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Dietary Management for Obesity in Nigeria (A Beginners Guide)

Dietary Management for Obesity
| May 4, 2022

Obesity is a growing problem in Nigeria. According to the World Health Organization, obesity is one of the leading causes of death in developing countries like Nigeria.
According to a recent study conducted by the University of Lagos and the University of Ibadan, nearly half of Nigerians are obese. That is almost twice as many obese people in 2010.

What Is Obesity?

Obesity is a condition where excess body fat accumulates in the body to the extent it starts negatively affecting health. Leading to the development of various diseases and reducing the quality of your life.

There are many ways to measure obesity but the commonly used methods to determine whether someone is overweight or obese are body mass index (BMI), waist circumference, and skinfold thickness measurements. 

The BMI is the most common way because it is inexpensive and easy to calculate.

BMI = weight in kilograms/(height in meters)^2:

For adults, a BMI of over 30 kg/m2 can be classified as Obesity (higher than Overweight, which is a BMI between 25 – 30).

Example: If your height is 1.8 meters and your weight is 100 kg, then your BMI is 68/(1.8)^2 = 30.8 kg/m2 or 31 kg/m2 (rounded up).

Causes of Obesity in Nigeria

Obesity has become a major issue in Nigeria. Just as diabetes rates have skyrocketed worldwide in recent decades, obesity rates have skyrocketed in Nigeria since the 1980s. Some medical experts predict that by 2020, obesity will affect nearly one-quarter of Nigerians. This is concerning because obesity leads to serious health complications such as type two diabetes mellitus (also called adult-onset diabetes). Type two diabetes results from the inability of insulin to move glucose into your cells for energy production and storage. The prevalence of type two diabetes in Nigeria is expected to double by 2030!

  • Genetics
  • Not enough exercise
  • Eating too much
  • Eating the wrong food
  • Medication (e.g., steroids or antidepressants)
  • Metabolism disorders
  • Stress, anxiety, or depression
  • Sleeping problems (such as sleep apnoea)
  • Gastric bypass surgery for weight loss
  • An underactive thyroid gland (hypothyroidism) not properly treated 
  • Smoking

Dangers of Obesity in Nigeria

Obesity is associated with numerous health problems including type 2 diabetes mellitus, hypertension (high blood pressure), dyslipidemia (abnormal amounts of lipids in the blood), nonalcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD), polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS), cardiovascular disease, certain cancers, sleep apnea and respiratory problems such as asthma.

In Nigeria, some of these chronic diseases are the leading causes of death. However, by observing good dietary patterns we can prevent these diseases before they occur.

Treatment and Management of Obesity in Nigeria

The treatment and management of obesity is a long-term commitment. Lifestyle modification such as dieting and exercising is the cornerstone of treatment for most people. Surgery may be an option too, but it is very expensive and hence not readily accessible to most people in Nigeria.

Obesity treatment should not be delayed until other comorbidities develop, as this would lead to more complications.

We acknowledge that there are no quick fixes to weight loss; however, here is how you can get started:

  • Set realistic goals for yourself. Do not aim for unrealistic body measurements or body fat percentages, but aim for a healthier lifestyle that involves regular exercise and healthy eating habits.
  • Make a long-term plan with your doctor or nutritionist regarding the type of foods that you will eat daily, and the types of exercises you will do to stay fit. You must be consistent to see any results from your efforts at all!

It’s important to talk with your doctor before starting any diet or exercise program so that he or she can help you set realistic goals and make sure the plan is safe for you.

Dieting Myths and Facts About Weight Loss in Nigeria

To ensure proper management of obesity, do not be deceived by myths like these:

  • Do not skip meals

It is a common belief that skipping meals would help in losing weight. This is false! 

Skipping meals contributes to the gradual increase in your body weight over time. Our body is made to protect itself from fasting and starvation, so when you skip meals there is more tendency that you will overeat later on because your body is used to receiving food regularly throughout the day. 

Instead of skipping meals, eat small quantities of food frequently—every 3 hours at most—to prevent hunger from building up and making you overeat later on.

  • Do not taste sugar

Sugar has gotten a bad rap lately for being unhealthy, but it is not completely bad for you. Though excess consumption of sugary foods can contribute to obesity, eliminating sugar intake can cause a drop in energy level which may make you feel lethargic and unmotivated to exercise or engage in any form of physical activity, thus preventing the steady burning off of excess body fats into energy. 

To avoid this, increase your protein and fiber intake while reducing your carbohydrate (especially sugar) intake; including this in your diet will also help keep you full longer so you won’t have cravings for sugary foods between meals.

  • Do not eat fat 

Just like sugar, eating too much fat isn’t good either, especially the unhealthy saturated fats mostly found in dairy products such as milk and cheese; however, fats are great for us! They help us absorb vitamins A & D and are necessary for brain function and development. While some fats are good for us, others are not, so make sure all fats come from natural sources like nuts or fish oil rather than sources like dairy products like butter.

Consuming healthy unsaturated fats found mostly in fatty fish such as salmon will not only help keep you fuller longer but also prevent heart diseases due to their omega-3 fatty acids content which helps lower high blood pressure levels associated with cardiovascular diseases and diabetes mellitus 2 (DM2).

To avoid this problem, stick with whole foods like avocados instead of processed foods like potato chips that are high in saturated fats. 

Diet for Obesity in Nigeria

Before we fully discuss the diets necessary for proper dietary management for obesity, it is important to know, understand, and consider these principles while planning your meal.

