It is very easy to take in more energy than we need. We generally eat larger portions. Our lives are busier, thus we eat more fast foods and ready made meals, which can be high in calories. We also do less physical activity.
Prevention of obesity
The best way to prevent obesity is to eat a healthy, balanced diet and perform regular exercise.
A healthy, balanced diet contains lots of fruit and vegetables, and unrefined carbohydrates such as wholemeal bread, pasta and rice. A diet that is high in fats will be high in calories. Foods high in fat can include fast foods, pastries, cakes and biscuits, cheese, cream and butter.
It is recommended that at least 5 portions of fruit and vegetables should be eaten each day. Eat a variety of fruits and vegetables to get a balanced intake of vitamins and minerals. Eat a rainbow of colours!
Develop a regular pattern of eating and cut down on snacks in between meals. Many processed snacks include high levels of fat and sugars. Examples of healthier snacks include dried and fresh fruit, low fat yoghurt and whole grain crackers. The more calories you eat, the more energy your body needs to use up in order to prevent excess energy being stored as body fat, so taking regular exercise is very important to help control body weight.
It is recommended that everyone do at least 30 minutes of moderate exercise on at least 5 days of the week. Examples of moderate exercise include brisk walking, cycling and swimming.
Alcohol is very high in calories. Drinking excess alcohol can be associated with weight gain. Drink alcohol only in moderation and keep to the guidelines for sensible drinking 14 units per week for women and 21 units per week for a man. (1 unit = half pint of beer or larger or a standard glass of wine)
Treatment of obesity
To lose weight, you must reduce the amount of calories eaten and increase physical activity.
Start by keeping a food dairy, for one week, of what and when you eat and drink. This will help to identify where you can make changes. The recommended daily calorie intake for a man is 2550 calories per day and 1940 calories per day for women.
Aim for a slow weight loss, of about ½ kilogram per week (approx. 1 lb). Reducing calorie intake by 500 calories per day will help to achieve this. There are lots of books and internet sites which can tell you the calorie content of different foods. But most food labels on packaging now lists the total amount of calories and saturated fat contained in each portion.
Change the balance of what you are eating, to a diet high in carbohydrate and fibre and low in fat. Eating wholemeal bread, pasta and rice with lots of fruit and vegetables will increase carbohydrate and fibre. Look for foods with hidden saturated fats, and replace them with healthier options, such as lower fat versions of dairy products (half-fat cheese, semi-skimmed instead of full-fat milk, low-fat yoghurts). Cut down on creams and spreads, dressings and sauces. Eat less takeaway and snack foods.
Try different cooking techniques such as grilling and steaming foods. If you do need to fry something, use a non-stick pan with low calorie oil spray.
Always drink plenty of fluids. The recommendation is to drink about two litres of fluid each day. Ideally this should be water, however always check for the calorie content in juices, smoothies and always choose the diet or no sugar option.
A slow, long-term weight loss will allow eating habits to change, so that when weight loss is achieved, it should be easier to then maintain that weight loss.
If you have a medical condition, always seek medical advice before starting a diet.
Increase the amount of moderate exercise. To help lose weight, exercise should ideally increase from the recommended 30 minutes per day, to 60-90 minutes per day. The level of exercise should aim to increase the heart rate, and make you feel a little out of breath.
Slowly build up the amount you exercise. Aim initially for 30 minutes of walking a day, and then increase gradually. Always check with your GP that the level of exercise planned is safe for you.
Other dietary options
Meal replacements usually consist of milk shakes, soups, bars or portion-controlled ready meals. They are designed to replace two meals or one or two snacks each day. They can be convenient to use, and for some people, they can help to reduce calorie intake, to enable weight loss.
A fad diet is one that:
There is no evidence that these help to control weight in the long term.
Commercial slimming clubs
These provide regular support and practical information through group meetings.
Under certain circumstances, a GP may prescribe certain medications to help with weight loss. However, drug treatment must always be regarded as one part of a weight loss programme, which must include eating a healthy, balanced diet and increasing levels of physical activity.
As with all drug treatments there can be side effects of liquid or oily stools and wind.
Ask your pharmacist if you would like more advice about anti-obesity medication.
Referral to a dietician
If there is an existing medical condition, which requires more detailed advice, a GP may refer you to a dietician, who will help develop a specific dietary plan. Surgery is a final option if extreme obesity becomes life threatening, and all other treatment has been tried. As with all surgical procedures there are risks.