The series of Malaysian National Health and Morbidity Surveys have reported that the prevalence of those who are overweight and who are suffering from obesity among Malaysians has been on the rise.

The latest report in 2015 found that this problem has reached a high level, with approximately 1 in 3 being overweight and 1 in 6 who are obese. Being overweight, or obesity, results from the accumulation of excessive fat in the body. It generally refers to a higher than normal body weight for a given height.

You can check if you have a weight problem using the body mass index (BMI) method, which is calculated using a simple formula, i.e. BMI = weight (in kg) / height x height (in metres).

A ‘normal’ BMI is between 18.5 and 24.9, while higher BMI generally indicates higher body fat accumulation resulting in being overweight or obesity. A BMI of 25-29.9 indicates a person who is overweight, while values above 30 fall under obesity.

Weight gain and energy balance 

Dietary habits and a sedentary lifestyle are the main causes for unhealthy weight gain, which in turn leads to being overweight and obesity.

One important concept to be aware of is energy balance, i.e. the energy you gain from the foods and drinks you consume should not exceed the amount of energy your body uses through physical activities.

If your caloric intake is consistently high but you don’t use as much energy, the excess will be stored as body fat. Conversely, having consistently lower energy intake versus energy use will lead to weight loss as the body will ‘cannibalise’ itself in order to meet this deficit.

Certain foods and beverages are high in calorie (energy dense) and low in essential nutrients. These include foods high in fat, for example, fried foods, dishes with santan, high carbohydrate and sugar foods and beverages (e.g. cakes, kuih-muih, soft drinks and bubble milk teas).

These foods should be consumed in moderation and less frequently.

Losing weight the healthy way 

With the end of the year in sight, it may be a good time to think of changing for the better with the coming new year. So set a new resolution to attain a healthier weight. Some things you can do include:

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• Switching to a healthy diet: The best option is home cooking with fresh ingredients and less processed ingredients. If you eat out, opt for foods that are steamed, braised, grilled or stir-fried; choose deep-fried foods less often. Avoid all-you-can-eat buffets to prevent overeating!

• Cutting down sugar intake: Limit your intake of sugar-sweetened foods and drinks. Sugar is an ‘empty calorie’ ingredient with no nutritional value.

• Being more physically active: Accumulate at least an hour of physical activity every day, e.g. brisk walking, jogging, running, cycling or any light exercise. Do heavier exercises or sports that raise your breathing and heart rate at least once a week. Take it slow if your fitness level is poor; slowly increase the intensity over time.

• Creating a ‘new’ family tradition/culture: This greatly influences children later when they reach adulthood. If your family always eats at fast food restaurants, this sends a wrong message to children that it is ‘normal’. Set the right tone from young by having homecooked meals as often as possible.

Other good habits to inculcate from young include getting enough sleep daily and managing stress levels.

There are also new studies that suggest the possibility of manipulating the composition of the gut microbiota as a novel method of ‘treating’ obesity. The gut microbiota is a collection of microorganisms living in our gut that are linked with how our body digests and absorbs nutrients from food.

Scientific evidence on how probiotics may be beneficial in reducing body fat/weight and weight gain shows promise. In general, probiotics are good bacteria that provide us with health benefits that also help improve our digestive system and nutrition absorption.

Therefore include foods rich in good bacteria in your diet, such as fermented food (e.g. kimchi, sauerkraut, tempeh, etc.) or cultured milk drinks which contain probiotic live cultures, such as Lactobacillus acidophilus and Lactobacillus paracasei.

Lose weight slowly and steadily

Gradual weight loss is preferable for lowering the risk of unwanted health problems. Don’t be too focused on losing a specific amount of weight per week/month, but set a more modest target, e.g. 5-10% weight loss from your current body weight in six months’ time.

There are also plenty of tools you can use to help you stay on track. Pedometers help track the number of steps you have taken in a day, and there are mobile apps to help you keep track of your caloric intake, physical activity and weight loss.

Most important of all, don’t be too upset if things don’t go according to schedule. Remember, the most significant ‘weapon’ in your battle against the bulge is your commitment to ‘gaining’ a healthy weight, and consistency in sticking to a healthier lifestyle.

This article is courtesy of Digestive Health Malaysia (DHM) society and Vitagen Healthy Digestion Programme (VHDP), in conjunction with their World Digestive Health Day 2019 awareness campaign. Dr Tee E Siong is a Council Member of Digestive Health Malaysia Society and also the President of Nutrition Society of Malaysia. He is not associated with, and does not endorse any brand or product. For more information, please contact 03-56323301.