If you have watched the news or read an article recently related to health, you probably know that more than one-third of the U.S. population is considered obese. Obesity is defined as having a BMI equal to or greater than 30 and is based on your weight relative to your height. About another third of the population are considered overweight and are at risk of obesity. Overweight is defined as having a BMI between 25 and 29. These numbers are concerning due to the increased risk of health problems associated with obesity. The causes of this increase in obesity over the past few decades is multifactorial and no one treatment will solve the problem. My concern is that with any problem there are many people willing to offer a solution for the right price. Due to the high number of people living with obesity, the opportunity to sell weight loss products and services for profit is growing and so are the unscrupulous opportunists eager to make money. While there are some good programs and products offered, I want to focus on some important things to consider when trying to lose weight. Here are my weight loss do’s and don’ts.
Not all weight loss is healthy.
- Don’t skip meals, starve yourself, exercise obsessively or restrict entire food groups.
- Do eat regular balanced meals throughout the day, limit your portion sizes, avoid sugary beverages, avoid junk food and be more active.
Anything that promises a 30 lb. weight loss in 30 days is not realistic.
- Don’t set your expectations so high that you set yourself up for failure.
- Do plan on seeing a 1-2 lb. weight loss per week with the expectation of losing 4-8 lbs. a month. This translates to 48-96 lbs. in a year. Gradual weight loss is better.
Weight loss does not have to cost a lot of money or severely restrict calories.
- Don’t waste your money on expensive diet programs or pre-packaged food. While pre-portioned meals can be helpful, it may not be the most cost effective solution. Calories do matter but restricting calories too much may backfire and lower your metabolism making it harder to keep the weight off.
- Do look for more affordable whole foods to incorporate into your diet and plan your meals ahead of time. Most women will need 1400-1600 calories per day and most men will need 1600-2200 calories per day depending on activity level, age, weight and amount of weight loss needed. A registered dietitian can tell you for certain.
Exercise is an important part of any weight loss program.
- Don’t start an intense exercise program if you have not been exercising before. A gradual increase in activity will help avoid injury while building endurance and strength.
- Do begin slow and build up over time. Incorporate cardiovascular exercise such as walking, biking or swimming with strength training such as weight lifting to get the best results. Try to get 30 minutes 5-6 days per week.
Weight loss should be just like your medical treatment – individualized for you.
- Don’t compare yourself to others. What may work for one person may not work for another. Also your ideal bodyweight may be very different from someone else.
- Do focus on your particular goals and what diet and exercise works best for you.
No pill or injection can take the place of a healthy diet and active lifestyle for weight loss.
- Don’t think that a pill or injection will solve all your problems without your effort.
- Do work on issues that led to the weight gain and use medications if needed as extra assistance to reach your goals. Talk to your doctor if you have made consistent lifestyle changes but still cannot lose weight.
As a dietitian I have heard some crazy ideas about how to lose weight. From very restrictive diets that limit calories to the point of starvation or eliminate entire food groups to avoid certain macronutrients (like carbohydrates) to eating only certain foods in combination with other foods and only at certain times of the day. It can be quite amusing at times. But obesity is serious and there is nothing funny about someone being taken advantage of because they are trying to lose weight. And yes, you can lose weight on just about any of these programs but it is not always a healthy weight loss and may contribute to problems later on. For example, some diets advocate a very low fat diet. While this may save calories, it can also set you up for gall bladder issues. Once you reintroduce foods containing some fat (which you need by the way) you may find yourself having gallbladder issues. This is not a good trade off for a little bit of weight loss.
So my professional advice is to start by restricting the portions of foods that you are currently eating. Eating smaller amounts more frequently can help you avoid being too hungry. Then begin to incorporate healthier fruits and vegetables into your meal plan. Next, start eliminating foods or beverages that you know are unhealthy like sweets and soda. Experiment with different foods in order to get variety in your diet. Choosing fruits and vegetables of different colors makes this easy to do. Be careful when eating out and try cooking without adding excess oil, butter, sugar or salt. Add daily exercise to your routine to burn calories. Make sure you are getting adequate sleep at night. Being sleep deprived can make it harder to handle stress and you may be tempted to eat during the day in order to stay awake. A good 7-8 hours of sleep is ideal.
If these tips do not work for you, see a healthcare professional that can help you identify other possible causes for the unwanted weight such as thyroid issues, hormone imbalances or medication side effects. Diet becomes even more important if any of these are an issue. To find a qualified dietitian in your area that may be able to help, click here. Feel free to share your comments below.
Where does your state fall?
