We’re fast turning into the world leaders in obesity. According to The Health Survey for England 2017, the levels of obesity in England have nearly doubled since 1993 (from 15 per cent to 29 per cent) and 35.6 per cent of adults in England are classified as overweight.
And it gets worse as you age. Between the ages of 45 and 64, this figure rises to 39 per cent.
Obesity rates among British men, meanwhile, are the highest in Western Europe. In 2017, the European Society of Cardiology ranked British men as the most obese in a study of 47 countries.
Obesity in midlife men presents all manner of medical issues: hypertension, high cholesterol, respiratory problems. They are also more likely to develop type 2 diabetes at a lower body mass index (BMI) than women and evidence from Cancer Research shows that obesity is the biggest cause of cancer after smoking. In 2017, meanwhile, a study by University College London discovered those with a higher BMI are also more likely to have dementia in later life. The list is endless, and the dangers all too real.
But losing weight when you hit midlife isn’t easy. With testosterone levels waning, it becomes more difficult for men to build muscle, as well as burn calories, which means you’re more susceptible to fat building up around the stomach and chest.
Even more challenging is the middle-age mindset, says Dr Andreas Michaelides, chief of psychology at health app Noom. “Middle age is a transitional one where you begin to focus on yourself again after all the years of working hard, building up a career and starting a family,” he says. “But it’s also the time to focus on things like your weight, which perhaps you haven’t been paying attention to.”
The secret, says Michaelides, is to start small, “because you’re not the same person you used to be.” If you’re starting to exercise again, for example, don’t put pressure on yourself to do it each and every morning. Be realistic. Make a plan and prepare for the activity you intend to do.
Maintaining motivation can also prove challenging, especially if you are not seeing results. “It’s one of the most difficult aspects of trying to lose weight after a period of being overweight,” says Michaelides. “But you have to build on the small successes. And once you go from that external feeling of doing something because you have to do – to tick it off your list – to a more internal feeling of doing something because it makes you feel good, you’re well on your way.”
In 2016, an ONS survey found middle-aged men to be the least happy group in society, with anxiety commonplace and a low level of satisfaction with their life. That might go some way to explaining why men in the age bracket 45-64 are, according to NHS Digital research, most likely to be overweight or obese.
“There is a relationship between stress and weight gain but it’s more than physiological,” explains Dr Michaelides. “That part of your brain that allows you to plan and deal with challenges shuts down when you’re stressed, so addressing your stress levels is very important to successful weight loss.”
‘If I want a doughnut I take myself through a mental checklist – am I craving sugar, or just really tired?’
Adham Abdulraheem, 37, is an A&E doctor in Manchester. In August 2020, he weighed 19st 3lbs. Today he weighs 14st 4lbs