WAIST DEEP: South Africa has the highest rate of obesity in sub-Saharan Africa.
Developing a healthy lifestyle is mainly influenced by a change in mindset, but now scientists have discovered that shedding weight is also dependent upon mental state and your attitude can hold you back in reaching your weight goals.

Sandra Aamodt, the neuroscientist, book author and campaigner, says that when one is not in the right state of mind, one may find it difficult to lose weight.

In a TED talk, which was also published in the UK’s Daily Mail, Aamodt says there is a strong connection between weight loss and state of mind.

Often, when people fail to lose weight or lost it but it piles back on after rigid diets, they blame themselves, thinking it is their fault, she says.

The truth is that everyone’s brain has a set body weight range that it will fiercely defend, she says.

“No matter what the number is on your scales, there’s very likely to be a set point at which you are stuck. The range, which varies from person to person, is determined by genes and life experience. In an ideal world, your brain defends this range with a natural process of subconscious weight regulation that gently nudges hunger and activity levels, so you eat or exercise no more or less than your body needs."

After about five years, 41% of dieters gain back more weight than they lost. No matter what the number is on your scale, there is a likelihood of it being at a set point at which you get stuck, she says.

“The chances are you’re not lazy, greedy or woefully lacking in willpower. It’s just that your brain takes charge, doing what it has evolved to do: fighting back against the period of potential imminent starvation, she says.

Weight loss issues are receiving attention as South Africa just observed National Obesity Week.

Cathy Magaw, a clini- cal paediatrician from Netcare Christiaan Barnard Memorial Hospital, agrees that the brain is a powerful organ that determines weight gain or loss.

“When we are stressed, our brain instructs the cells to release potent hormones. So there is a burst of adrenaline, which taps into stored energy, which is used to either fight or flee,” she says.

When the body goes into stress mode it could build up sugar and this could potentially lead to weight gain.

But there is a way out: “First, eat the right food and healthier foods ... it is important to eat well to ensure that your body gets all the needed nutrients and vitamins. Secondly, moving or exercise is highly important. Lastly, breathe - to ensure that you are in the right state of mind, as that is as important as exercise or eating right."

According to the Heart and Stroke Foundation, South Africa is battling with malnutrition (which includes under-nutrition and over-nutrition), which fuels obesity. Not only does the country have a rising middle class that can afford more nutritious food, bigger portion sizes and food with refined sugars, but even children are exposed to sedentary lifestyles that places them at risk of obesity.

South Africa has the highest rate of obesity in sub-Saharan Africa, with latest statistics showing that up to 70% of women and 33% of men are overweight or obese, meaning that their body mass index is greater than 30.

According to a study published in the journal Obesity Research & Clinical Practice, people are 10% heavier today than they were in the 1970s, even though they consume the same number of calories and have similar exercise routines.

The research hypothesises that environmental factors, such as food, chemical-filled personal care products, and increased stress, may play a role in why people are heavier nowadays.

One thing that scientists agree upon, however, is that slower weight loss is better than a sudden drop in weight.