The rising tide of obesity

The increasing rise in obesity is a tide that public health just doesn’t seem to be able to turn around currently, but then I’m not sure that putting out a change in what your plate should look like is ever really going to help people. Massive action is going to be needed soon otherwise the NHS is going to be totally swamped with dietary related health issues.

One of the key issues we are now facing as a population is the sea of calorie dense highly processed foods that we are surrounded with. Any trip out leads to us constantly being bombarded with an endless choice of pre-packaged foods, designed to attract the eye when we are hungry. It takes a strong person to constantly say no in all honesty. Packaged to be eaten on the go, within seconds they can be eaten and forgotten about, they quickly raise the blood glucose levels, fill an energy deficit, and within an hour you are hungry again, despite eating 300 calories!

We are drowning in foods that are calorie dense but nutrient poor, and in the long term can not sustain a body to work properly. The body is then in search of more food to resolve these nutritional deficiencies, inevitably leading us to eat more food. Also what is interesting is that we tend to eat these types of foods quickly and so we tend to then eat more of them. Inevitably over time ignoring the drip feed of these processed foods and alcohol, leads to increased weight gain if the energy balance isn’t right and poor metabolic function gradually creeps in due to the lack of nutrients.

There are patterns within research to those who gain weight interestingly:

  • they tend to skip breakfast.
  • They tend to eat more frequently across the middle and end of the day and eat the higher portion of their calories at the end of the day.
  • They are replacing meals with snacks far more. Too high a frequency of eating with not enough activity is clearly only going to go in one direction.

Eating a big dinner is linked with increased obesity risk, as is snacking after dinner just before bed. The other thing we tend to do in the evening far more now than every is drinking alcohol to help us wind down. Alcohol and going to bed late are factors that will affect sleep quality, although we may think that a drink is helping us to wind down, it’s generally having an impact. Poor sleep impacts on our glucose control the next day, and we are more likely to eat higher amounts of carbohydrate foods, and then control becomes more difficult and I often hear how a person’s eating is out of control.

The main problem though is that we have moved into a world where we constantly eat processed foods of one sort or another. Even healthy ones! Ready to heat, ready to eat meals. These types of foods slowly impact on the microbiome of the gut, changing it and over time creating inflammation in the gut lining. Over time this change in permeability in the gut lining creates a systemic issue and moves us towards chronic disease states. Preventive Medicine published a recent study which found that increasing processed food in the diet from 40% to 71% it increased the risk of metabolic syndrome by 28%. Calorie counting these foods isn’t the answer, counting your nutrients is.

Let’s start to change things.

  • Timing of eating is a factor, look at not only what you are eating, but when you are eating. If you are eating later in the day and most of your activity is earlier then move the times you are eating.
  • Often we are changing our diet because we think the diet is the issue, but what if it’s the way you are eating that is the issue. Consider how you are eating, are you galloping down your meals, are you chewing your food, are you eating late before bed? Look at your patterns of eating.
  • Select food for quality rather than quantity. Don’t get sucked into calorie counting junk food. Junk food is junk, it’s not food and should never replace a real meal.
  • The bigger the plate the more food it’s shown that we eat. I went to a restaurant at the weekend and the plates and portion sizes were huge, very little was left on the plate despite this. Clearly how much we eat is a factor as much as what is eaten. Review portion sizes and plate sizes!
  • Our muscle mass influences the insulin response and helps to regulate it, so an activity that can help improve muscle mass to create lean muscle mass is beneficial.
  • Exercise is absolutely key to good health, lifelong activity is associated with a longer life span. Actively that is constant through life, such as low-level activity as researched by the Blue Zones is shown to be by far the best for overall health. Gardening, walking, carrying the shopping, walking to collect the kids from school, walking the dog, parking the car further away, are simple things that can be integrated into the everyday.
  • Manage your stress levels, it’s absolutely key for preventing other issues down the line particularly the diet and sleep becoming a casualty.
  • Regular eating and planning your food across the day so that you are not moved to eat the junk that is so commonly available. Keep the junk food to the smallest part of your diet.
  • Get out into the light and follow the light with your eating and activity levels was the best advice I ever learned from my naturopath, there is increasing amounts of research showing how the light impacts on health and the timing of the systems and functions within the body. This research supports my original teaching which is not only exciting but also helping us to understand it far more.
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