Weight Management

Losing weight is hard. Fad diets promising quick success without effort don't work. The truth is that no herb, vitamin or special food will magically melt away the kilograms. But some nutritional and herbal supplements may enhance a healthy diet and exercise program.

What is it?

Being overweight becomes a medical concern when you weigh more than 20% over the ideal weight for your height. According to government statistics, almost one fifth of adult Australians fall into this category and are defined as obese. Though not a disease in itself, obesity is a risk factor for serious medical conditions, including diabetes, heart disease, high blood pressure and certain types of cancer. Excessive body weight also puts great stress on joints and so increases a person's chance of developing arthritis.

What causes it?

Everyone's metabolism (the rate at which the body burns kilojoules) is different and is influenced by many factors, including genetics. Regularly eating even a few more kilojoules than your body needs can lead to weight gain. By consuming only 450 extra kilojoules a day, for example, you will gain half a kilogram in approximately a month (half a kilogram of body fat equals 15 000 kilojoules). Some experts think that a sedentary lifestyle influences weight gain even more than eating too many kilojoules. Exercise burns kilojoules and builds muscle. And the more muscle mass you have, the more kilojoules your body burns at rest.

What are the symptoms?

  • Body weight exceeds the recommended ideal by 20% or more.
  • Excess weight affects energy level and the ability to do everyday tasks.
  • Fatigue and/or shortness of breath during normal activity.

Are there any natural therapies?

Although symptoms are not 'magic bullets', they may be effective in suppressing the appetite and make it easier to lose weight. Don't exceed the dosages listed – larger amounts will not produce faster results and instead may cause unpleasant side effects. Chromium helps the body to use fat for energy and build muscle, and may give you a slight edge. Essential fatty acids may block excessive accumulation of body fat. Use them together with psyllium, a type of fibre that adds 'fullness', and/or chitosan, a substance that slows down the absorption of fat in the intestine. As chitosan also reduces the absorption of fat-soluable vitamins (A, E, D, K) and essential fatty acids, foods or supplements containing these should be taken at different times of the day.

If you need help controlling your appetite rotate the following supplements in month-long cycles, so your body doesn't accustom itself to any particular one. Garcinia cambogia (brindleberry), the extract of a fruit grown in India, may quell hunger pangs. Because low levels of the brain chemical serotonin may be linked to overeating, try St John's wort. (Some experts think overweight and depression may be linked.) Only the seriously obese should consider using ephedra with St John's wort, and only with their doctor's approval.

What else can I do?

  • Base your diet on fruits, vegetables, whole grains and legumes.
  • Eat slowly, give your brain time to signal when you're full.
  • Exercise regularly and look for ways to increase your daily activity.

Did you know?

Watching TV has been closely linked to the onset of obesity. The more time spent watching, the greater the degree of overweightness.