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Subtle Signs You're Becoming Obese, Say Doctors

How to recognize a weight problem before it's out of control.

Nobody wakes up in the morning and suddenly discovers they're obese. But the pounds can creep on so gradually while other life events are going on—such as a global pandemic—that when you realize your weight has become a risk to your health, it can come as a shock. And there's no doubt about it: Obesity is a serious health risk, which raises your chance of developing chronic diseases that can shorten your life. 

We asked three top doctors—all contributors to the new documentary Better, which explains how Americans can turn back the current epidemic of obesity and diabetes—how you can recognize the subtle signs you're becoming obese. Read on for the 5 essential tips. Read on to find out more—and to ensure your health and the health of others, don't miss these Sure Signs You May Have Already Had COVID.


What Is Obesity?


The Mayo Clinic defines obesity as "a complex disease involving an excessive amount of body fat." This can lead to a wide spectrum of health problems, including diabetes, heart disease and stroke.

According to the World Health Organization, overweight and obesity are defined as "abnormal or excessive fat accumulation that presents a risk to health." A body mass index (BMI) over 25 is considered overweight, and over 30 is obese. 

However, the Mayo Clinic notes, "BMI doesn't directly measure body fat, so some people, such as muscular athletes, may have a BMI in the obesity category even though they don't have excess body fat."

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Your Waist Size Is Getting Bigger

Doctor measuring obese man waist body fat.

"The best measure of that is changing waist size," says JoAnn Manson, MD, DrPH, professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School and chief of preventive medicine at Brigham and Women's Hospital. "People will notice if their clothes are fitting differently, if their waist seems to be larger. We often recommend that people maybe once every month or so, take a tape measure around their waist and monitor circumference, because that is such a good measure of whether they're gaining weight."

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You've Gone Off Track

elderly Man suffering from headache migraine pain at home on sofa

If some of your health goals have gone off the rails recently—for example, you've been trying to exercise regularly or follow a certain type of diet, but have fallen off the wagon—that's a subtle sign you might be heading toward obesity, says Manson.

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You Lack Motivation

Bored guy lying down on couch eating potato chips and drinking a beer

An overall sense of feeling blah can lead to obesity, and vice versa. "When people start to put on too many pounds, it's harder for them to stay motivated," says John Ratey, MD, associate clinical professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School. "They're more lethargic—in everything, not just in their pursuit of wellness."

The solution: Be aware of that symptom, and set realistic goals about your weight loss, so you can feel the triumph of reaching them. "Don't set outrageous goals, which a lot of people do when they're trying to lose weight," says Ratey. "Go small and obtainable. It's important to have those weekly victories, if you will, because that adds to a positive self-concept. Feeling better about yourself helps you push forward."

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Your Test Results Might Be Off

doctor patient

If you're becoming obese, your doctor might flag concerning test results at your next checkup. "Some individuals will experience the metabolic ramifications of obesity, such as elevated blood glucose, at a BMI of 30, the technical definition of obesity, while others will not," says Kirsten Davidson, Ph.D., professor and associate dean for research at Boston College. "Genetic predispositions, including the distribution of fat storage (e.g., is it stored in the abdomen?) will play a role." So speak to your doctor if you have concerns, and to get through this pandemic at your healthiest, don't miss these 35 Places You're Most Likely to Catch COVID.

Michael Martin
Michael Martin is a New York City-based writer and editor. Read more about Michael
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