By Dr. Ron Eaker

She wasn’t supposed to have a heart attack.  I mean, she was only 42, but the EKG didn’t leave anything to the imagination.  There it was, clear as day, an elevation in the ST segment (a STEMI in doctor jargon) and a classic sign of a heart attack.  She didn’t need this right now especially with the new job and all.

Even though Carol was not the classic heart attack victim— a relatively young female with normal blood pressure— she was 35 pounds overweight, had increased inflammatory markers and a lousy family history.  She was a perfect representative of the new wave of cardiac patients that are reducing the lifespan of US citizens for the first time… ever.

One of the big culprits is excess body fat.  A whopping 74% of adults over 20 are either overweight or obese.  Excess fat is a precursor for a variety of problems including type 2 diabetes, hypertension, cancer and senile dementia. 

Obesity is the new smoking when it comes to public health issues.  The successful anti-smoking campaigns of the 70s and 80s reduced this form of slow suicide fairly successfully, and there was a corresponding drop in deaths due to cardiovascular disease.  However, along with the rise of obesity and weight issues, the likelihood of heart attacks and strokes increased, even to the point of offsetting deaths from cancers and other maladies.

The most frightening statistic of the increase in heart disease is evident in younger folks, mostly women.  Elevated body fat creates several scenarios that lead slowly to heart problems.  Elevated blood sugars and increased inflammation set up a process that ultimately results in blocked arteries and disease.  This doesn’t happen overnight.  Carol didn’t just wake up one morning and have a heart attack.  The process had been building for years.  With 45% of children being overweight, and 70% of overweight kids becoming obese adults, it’s easy to track why younger and younger people are experiencing problems.  The damage begins early.

The good news is that if the weight issue is addressed early, less damage is done.  This is truly a case of “it’s never too late”:  Studies indicate that losing body fat in addition to adopting a healthy lifestyle of exercise, smoking cessation and good eating can reverse damaged vessels.   

So why is losing weight so hard?  Because in many instances, it’s not so much about the weight but more about everything surrounding the weight.  By that I mean your stress level, how well you sleep, your home environment, social interactions and stories you tell yourself about who you are.  Of course, nutrition and activity level are important, but weight control is much more complicated than simply calories in versus calories out.  The so-called energy equation method of weight control has some merit; however, it is only a fraction of what constitutes achieving a healthy BMI. 

So what is a person to do?

Michael Jordan, even at the height of his basketball superiority, had a coach.  He knew a fundamental principle about human nature: we have a hard time seeing ourselves objectively. So it is with weight loss.  A trusted coach can be the key ingredient in any program and the difference between success and frustration.  It is no secret that if you want to lose weight and keep it off, working with a knowledgeable and caring motivator will greatly increase your likelihood of success. 

There are several very qualified personal trainers, nutritionists, physicians and health coaches who can guide you on this journey.  Do your homework. Find someone you connect with who has expertise and training.  Most of these folks can understand the importance of individualization in designing a weight management program specifically for you.  One way to assess the quality and integrity of weight loss is to see if it allows for individual variation.  A winning coach or system will always be flexible enough to mold the program to you– not you to the program.

Reducing body fat is undoubtedly one of the best things you can do for your health.  Excess body fat is not a moral lapse, being lazy, a lack of willpower or any other absurd accusation.  It is a chronic, interdependent, complex association of many factors that requires commitment, knowledge, and often guidance to address.

It’s time to stop all the shaming, quick fixes, and snake oil and start recognizing excess fat like any other medical condition.

This article appears in the November 2019 issue of Augusta Family Magazine.
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