‘obesogenic’ environment – it’s very easy to become overweight and obese! Poor diet (cheap, calorie dense food all to easily available), lack of daily activity (slumped at a desk on a computer!), a culture which is based around food (“here, have this …, it’ll make you feel better”; “go on, just one slice of cake won’t hurt”), medical conditions / hormones, and eating disorders (binge eating, emotional eating etc) are just some of the causes.
Being overweight also increases your risk of Type 2 diabetes, some forms of cancer, heart disease, and metabolic conditions such as insulin resistance and PCOS (Polycystic Ovary Syndrome). It will also aggravate osteoarthritis, asthma, COPD, and back problems to name a few.
So, if we know the risks, both for our health and our general enjoyment of life… why do people continue to put on weight? The quick answer is that we’re wired for short-term pleasure, rather than thinking about long-term risk. When faced with the option of eating something ‘nice’ to make ourselves feel better for a short while, or denying ourselves that instant ‘pick-me-up’ and working through whatever is bothering us… most of us will take the quick fix without too much thought. It’s habit, it’s what we’ve always done.
For me, the key thing is how desperate are you to change things? If you’re just slightly, very occasionally bothered that your clothes are getting tighter, or your blood pressure is slowly rising, or your blood sugar levels are elevated, then it’s unlikely you’ll take action for long enough to change the situation.
However, if you’re fed up with the way life is going, to the point that you’re willing to consider ANYTHING to change it, then you’re ready to look at your lifestyle as a whole and think about making some small, sustainable changes to improve things over the long-term.
That’s what I did 5 yrs ago. It’s also the stage at which I start actively working with clients. Diets aren’t the answer to the obesity crisis. Sugar tax is not the full answer to the obesity crisis. A change in food advertising and production is not the full answer to the obesity crisis. Exercise and activity is not the full answer to the obesity crisis. Meditation and a stress-free life is not the answer to the obesity crisis. Even healthy eating is not the full answer to the obesity crisis!
BUT, if we make small, sustainable changes in all of these areas, then we will see a change in the obesity crisis. It is a personal, community, corporate, national and international responsibility.