Obesity and its related diseases are among today’s most visible – yet most neglected – public health problems in Western countries. And rapid urbanisation in Asian countries and the adoption of Western lifestyles are setting the stage for an Asian obesity epidemic, too.
A behavioural risk factor survey conducted by Hong Kong’s Centre for Health Protection in April showed that 38.8 per cent of the population aged from 18 to 64 were classified as being overweight or obese, with 20.7 per cent obese. More men (48.2 per cent) than women (30.5 per cent) were classified as overweight or obese. Nearly one in two Hongkongers aged 55 to 64 were overweight or obese.
According to the World Health Organisation, being overweight or obese can cause adverse effects on blood pressure, cholesterol, triglycerides and insulin resistance, all of which can increase the risk of cardiovascular diseases, type 2 diabetes, and cancer.
Mortality rates increase with weight, as measured by body mass index (BMI, a measure of weight relative to height – kg/m2). For Chinese adults in Hong Kong, a BMI from 23kg/m2 to 25kg/m2 is classified as overweight and 25kg/m2 or above is classified as obese. This is caused by a combination of increased availability, bigger portions, and more high-calorie foods.
So what can you do to reduce your risk of developing obesity related diseases?
Your weight depends on the number of calories you consume, how many you store, and how many you burn up. These factors are influenced by a combination of genes and the environment. Your metabolism and your food choices have an impact on your physiology. It is crucial that you make healthy lifestyle changes to help achieve and maintain your ideal weight.
While physical activity is important for your weight, mood and overall well-being, it might not always result in rapid weight loss. A successful change to your diet might.
In my experience as a nutritionist, dietary changes are especially important at the beginning of any new weight-loss plan. Some clients who dedicate hours to exercising each day sometimes get discouraged when the weight doesn’t fall off.
A formerly overweight client managed to lose weight, keep it off and – most importantly – feel transformed with improved energy and mood by following a tailor-made, reduced-calorie meal plan consisting mainly of the key components suggested below.
By eliminating refined carbohydrates, sugar and gluten, she was able to pinpoint which foods got in the way of losing weight, and understand how certain foods affected her, physically and emotionally. Digestive issues such as bloating and constipation no longer affect her daily activities.
Focus on making gradual changes to your diet, such as eating more phytonutrient-rich vegetables, skipping calorific late-night snacks, and cutting back on refined carbohydrates.
You may have heard it many times – eat lots of fruits and vegetables, whole grains, and lean protein. The real challenge is changing your habits to make those healthy choices part of your everyday routine without feeling deprived or depressed.
Here are four practical dietary tips to shed weight while staying satisfied.
Eat your omega 3s
Not all fats are bad for you. While you should limit saturated and trans fats, unsaturated fats – such as polyunsaturated omega 3 fats – are healthy in moderation. Including small amounts of these fats as part of a reduced-calorie diet may help make your meals more satisfying and make losing weight easier, according to a study published in Appetite.
A review article published in Nutrients also noted that omega 3 fats might help with weight loss by reducing appetite and increasing fat burning, especially when combined with a reduced-calorie diet and exercise. Omega 3 fat is commonly found in fish such as mackerel, salmon, ocean trout and sardines. It can also be found in nuts and seeds, some of the best sources being flaxseeds and walnuts. Grab a nutty smoothie after your workout for a quick dose of waistline-friendly omega 3.
Load up on Vitamin B
B vitamins such as folate, vitamins B6 and B12 play an important role in helping your body metabolise nutrients (namely carbohydrates, protein and fat), converting the food you eat into energy, and helping with appetite control, which may be beneficial for weight loss.
Whole grains, poultry, eggs, beans and leafy greens are good sources of B vitamins. These foods are also generally lower in calories.
Good food, good mood
Microorganisms found in yogurt and other cultured foods such as miso, tempeh and fermented vegetables may help your body’s bacterial environment inside and out, thereby improving your digestion and absorption of food and nutrients, consequently assisting in weight loss.
Opt for protein-rich Greek yogurt, which helps you feel fuller longer and boosts your body’s energy expenditure. A healthy gut is key to your mood, as the gastrointestinal tract can activate neural pathways and central nervous system signalling systems in the brain.
Slow down and savour each bite
With hectic schedules, most time-poor Hongkongers eat way too quickly, and consume too many calories before realising we have eaten more than enough to satisfy our hunger. It takes about 20 minutes for the “I’m full” signal sent by the gut hormones and stretch receptors in your stomach to reach your brain.
A feeling of fullness translates into eating less, thereby helping shed unwanted weight. Try stretching out your mealtimes by chewing a little longer than usual, putting down your fork or chopsticks between each bite, and taking small sips of water.
Not only does eating slowly and mindfully help you eat less, it also enhances the pleasure of the dining experience.
Michelle Lau is a certified nutritionist and nutrition educator, and the founder of Nutrilicious (facebook.com/nutriliciousss), a Hong Kong-based nutrition consultancy company
Four tips for losing weight, from adding vitamin B and omega 3 fats to your diet, to slower eating