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Weight gain and obesity

Dr Karen Martin
Reviewed by Dr Karen MartinReviewed on 19.10.2023 | 4 minutes read
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In the simplest of terms, if the calories you eat exceed the calories you burn off, you will put on weight. Most calories come from sugary and fatty foods, especially highly processed or take-out foods designed to make us want more.

Doctors have a scale to classify whether your weight is healthy, underweight, or overweight, and it’s based on your body mass index (BMI), which considers your height and weight (kilograms per meter squared).

You have a healthy BMI between 18.5 and 24 and are underweight if you are less than 18.5. A BMI of 25 to 29 is termed overweight, 30 to 39 is obese, and over 40 is classed as very obese.

Obesity is a growing problem, affecting 42% of adults in the US. It can have serious implications for your health, including increased risk of breast and bowel cancer, Type 2 diabetes, heart disease, stroke, and disability from pressure on your bones and joints.

What does obesity mean?

Obesity is a growing problem, currently affecting 40% of adults in the US, and it can have serious implications for your health, including increased risk of breast and bowel cancer, Type 2 diabetes, heart disease and stroke.

BMI gives an indication of obesity, but a diagnosis is made based on other factors such as waist circumference. Men with a waist size of 40 inches or women with a waist of more than 35 inches put their health at risk.

As muscle weighs more than fat, bodybuilders and others with a high proportion of muscle mass may appear to have an unhealthy BMI, but this needs further consideration as they may have a low-fat content. You would expect it to only push them into the overweight category, rather than obese.

Could there be a medical reason behind my weight gain?

If you have gained considerable weight over a few weeks or months without changing your diet, portion size, or activity level, consider whether you have any other symptoms. Hypothyroidism, or an underactive thyroid gland, is a common condition where your metabolism slows down – you should visit your doctor for a blood test if you feel cold all the time or you’re lacking in energy and sleeping more than usual. Medication can help return your thyroid function to normal.

Pregnancy is another obvious cause of weight gain – if this could be you, take a pregnancy test to check.

Certain ethnicities tend to conserve calories from food – this isn’t a medical cause, just genetics. Unfortunately, it means that you (and your children) must be more careful about food choices, portion sizes, and getting enough exercise to burn calories.

When should I see my doctor?

If you have any concerns about the medical conditions above, you should book a routine appointment with your doctor. If you have no other symptoms, you can try simple measures to lose weight at home. You should try to reduce your intake of calories by making healthy food choices and reducing portion sizes and snacks. Drinks can add substantial calories – fizzy drinks, processed fruit juices, and alcohol are all packed with calories, so cut back on these if this applies to you.

Unfortunately, there is no magic pill, single food group, or radical smoothie to shortcut weight loss – it requires hard work and planning from you. Weight loss programs can help to guide your choices and provide a supportive group to cheer you on.

Some areas have exercise on prescription available, where your doctor can refer you to the local gym or swimming pool for a number of sessions. You may also be a candidate for certain medications that make it harder to absorb the fat from your diet, called orlistat, but you need to keep losing weight to stay on this. Weight loss surgery (bariatric surgery) may be offered under certain criteria – usually with a BMI of over 40 – and requires a great deal of commitment before and after surgery.

Sometimes it can feel like an uphill struggle to lose weight and adding to feelings of low self-esteem and confidence. If you are already feeling depressed, it can be hard to find the motivation to address your weight, and easy to comfort eat, which adds to the pounds. If your mood is low, see your doctor to discuss how you can best tackle this – set one goal at a time to put yourself in a position to succeed.

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This article has been written by UK-based doctors and pharmacists, so some advice may not apply to US users and some suggested treatments may not be available. For more information, please see our T&Cs.
Dr Karen Martin
Reviewed by Dr Karen Martin
Reviewed on 19.10.2023
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