Understanding Calories and the Role of Exercise Is Key to Sustainable Weight Loss, Says Obesity Expert
Dr. Monica Skarulis, Director of Hamad Medical Corporation’s (HMC) National Obesity Treatment Center, says the key to healthy weight loss is making and maintaining lifestyle changes. She says a major function of the National Obesity Treatment Center 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,” says Dr. Skarulis.
Now open six months, the National Obesity Treatment Center was established to provide a comprehensive weight management program 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 (BMI) above 30 have been referred to the Center.
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 (usually given as kilocalories or kilojoules per 100 grams),” says 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 liter 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,” says Dr. Skarulis.
Dr. Skarulis says we’ve moved from people who eat to live to people who live to eat. She says most people have lost touch with the brain-body connection that tells us when we are hungry and when we’ve had enough. Part of the care plan for patients at the National Obesity Center involves helping them re-learn how to hear those cues. She says educating patients about their calorie requirements is an essential component in both reaching and maintaining a healthy weight.
“As a guide, 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,” says 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.
“If he eats 350 extra calories per day, he will weight 85kg in five years. That’s easy to do if you drink a latte or sugar-containing soft drink every day, or make having a dessert or an extra helping of a meal a regular occurrence,” says Dr. Skarulis.
Qatar has some of the highest levels of metabolic disorders in the region, underscoring the importance of providing effective and compassionate care for the prevention of weight-related diseases. Dr. Skarulis says while only patients with a BMI greater than 30 are eligible for referral to the National Obesity Treatment Center, many people are capable of learning the skills needed to take control of their weight on their own.
“It’s important for people to be their own health advocate. Learning how to read food labels is an essential skill. It can feel overwhelming at first but once you understand how to track your calories, you’re halfway there,” says Dr. Skarulis.
Located in building 311 in Hamad Bin Khalifa Medical City, the National Obesity Treatment Center is staffed by a multi-disciplinary team of bariatric physicians, endocrinologists, dietitians, physiotherapists, and nurses who coordinate care and develop personalized plans for each patient.
Hamad Medical Corporation
Hamad Medical Corporation (HMC) is the main provider of secondary and tertiary healthcare in Qatar and one of the leading hospital providers in the Middle East.
For more than four decades, HMC has been dedicated to delivering the safest, most effective and compassionate care to all its patients.
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