The word obesity is used by doctors to label those in the population who are 10 per cent above the average. This can be 50 per cent of the population in some parts of the world and, distressingly, is becoming more common in our children. Being overweight is not as simple as having a set ratio of height/weight, because some people with large muscle mass may be overweight but should not be considered clinically obese. Obesity is only a problem if it affects an individual psychologically or is creating a strain on the body. This stress may be a structural one, affecting the joints and circulation or affecting vital organs such as the heart, which has to beat harder to move the blood around the increased size of the system.
Interestingly, most of the charts that doctors use to help an individual determine an ideal weight are based on a population of those who have taken out insurance and remained in good health over a period of years. As most people who take out insurance come from a higher income bracket and are more likely to pay attention to their health, this standard may be incorrect. It may be better to determine obesity by comparing fat with lean weight. This can be done by: and behind the upper arm, by the use of specialized callipers. Computers are now available in most gymnasiums or diet clinics that calculate the speed of electrical flow, which is different through fat than through lean tissue. By entering height and age into the computer, an extremely accurate lean body/body fat ratio can be calculated.
Obesity is actually governed by the size and number of fat cells. Somehow the cells seem to have a target minimum size that increases with age. If this size is not met then hormones are sent to the brain by the fat cells themselves telling the nervous system that it is hungry. Cravings ensue and increased input results. The biochemistry of this metabolic system is not yet fully understood, but we watch with interest because it will inevitably lead to options in treatment.
There are two types of fat cell: white fat cells that store, and brown fat cells that control storage. Those individuals with more brown fat cells are able to eat large amounts and rarely put on weight, whereas those with little brown fat may behave extremely well dietetically and yet increase in weight. Certain diseases such as diabetes, hypothyroidism and liver disease may all act through hormonal or metabolic mechanisms to increase fat cell deposits. Food allergens and other toxins may be taken out of the system by being stored in fat deposits and chronic dehydration will certainly cause water to be stored in fat tissues, falsely increasing their size but nevertheless causing the scales to show increased figures and clothes to become too tight.
The psychology of weight
There is a strong psychological aspect, which is both conscious and subconscious. Consciously some people may not accept the social or medical rules and may choose to eat in excess. These people may also shy away from exercise and, provided that their obesity is not harming their health and they are happy, there is no reason for them to change their attitudes. The subconscious, however, may not necessarily be making them happy or healthy.
We respond to external stimuli such as the sight, smell and taste of food which can trigger almost addictive tendencies to eating. We are constantly bombarded by advertising and one of the biggest culprits is television. Around meal times advertisers promote their fast-food products, which trigger memories of sweet, fat and other stimulatory tastes. Interestingly, television watching is specifically linked to obesity, not only because of its reduction in physical activity but also because it has a trance-like effect that leaves the brain thinking it needs something and, not knowing exactly what it wants, it decides that food is the easiest answer.
We also have a tendency to reward with food. A visit to Grandma or an outing to the cinema, fun fair or sporting event is usually ‘rewarded’ with a sweet drink, refined sugar or processed meat snack. This association of food with good times leaves us feeling empty if we are relaxing but not imbibing.
Weight and our habits
At the end of the day, when all is said and done, an increase in fat and weight is due to an excess of calorific input over calorific expenditure. A pound of human fat is equivalent to 3,500 calories and weight reduction can only be obtained if output is greater than input to that degree. In more realistic terms a negative output/input balance of 500 calories is needed per day to lose one pound of weight per week. Running a mile at your top speed will burn up approximately 400 calories but a fast-food hamburger will put on over 450. A large gin and tonic will add over 200 calories, which would take nearly 15 minutes at a fast pace to burn off on an exercise machine. Evolution and nature have remembered days gone by when food was not easily available and the storage mechanisms in the human system were important survival factors but have not yet adapted us to our more affluent lifestyles.
