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Living with obesity: “there’s an unhealthy relationship with food”

Obesity is an epidemic that currently affects one third of South African men and two thirds of South African women. It poses a huge health hazard, as it is associated with diabetes, heart disease and hypertension. The Daily Vox spoke to Dean Ryan* (34) who has had weight problems since he was ten. Ryan is now following a weight loss plan set out for him by a professional.

I knew I had a problem with my weight maybe by the age of ten. It was mainly due to a lack of exercise and lots of incorrect eating.

The first time I intervened with my weight was at the end of 2006. I went on a serious diet and lost about 40kgs. I kept it off for about two years and gained back more than that since. About four weeks ago, I had decided that my weight is impacting on my lifestyle so I have to do something about it. I decided to ask some friends if they knew a dietician because the conventional Noakes diet was too extreme for me. I couldn’t stick to it.

Before my intervention, I wasn’t able to sleep without sleeping tablets. It’s likely due to the fact that I’m insulin-resistant and I was going to bed with a lot of sugar in my blood still, which impacts your health. It can impact on the amount of serotonin in your body, that’s one of the happy hormones that make you sleep easily. When I started following the meal plan, I came off the sleeping tablets, and I’ve been able to sleep.

The real trigger was when blood tests showed my insulin levels were above 50 when they should be below 10 in the morning. My blood sugar was about 6 or 6.2, it should be under 6. That scared me.

Other than that, the obvious problems are difficulty with mobility: getting in and out of the car, bed, that type of thing.

My dietician has worked out some balanced meal plans and it’s fairly easy to follow. She takes a very holistic approach about weight loss; she tells you what you can and can’t eat. She does an 80/20 or 90/10 approach where you’ve got 21 meals in a week: if you can eat 18 or 19 of them good, and three not so good, you are still doing well.

The biggest issue with most obese people is there’s an unhealthy relationship with food, whether it’s mental or physical. There’s studies that say carbohydrates are as addictive as cocaine. It’s an unhealthy relationship. The first thing to do is to realise that you can eat healthily without feeling deprived, and you don’t have to punish yourself to death if you don’t eat healthy.

The difficulty is to enforce that ‘three good meals a day’ routine until it becomes habit. Or else you have a cheat meal, and then a cheat meal becomes two cheat meals, becomes a cheat day, becomes a cheat week… and then the diet’s out the door.

I used to eat takeaways predominantly. Very carbohydrate-rich, refined foods, sedentary lifestyle. I work quite late hours: I go to work fairly late, I stay at work fairly late. I haven’t ever felt the need to have healthy habits like jogging and going to gym; in fact I hate it. Part of that is the fact that you’re overweight, so gym’s not fun and sports isn’t fun.

Now the meals are more balanced, lots of fruit and veg. I try to limit the refined carbohydrates, so no white bread, no white flour, and keep the starches to a minimum. It’s difficult, if you’re used to eating quick takeaways that are designed to be delicious and you’ve got to now re-adjust your tastebuds, with no refined sugars.

The diet is going okay, it’s much slower than the previous diets I used to do. But I don’t feel as deprived. I feel nourished and I’ve got more energy, I’m sleeping less, I’m waking up earlier. It’s amazing what diet can do for you in a period of two, two and a half weeks.

There is a stigma attached to being overweight. It impacts on your lifestyle but it’s more than that. I don’t think people care negatively about how overweight you are as much as you internalise that issue yourself. You lose a bit of self-confidence in the process of gaining weight. We’re all more critical of ourselves than others are. I can’t say I’ve ever been bullied into feeling ashamed of being fat. That might just be my personality.

Featured image via Pixabay

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