Being overweight or obese can have serious long term health impacts, such as increasing your risk of suffering a heart attack, from diabetes, high blood pressure or high cholesterol. If you have a BMI of 30 or more, or of 27 or more and have other health complications such as diabetes, you should consider losing weight for the sake of your health. Your GP can give advice on how to lose weight with a diet and exercise plan. However, if you are struggling to lose weight, you may want to speak to your doctor about using a weight loss aid to help you lose weight faster than dieting alone. You can calculate your BMI using an online calculator and inputting your age, weight and height. These weight loss aid tablets can change your attitude to food and what makes you feel full, and some can stop your body from absorbing a third of the fat you consume. You should not take these medications if you are a healthy weight, and you should only take them under your doctor’s guidance.
Weight loss aids are available from iMeds, such as Mysimba, which changes your attitude to food, or Orlistat and Xenical, which reduce the amount of fat your body absorbs. You should only take these under guidance from your doctor.
What is a healthy weight?
There is no fixed guide on what is a healthy weight. The range of weight which is healthy for you would depend greatly on factors such as your gender, height, age, and even your ethnicity. There are tools you can use online to help you find out if you are in the healthy weight bracket, but these can be reductionist and don't necessarily show the whole picture. If you are concerned about your weight, you should speak to your GP.
You should not be too concerned about your weight if you're pregnant, as not eating enough can starve the fetus of nutrients and oxygen, putting you at risk of complications during your pregnancy. If you want to lose weight again after giving birth, there are specific programs to help you do so. If you are having difficulty losing or putting on weight, you may want to speak to your doctor, as this could be a symptom of an underlying condition. They can help to diagnose this and give you assistance in reaching healthy weight. It's important to remember that being underweight poses different but equally dangerous threats to your health as being overweight.
Am I a healthy weight?
You can quickly and easily find out a rough estimate of if you are a healthy weight by using an online tool called a BMI calculator. BMI, which stands the body-mass index, is a numerical score calculated by dividing an adult’s weight in kilograms by their height squared. It is very important to remember that the BMI score is only a rough indicator, and there are many people who are perfectly healthy, but do not have a BMI which reflects that. Below are the numerical ranges of healthy and unhealthy BMI:
- Underweight: a BMI of under 18.5
- Healthy weight: a BMI of 18.5 to 24.9
- Overweight: a BMI of 25 to 29.9
- Obese: a BMI of 30 of more
If you have a BMI of over 30, and are classed as obese, you should speak to your doctor about getting help to lose weight. You should also speak to your doctor if your BMI is 27 or more and you have a weight related illness such as diabetes.
How accurate is a BMI score?
Calculating your BMI score is a very quick and easy task that requires your height, weight and age. It is used as a simplistic measure for people to understand roughly how healthy or unhealthy they are. Someone who has a BMI of 24 and someone else who has a BMI of 26 may be classed in different weight ranges but look very similar. Just because it is reductionist, does not mean your BMI score should be dismissed or ignored. Below are some caveats to the accuracy of BMI:
- BMI does not account for waist size. The size of your waist is a key indicator of obesity.
- Your BMI score does not reflect where you carry the fat and therefore the type of fat you have
- The BMI does not account for the fact that muscle and bone are denser than fat. This means that if you do a lot of exercise and carry a lot of muscle, you may be classed as overweight when you're in fact very healthy. Weightlifters, sprinters, professional athletes and celebrities who like to keep in shape may all have a BMI which is definitely inaccurate.
- When you burn fat you put on muscle, which weighs about twice as much. If you are constantly comparing yourself based purely on BMI, it may get quite demoralising as the number might not be changing due to the conversion of fat to muscle. If you are trying to lose weight do not use the BMI as your sole indicator. Use it alongside your weight as well as measurements of key areas like your waist and thighs. You may not notice the weight loss day-to-day, so take a photograph at the start of your journey to remind you of how far you've come. A great indicator of if you're losing weight is how tightly your clothes fit.
- The BMI doesn't measure the percentage of fat you carry - you may be carrying too much weight whilst your BMI reflects that you’re healthy.
- The body mass index does not take into consideration your ethnic group. Some people from Asian backgrounds are at risk of developing obesity related illnesses when their BMI is lower than the western definition of obese.
Although the BMI is a good indicator of health, it's important to remember that it is still just that: an indicator. If you think you need to lose weight, you should speak to your doctor and they can give you more advice on doing so.
What illnesses make you gain weight?
Losing weight can be harder and feel like an uphill battle if you are working against an illness which is causing you to put on weight. Your doctor may be able to prescribed medication to manage the illness or devise a different plan of action to help you lose weight. Below are some examples of these types of illnesses:
- Hypothyroidism, also known as an underactive thyroid - Your thyroid is a butterfly shaped gland in the neck responsible for releasing a hormone to regulate your metabolism. An underactive thyroid does not release enough of this hormone, so it is harder to lose weight. Conversely, hyperthyroidism, also known as an over active thyroid, means it's hard for you to put on weight as too much of the hormone is being released and your metabolism is too high.
