High body weight is a major problem for Danes’ health, as it increases the risk of a number of comorbidities, such as type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease and cancer. About 51% of the Danish population is what authorities describe as moderately or severely overweight. A higher weight has thus become more and more widespread in Denmark.
Basically, weight gain is due to the fact that you eat more calories than you burn. Why we gain weight is complex: it varies from person to person, and depends on hereditary, individual, social and societal conditions.
This article is about the importance of diet for your weight, and if you want to read more about overweight and health, you can read more on the Danish Health and Medicines Authority’s page about overweight . You can also find more relevant websites and resources at the bottom of the page.
What is obesity?
Body Mass Index (BMI) is used as a guide to assess whether the weight is adequate or too high. BMI gives a number about your weight in relation to your height. Here on the Danish Veterinary and Food Administration’s website, you can calculate your BMI.
BMI below 18.5: You weigh too little
BMI 18.5-25: Your weight is appropriate
BMI 25-30: Moderately overweight
BMI over 30: Severely overweight
However, BMI is not always correct, as you can be very muscular, and therefore have a BMI of over 25, even if you are not overweight. You can also be what is popularly called thin fat, ie. if you have a BMI of 18.5-25 but have such a high fat percentage that it can affect your health.
BMI thus does not take into account the distribution of fat on the body or the distribution of muscle and fat. Because BMI does not provide the full picture, it is recommended that you measure your waist measurement in addition to BMI as it gives a better picture of how the fat is distributed on your body. You can measure your BMI and waist measurement at the Danish Health and Medicines Authority .
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What is the cause of weight gain?
The basic reason for an increased weight is a greater energy intake than energy consumption over a longer period. You can keep the weight off if you have a surplus of energy intake one day, and have a corresponding deficit of energy intake the next day. The reason for being overweight is thus a surplus in the energy balance in the long run.
The cause of obesity varies from person to person and depends on i.a. genetics, psychological factors such as stress, social contexts, eating habits, cozy eating and other social and societal factors. How much each factor means for an increasing weight and a high weight is not fully clarified and there may still be unknown causes.
Here is an overview of some of the factors that have an impact on weight gain
Genetic and hormonal factors
Conditions during pregnancy and adolescence
Individual psychological factors
Social conditions, eg influence from social circles and the media
Environment, eg availability of food and large portion sizes
Lack of sleep, eg from night work
Weight is determined by hereditary, personal, social and societal factors, ie. by a wide range of factors that you do not necessarily have control over. This means that some do not gain weight while others gain weight without any control over it. Weight gain can thus not be easily explained by a personal responsibility, eg judging people with a lack of willpower or laziness.
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What does a high weight mean for your health?
If you have a high weight, ie. a BMI of over 25, your weight can be detrimental to your health. A BMI over 25 increases your risk of developing a number of side effects, such as type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, cardiovascular disease, several types of cancer, joint pain, sleep apnea, psychosocial problems, reduced quality of life and premature death. For children, it can also mean social problems such as teasing, bullying and lower self-esteem.
Your weight can thus be harmful to both your quality of life and your health, where the health consequences increase with increasing weight. An important factor in whether you have an increased risk of developing diseases is the distribution of the extra weight on the body. If the extra weight has settled around your stomach, there is a greater amount of fat around, for example, liver, kidneys, heart and lungs. This fat is therefore more harmful to health than the fat that sits on the legs and hips. For this reason, waist measurements are used as a supplement to BMI .
At the same time, however, it has been shown that it is healthier to have an active lifestyle and be slightly overweight than to have an inactive lifestyle and be normal weight. Your health is therefore not only determined by your weight. No matter what weight you have, it is always healthy to be physically active. You can read about good advice for physical activity here on the Danish Veterinary and Food Administration’s website .
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Are you going to lose weight?
Whichever way you eat, an energy deficit will cause you to lose weight. Many diets and diets stand out by being better than others, but there is no scientific evidence that any cure over others should be more effective for weight loss and weight maintenance in the long run.
You can lose weight with diets that contain a lot of carbohydrates, but also with diets that contain a lot of fat. A problem with high-fat diets, such as “low carb high fat” (LCHF / KETO), can be a high intake of saturated fat, which increases the risk of cardiovascular disease. Protein cures have become popular as they can help increase the feeling of satiety, but there is still no evidence of their effect on weight loss over time. If you choose a diet with a focus on protein, then focus on eating more legumes like beans and lentils rather than more meat.
Here it is a good thing to keep in mind that food is not unhealthy in itself, but that it is always about quantities and coherence. Read more about what is “healthy or unhealthy” .
Choose good eating habits
A weight loss that lasts requires lasting changes and good habits. Remember to be patient, as good habits can take time to build. It is more important to have some good eating habits that you can follow for the rest of your life, rather than just focusing on weight.
It is better to focus on the process and be consistent than it is to stress over a certain weight. You can advantageously choose to change one thing at a time, as it can quickly become unmanageable if you change too many things at the same time. Address the one thing that is most important for you to get changed – it can e.g. be getting better at eating more vegetables, drinking water instead of soda, or perhaps being more present during the meal. Try the new habit until it works in everyday life and then you can move on to the next thing.
Traditional diets often do not last long as it is difficult to stay motivated and is not meant to be followed throughout life. Especially if the cure means you have to do something completely different than you usually do and might like. Therefore, take your starting point in your life and create change at a pace where you can keep up.
