Fighting fit? The new Heavy Brigade

Seems it’s not just us civilians who are getting bigger and more obese.

More than 25,000 British military personnel have been diagnosed as obese in the last 4 years. That’s several battalions!

There is now an “obesity working group” looking into the problem and devising ways to keep people fitter and increase  their knowledge of how to eat more healthily.

A spokesman for the National Obesity Forum said; “These people have got plenty of time to keep in shape and I think it’s a responsibility to feed them properly and give them any amount of time to do exercises and keep themselves in shape”.

obstacle_course_boot_camp_1600_wht_11454Soldiers are supposed to have carefully managed fitness routines involving at least four 1-hour sessions of PT a week.

They can also have a diet ranging from 1,500 to 7,000 calories a day depending on their duties. Clearly not everyone is following the exercise routine or eating healthily.

As one senior officer was quoted as saying; “There are obese soldiers in just about every regiment in the British Army and no unit is immune. It’s also a reflection of the quality of food served in some army cookhouses. Unless the armed forces changes the way it feeds its personnel you will have a problem”.

Of course there are statistics and statistics! The number had been calculated using the much disputed body mass index (BMI)  and the obesity cut-off point of 30.

The MoD rightly points out that this can be misleading as “it doesn’t differentiate between body fat and muscle and says individuals are assessed on their ability to carry out military activities rather than on their weight”.

It’s not just the Brits. It wasn’t that long ago that 40% of the German Army was considered overweight and in 2012 the American Army dismissed over 1,600 soldiers for excess body weight, a 15- fold increase on the figures in 2007.



Emotions and Weight Loss

EffWghtMgt.001A survey of 1,300 American psychologists by the Consumer Reports National Research Centre asked them how they dealt with clients’ weight and weight loss challenges.

They wanted to know what was essential and actually worked. These were the strategies most often mentioned:

  • Understanding emotional eating as a barrier to weight loss
  • Maintaining a regular exercise schedule
  • Making proper food choices in general

Psychologists who provided weight loss treatments said that gaining self-control over the behaviours and emotions related to eating was the key and nearly all of them reported helping clients by addressing underlying emotional issues related to weight gain.

Almost three-quarters of the psychologists identified cognitive therapy, problem-solving, and mindfulness as the best weight loss strategies. Cognitive therapy to help clients identify and challenge negative thinking and emotions about unhealthy behaviours, and mindfulness to allow people to let go of those thoughts and emotions without judging them and allow themselves to just be in the moment

exercising_weights_brain_1600_wht_9217Motivational strategies, behavioural records, and goal-setting were also important in helping clients lose weight and keep it off.

The survey was carried out on-line by the CRNRC with help from the American Psychological Association (APA) from where I gleaned this information.

Wine, Women, and Health

I tweeted last week about the latest research showing that after marriage men tend to drink less but women drink more – and there are probably some women who would say “do you wonder?”

In a recent Times’ Body & Soul section John Naish gave a really good overview about women and alcohol consumption which was also a reminder of how stingy recommended allowances are.

A standard 175ml glass of wine = 2 units. So one glass of wine each day of the week is the UK government’s recommended upper limit for women.

And it’s a class thing but not what you might think. The more middle class or the better educated you are the more you are likely to drink. Graduates are twice as likely to drink every day compared to non – graduates, too much practice on cheap booze in the student bars perhaps?

And according to official statistics 1 in 6 professional women drink more than 6 units at least once a week. That’s three glasses of wine in one session which is the NHS definition of binge drinking!

Experts say it’s probably because better educated women have wider social circles or are more likely to work in male-dominated environments. And that’s part of the problem.  Women can’t tolerate alcohol in the same way as men. Not only do they have lower body weight and less water in their bodies but their livers don’t deal with alcohol as efficiently as mens’.

A major US study of over 100,000 women over 20 years showed that women who drink 2 glasses of wine a day have 50% more chance of developing breast cancer, probably because alcohol raises levels of oestrogen which can trigger tumour growth.

Women who drink more than recommended are also more vulnerable than men to developing a whole range of cancers. Perhaps slightly less seriously excess alcohol consumption is also linked to fatigue, weight gain, and depression.

Drinking in excess in middle age is linked with increased risk of dementia and memory loss even for people who were abstinent earlier in their lives.

Women in their 30s and 40s are also more likely to be prosecuted for drink-driving than men, according to research at Nottingham University. Naish’s article said it wasn’t because they are more reckless but because they drive over the limit when picking up stranded children who need a lift home. So no good deed goes unpunished.

However a report on the same research published in Clinical Psychology Review last May said the profile of  women drink-driving offenders was; ” divorced, widowed or separated with fewer previous convictions than their male counterparts. … they may be distressed by their situation and turning to drink”.

But giving these women rehabilitation programmes designed to shame them, such as meeting bereaved families, doesn’t work with middle-aged women because the negative emotions induced will increase emotional distress which could lead to more drinking and their committing more alcohol-related offences – as these researchers found had happened in the USA.

So women should stick to 1 glass a day and not be tempted to finish the bottle. Wine boxes help in that regard as you don’t feel the same need to finish the box!

And there is some good news if you can stick to that level of drinking.

A range of research studies show that women who drink no more than a glass and a half a day are less likely than teetotallers to get rheumatoid arthritis; they are also less likely to develop a stroke than those who stop drinking, and less likely to develop Type 2 diabetes.

Harvard School of Public Health found that women who drink moderately in middle age are more likely than non-drinkers to be in good physical and mental health in their retirement.

Calculate your Weight Loss

You must be sick of reading about diets and the fact that they only work for 10% of dieters.

Even with surgery fat can come back.

The US  National Institute of Health and the American Dietetic Association have previously taken the view that weight loss is linked directly to calorie intake – the less you eat the more weight you lose.

So, taking 3,500 calories per pound as the standard rule of thumb, cutting 500 calories a day from your diet should mean that you lose a pound in weight every week.

New research however shows that this doesn’t take into account the ability of your body to adapt to the lower calorie intake by slowing down your metabolism. And of course that rule of thumb means that if you kept going indefinitely you would weigh nothing to speak of – and be dead presumably.

Dr Kevin Hall, an obesity researcher and physicist at the NIH’s National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases, has now come up with a mathematical model which can help people plan their weight loss more scientifically.

He says “This research helps us understand why one person may lose weight faster or slower than another, even when they eat the same diet and do the same exercise. Our computer simulations can then be used to help design personalized weight management programs to address individual needs and goals.”

To test the model, the researchers compared predicted weight changes to actual changes in people. “Mathematical modeling lets us make and test predictions about changes in weight and metabolism over time,” Hall said. “We’re developing research tools to accurately simulate physiological differences between people based on gender, age, height, and weight, as well as body fat and resting metabolic rate.”

For example, the team found that people’s bodies adapt slowly to changes in dietary intake. They also found heavier people can expect greater weight change with the same change in diet, though reaching a stable body weight will take them longer than people with less fat. Typically dieters who lose half their target loss in a year can take another two years until they achieve their target and stabilise.

So the computer simulation, available to use at, can help you work out how many calories you would have to cut each day to achieve a target weight in a given time period, taking into account your levels of physical activity. And it warns you if you are risking your health in doing that and that you should check with your doctor before dieting.

Source: NIH Press release 25/8/2011

Reference: “Quantifying the effect of energy imbalance on body weight change” was published in the Lancet on Aug. 26, 2011 (