December 25, 2016

OBESITY ON THE PROWL: ‘How not to eat your way to the grave this season’

OBESITY ON THE PROWL: ‘How not to eat your way to the grave this season’


By Chioma Obinna

Christmas is a period for sober reflection and thanksgiving for many Christians. It is also a period for family reunion and feast.   It is also a time to give, share and receive. There is also a lot of good food to eat free of charge.     Findings have shown that many people tend to gain a lot of weight during this season because, with all the merriment, many people’s self-control and sense of fullness tend to disappear.

But experts say although there are many temptations during this season, the season of excess doesn’t have to mean weight gain because obesity is on the prowl.   Findings also showed that obesity has joined the ranks of malnutrition, malaria and hypertension among other deadly ailments.   Overweight and obesity are defined by the World Health Organization (WHO) as abnormal or excessive fat accumulation that may impair health. Body Mass Index (BMI) is a simple index of weight-for-height that is commonly used to classify overweight and obesity in adults. It is defined as a person’s weight in kilograms divided by the square of his height in meters (kg/m2).

According to nutrition experts, many people are unknowingly eating their way to the grave and obesity is rising in both rural and urban areas.   Adults are overweight or obese, while children are malnourished – a paradox.     Today, men and women are competing for pot-belly.

Many Nigerian adults have surpassed the WHO overweight and obesity levels which define overweight as a BMI greater than or equal to 25; and obesity as a BMI greater than or equal to 30.

Statistics obtained by Sunday Vanguard showed that one-third of the world’s population is now overweight or obese, while 62 percent of these individuals live in developing countries like Nigeria.   In 2014, more than 1.9 billion adults, 18 years and older, were overweight, and of these over 600 million were obese (WHO, 2015). WHO estimates that 12.7 percent of African children will be overweight by 2020 compared to 8.5 percent in 2010, unless this is addressed urgently.

Meanwhile,  Assistant Director, Dietetics, Obafemi   Awolowo University Teaching Hospital, Dr Obinna Ogbonna,   says festive periods like Christmas are not very good for some categories of   people,  particularly those prone to obesity, hence the need for people to carefully choose what they eat this season.


According to Ogbonna, things that predispose people to be prone to obesity are classified into two.   While some people have the inherited virtue, some people eat themselves into becoming obese.

Lamenting that many people enjoy consuming junks, fried foods and refined sugars, he said, sadly, some people have adopted the western kind of foods and have abandoned the local foods that are more nutritious.

To the dietician, although there are many temptations, it doesn’t mean more weight gain.

Christmas is only once a year and, because it lasts for a limited period, people see it as a green light to indulge. According to him, there is need to get out of this mindset.

“Many of us take a devil-may-care attitude to what we eat and drink at Christmas but constantly viewing special occasions as an opportunity to splurge on fat and calories can seriously increase weight gain over the course of a year”, Ogbonna stated.

Admitting that Christmas foods are high in calories, he advised strongly that people should be mindful of what they consume.

“For obesity prone persons, they should take little carbohydrates with lots of vegetables and they should not eat late night foods. Any dinner after 7:30 may not be too good for the system,” he added.

He advised: “You don’t indulge in fried foods and too much of oil.   People should be mindful of refined sugars that come from various forms of soft drinks. One should not  indulge in them because of the merry-making.”

Also counselling people on foods like salads, the dietician said: “People should be very mindful of the bacteria micro-organism that may be incubated in them because if they are not hygienic enough and they did not wash their hands and utensils like knifes well, it may become injurious to health.

“When people use the knife they used in slaughtering their chicken  directly  to slice their cucumber, it is a very good medium for micro-organism to grow. When people eat such things, they come down with gastroenteritis; they will start purging (diarrhoea) which could be very dangerous.”

Ogbonna stressed the need for people to include vegetables in whatever they  eat this period as well as eat more of white meat than red meat. “Things like chicken and fish are good. If you want to eat chicken, it is also important to de-skin it because the skin is not too nutritious. If you want to eat beef it should be the beef, itself and should be eaten in small quantity because the white meat is better,” the Assistant Director advised.

Also warning people on high consumption of soft drinks, he said: “There was a study we carried out during the festive period like this.   A particular company was running a promo about a particular soft drink. They started giving people free soft drinks and in hospital the rate of diabetes increased and people were coming down with diabetes because they were taking too much of the free sugar drinks. Some were taking up to five bottles a day.   People should be mindful of that this season because accumulation of sugar will eventually harm the body.”

Strategies to enjoy Christmas to the full

Mindless eating is consuming food just because it is there. It is eating while distracted – watching TV, working at a computer or texting on smartphones. It is eating for emotional comfort instead of for hunger. It is not paying attention to what we eat which can lead to being overweight and even obese.

In a report, a certified nutritionist for the Cardiac Rehabilitation Centre at Mt. Sinai Medical Centre, New York, Riska Platt, said mindless eating has always been an issue but the key to mindful eating is awareness.

Platt said just by paying more attention to what you eat, you are more likely to make beneficial changes.

When you pay attention to what you are eating, you can make small changes that make a big difference.

Tips toward a more mindful approach:

* You don’t have to deprive yourself, simply control your portions

*Eat when you are hungry. Just because the clock says noon doesn’t mean you have to eat. If you are not hungry, wait until you are hungry.

* Prepare healthy snacks throughout the day if you tend to get hungry between meals.

* Enjoy each bite and put your fork down while chewing, then take a drink between each bite. This gives your body enough time to trigger your brain that you are satisfied (not necessarily full).

* Do not eat in front of the TV or computer, or while standing in the kitchen or talking on the phone. When you do these things, you are more likely to lose track of how much you’ve eaten.

Curbing your calorie intake this season

*Go easy at breakfast

* Avoid grazing

* Scan before you serve

* Don’t skip meals you will be famished and hungry people make bad food decisions. Eat a light lunch and then shortly before you head out have a snack such as a yogurt or a couple of pieces of fresh fruit to take the edge off your hunger and stop you gorging.

* Clear the decks: Dinner with family and friends often means we spend longer sitting around the table. But the longer we linger, the more likely we are to keep eating even if we have had enough. Instead clear the table when everyone has finished eating and move into another room to continue the conversation.

*Healthy snacks: Healthy snacks like unsalted nuts and seeds will stave off hunger

*Cut down on carbohydrates:   Avoid overloading on starchy carbs by replacing roast spuds with parsnips, celeriac or sweet potatoes.

* Be mindful:   Don’t lose touch with your internal appetite regulators. Listen to your body and give it a chance to feel hungry before you eat.

* Exercise will help you to maintain your weight during the season of excess.

* Factor in the drinks:   Alcohol is packed with empty calories. A 125ml glass of 13 per cent abv (absolute bottle volume) fizz has 94 calories. Research shows alcohol not only increases our appetite but can weaken our willpower, meaning we are even more likely to overindulge on festive nibbles.

* Treat sweets as treats:   Eat little chocolates and making it an occasional treat means you will enjoy it more.