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Dr. Jemille: Obesity/Overview of a ‘Growing’ Problem by ipinfo2
December 1, 2008, 8:33 am
Filed under: December Volume 1 - 2008, Magazine/ Culture | Tags: , ,

Dr. Jemille: Obesity

Overview of a ‘Growing’ Problem

By Dr. Jemille A. Wasi

Islamic Post Staff Writer

A short while before embarking on my medical relief mission to Pakistan, I was training in a hospital where I made a startling discovery. During rounds, I walked past a scale and decided to weigh myself. I stood there wide-eyed as the numbers continued to climb, and was shocked when they finally stopped. For someone who had weighed around 150 lbs for the previous 18 years of my life—eating anything under the sun—I was surprised to see the final number on the scale read 186 lbs.

I reflected on the fact that over the period of a couple of years I had gained over 30 lbs. I attributed this gain to the fact that during medical training we were often forced to eat what was convenient. This inevitably led to unhealthy dietary choices and periods of inactivity.

As I look around our community, I see the issue of weight becoming more prevalent. The more disturbing fact is that the ages of affected individuals are getting younger every day. In order for this to change, I think it is important to understand the basics.

Understanding Fat

As you take food into your body, it is initially broken down into sugars, proteins, and fat. Whatever energy your body needs energy for all its various processes and activities, it uses the sugars first. If you take in more food than your body’s energy needs, then the sugars, proteins and fats that aren’t used are converted to fat and stored in your body’s energy storage units, commonly known as adipose, or fat, tissue. If, during your life, you continue to take in more food than you use on a daily basis, the amount of fat you have will increase.

One thing that may not be commonly understood is that every individual is born with a certain amount of fat storage “units” —let’s say 10 for example. Each one of these units can hold only so much fat; so as your fat content increases, your body has to “make” another unit to store the excess. The problem with this is that you can only increase the number of units; that is to say, you can go from 10 to 11 but you cannot go back down to 10 because once you have created that extra unit. It remains for life. When a person “loses” fat they only decrease the amount of fat molecules in each storage unit, but the amount of units still remain the same.

Another problem is that as the amount of storage compartments increase, they get squeezed closer together and the individual lipid molecules become tighter and therefore harder to get rid of.

Effects of weight gain

The problems with weight gain are not merely cosmetic. The higher your fat content, the greater the chances that you will develop increased blood cholesterol levels, leading to atherosclerosis. In addition, the more weight a person carries adds stress to joints and bones and also makes a person less able to tolerate exercise. This causes deconditioning (being “out of shape”), which in turn leads to less desire to exercise thus continuing a vicious cycle of inactivity.

Another effect is seen with the heart. As a person increases in size, the heart has to work harder to supply oxygen-rich blood to that extra fat tissue. This increased work load brings about an enlargement in heart size, with no real increase in strength. This can lead to heart attacks, and conditions like high blood pressure and heart failure.

Furthermore, overweight individuals are at an increased risk of developing Type II Diabetes, as the increase in adipose tissue leads to insulin resistance. In pediatric populations this is becoming more of an issue. The old term for Type II Diabetes had to be changed from “Adult Onset Diabetes” to “Non-Insulin Dependant Diabetes” as a result of the amount of children who now have this disease.

The last effect of note is that our Basal Metabolic Rate (BMR) –which is the rate that our bodies use energy when we are completely at rest—slows down as we gain weight.

Changing the trend

Over 65% of people in the U.S. are overweight or obese. This number has tremendously increased over the years from values of 13% in 1962 and 31% in 1994. In addition, the number of overweight children in America has tripled since 1980. This is mostly due to inactivity (read increased television/internet time) and a higher consumption of food.

Thus, to alter the current trend involves two important keys: making appropriate dietary choices, and exercising.

Most people recognize the word calories, and correlate this word to energy used, or burned, during exercise. However, despite the common misconception that people burn a lot of calories when they do exercise, each pound of fat is roughly 3500 calories. To put this into perspective, consider that the amount of calories burned for every mile a person walks is based on a calculation: (your weight x 2) divided by 3.5. So, for each mile a 125 pound person walks he or she only burns about 71 calories …71!

While exercising is important for weight loss, it is more important to decrease the amount of calories one takes in and this means making appropriate dietary choices.

Because many of us have children, we know that they are a major determinant in the foods we buy. Another issue is that many of us are on a limited budget and many of the foods that are considered healthy cost more money. Due to these two factors we tend to purchase food that is convenient and inexpensive. Unfortunately, most of the foods in this category are not conducive to losing weight. This is even worse for adults because of our lower BMR.

The key is to try to get low calorie foods –like fruits and vegetables, and avoid high calorie, processed foods –like cookies, chips, and sodas. Personally, I have found it helpful to change all of the beverages that I take with meals to water. Consider that if you were to drink a 12 oz soda with each meal, this alone would equal about 400 calories/day. In a period of a week that would almost be enough calories to equal 1 pound.

Although dietary measures are more important in weight loss, exercise still has its merits. Not only does physical activity help with weight reduction, it also assists an increase in BMR, and is beneficial to your heart because it makes it beat faster and stronger. It should be noted that you do not need to have a gym membership to exercise. You can do activities with your children: take walks, play ball or go bike riding. These things will give you all the exercise you need. On a daily basis one only needs about 20-30 minutes of activity to stay fit.


When I came home from Pakistan I weighed 157 lbs. Those 30 lbs that I had added on in medical school were gone! The reason for this was that we had to walk to many of the places we wanted to go and our diet was much improved, almost consisting of only fresh fruits, vegetables, and meats.

Even after saying all this there is a much simpler way to stay in shape. Can you guess? It is called… following the Sunnah, the life pattern of the Holy Last Messenger Muhammad, peace be upon him! If you don’t eat to your fill, consume the appropriate amount of beverage, and walk your 40 steps after a meal, you may find that all the above-mentioned advice is unnecessary!

As always, only from Allah, the Most High and Glorified, can we be healed!


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