Being underweight is not so different from being overweight because both can lead to serious health complications. Some of the health risks associated with being underweight include malnutrition, osteoporosis, decreased muscle strength, hypothermia and a weakened immune system.
According to Andiswa Ngqaka, spokesperson for the Association of Dietitians of South Africa (Adsa) and a registered dietitian, people become underweight for several reasons, such as illness or inadequate nutrition.
Body mass index (BMI) is the weight-to-height ratio, calculated as weight (kg) / height (m2), explains Dr Mxolisi Xulu of Mthatha in the Eastern Cape.
“Measuring a person just by their appearance is not ideal. Only when weight is calculated using the BMI ratio can it be accurately determined,” he says.
‘My weight goes up and down’
Amanda Katikati (28) from Mfuleni, Cape Town, says her weight does not remain as stable, especially when she is stressed. She currently weighs 56.5kg, and sometimes her weight drops to 50kg, which according to her BMI is underweight.
It depends on what she’s going through at that moment, which could be a month or less, she says.
To gain weight, she buys Cipla actin capsules from the pharmacy. Cipla actin can quickly increase your appetite and cause weight gain, she says.
Katikati adds that over-the-counter can be very dangerous for health. She uses Cipla temporarily when her weight is under control, and then she stops.
Being underweight is a dangerous condition
Xulu says that being underweight is a major condition linked to health issues such as malnutrition, anaemia, vitamin deficiencies, weakened immune systems, challenges with fertility, irregular menstrual cycles, and issues with growth and development, particularly in children and teens.
According to Xulu, you can’t just glance at someone and tell if they’re underweight, and weight is determined by bones and muscles. Men’s and women’s underweight are viewed differently since men’s bones weigh more than women’s bones, he explains.
Xulu lists a few signs of being underweight, including hair loss, amenorrhea, dizziness, premature births, irregular periods, fatigue, frequent illnesses, and slow growth in children.
“Most women struggle with being underweight and having osteoporosis.”
He also notes skin issues and bad oral health. Being underweight may affect people of all ages, although most children in South Africa are overweight, he adds.
Concerns and treatments
Your physical activity might cause you to be underweight, especially if it competes with your body’s calories.
It’s not about how many calories a person can consume if they’re going to burn them off at the gym. However, some of the issues associated with being underweight are genetic in nature.
Xulu tells Health for Mzansi that eating little amounts of protein-rich meals might help you gain weight; nevertheless, it is recommended to get advice from dietitians and nutritionists before embarking on a weight gain journey.
Choose a nutritious diet to avoid weight loss
Ngqaka says, “It becomes very crucial to consume sufficient food for your age, gender and activity level.”
She emphasises that there is no one bullet food that fixes the problem.
Healthy ways of encouraging weight gain are as follows:
- Good quality and quantity of food.
- Consuming a variety of foods to prevent micronutrient deficiencies including fruits and vegetables.
- Include ways to edify energy in food for instance by adding a tablespoon of peanut butter, canola or olive oil to your porridge, vegetables and salads.
- Nuts are high energy and can be taken as a snack whilst they are offering protein and fibre.
- Cereals that are enriched with vitamins and minerals are ideal.
- Sandwiches may be made by edifying with healthy high energy and/or protein-rich and/or other nutrient-rich foods like tuna fish, pilchard, sardines, eggs & peanut butter.
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