On the occasion of World Obesity Day, Fat2Fit Ghana would like to encourage practical solutions to help Ghanaians achieve and maintain a healthy body weight and reverse obesity trends. Many of the underlying health conditions that have taken millions of lives around the world as a result of the global COVID-19 pandemic stem from obesity-related diseases.
Obesity is a medical condition of carrying excess body weight, and still remains a global health challenge with a third of the world’s population regarded as obese. According to a 2014 McKinsey Global Institute Report, this figure is expected to hit 50% by the year 2030; with the global cost of obesity exceeding 2 trillion dollars. Childhood obesity has also skyrocketed to unprecedented levels. In Ghana, the trend is no different. Nearly 43% of the adult population is either overweight or obese; and childhood obesity, particularly in urban areas, is rising.
Obesity is a major risk factor for many non-communicable diseases (NCDs) – such as type-2 diabetes, cardiovascular diseases, heart diseases, hypertension, stroke, sleep apnea, and various forms of cancer. Having lost my mother to obesity-related diseases and gone from weighing more than 130kg to 65kg, I have witnessed first-hand the havoc obesity can cause to one’s health, esteem and general lifestyle on one hand, and the many benefits of weight loss such as more energy, confidence, good mood, less stress, less knee-pain, better blood pressure and sugar control, and better sleep on the other hand.
The root causes of obesity are often a complex mixture of dietary, lifestyle, genetic, psychological, sociocultural, economic and environmental factors. Personally, I would attribute my obesity to the poor diet choices I picked up as a child. As the son of a baker, I grew up on food – and the wrong ones at that. From bread to pastries, pies, cakes, chips, cookies and all those highly caloric unhealthy foods. My siblings and I overindulged in eating these foods, eventually making us all overweight and obese. I used to deceive myself that I was obese because obesity runs in my family, when in fact no one runs in my family.
To know if you are obese, simply check your Body Mass Index (BMI); which you can do at any pharmacy. A BMI of more than 25 puts you in the overweight category, while a BMI of 30 and above puts you in the obese category. This means you are accumulating too much fat, which can lead to severe health impairments. Fat around the mid-section particularly, known as visceral fat or belly fat, is highly dangerous as it surrounds vital abdominal organs like the liver, kidney, stomach and small intestines, and is linked to many of the NCDs mentioned earlier.
Reducing to and maintaining a healthy weight is simple, though not easy. I tried for many years before I finally overcame it. It calls for Discipline, Dedication, and being Determined to achieve your desired weight – what I refer to as the 3Ds. It actually begins with a complete change of mindset and having strong reasons as to why you want to embark on this journey. It could be for health reasons, for self-confidence, to look good or to become an inspiration for others – which was one of my reasons, apart from health, for losing weight.
Here are practical solutions which have not only worked for me, but have also proven beneficial to many of my clients and participants of my award winning 3FMFat2Fit Challenge.
The first area you want to tackle is your diet. You must be committed to eating healthy. Weight loss is 80% diet and 20% exercise. This means you have to pay extra attention to the food on your plate. I always advise people to go for a plant-based diet and less animals. Choose whole foods over processed or packaged foods. Choose grilled, steamed or boiled foods over fried foods.
Reduce your carbohydrate (rice, yam, banku, kenkey, fufu, etc.) portion and replace with fresh green salads with no salad cream. Avoid heavy late-night eating and snack on fruit and vegetables instead of biscuits and soft drinks. If you have to eat late, go for a healthy soup such as carrot, pumpkin or a green soup with a few diced potatoes. Finally, avoid mindless eating (turn off the TV and/or computer during meals) and drink lots of water. Also drink green teas. They help a lot.
The second area you want to look at is getting physically active. Many people do not like to exercise – not because of the lack of time, but because they are lazy. I personally know many people who are working from home due to COVID-19 and have much control over their time; yet, they continue to say they do not have time to exercise. No, you have the time. You just haven’t prioritized it yet, because you will always make time for what you prioritise.
The benefits of exercise are immense. It improves your energy level, boosts your immune system, makes you feel good, improves blood circulation, aids digestion, lights up your brain and boosts your metabolism – which will ultimately lead to weight-loss. An hour of brisk walking in your neighborhood, an aerobics class, skipping, biking and swimming are all great cardio exercises which can help you lose weight. You can also sign up at a gym and add some strength training exercises. Increasing your muscle mass will burn excess fat and also lead to weight loss.
The combination of a healthy diet and physical activity is the best way to achieve an ideal body weight. One must however be consistent. Consistency is the key. Nobody gets to their ideal body weight by taking a single trip to the gym. You must do it over and over and over again until you get there. Do not go for any short-cuts, because they say they say short-cuts are always dangerous. Rather, go for a healthy lifestyle approach that you can maintain and also comes with no complications. With the impacts of COVID-19 still raging, a healthy lifestyle is one of the surest ways to minimise its effect on you.
The role of government in fighting the obesity epidemic can also not be overemphasised. By reforming approaches to nutrition, exercise and health in schools; enacting the right policies; embarking on obesity education and awareness; promoting development and infrastructure projects that support healthy active lifestyles; and by influencing the food and beverage industry, government can reduce the impact of obesity in our country.
Obesity is preventable. Let’s all work together to build happier, healthier and longer lives for everybody!