Body weight

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• Aim to maintain your ideal body weight

• Balance energy consumed with energy expended

Being overweight (or obese) is unhealthy and can cause much distress. Obesity has been cited as a contributory factor in diabetes, heart and circulatory disease. Obesity can lower selfesteem and cause emotional problems. But how overweight do you have to be to increase your risk of ill health? It seems that the risk grows with an increasing level of obesity. A slight degree of obesity carries a slight risk and excessive overweight carries a high risk.

Body weight depends on a number of factors so how do you know if you are at your ideal weight, overweight or underweight? Taking height and age is not an accurate method of assessing this. Instead a measurement called the body mass index (BMI) is used. It is calculated by using the following method or calculated for you on the BBC website;


step 1 Take your weight in kilograms or convert your weight in pounds to kilograms by multiplying by 0.45 step 2 Take your height in metres or convert your height in inches to metres by multiplying by 0.025 step 3 Square your height in metres, that is, multiply height in metres by itself (height in metres multiplied by height in metres). step 4 Divide weight in kilograms by height in metres squared.


Male, height 5ft 6in or 66 inches. Weight 160 pounds.

Step 1 160 pounds x 0.45 = 72 kilograms

Step 2 66 inches x 0.025 = 1.65 metres Step 3 1.65X1.65 = 2.72

Step 4 72 4- 2.72 = 26.47. This is the BMI.

The ideal BMI for men is around 23 (acceptable range 20.5 to 26) and around 21 for women (acceptable range 19 to 23). So for the example above, the man’s ideal weight should be 23 X height squared, that is 23 X 2.72 = 62.56 kilograms. To convert kilograms to pounds divide by 0.45. In this case it is 139 pounds so he is about 21 pounds overweight (160 – 139 = 21). A BMI of over 30 carries a real health risk.

There are many causes of weight problems. Overeating and lack of exercise are obvious causes; hormone imbalances and distress are less obvious. Often being overweight is not the problem itself but a result of an individual’s emotional problems. Lack of stimulation, leading to distress, can prompt overeating in an

attempt to relieve boredom. This may take the form of picking at food throughout the day or bingeing, usually with highly calorific, convenience foods. The answer to boredom is to find something to occupy the time and to provide a new challenge, such as taking up a hobby, joining a club or starting a project at home. Lifestyle should be reviewed to find out why boredom occured in the first place. This should then be tackled.

Low self-esteem is often the cause of compulsive eating and drinking, resulting in obesity which pushes self-esteem down further. So improving self-esteem (see Chapter 14) can help avoid weight problems.

There are many advantages of maintaining your ideal weight. It is easier to become and stay fit when you have less weight to carry about. You will feel good about your appearance and be more comfortable with yourself. So no wonder slimming campaigns, methods and aids flourish. However, there is probably no other health issue more controversial than slimming. The only answer to successful weight loss and maintenance of an ideal body weight is to balance energy (calorie) input (energy from the food we eat) with energy output (energy expended during your daily activities).

To lose weight, you need to take in fewer calories than you expend. This should not be attempted in a drastic way by crash-dieting. Weight loss should be gradual. Eat fewer calories and expend more energy a little at a time. Assuming that there are no medical problems this method is guaranteed to work and costs very little. You will need:

• to know the calorie content of different foods (page 163)

• to know how many calories are expended in different activities (page 162)

• to know the number of calories required for your normal body processes (

• to take most of your calories in the form of complex carbohydrates such as whole grain cereals, wholegrain pasta, potatoes and brown rice

• to plan meals and activities

• will-power to avoid tempting high calorific foods

• time and patience.

Firstly calculate your approximate energy expenditure by noting the calories used up during your daily activities, then estimate your energy intake by calculating your calorie intake. Make a note of the difference: energy expended minus energy consumed. If you want to lose weight your aim is to expend more than you consume. For every 3500 kilocalories you expend more than you consume, you will lose one pound of body fat. So if you expend 100 more kilocalories than you eat during one day, it will take nearly a month for you to lose one pound. By expending 500 kilocalories more than you take in each day, you will lose one pound each week.

From the charts you will see that expending an extra 500 kilocalories each day is equivalent to two-and-a-half hours walking or two-and-a-half hours cycling or one hour swimming. It is often easier to reduce the number of calories consumed; one chocolate bar is equivalent in energy to one-and-a-quarter hours of walking. If you are overweight and embark on an exercise programme, you can achieve fitness and weight loss at the same time!

Unless a great deal of trouble is taken weighing everything you eat and timing everything you do, it must be accepted that these calculations are only approximations. But crude though it may be, this technique generates an awareness of the principles behind body weight control and if practised sensibly will normally lead to weight loss.

Remember, we do not eat simply to ensure that we have enough nutrition to live; it is also one of the pleasures of life.

The above table is a selection of the calorific values of food. More extensive lists can be found in Calories and Carbohydrates (see page 211) and at the weightloss resources and caloriecounter websites (see page 212).

Plan your diet so it is not boring and when you eat out choose your meals sensibly. Eat little and often so that you do not get hungry or feel tempted to eat a high calorie snack. Eat grilled rather than fried foods. Eat plenty of fresh fruit and vegetables. Try raw carrot, it is tasty and filling. Cut down on fats, sweets, biscuits and cakes.

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