I find it interesting to note that obesity is much more a problem of the developed countries of the world. Primitive cultures that remain untouched by modern advances and refined foods are not overweight. So-called Third World countries that are affected by refined and high-fat foods have much greater levels of obesity and a corresponding shorter life expectancy. Kenya is an interesting example. The Africans who live within the cities tend to be overweight and indeed a culture has developed that regards obesity as an attractive asset. However, the native, indigenous peoples not affected by unnatural foods tend to maintain a healthier, lower weight.
Weight and Qi
The Western world has concerned itself entirely with calories when it comes to obesity. A more holistic viewpoint is that food carries an energy. It is the same vital force that exists in every living cell and is possibly a reflection of the way in which electrons, surrounding their nuclei, move and resonate. The presence or absence of electrons alters the function of any atom and thereby gives it many of its characteristics. This vibration is transmitted to other substances that it may come into contact with. Food created by nature’s humours -air, light, water and earth – will carry specific vibrations and building blocks from which we have evolved. Our need to store is less pronounced when nature’s balance is allowed to run its course. The vital force within a food substrate may be more relevant than we realize.
Many gurus and their disciples who meditate for many hours of the day require little, if any, sleep and often exist on very small amounts of water and food. Their metabolic rate is reduced but even that cannot account for the reduction in the amount of nutrients and calories upon which they need to survive. The hypothesis put forward by those who have studied meditation is that energy is actually absorbed from the cosmos through the art of meditation. On a more tangible note, I have wondered why individuals expending the same amount of calorific output and living in similar climates may have such disparate ranges of weight. For example: the population living in Florida are much fatter than people of a similar socioeconomic group who live in, say, Bombay. I have drawn the conclusion that processed foods and nutrients that have been attacked by preservatives, additives and microwave energy lose their vital force. Although the calories and nutrients are available, the vital force is missing and therefore much larger amounts need to be eaten to create a level of satiety. Natural and fresh foods do not lack this energy and create a ‘fullness’ more swiftly. Ask somebody to eat three bananas and they would be struggling. The equivalent amount of calories would appear in a doughnut or a small bar of chocolate and, more often than not, one is not enough.
Fat storage may, therefore, not simply be a calorific matter but revolve around a quest for energy. Fat stores are not just holding calories but are an attempt to contain a vital force that is not coming into the system regularly or naturally. Stagnation of this Qi is a well-accepted Eastern philosophy and may be to do with a lack of electron movement in ‘dead’ calories.
Weight and deficiencies
If the body is deficient in a particular nutrient, instructions will be sent via nerves or hormones to the brain advising it to imbibe the missing factor. Instincts and cravings are very accurate in children but alter as we age, mostly by psychological factors. As I have mentioned, the reward and comfort eating of sweet and fatty foods registers in memory banks and the brain correlates these high-calorie foods with types of reward and happiness. We train our children at a very young age by rewarding and congratulating them with sweets, chocolates, French fries and carbonated sweet drinks rather than fruit or other natural sweeteners. This tendency is very much appreciated by the brain which, after its structure is in place, only utilizes glucose to function. Refined foods, sweet foods and fats provide a swiftly absorbed source of glucose that the brain can utilize at a quicker rate than a complex carbohydrate or protein. When a nervous or hormonal instruction is sent to the brain, intending to register a deficiency in a nutrient, the brain cannot differentiate whether this is a need that is easy to fulfil or one suggesting a period of starvation. The brain triggers a response that basically says ‘eat’ and as the brain itself prefers sugars our tendency is to eat sweet foods. Refined starch comes a close second and fats third because these provide sugars as mentioned above. A deficiency in, say, chromium, may therefore lead to a sugar and starch craving and it is often only by good fortune that the original deficiency is plugged.
Losing weight is achieved by dealing with the following four areas.
This needs to be balanced between protein, carbohydrate and fats and contain the correct amounts of essential trace elements and minerals, vitamins and supplements. A correct dietetic plan may need to be followed.