  • You can plan a low-calorie diet to reach your weight loss goal by reducing the fat and carbohydrate intake in your diet.
  • Low-fat diets are effective for weight loss because they reduce calories and this, in turn, helps you achieve a caloric deficit for weight loss.
  • If you want to lose weight, eat more than before and eat less fat as this will help you reach your target weight.
  • For every 100g of fat, you consume there is an extra 100 calories of energy that is being absorbed into your body which leads to increased fat storage and increased BMI (Body Mass Index).

Foods to Eat If You are Obese in Nigeria

Here’s a list of the best foods you can eat to help in the management of obesity in Nigeria:

  • Fruits

Fruits are low in calories and high in nutrients, which makes them excellent for anyone working to manage their weight. Choose from a wide selection of delicious fruits, including avocado, banana, lime, mangoes, and pawpaw. These foods contain fiber, which helps you feel full longer than other foods.

Apples are low in calories and high in fiber. They also contain antioxidants that help fight off disease-causing free radicals in your body.

  • Vegetables

Leafy vegetable

Like fruits, vegetables are low in calories and high in nutrients. Eating lots of vegetables is linked to lower body weight and weight loss. Choose from a variety of dark green leafy vegetables such as ugwu (pumpkin leaves), Efo Soko (Soko leaves), bitter leaf vegetable soup (onugbu), or kontomire (cocoyam leaves) stewed with tomato stew.

  • Whole Grains

Eat whole grains instead of refined grains like white bread and pastries. Whole grains are rich in fiber and other important nutrients. Studies show that they may help you lose weight by keeping you fuller longer after eating, and also provide more nutrients such as B vitamins and magnesium.

Aim to make most of your grain servings whole grains such as brown rice, oatmeal, flaxseeds, millet porridge with local leafy vegetables, or Nigerian beans porridge with okra soup to increase your energy without adding extra calories.

  • Nuts 

Nuts have been shown to reduce cholesterol levels in the blood as well as lower the risk of heart disease by improving circulation throughout the body. For example walnut, almond nuts, etc.

  • Lean Meats/Fish

If you are a big fan of meat, lean beef and chicken breast is your best option for meat. Lean beef has fewer calories than other meats and contains lots of protein, which your body needs to build muscle and stay lean. While chicken breast has fewer calories than dark meat and skinless chicken breast has even fewer calories than white meat (because it does not have skin!). Chicken breast is also a good source of protein and iron—two nutrients that are important if you’re trying to lose weight or manage weight-related conditions like diabetes or high blood pressure.

For fish Salmon is your best bet. Salmon is rich in omega-3 fatty acids, which help reduce inflammation in the body. Inflammation plays a part in many chronic diseases such as heart disease and arthritis. Salmon also contains selenium which helps your body fight free radicals that cause damage to cells throughout the body.

  • Yogurt

Whether it is Greek yogurt or regular yogurt—yogurt is one of the best sources of calcium available today! Calcium helps build strong bones and teeth by aiding in the absorption of both phosphorus and magnesium into your bloodstream where they can be used by muscles throughout your body including those within your bones (which need these nutrients too).

  • Salad

Salad is a great option because it is full of healthy ingredients, but it also has a lot of flavors. You can make your salad dressing at home or purchase a store-bought version. The key is finding one that does not contain too much sugar or fat. Dressings made with olive oil can be a good choice as long as they do not contain too much salt (which can make you retain water). You can also add spices and other flavorful ingredients such as garlic or lemon juice.

Foods to Avoid If You Have Obesity in Nigeria

You probably already know that if you want to lose weight you need to cut calories. But what foods may be helping you pack on the pounds?

  • Foods that are high in sugar, fat, and calories.
  • Processed foods, such as fast food, chips, cookies, and pastries contain lots of fat and sugars.
  • Foods high in saturated fats and trans fats are bad for your heart. They include dairy products like cheese, butter, and whole milk. Fatty meats like beef ribs, chicken skin, coconut oil, lard, palm oil, and bacon grease. Processed meat like sausage, hot dogs, pepperoni, and salami. Fried foods are made with partially hydrogenated vegetable oils like french fries, chips, or doughnuts. If a food contains trans fats check the label carefully!
  • Sweetened drinks such as soda (soft drinks), fruit punch, and hot chocolate can have a lot of sugar. Even drinking 100 percent fruit juice every day can add extra calories that can make it harder to lose weight or maintain a healthy weight. To cut down on sugary drinks try diet sodas or naturally sweetened unsweetened beverages like water infused with lemon slices or tea flavored with fresh mint leaves instead of sugar or syrup for sweetness!
  • Added sugars are used to sweeten many packaged foods such as cereal bars and baked goods including muffins, cookies, cakes, pies, crackers, granola bars, frozen waffles, pancakes, pizza, pasta, sauces, soups, dressings salad dressing, margarine, etc. 

Winning Obesity the Right Way

Losing weight and winning obesity is not easy for most people.

Although it can be a very straightforward process, it is not an easy one for most individuals. Most people find it difficult to maintain their weight loss, even after considerable effort and sacrifice to achieve their goal.

This is because losing weight is more than just reducing calorie intake and increasing energy expenditure. It involves changing your lifestyle permanently so that you can be able to avoid regaining the lost weight. 

To truly lose weight and manage obesity, a strict understanding of the dietary management for obesity has to be in place together with the personal will to be disciplined, committed, and determined to follow your diet, and exercise regularly.

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