Q: I went to my doctor for arthritis in my knees, and to refill my blood pressure pills. I was upset when she told me I have morbid obesity. I only weigh 195 lbs. How is this possible?

A: It is possible to be diagnosed with morbid obesity if your BMI is 35 or higher and you have other medical conditions that are due to your obesity. In your case, your doctor likely determined that the arthritis in your knees and the hypertension are due to obesity. “Morbid” refers to morbidity, which means that a disease or condition is causing associated ill effects in your body.

What is BMI? Body mass index.

You can easily find a BMI table on the internet and figure out your BMI from your height and weight. To be healthy, your optimal BMI is in the range of 19-24. You would have to be at least 6’3” tall in order for 195 lbs to have a BMI less than 25 and be at a healthy weight. If you’re 5’2” or shorter, your BMI is at least 35.

The range of BMI from 35 to 40 is considered morbid obesity when arthritis and hypertension are due to severe obesity. Sleep apnea, diabetes, hyperlipidemia, heart disease, and fatty liver disease are some other examples. You would automatically be considered morbidly obese if you had a BMI of 40 or more.

Don’t be shocked or offended by being called morbidly obese, just consider this a wake-up call and do something about it.

You are not alone, approximately 70% of Americans are overweight, obese, or morbidly obese. Children and teenagers are also affected.

More than 100 diseases are caused by obesity. Unfortunately, it is under-diagnosed and often untreated in spite of this serious epidemic.

So your doctor was doing you a favor by discussing it, and I’m sure it wasn’t easy for her, either. Many doctors feel too awkward to discuss your weight as a medical problem for fear of offending you, or simply because they see so many obese people in their offices that they don’t even notice it anymore.

Eating to relieve stress, eating for entertainment, overeating, or just making bad food choices can cause small incremental increases in your weight that you barely notice. Obesity creeps up on you little by little with a small dietary indiscretion here, a big no-no there... Please keep your hand out of the Halloween candy!

Use restraint at holiday gatherings, restaurants and at home. Think moderation. Don’t keep calorie dense foods in your house to tempt you. Avoid junk food and processed foods.

Be mindful of your food choices. Eat plenty of fruits and vegetables. Drink a lot of water and avoid soft drinks. Eat low-fat dairy. A plant-based diet is optimal, but you can eat fish or small portions of low-fat poultry, even meat occasionally. Avoid fried foods. Eat whole grains (check ingredients for whole grains, not whole grain flour). Small quantities of dark chocolate can be good for you. Limit alcohol intake.

Exercise is also important. Just 30 minutes of walking per day dramatically decreases your risk of developing diabetes. You can break it up into walking for 10 minutes three times per day. Some people with morbid obesity opt for bariatric surgery if they are a candidate.

Start improving your diet now so you don’t put on more weight during the holidays.

When people ask you what you got for Christmas, you don’t want to say “diabetes!”

Make healthy diet and lifestyle changes (including exercise) the new way you celebrate holidays… and celebrate life.

You will lose weight, lower your blood pressure, and even your arthritic knees will be less painful.

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