Role of Diet and Nutrition in Controlling Obesity
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Yoga for Cure of Obesity

Weight gain is a major bane of modern day society. We see people all around us who range from being just mildly over-weight to being grossly obese. Obesity has now assumed epidemic dimensions. It is estimated that 55% of the western society is over-weight, with probably around 30% obese. Although it is right that some people are genetically predisposed to putting on weight more than the others, the fact still remains, that if they were fed some truly slim cuisine like the one served in a prison, their weight would go down very rapidly, proving effectively that weight-loss can be attained by corrective nutrition.

It is also seen that most people who go on a diet initially get benefits. But a very depressing statistic is that 97% of these people, three years later end up gaining all the weight right back or worse, put on a few kilos more. Most of the weight-loss programmes charted out by enterprising nutritionists and dieticians are effective. Only problem is that their effects remain as long as one keeps following the diet, and are unfortunately not permanent. Going on a diet is akin to going on a holiday, if one goes on a holiday, one comes back from the holiday. Similarly if one goes on a diet one also comes back from the diet. If permanent changes are sought, the answer does not lie in going on a diet, but in making permanent changes in one’s lifestyle, which can be followed through with ease and convenience.

Yoga for Weight Loss

Yoga forms a very important methodology of weight loss through an easy to practice regular program of bodily exercises or asanas, pranayama, disciplined living, mind control through meditation and establishing a positive mental image through yoga nidra.

Most diets especially the fad diets, involve a significant loss of water and muscle during the first month. It usually takes somewhere between three and six months to start mobilising the fat stores, unless one is on an extremely low-carbohydrate diet, which has its own downside. The usual trend therefore is, one month of alleged success followed by a few months of steady weight maintenance, and upon seeing no quick results, going back to usual habits and putting on all the weight right back within the next month or so. As earlier weight lost was mainly muscle and water, one now ends up gaining fat and becomes flabbier.

Over thirty-five years of age it is extremely difficult to lose and sustain weight loss simply through diet alone. 50% of weight lost through dieting is fat loss, while through exercise 100% fat loss takes place. Simply put there are just two basic principles for losing weight.

  • Consumption of less food in balanced varieties.
  • Exercising the body more rather than sticking to a sedentary lifestyle.

Imagine what can be accomplished by adopting the discipline of yoga which combines stimulating exercises for the entire system coupled with perfect mental coordination? Permanent weight loss requires patience. It is wiser to set long-term goals than making short-term plans and then incorporating them in one’s lifestyle so that they become second nature.

When one approaches a nutritionist or a dietician or a doctor with a weight related situation, the first piece of advice one gets is to cut down the fat intake. But many recent medical researches have shown that there is almost negligible effect on the weight condition or the heart condition with alterations in the dietary fat intake. It seems that cutting down the fat from the diet, actually does not have the perceived benefits, it is generally aimed to bring about. So why is the health profession so adamant about people making alterations in their fat intake? Is fat really a culprit or is it a long perpetrated myth?

The scientists are now recognizing the fact that not all fats are bad for the human system. So while discussing fats one has to be more specific and classify them as good fats and bad fats. The fats can be classified as follows-

  • Essential fatty acids. 75% of every cell membrane is made of fat and 30% of this is essential fatty acids.
  • Saturated fats, which include animal fats and milk products and are also found in coconuts.
  • Mono-unsaturated fats like olive oil, canola oil, avocado and nuts and poly-unsaturated fats divided into Omega-3s (from fish and plants) and Omega-6s (from vegetable oils).
  • Trans fatty acids, they are the worse type and are the synthetic form of unsaturated fats.

All these fats have different chemical structure, which determines their way of working in the human body. Good fats comprise of pure essential fatty acids and Omega-3 and Omega-6 fatty acids and mono-unsaturated fats.

Essential fatty acids as the name suggests are absolutely vital for the normal functioning of the body. Their main functions are to ensure that the cell membrane works correctly, balance is maintained within the body functions, normal functioning of the brain and retina is aided, cholesterol is reduced and fat metabolism is helped and the immune system is boosted.

Trans fatty acids on the other hand damage the cell membrane, thus hampering the normal absorption of nutrients. They also block the normal metabolism and distribution of Omega-3 fats. Saturated fats and trans fatty acids have the similar ability to raise harmful LDL cholesterol as trans fatty acids, and unlike saturated fats, trans fatty acids drop HDL cholesterol, which in turn increases the risk of heart disease.

