Both men and women who have body mass index (BMI) that is above the range of normal can experience associated health problems with being overweight or obese. However, women especially can experience some unique challenges and health problems associated with being overweight that can be more troublesome or that are unique just to them, such as problems with pregnancy and childbirth because of extra weight. It can be difficult for anyone to start practicing new, healthier habits, but not adopting new lifestyle changes can be risky over time. Read on to learn about challenges and health risks that are important for overweight women to understand, and how you can put some better health habits into practice.
How to Calculate Your Body Mass Index (BMI)
Your healthcare provider can help you determine if your BMI is above the threshold of the “normal” range, but this is also something you can calculate at home if you’d like to start practicing some healthier habits prior to your appointment, or if you’d like to know exactly where you stand in terms of BMI. Obesity is not just calculated in terms of weight alone. It matters if you are male or female, and it also considers your height. The best way to calculate it is to use an online calculator, and it can do the math for you. A healthy, or “normal” BMI falls between 18.9 and 24.9, and overweight falls between 25.0 and 29.9. Obese refers to a BMI equal to or higher than 30, and this poses the most significant health risks.
Daily Challenges for Overweight Women
If you’re already stuck in a cycle where you are significantly overweight, it can be challenging to break the cycle because of some aspects of the American lifestyle. People, especially busy mothers, are always in a rush, and fast food becomes an easy choice, often out of necessity. If fast food isn’t a viable choice, “quick” foods, such as processed foods at the grocery store, become heavily leaned on. Unfortunately, there is less and less time to cook whole foods. Busy moms are not the only people feeling the time crunch. Busy primary care and urgent care physicians don’t often have the time to sit down and talk to patients about healthy eating in quick bursts of 10-to-15 minute appointments, which are often “sick visits.” Healthy eating and proper exercising often don’t get addressed until there is already an existing problem.
Obesity Challenges During Pregnancy
Women may face pregnancy and childbirth complications if they are excessively overweight or obese during pregnancy. One of the most common problems linked to obesity in pregnant women is gestational diabetes. This is because pregnant, overweight women tend to develop insulin resistance, high blood pressure, and high blood sugar, all contributing factors to this “temporary” type of diabetes. However, it’s not the health of the mother that comes into the question – it’s the health of the fetus. Uncontrolled gestational diabetes can cause the fetus to grow to abnormally large birth weight, increasing the mother’s weight gain as well as the child’s, leading to potential delivery complications as well as problems in infancy.
Preeclampsia is another pregnancy complication linked to obesity. This is high blood pressure that develops only in pregnancy. Just as hypertension can be damaging when it does not occur in pregnancy, untreated high blood pressure during pregnancy can damage the fetus and harm the mother, so preeclampsia must be treated immediately. Losing an adequate amount of weight before becoming pregnant can help avoid both gestational diabetes and preeclampsia, although it is possible to develop either condition with a normal-range BMI.
Type 2 Diabetes and Obesity
Another condition linked to women and obesity is type 2 diabetes. Unlike type 1 diabetes, which is an autoimmune disease, type 2 diabetes is often easily preventable with lifestyle changes. Type 2 diabetes means that your blood sugar is too high, often because your sugar intake is too high. If your physician has ever told you that you are “pre-diabetic,” this is the precursor to type 2 diabetes and is a good sign to start cutting back on your sugar intake. Besides the obvious, such as sodas, desserts, and candies, sugar is hidden in many everyday foods, such as ketchup, sauces, syrups, and even takeout Chinese food. Cutting back your sugar intake can not only help you lose weight, but it can also prevent the likelihood that you’ll develop type 2 diabetes, particularly if you’re already at risk. Like many other things, such as caffeine and alcohol, consume sugar in moderation.
High Blood Pressure and Being Overweight
High blood pressure (also known as hypertension) is directly linked with being overweight or obese, particularly in women. Having a larger body size means that your heart has to work overtime to pump blood harder than it needs to, ensuring that blood reaches all of the cells. Being overweight can also damage your kidneys, and one of the functions of the kidneys is to help regulate the blood pressure. Blood pressure can be managed with medication, however, in many cases, heart disease cannot.
Heart Disease, Women, and Obesity
Heart disease is the number one killer of women worldwide and is responsible for more deaths of women than all forms of cancer combined. It is often nicknamed the “silent killer,” because many times, you can’t see a heart attack coming. There can be a very little warning and very few symptoms. Obese women especially are at high risk for heart disease because of the extra toll that is placed on the heart because of the weight. This is also because obese and overweight women also often have high cholesterol because of their eating habits, and high (bad) cholesterol is directly linked to heart disease.
How to Form Better Eating and Exercising Habits
One of the best things to do is sit down and talk with your doctor or specialist about how to form better eating habits and how to form a diet and exercise plan that works for you. In general, there are a few things to keep in mind:
- Steer clear of “diets.” Whether it’s keto, the Mediterranean diet, or some other kind of diet, they often don’t work. The best way to eat healthily is not to do anything radical. Eat some (good) carbs, healthy protein, and (good) fats, such as olive oils, fish, and nuts.
- Eat as many fruits and vegetables as possible.
- Avoid processed foods and sugary foods, like sodas and desserts.
- Opt for whole grains and leafy greens.
- Avoid a sedentary lifestyle – but start small, even if it’s walking for 30 minutes a day, several times a week at first. Slowly work your way up.
If possible, try to find a healthy-eating or exercising buddy to help keep you motivated. It’s helpful to have someone to go to the gym with, or to meal plan with. If you can get your family on board too, it’s a plus. If you need more information about healthy eating or nutrition and wellness, call and make an appointment with your staff dietitian. Or if you would like to be seen by a physician, schedule an appointment at The Woman’s Clinic today. We have two office locations and a supportive, caring staff waiting to assist you.