(Forget skinny jeans and heart attacks. THIS is why weight loss is important!)
The media's most popular incentives for weight loss— scary disease statistics and fitness industry vanity trips — aren’t very effective, useful, or scientifically valid ways to promote weight loss. There are much better reasons to lose weight.....more pressing, more proven, more quality-of-life focused reasons. Sadly, they’re not often talked about.
Your knees and elbows will thank you. Osteoarthritis is a degenerative joint disease, in which we lose cartilage and gradually destroy the bones of our joints. Imagine two rocks grinding together and you get the idea of how fun that is. Healthy people don’t think much about osteoarthritis because it’s common. Aging makes it more likely. Everyone’s grandma has a twinge of arthritis.
So we think it’s normal. Like most chronic illnesses, osteoarthritis is a vicious cycle.
Your joints hurt, so you move less. Moving less means your joints don’t get loaded. Less joint loading means muscle weakness. Muscle weakness means force doesn’t get cushioned correctly. Less cushion means the condition worsens. More osteoarthritis means means more pain. The point? Obesity makes it much more likely that you’ll get osteoarthritis. The reason this happens is complicated. It isn’t just that heavier people put more weight on their joints, and those joints then break down over time. It’s also that there seems to be a relationship between the presence of excess fat tissue and inflammation. Thus, osteoarthritis probably comes from a combination of excess joint loading plus the inflammation that having too much body fat creates.
Bottom line: One important reason to lose weight is to reduce joint pain and improve your movement. These are are things you can benefit from almost immediately.
You’ll get a good night’s sleep. Sleep apnea: The upper airway collapses while you sleep, cutting off oxygen. Just so you know, sleep apnea is more than a little snoring. Sleep apnea means you stop breathing....over and over and over as you sleep. This is bad. More body fat means more potential for sleep apnea. This comes from a few combined factors. Fat in your airway narrows the space available. This makes your airway more prone to collapsing.
Fat in your upper body puts weight on your lungs and reduces the space available to them. You need more oxygen but you can’t get it as well. Fat — a hormone-producing organ — changes your hormonal signals. This rewires your respiratory systems. While around 25 percent of adults have sleep apnea, 50 percent of obese adults have it. So, why is sleep apnea bad? Sleep is a major regulator of our metabolism. If our sleep is bad, so is our metabolic health. This means you are at higher risk for all kinds of nasty chronic diseases in the long term.
Bottom line: Another important reason to lose weight is so that you can sleep better. Not only does this help regulate metabolism, hormone systems, and more, it helps you feel, think and live better right away.
You’ll actually start to taste your food. This may sound weird, but it seems that people who struggle with their weight don’t taste food as well. People who often eat more food can’t taste as well? Exactly. Why? Not sure! It is not known whether excess body fat changes your tastes. Or whether your tastes change your appetite and cause weight gain. It is not known whether this is an issue of:
(A) “wanting” tastes: seeking and craving the reward of tastes
(B) “liking” tastes: actually enjoying tastes
(C) chemical signaling: how taste is created in the mouth and interpreted by the brain
Here’s what we do know. One theory is that if we can’t taste as well, we eat more food to compensate. On the flip side, people with high BMIs seem to avoid bitter foods more, and have a stronger “disgust” response. As it happens, many vegetables are bitter or repulsive. (think of kale, Brussels sprouts, green peppers, etc.). So there seems to be a relationship between excess body fat; wanting and liking fat / sweet foods and pleasant tastes; eating fat / sweet foods; and avoiding unpleasant tastes. Put simply, what this could mean is many people with excess body fat also have altered flavor perception which directly feeds into this dysfunction by having aggressively over-sweet, over-salty, over-fatty, etc. flavor preferences. We eat and eat and eat them, but they never seem to satisfy. The good news is this means that losing fat, getting fit, and consistently building healthy habits can actually change how we perceive flavors in a good way. More importantly, when you truly enjoy food, you eat less, but you feel much more satisfied. Bottom line: Obese people have altered taste perceptions leading to eating more and eating more of the wrong foods. By losing weight you’ll end up craving less high-sugar and high-fat food. You might even enjoy and extra veggie or two.
Your immune system will work properly again. We tend to think of body fat like an ATM: a place where we deposit or withdraw energy. It isn’t. Instead, fat is an active endocrine organ. That means it secretes hormones and cytokines (cell signaling molecules). Hormones and cytokines have effects through the body. They “talk” to one another chemically. Like all things, balance is important. If we have a healthy amount of fat, our hormones and cell signals work right. If we have too much, things go wrong. For example, with too much body fat our immune systems get out of whack. There’s a huge, scary pile of evidence here, but I will keep it simple. Increased BMI and more body fat is associated with greater risk for several kinds of infections, sickness, and disease. Bottom line: Losing body fat can mean a healthier, more responsive, more active immune system. And that means less colds, fewer infections, and a healthier daily life.
You’ll survive surgery. Surgery is risky business for people who are obese.
This is a double whammy because people who struggle with obesity also struggle with more health issues that may require surgery. So obese people may need surgery… but not be able to get it, or not recover as well when they do. Bottom line: Every surgery patient wants a safe and speedy recovery. Having a healthy range of body fat makes those happy outcomes much more likely.
Let’s focus for a minute on how awesome life can be when your body is as functional, mobile, and healthy as it can possibly be. Go toward the good.....focus on the small blessings and achievements of everyday life. “I can run around with my kids.” “I don’t get tired through the day.” “Food tastes better. I can’t explain how.” “My random aches and pains stopped.” “I can carry my two-year old without wheezing.” “I have so much more energy.” “I bounce back from sickness much better now.” These are just some of the reasons and benefits of losing weight! Focus on quality of life and all around happiness! It's in your hands!