Lifestyle changes are key to healthy weight loss: expert

Dr Monica Skarulis, director of Hamad Medical Corporation’s (HMC) National Obesity Treatment Centre, says the key to healthy weight loss is making and maintaining lifestyle changes. She noted that a major function of the centre is educating patients and helping them balance calorie intake with activity levels.

“The food choices we make have an important impact on our health. Qatar and other developed countries suffer from the easy availability of high-calorie delicious foods. In most cases, people who suffer from obesity are looking at the effects of a mismatch between the actual energy needed to fuel their body and the energy they consume from food on a daily basis,” explained Dr Skarulis.

Opened six months ago, the centre was established to provide a comprehensive weight management programme for patients seeking to lose weight, specifically those most at risk of weight-related diseases. Since opening, thousands of patients with a body mass index above 30 have been referred to the centre. 

Dr Skarulis says while genetics and pre-existing health conditions may play a role in obesity, poor diet and a lack of physical activity are the major contributing factors. She says nutrition labels are part of the problem, noting they can be confusing. 

“There is an abundance of energy-dense foods for consumers to choose from and many of these pre-packaged, convenience foods have confusing labels. It is hard for most people to look at a food and know the energy content,” stated Dr Skarulis.

She says the availability of discount foods and quick-service restaurants are also major contributing factors. Super-sized portions have distorted what the average person considers to be a normal serving.

“With restaurants offering enormous plates of food and litre cups of beverages, and many convenience foods sold in king-sized packages, it can be hard to know how much to eat. Another complication associated with prepared foods is that it’s difficult to know exactly what, and how much of it, you are consuming. Since we can’t really gauge, it is easy to eat more than your body needs,” described Dr Skarulis.

“An average man needs around 2,500 calories a day to maintain a healthy body weight and an average woman around 2,000 calories a day. We need much less food than most of us think and when we eat and drink more calories than we expend, our bodies store the excess as body fat. We used to speak of the average 70kg man, in Qatar it is more like the average 85kg man,” pointed out Dr Skarulis.

Demonstrating the scale of the problem, she says a modestly active 40-year-old man who weighs 70kg and is 172cm tall requires approximately 2,400 calories a day to maintain his weight but some restaurant-prepared foods can contain close to that quantity of calories in a single meal.

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