Rocking a dad bod, carrying a spare tire or sporting a beer gut — these are just a few of the phrases that guys use to describe extra belly fat. Excess weight is something that millions of Canadian men struggle with, with more than two-thirds — and rising — of Canadian men considered overweight or obese. Everyone’s story is different and gaining weight can sneak up on you over time. Some paunchy guys may have been a healthy weight when they were younger but put saw the scale climb gradually, gaining, on average, about one to two pounds a year. For others, changes in weight may be something they’ve dealt with their entire life, with substantial gains and losses over the years.
The topic of excess weight is an important one, however, it can be difficult to approach because it is complex and carries many social stigmas. Traditionally, guys associate being bigger with being powerful and having a physical presence. There are also misconceptions around weight management. To many, this means dieting, which translates into eating salads.
Gaining weight is caused by an imbalance in the amount of energy entering the body compared to the amount of energy being used. When you consume more calories than your body needs, the extra energy is stored as fat. However, if you’re like the millions of Canadians who have tried to manage their weight, you know that it’s not that simple. There are many factors that influence how we gain and lose weight, including biological, behavioural, social and environmental. Some of these factors we can control, others we can’t. So, what’s the big deal about having a few extra inches around your middle?
Weight gain is something that often goes unnoticed until health problems develop in middle age. Excess weight has been linked to such health concerns as high blood pressure, heart disease and stroke, sleep apnea, Type 2 diabetes, certain types of cancer and premature death. Obesity is considered one of the leading causes of preventable death, second only to tobacco use. But many guys have a “live fast, die young” or “it won’t happen to me” attitude and aren’t concerned with these potential health problems until they happen. So, here are some benefits to losing a few inches that you may notice right away:
- Better sleep
- Reduced stress and anxiety
- Work harder and longer
- Keep up with your kids and grandkids
- Breathe easier
How big is too big?
There are a few easy ways to estimate if losing a bit of weight will benefit you.
Body Mass Index (BMI) is a measure of height and weight that can be used to categorize an individual into underweight, normal weight, overweight or obese. The measure has gotten a bad rap in the past for miscategorising those who are heavily muscled. However, unless you look like Arnold Schwarzenegger in his heyday, BMI is going to be your best indicator of whether you’re at risk.
Waist circumference is measured around the middle at the widest girth. This is an important measure because it gives an indication of where the fat is stored. Excess weight that is stored around the midriff is the most concerning because it is closest to your vital organs. The table below summarizes waist measurements by country or ethnic group that can lead to increased health risks.
Country or ethnic group Waist Circumference Caucasian men 102 centimetres (40 inches) or greater European, Sub-Saharan African, Eastern Mediterranean and Middle Eastern (Arab) men 94 centimetres (37.6 inches) or greater South Asian, Chinese, Japanese, South and Central American men 90 centimetres (36 inches) or greater
How can I reduce my risk?
If you fall into a category where you may benefit from losing weight, there are a few options to consider. It is important to know that losing just five percent of your total body weight can significantly improve overall health and reduce the risk of chronic disease. For example, if you are 5’11” and 230 pounds, that would be a loss of just over 11 pounds.
Behaviour Change – Making small and manageable lifestyle changes, such as becoming more physically active, eating a healthy diet, getting enough sleep and reducing stress are going to be your first line of attack. This is the preferred strategy and most doctors will require a serious attempt in these areas before considering other options.
Pharmacology – Prescription drugs, such as orlistat or metformin, may aid in weight loss but cause considerable side effects. Avoid over-the-counter or weight loss supplements unless directed by your doctor.
Surgery – Surgery options are only considered in special circumstances, usually when an individual has a BMI greater than 40 or a BMI more than 35 with significant obesity-related medical problems. The two most common surgeries are gastric bypass, where the stomach is made smaller to reduce the amount of food that can be eaten, and laparoscopic banding, where an inflatable band is placed around the top of the stomach. Both surgical options will include pre- and post-operative program of diet and exercise.