The fundamental causes of obesity are complex and by no means fully understood, but they all result in the intake of energy-providing foods exceeding what is required for everyday living.
Disease (such as a disorder of the appestat in the brain) is rarely to blame, though it is quite likely that disturbance of the body’s hormone balance accounts for some cases.
Heredity is usually quoted as contributing to the picture, but how far our genes are responsible is uncertain since family feeding habits can cancel out the inherited tendency.
Obesity is more prevalent during pregnancy and at the menopause, and more likely to affect middle-aged women than men. Administering female hormones to men gives them a female distribution of fat.
It is an over-simplification to say that fat people eat too much, for one could equally say that they are not taking sufficient exercise for the amount they consume. Whereas over-eating is commonly the cause of mild obesity, under-activity is more often the reason for pronounced cases.
One may sometimes observe a vicious circle at work – overweight encouraging reduction in activity, so leading to more overweight, and then further loss of activity.
In fact, markedly obese people need a big calorie intake to move their body about, and quite often they are not excessive feeders, though they do tend to be physically inactive.
Boredom, anxiety, and new social pressures, such as obligatory drinking, the executive’s lunch, or eating tea with the children, are other aspects of modern life that conspire to make people fat.
What is the secret of successful slimming?
There is no secret whatever, but there is need for determination and perseverance if you are to succeed.
In general, the method is to reduce your intake of energy below the level of the body’s metabolic needs so that some fat is shifted from the storage areas and burned up to provide the energy that is missing.
This is done by reducing the intake of some, or all, of the energy-providing foods, and increasing the amount of physical exercise, so that weight is lost gradually at the rate of 2 pounds a week for 6 or 8 weeks.
When the desired target is reached, the diet must be readjusted to keep your weight constant at the new level. This is probably best done by simply cutting down on carbohydrates all through the day.
At the outset, it is necessary only to know which foods provide a lot of energy and which produce little or none.
It is advisable, indeed, almost essential, to be under the supervision of a doctor, at least at the beginning, if you are to persevere in your resolutions; it can also help to share experiences, as in group therapy, with others fighting a common problem in much the same way.
Since the new way of life must be continued indefinitely, you should make a practice of weighing yourself in the same state of undress at the same time of day, and on the same scales, once every week, noting the results in a permanent notebook.
Walking is an excellent form of exercise. You should make a point of arranging your times so that you can walk instead of using a car. For instance, travel on foot to the station in the morning, and from the train to work.
Steady exercise is said to be more beneficial than attacking it in spurts, as often happens on the golf course at weekends.
Among the endless ways of reducing the intake of calories, one very simple approach, recommended by dietary experts at Harvard, is to start off with an acceptable, properly mixed diet and cut down all you eat by half.
This entails taking one lump of sugar instead of two in the morning tea or coffee, one slice of toast instead of two, half an egg if necessary instead of a whole one, and so throughout the day.
This system seems to work. You do not have to keep counting calories, but it can cut a 3000-calorie intake to 1500, which is rather less stringent than the 900 calories often recommended for losing weight.
This method may be even more acceptable if the halved meals are further divided and are taken over 6 to 8 occasions, as this tends to blunt the appetite.
It is quite common for there to be a loss of 6 or even more pounds in the first week or so, but it is largely only water that has been lost – not fat.
Should the rate of losing weight prove too slow for your patience, the most practical way of speeding matters up is to cut down further on the carbohydrates and by replacing sugar in tea and coffee by artificial sweeteners.
Can slimming do any harm?
Not to people in normal health. But there is a long-recognized, though still baffling, mental disorder named anorexia nervosa, which should perhaps be mentioned, if only to explain why it is an exception.
With this neurosis the patient, usually a female and often at puberty, deliberately refuses food for a variety of abnormal reasons, though she may explain her odd behavior by saying she is only “slimming.”
As such patients may persist until they die from starvation, they are usually treated in hospital, where they may have to be forcibly fed and given injections of insulin to create an appetite, or subjected to psychotherapy.
There is no evidence that this disorder is more prevalent today than it was hundreds of years ago, and it must be emphasized that anorexia nervosa is the cause of excessive and dangerous “slimming” – not the result.
Is it possible to spot-reduce by dieting?
Spot-reducing is impossible. Cutting down on food leads to an overall loss of fat but cannot affect specific areas, because the mobilization of stored fat is a general phenomenon. Even plastic surgery is no remedy, for though the surgeon can remove surplus fat, it can grow again between the scars, and may look an awful mess.