What to do when you’re seriously overweight

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Being overweight is no fun, but being seriously overweight is downright depressing and debilitating, writes weight loss surgeon Dr. Ken Wong.  It affects your mood, your daily activity and all functions of life.

So what are your options?

Seek help

You are not alone. Close to half of the Australian population is overweight, so there is help at hand. If you feel uncomfortable with reaching out to people beside you, there are many helpful online forums and social media groups wherein similarly overweight people will have very good suggestions.

Adjust your diet

Diet moderation is a key component of addressing weight issues. As a general principle, the amount of calories ingested needs to be far less than the calories expended in order to lose weight. Furthermore, this needs to be sustained for a prolonged period, for example, at least six to eight weeks to see some benefits.

As a very basic principle, it is best to avoid sugary foods such as cakes, chocolates, biscuits, soft drinks. These have high calorie content but do little to make one feel satisfied and therefore, one will continue to search for more food. Try to eat more vegetables and fruits. Complex carbohydrates such as cous cous and quinoa are also very good. They have lower calories and will make you feel full for longer. Aim to get some lean protein such as fish and chicken in your diet as well.

Adjust portion sizes

Always aim to eat less than you intend. As a rule of thumb, put away half of every dish for another time. When eating at restaurants, aim to take away half the meal for another time. Avoid snacking. Aim for three or four meals a day and if you feel hungry, or you have cravings, try drinking a lot of water or eating celery or carrot sticks.


Physical activity is truly the game changer. This increases the amount of calories burnt. Again, over a period of time, this will lead to changes in weight. The body needs to be constantly shocked in order to make changes. Besides aiming for more incidental activity during the day, for example, walking up stairs instead of taking the lift, leaving the car at home, it is good to build in more active exercise sessions during the week.

I would recommend at least four or five exercise sessions a week of at least a 30-minute duration each. It will not be comfortable when you begin this, especially if you are seriously overweight. The knees will creak and your back will be sore. But hey, being overweight is not comfortable either. Start with gentle activity but be constantly cranking up the intensity. For example, going for a long one hour walk at a slow pace is nowhere as effective as sprinting for 25 minutes. Therefore, with each exercise session, make it count by always going faster, steeper or longer. Mix it up. Do not keep doing the same thing over and over again. Choose an activity you enjoy. Doing ten bicep curls during an ad break and building up to forty in the same time will work wonders over time.

Surgical options

If you have tried absolutely everything, then weight loss surgery may be an option. Surgery is not a quick or magic fix. Surgery is a tool to help lose weight and maintain weight in addition to careful diet and exercise. Surgery can carry complications which could result in death or prolonged hospital stay with repeated operations.

Generally surgery is done by keyhole techniques. The main forms of weight loss surgery are generally two procedures called sleeve gastrectomy or a gastric bypass. These involve some manipulation of the stomach and gastro-intestinal system. They each have their pros and cons and I would recommend careful research and discussion with a bariatric surgeon before proceeding. These operations usually involve one or two nights stay in hospital and most people are back to usual activities within 10 days. Obviously everyone recovers at different speeds.

Surgery is not an easy way out contrary to popular belief. If you do not maintain regular exercise and monitor your diet, weight regain will come soon regardless of the surgery that is undertaken.

If you are considering surgery, see your GP for a referral to a surgeon who specialises in weight loss surgery and they will be able to talk you through your options.

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