Guidelines for Healthy Eating

Adding a few pounds here and there during adulthood seems innocuous enough. It has its own catchy moniker — middle-age spread — and was once considered a sign of prosperity and success. It also seems to be an inevitable part of aging, affecting most people. In reality, adult weight gain is neither inevitable, nor innocuous. In many cultures, gaining weight during adulthood just isn’t the norm.

Gaining more than a few pounds after your early 20s can nudge you down the path to chronic disease, and the more weight you gain, the harder the push will be. Studies have shown, middle-aged men and women who had gained 5 to 10 kilos after age 20 were up to three times more likely to develop heart disease, high blood pressure, type 2 diabetes and gallstones as their counterparts who gained 2 kilos or less.

Weight Gain Can Lead to Chronic Disease

Three related aspects of weight — how much you weigh in relation to your height, your waist size and how much weight you gain after your early 20s — increase your risk for:

• a heart attack, stroke or other type
of cardiovascular disease
• high blood pressure, high cholesterol and diabetes
• post-menopausal breast cancer and cancer of the endometrial, colon or kidney
• snoring and sleep disorders such as sleep apnoea
• adult-onset asthma
• arthritis, infertility and gallstones

Weight sits like a spider at the centre of an intricate, tangled web of health and disease. It isn’t a new idea and it isn’t sexy.

Why We Gain Weight

Your weight depends on a simple but easily unbalanced equation: Weight change equals calories in minus calories out. Burn as many calories as you take in and your weight won’t change. Chalk up your weight to a combination of what and how much you eat, your genes, your lifestyle and your culture.

Your diet. What and how much you eat affects your weight.

Genes. Your parents are partly to thank, or to blame, for your weight and the shape of your body. But genetic influences can’t explain the rapid increase in obesity seen over the last 30 years.

Lifestyle. If eating represents the pleasurable, sensuous side of the weight change equation, then metabolism and physical activity are its nose-to-the-grindstone counterparts. If you work a desk job and do little more than walk from your car to your office and back again, you may burn ridiculously few calories each day.

Culture. Indulgence is tolerated, even revered. Just imagine your grandmother urging you to have another helping or the pleasurable groans and belt loosening that end many holiday and regular meals. These are not universal tendencies. In France and throughout much of Asia, the cuisine emphasizes quality and presentation, not how much food can be crammed on a plate.

Weight control isn’t impossible, nor does it need to mean deprivation or a boring, repetitious diet. With conscious effort and creativity, most people can successfully control their weight over the long term with an enjoyable but reasonable diet, and near-daily exercise. A longer, healthier life is definitely worth the effort.

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