- Diabetes - Diabetes is a problem relating to your blood sugar levels which means you have to constantly measure them and keep them within certain limits to avoid danger. If you've suffered with diabetes for a long time you may have got into the habit of snacking more than most people do, as a way to prevent hypoglycemia (low blood sugar levels).
- Cushing's syndrome - This is a very rare illness caused by high levels of the hormone cortisol (the primary stress hormone) which can make you gain weight on your face and in the abdominal region.
- Mental health conditions such as stress, anxiety and depression - Although some people find that when their mental health is poor they tend to eat less, some choose to eat "comfort food" as a way to help manage their worries.
- Insomnia - Insomnia can leave wanting to eat more than you need to because it elevates the hunger hormones in your body and reduces the hormones that tell you when you've had enough to eat.
- Fluid retention - What is heavy, and holding extra fluid in your body can make you put on weight. Some types of fluid tension, also known as oedema, are relatively normal such as when you've been standing on your feet too long. However if you have swollen ankles, keep needing to pee during the night, or have to sleep on a couple of pillows to avoid feeling breathless, this could be indicative of a problem with your kidney or liver. You should speak to your GP and discuss your symptoms.
- Polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) - This is a condition a lot of women have which affects the function of their ovaries. Symptoms include irregular periods, difficulty getting pregnant, excess hair, weight gain. Unfortunately, if you gain weight due to PCOS, you'll produce more insulin which can cause further weight gain. This makes it a very difficult cycle to leave. Speak to your doctor if you believe you have PCOS, and they can help you to lose the weight.
What medications can make you gain weight?
Although weight gain can be a side effect of certain illnesses, it can also be side-effects of some medications these include:
- The contraceptive pill - This medication is designed to prevent pregnancy by manipulating the body's hormones. This can affect your mood, menstrual cycle, and your weight.
- Antidepressants - SSRIs, also known as selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors, may alter how your brain feels about eating and your appetite.
- Beta blockers - These are a type of drug which slows the speed and ferocity with which your heart beats. You may be taking beta-blockers for high blood pressure, chest pain, or to prevent migraines or situational anxiety. As beta-blockers reduce your heart rate they may also reduce your metabolism.
- Steroids - Corticosteroids which may be taken to treat illnesses like asthma and arthritis, can disrupt the area of your brain which controls hunger and make you eat more than you should.
What are the dangers of being overweight?
If you are overweight or obese you are at a higher risk of certain long-term health problems, which may sometimes have fatal consequences. Some of these problems include:
- High cholesterol
- High blood pressure
- Increased risk of suffering from a stroke or heart attack
- Coronary heart disease
- Some types of cancer
- Metabolic syndrome, which is a combination of diabetes, high blood pressure and obesity
- Reduced fertility and a high risk pregnancy complications
- Sleep apnoea
- Liver and kidney disease
- Type two diabetes
- Mental health problems caused by depression, anxiety, and problems with self-esteem because of how you feel about your weight
Why should I lose weight?
If you choose to lose weight, your risk of developing long-term illnesses listed above will decrease. As your body has to pump less blood around to keep you going, the strain on your heart will be lessened. Looking to find day-to-day tasks easier, even things such as walking up the stairs or running for the bus. If you have children, they are less like to be obese or overweight if you are a healthy weight. You should find it easier to sleep once your healthy weight, and if you were previously suffering from self-esteem problems these should go away. In the long-term, carrying too much weight can be damaging to your joints. Losing that weight now will make life easier in the future.
How can I lose weight?
Speak to your doctor if you're concerned about your weight, and they can help you devise an action plan of how much to lose and over what time period. Be very careful of diets which promise unbelievable results such as losing several stones in a month - if it seems too good to be true, it probably is. It is far better to lose a little weight every week and keep it off. Your doctor can help you design a diet which works for you, and will suggest appropriate exercise for you to take alongside it. For example, if you struggle to run, they might suggest a few hours of swimming a week instead.
I'm struggling to lose weight. What should I do?
Losing weight can be difficult and slow process, and it might be a long time before you notice any difference in the mirror. This can make a lot of the journey demoralising and feel like it is more painful than beneficial. You may choose to join a support or weight loss group, to meet people who are also trying to meet a goal weight.
If you have tried everything and are still struggling to lose weight you may want to consider asking your doctor about weight loss aids. D should only be used by people with a BMI of 30 or more, or a BMI of 27 or more if you have other weight related illnesses such as diabetes. They're available in the form of tablets and injections, and can help alter how do you feel about food or the amount of fat your body absorbs. You should absolutely not take this medication if you're a healthy weight or underweight as it can be seriously damaging. Always speak to your doctor before using weight loss aids.