Trans fatty acids are excessively used in the food industry today. The products that claim to be cholesterol-free, low in saturated fats are generally rich in mono-unsaturated fats, which through a process of chemical hydrogenation are changed into trans-fatty acid configuration. This makes them solid at room temperature and easy to use in different types of processed and fast foods, ensuring a much longer shelf life for the foods prepared by using them. It does not need much insight to see that if they are used in processed foods to keep them for a longer time on shelves, what kind of damage they may be causing in the human body.

If we look into the myth of low fat, high carbohydrate diets we come to some startling conclusions. It has been mistaken for a long time that fats are stored in the body as fats. Although true up to a certain extent, it is nowhere near the reality that if carbohydrates are not burned immediately as they enter the body, they are converted into fats. If the body has had a high intake of trans fatty acids, as is the case with most over-weight people, the normal cell membrane functioning is damaged. This means that the nutrients cannot get into the cells, thus depleting the energy levels, the body craves for carbohydrates because the cells perceive this condition as glucose deficiency. This creates hunger pangs, which in turn are managed by consuming foods rich in processed carbohydrates and trans fatty acids, creating a vicious cycle. If such a person is put on a low fat, high carbohydrate diet, chances are that his cells may not be able to assimilate the excess carbohydrate, which in turn may convert into fat. Unless and until the trans fatty acid intake is reduced and essential fatty acid intake is increased, restoring the normal cell membrane functioning sufficiently, the high carbohydrate diets may not show adequate results leaving a person in a highly irritable state of mind with his expensive “diet” contributing towards the envelope of fat around his waistline.

Our consumption of breads and rice is generally twice the amount of optimum intake, and since most of it comes from processed sources, the fibre content also is usually negligible.

The concept of calculating the glycaemic index (GI) of carbohydrates is very much in vogue these days. It is based on how quickly the blood sugar responds to carbohydrates upon consumption. It is somewhat simplistic as it gives an impression that the foods with higher GI carbohydrates cause much more concern than the low GI carbohydrates. But whole milk has a lower GI than skim milk. A banana, which is rich in potassium and fibre, has a GI of 55, rather close to a bowl of ice-cream (61) and coke (63). Merely relying on the blood glucose response to a particular food does not give complete nutritive value of the food.

Proteins form the third macronutrient our body needs. Proteins are the basic infrastructural units of all components that make up our body. Amino acids are the building blocks for the proteins. We basically need about twenty amino acids for our body to function normally. Out of these nine are essential and eleven are non-essential. Since the muscle structure of animals is similar to that of humans, the most complete form of proteins containing all essential amino acids is animal protein. But by combining different types of plant proteins all essential amino acids can still be obtained. The only plant protein that has the complete set of amino acids is the Soya bean. From the hair to the DNA, and from blood to the muscle, proteins are present everywhere in the body. These need constant replenishment, so proteins should form a vital part of our diets. Growing children need protein in higher quantities than elderly people. Protein rich foods are fish, meat, poultry and eggs, nuts and legumes especially Soya beans.

There has been a lot of emphasis on the high-protein, low carbohydrate diets especially recommended for people who want to build a muscular body quickly, as is the case with people in glamour related professions. If high protein diets are consistently taken for a long time with reduction of carbohydrates and fats, the chances of a person developing kidney ailments and osteoporosis rise. This is because excessive protein intake can increase the calcium loss from bone leading to osteoporosis and increase of calcium in the urine contributes to the development of kidney stones. A person suffering from diabetes or a kidney ailment may show a remarkable acceleration in his condition if put on a high-protein diet.

The subject of dietary nutrition is a vast one. It is important to remember that any kind of excess and imbalance has definite long-term ill effects. It is wiser to stick to well-balanced meals with emphasis on natural ingredients rather than synthetic ones; and avoid favouring one macronutrient over the other, as all of them have distinct functions; are essential for maintaining a complete equilibrium; and are designed to work in co-ordination and not in isolation with each other.

While a competent doctor is perhaps the only person sufficiently qualified to assess one’s general state of health, it is always up to the individual himself to look after his own body. Yoga treats the body as a temple that inhabits the very essence of the divine. If this is believed to be true would it be right to feed it with rubbish, make constant changes in the diet, not exercise it and give it a lot of alcohol and cigarettes? Our body is our most prized possession. Not only is it structured to perform most complicated functions to perfection, its self-healing mechanisms are flawlessly engineered too. The body gives us distinct signals about all its requirements. Nobody puts on huge amounts of excessive weight in one day. The key is to recognize the signals, well in time, and take corrective actions expeditiously.

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