People make all sorts of assumptions about young people who are overweight, over eating. Many young people don’t over eat at all. But are still overweight, and again it goes back to their energy balance equation. If the amounts of food, the amount of calories that you take in, is balanced with the amount that you burn up, your weight doesn’t change. And that’s true whether you’re very skinny, or very overweight. So you could be a very big eater and do a lot of activity but if you’re in balance you’re weight won’t change, and that’s true if you’re very skinny, or very overweight.
The way most people become overweight is to be a tiny, tiny bit in positive energy balance, every day. What I mean by positive energy balance is that they eat and consume a little bit more energy or calories than they burn up, every single day on average. The amazing thing is if you’re positive by just twenty calories a day, it’s about the equivalent to a spoonful of butter, or a bit of extra butter on your bread, if you do that every day for a year, you’ll put on almost a stone in weight. It’s amazing to think of that.
And this is how most people, most young people become overweight over time, they are just a tiny bit positive every day. They’re not huge over eaters, they’re not lazy slobs, they’re just a tiny bit in positive balance every day.
Now in one sense, that’s really good news to think about, because actually that means that tiny differences, can make a big difference. If you manage to get yourself into balance, your weight won’t change, so rather than be 20 calories positive every day, just be in balance. But if you’re 20 calories negative every day, on average you might lose a stone, which is about 6kgs over a year.
And that’s really very important, tiny changes can make a big difference. When young people say to me, “Look I’ve really tried exercising, or being more active. I went to the gym for three weeks. Or I’ve tried dieting.” I think part of the problem is, they’re still out of balance, that’s number one, or number two, actually it hasn’t gone on long enough. You really need to be able to change your activity levels, to be healthily active and change your eating to be healthy eating for really quite long periods. Many months to really see change.
It’s important not to diet. It should be about healthy eating, not dieting. We know, it’s strange but true, dieting tends to make young people put on weight. You could lose weight in the short time, but if you look at young people who diet, some months later, or years later, they almost always weigh more than they did before they start dieting. So it’s not about dieting. It’s not about madly going to the gym. It’s about changing our energy balance over a long period, to be more healthily active, and to eat more healthily and to try and get tiny changes, that rather than gradually gaining weight, we lose weight. They are the things we can do to help ourselves.
You can’t do it by yourself. Having parents around you and friends around you, who are supporting you, is absolutely key. You can get help from health professionals, from your local GP, practice nurses, your paediatrician or others. People are there to help you make those changes.
One of the good things about children and young people is that they grow, and one of the really important things about growing is that you can grow into your weight. If you’re a 6 year-old and you’re quite overweight, what we don’t recommend is losing weight in general. What we recommend is kekeeping your weight steady and just growing. Because the wonderful thing about [um] growing children, is that you can grow into your weight over a couple of years. And there’s lots of successful examples of young people, who over a couple of years, keep their weight steady. They just stop increasing, they don’t lose weight, and actually a couple of years later, they’re really grown into their weight, and they are a much better weight and shape.