If your new way of eating is to work, you must feel good about living by the new guidelines so that you do not fall back into the old habits and take on the lost again. It is healthier to have a stable weight and prevent further weight gain than it is to lose weight and put it all on again.
So it is more important to choose a way to eat according to your temperament, rather than choosing a particular diet that you have difficulty following if you are to be successful with a lasting weight loss.
No matter how you choose to eat, variety is an important part of your diet. You can find diets where you are not allowed to eat certain foods, diets where you are only allowed to eat quite a bit of certain foods, but also diets where you are allowed to eat a lot of certain foods. This can mean that you will be missing important nutrients, which in the worst case can make you sick. In other words, you need to be aware of and be critical of what the diet wants you to eat.
Lack of important nutrients is especially problematic in children who need to get all the nutrients to grow and develop normally. This is one of the reasons why the Danish Veterinary and Food Administration recommends that children are not on an actual cure.
A rule of thumb is that the more foods you exclude from your diet, the greater the risk that you will not get your need for important nutrients met. If you follow the official Dietary Guidelines , you will eat varied and not too much, and you will in all probability also have your need for nutrients covered. In addition, you reduce the risk of a wide range of diseases compared to a Western diet rich in energy, saturated fat, salt, added sugar and alcohol.
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What should you do if you want to lose weight?
A lasting weight loss is not just about choosing a particular way of eating, but that you choose to do something different in your life. Whether you lose weight, get in a better mood, gain more self-esteem or get in better physical shape depends on many things, and not just the food you eat.
It can be difficult to figure out how and what works – and what works for one does not necessarily work for the other. There are no easy solutions to the obesity problem. Science can not yet answer why some people struggle with obesity while others do not. But it is a fact that healthy people do not gain weight unless they eat more energy than they burn.
Take smaller portions
A lot of research suggests that the size of your portions of food matters to the amount of calories you eat at each meal. Taking large portions can mean that you eat more calories than you need, even if you are actually full. Therefore, rather take smaller portions to limit your energy intake. You can easily do this, for example, by using smaller plates than you are used to, so that there is less space for the food. You can also consider putting the food away from the table so you have to get up to take more.
Eat foods with fewer calories
Another thing that matters for keeping weight off or losing weight is limiting energy-dense foods and beverages. Energy density is the amount of calories per gram, ie. the more calories there are per gram of food, the higher the energy density.
Because energy-dense foods contain many calories, it is easier to eat multiple calories at once. Energy-dense foods often contain a lot of fat and added sugar, such as cake, sweets, ice cream and soda.
Research shows that if you stick to foods with low energy density the most, you consume fewer calories at meal time, and it therefore becomes easier to maintain weight. Foods that have a low energy density include fruits, vegetables, low-fat dairy products, low-fat meats such as poultry, eggs, legumes and whole grains.
Other suggestions to limit calorie intake
Give yourself time when eating – Take smaller chunks, eat slowly, and chew for longer. Then you feel the feeling of satiety better. Feel free to drink a glass of water before eating to take the peak of hunger.
Drink water – the best thing you can drink is water because water helps you maintain fluid balance without contributing unnecessary calories.
Choose whole grains – whole grains saturate well, contain few calories and keep the stomach going.
When eating out – Limit how many types of food you choose, as great variety can mean you end up eating more calories than you need. If you eat buffet, be sure to take small portions of the food and that it may be on one plate. Feel free to share the food with others.
Store sweets away – if you have sweets, cake, soda, etc. at home, store them away and make it hard for you to find again. When sweets are not freely presented, it can help limit intake and so you do not eat it just because it is there.
Pay attention – try to be present and enjoy the food while eating, rather than watching TV or checking emails during the meal. If you are more present with the food, you will be better able to notice how full you actually are.
Decide – before you start eating, decide how much you want to eat and let your portion on the plate follow. If you have an intention to eat a certain amount, you will be better at controlling the portion size.
You are welcome to leave – you do not have to eat up, so you can easily leave the food and put it in the fridge or bring a “doggy bag” home when you eat out.
Be physically active – when you are physically active every day, you increase your metabolism and get a better balance between energy intake and energy consumption. Read more on the Danish Veterinary and Food Administration’s page about physical activity .
You can read about several good tips for succeeding in eating too much in the report from Aarhus University .
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Who can you contact?
There are many who can help you if you, or someone in your family, would like to lose weight. It can be, for example
A dietitian or clinical dietitian
Your local health center
Networks, eg the Obesity Association
The health nurse if you have children
Possibly. a psychologist
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What is the cause of obesity?
The basic cause of obesity is an energy intake that is higher than energy consumption. There are many factors that come into play, such as personal things such as stress, genetics, medicine, social factors, environmental and societal factors.
Is being overweight bad for your health?
Yes, obesity and severe obesity increase your risk of developing a number of diseases, such as type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease, certain types of cancer and premature death. In addition, the quality of life often deteriorates. For children, it can also mean bullying and low self-esteem. But studies also show that it is better to be slightly overweight and physically active than normal weight and inactive.
Is there a diet that is better than others?
No, research does not show that there is a difference in dieting over the long term. So it is more important to choose a diet that suits your own temperament and that provides you with all the nutrients you need.
Who should you contact if you want to lose weight?
There are many who can help you if you, or someone in your family, would like to lose weight. It can be, for example, a dietitian or clinical dietitian, your local health center, networks such as the Obesity Association, your general practitioner, the health nurse if you have children, and possibly a psychologist.