With over one-third (36.5%) of U.S. adults being obese, weight has become a hot topic. Obesity is defined as excess body fat and a body mass index (BMI) of 30 or greater as calculated based on your weight for height. We know excess body weight can be a risk factor for several diseases including heart disease, diabetes and cancer. But for those struggling to attain or maintain a healthy weight, what are some useful strategies that will help. First, you should know your weight and BMI. Here is a helpful online BMI calculator. Second, you should know what weight is realistic for you. Not everyone is healthy at the ideal bodyweight for their height. Take into consideration your body build and muscle mass. If you look like a football player, then a BMI of 30 might be okay for you. Consider having your body fat percentage measured to see if you are indeed obese. BMI is only a calculation and does not take into consideration if you are male, female, young, elderly, athletic or sedentary. Your body fat percentage will give you a better idea of your true body proportion. Third, give thought to why you may be obese. Do you tend to overeat? Are your meals high in calories? Do you stress eat? Are you sedentary most of the time? Do you have a health problem that restricts your ability to exercise? Are you taking medication that makes you gain weight? Are you taking insulin? These are the most common factors we see in weight gain. Fourth, what small changes can you make today in order to promote gradual weight loss. Do you consume too many calories from sugary beverages? Are your portion sizes too large? Do you tend to eat high fat, high calorie foods? Do you snack frequently on sweets or junk food? Do you skip meals during the day and then overeat at night because you are famished? Fifth, remember, you do not gain weight overnight and you cannot lose it overnight. Weight loss is more of a marathon than a sprint. Losing weight too quickly can be harmful to your health and usually leads to regaining the weight later. Slow is better with weight loss so as long as you are making steady progress each month, you are on the right track. A 1-2 pound weight loss each week is considered a healthy weight loss. This equals 4-8 pounds per month or 50-100 pounds per year. Small changes can add up to big rewards over time. Sixth, weight loss is a journey. Having support and inspiration along the way makes a big difference. Surround yourself by people that are living a healthy lifestyle. Find encouragement from others that are at a weight you would like to be. Stay away from those that tempt you with food or activities that do not promote your goals. Seventh, find an activity that you enjoy doing. Exercise does not have to be an intense hour of aerobics or kickboxing. It can be walking the dog, dancing, roller skating, swimming, taking a bike ride or anything else that gets you moving. Staying active does not require an expensive gym membership, a fancy pair of walking shoes or workout equipment. But it must be fun and convenient for you. Sustained weight loss results from lifestyle changes not dieting. Find what works for you and ask for help from your healthcare provider if you are not successful on your own. There are several good resources available that can help you get to your healthy weight. Your heart will thank you.
When people find out that I am a dietitian, I hear a variety of comments regarding diet. Some people tell me they are trying to be “good” by restricting or avoiding carbohydrates or eating a low-fat diet. Others are cutting back on their portions and avoiding soda and sweets. Some may even have decided to adopt a vegetarian diet and incorporate more whole foods. There are as many ideas about diet as there are people. I never realized how controversial food was until I became a dietitian and started talking to people about their dietary habits. But the most interesting thing was how my perception changed over the past several years. Obtaining a degree in nutrition did not automatically make me an expert in the field. It just meant that I had learned a little more than the average person about nutrition. Just as a doctor must “practice” medicine for awhile to gain experience, so a dietitian practices in order to learn more about nutrition and people. I continue to read books, articles and research on nutrition and diet. Keep in mind that the study of nutrition is fairly recent with the first vitamin being discovered just within the last 100 years. New nutrients are being discovered and named and many more have yet to be identified. As more research is conducted, I am sure recommendations will change as will our eating habits. What I have found though is that there are a few things we should all agree on when it comes to diet. And this is based on what people groups have been eating for thousands of years along with the resulting health and longevity found in their culture. We see that there is no one diet for all people and some groups thrive just as well on an animal-based diet as others do on a plant-based diet. Some cultures eat a high fat diet while others are low in fat and higher in carbohydrates. And honestly, diet alone does not determine your destiny. We have to remember lifestyle, non-dietary habits, genetics, environment and stress can all impact health. Let’s discuss some truths here, perhaps dispel some myths and let you decide what you want to eat.
- Our bodies require certain fuel (nutrients) in order to function properly. While our body can make some nutrients (from other nutrients) there are those that we cannot make and these are called essential nutrients. Observing how people (or mice) fared without certain nutrients led to the discovery of these essential nutrients and their corresponding deficiency. For example, a lack of vitamin C leads to scurvy and we cannot make vitamin C so it must come from our diet. Protein is necessary for maintenance and repair of tissues and serves as enzymes in many bodily functions to name just a few. Fat is primarily for energy storage, helps absorb fat-soluble vitamins, provides insulation and is necessary for brain development, controlling inflammation and blood clotting. Carbohydrates are our main energy source and are used to fuel our brains and muscles. Remove any of these essential nutrients and you can expect problems. So any healthy diet must include all essential nutrients.
- All macronutrients (protein, fat and carbohydrate) contain calories. Weight gain is caused by consuming more calories than is expended. Therefore, consuming too many calories from any food will lead to weight gain. While some foods may be easier to overeat, too much of any food still provides excess calories. Weight loss can only be achieved by reducing your calorie intake (or increasing your energy output) regardless of which diet you follow. So to avoid excess weight gain and the potential health consequences, watch your calories.
- Empty calories and manmade fats in excess have been shown to be detrimental. Empty calories from things like sugar has been known to be a problem for years. Too much sugar can deplete our body’s stores of nutrients without providing any nutritional value other than calories. If sugary foods and beverages are consumed in the place of healthier foods, then we can become nutrient deficient. And science has now shown that hydrogenated vegetable oils in the form of margarine and shortening are no better for us than butter or lard because of the trans fats generated. These can be just as bad if not worse than naturally occurring saturated fats.
So in summary, the diet you choose should include these 3 things. First, it should provide all of the necessary nutrients your body needs to function, which means including a variety of foods. Second, it should be calorie-controlled according to what your body needs based on your age, weight and activity level. And third, it should not include excess sugar or harmful fats. If you choose foods to include in your diet while keeping these 3 things in mind, you will be on the right track. Don’t be on a diet. Love your diet!