Let’s look at what fat tissue does
It is still early in the year, and most of us have been happily grazing on treats since October 31st. Festivities from fall to winter, isolation brought on by COVID-19, many have put on more than a few pounds. I want to discuss the sensitive topic of obesity. I understand that approaching this topic is like asking a woman when her baby is due only to find out she is not pregnant or referring to a man’s wife as his daughter. It may sound crazy, but I’ve been in trouble on both counts. So I understand how talking about obesity is like picking a ‘prickly pear.’ Many think of fat as just padding on the body and a reservoir for energy.
It might be interesting to look at obesity from a different viewpoint: Let’s look at what fat (adipose) tissue does. Fat tissue works as endocrine organ producing hormones. These hormones do multiple jobs, such as telling when you are hungry and full. Some are responsible for how cells handle glucose (sugar). Some regulate immunity, inflammation, and blood cell formation and increase blood pressure. Research continues to find new hormones and is looking for ways these hormones regulate your body. Did you know there are different types of fat tissue? Fat comes in various colors, white, beige, and brown. White fat is the most plentiful and acts as padding and a “food bank” for organs, producing hormones secreted in the bloodstream and affecting your body’s metabolism. Brown adipose tissue maintains a person’s heat during cold exposure by converting energy from triglycerides or glucose, keeping you warm, while beige-colored fat can do both.
In real estate, it is all about location, location, location. A home on beachfront property vs. the same house in a rural community determines to price. That leads me to how fat ‘location’ on your body ties to your health. Where on your body do you carry the most fat? Is it your waist or butt and thigh area? Having fat on the butt and thighs is healthier than on the abdomen. Go ahead and measure your waist. Women with a waist measurement over 35 inches or a male with a waist measurement over 40 inches are at increased risk for disease. For people of Asian descent, the measurements are lower: women’s waist measurement is 31.5 inches, and in men, 35.5 inches. Why is fat around the waist a bad thing? Those with large amounts of abdominal fat are likely to have more visceral fat. Visceral fat is located deep within the abdomen and wraps around your organs. More visceral fat increases your risk for significant health issues.
So, when your provider says you are obese. They are not trying to offend you. It means your body has too much body fat. Body mass index (BMI) measures the percentage of fat based on someone’s weight and height. BMI over 30% is considered obese. Excess fat accumulation has adverse effects on the body. Obesity increases your risk for heart disease, stroke, diabetes, and Alzheimer’s. Other conditions linked to obesity include Sleep Apnea, Gallbladder disease, and 13 different cancers. Not to mention an increase in fatigue, a lack of endurance, heartburn, and sometimes difficulty bending over. Where body fat resides on the body can make a difference. Fat accumulation around your waist contributes to 30 chronic diseases and 13 cancers. That is astonishing! A study on adult obesity in 2020 shows over 42 percent of adults in the U.S. are obese. In 1990 that figure was slightly over 33 percent. We have taken a jump in the wrong direction.
How does this affect me? I’m overweight and do not have any health issues. Let’s say it is a matter of time. It reminds me of how you cook a frog. Placing the frog in cold water and turning on the heat, it is too late before the frog realizes it is cooking. A frog in hot water will immediately jump out, but he will not if the water temperature starts cold. How does this apply to you? If you had high blood pressure symptoms at the onset, you would make changes to prevent progression. But as with most disease onset, you do not have symptoms until later in the disease process. Prevention is better than reaction. Each person has to choose to continue down the path of obesity or make a healthy change. How do I create a difference, you ask? What diet do I follow?
I’m not fond of the word dieting; this suggests that you finish when the weight loss goal is met. You can lose weight by eating only apples daily, but you will likely only hold to this diet for a short time. Next thing you know, you gain the weight back and then some. Inevitably this becomes the diet yo-yo ride. Many of you have lost several hundred pounds, but it was only the same 10 pounds repeated over and over? What we need are lifestyle changes. Lifestyle changes never end; it is continuous. It involves changing your food choices and exercise habits. These will lead you away from obesity and the problems associated with it. Start with writing down what you eat and drink for a week without making any changes. Be truthful with yourself. Did you exercise? Are you eating vegetables, fruits, and lean meats? What are your portion sizes? How many snacks? Do you graze throughout the day? What are you drinking? Have issues with cravings?
Yes, when we lose weight, there are benefits, like bending over without getting red in the face. We have more energy throughout the day, more stamina hiking, less pain or discomfort in our joints, feel better about ourselves, and are more comfortable in our clothes. But these are the “benefits” of your choice for better health. Better health leads to a better quality of life and a longer life.
Talk with your primary care provider, and discuss your concerns. The two of you can work on a plan for a healthy lifestyle.
-Tina B. Howard, FNP-BC
Craig County Health Center
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