When all is said and done, calories and fat cannot be stored if the output of the body is greater than the input. The correct exercise plan is dependent upon an individual’s body type and the natural tendency to avoid exercise as we age needs to be borne in mind .
Incorrect attitude and education is the principal cause of obesity from a psychological point of view. Being socially advised, through peer pressure and advertising, to alter body weight leads to weight swings that can alter the body’s natural mechanism for achieving satiety when enough calories have been taken in. Reprogramming the consciousness and subconsciousness and removing the reward aspect of calorific foods is extremely important.
Stagnation and deficiency ofQi This does not only lead to obesity but also to disease processes. Poor dietetic energy input must be evaluated and corrected. This is a concept that is perhaps best taught by meditation teachers and yoga and Qi Gong masters.
A sudden onset of weight gain or obesity without obvious reason should initially be reviewed by a GP who should check for metabolic disorders such as hypothyroidism and diabetes. The liver is very responsible for much of the body’s fat metabolism. Alcohol in particular and other liver-stressing drugs, including orthodox medication, can affect the liver metabolism and thereby encourage obesity. This clearly needs to be reviewed but may require a complementary medical practitioner’s assessment as well. Poor digestive capabilities through a lack of hydrochloric acid or pancreatic enzymes may also need reviewing by a non-orthodox practitioner.
Simple analysis of whether obesity is in fact a problem should be undertaken before any attempts are made to lose weight. Trying to keep the body below its preferred size is difficult and will be an uphill and, ultimately, losing battle.
Establish a suitable diet by reviewing or sitting with a nutritionist.
A personal exercise programme should be set up, which should minimally include 20-30min of aerobic exercise at least three times a week and should balance the amount of calorific input.
Depression, anxiety and other strong emotions may lead to comfort eating. Review and analyse attitudes to food with friends and family or discuss the matter with a counsellor. Neurolinguistic programming and hypnotherapy may be of great benefit if craving tendencies are marked.
Do not underestimate the role of Qi or the vital force in weight gain. Techniques of yoga, Qi Gong or Tai Chi, and even ballet or martial arts, can offer both an exercise programme and techniques for moving energy through the system.
Marked weight fluctuation is probably water retention and the most common causes for this are hormonal cyclical changes and dehydration. Do not confuse obesity with water retention and ensure that at least 1 pint of water is drunk per foot of height per day.
Decrease television watching. More so than other stagnant activities such as reading, viewing of the television has been shown to have a pronounced effect on obesity through factors other than decreased activity. Do not eat in front of the TV.
Acupuncture may be useful in helping to decrease appetite but should only be used in a programme aimed at dealing with the underlying causes of obesity.
The Buteyko breathing technique changes the acidity of the blood, creating a weight-reducing biochemical effect. If available, learn the technique.
Certain weight-reducing diets may advise gentle exercise after a meal. I believe they are wrong. Exercise will interfere with digestion.
Increasing fibre in the diet will suppress appetite without any side effects by swelling the stomach and giving the sensation of fullness. Fibre will also bind to fats and cholesterol in particular, holding them in the bowel for excretion through the faeces. Strictly avoid appetite-suppressant medication. There is inevitably a rebound effect because deficiencies are inevitable and there are serious risks including heart attacks and strokes.
Avoid crash diets or total fasts as a means of weight reduction. The body registers starvation and will hold onto its fat stores preferring to break down protein to provide energy. Some fat stores will, of course, diminish but these will be replaced before the muscle. Weight reduction can only be obtained if carbohydrates and a small amount of healthy fats are absorbed. An ideal weight reduction programme will not encourage weight loss beyond two to three pounds per week.
Weight loss may be quite marked in the first week or two because of an initial removal of water stored in the tissues. Do not be down heartened if weight loss seems to tail off. You are now losing fat and not water.
Gauge weight loss by the comfortable fitting of clothes and a personal impression of the body in a mirror rather than on a scale because exercise may build up muscle mass, which is markedly heavier than fat. A review of the body fat/lean weight ratio is the best guide.