Winning By Losing
A Guide to Effective Weight Control
Have you ever lost weight and then watched the pounds creep back on? Do you think of good-tasting food as something you must avoid when dieting? Are you still searching for that miracle weight-loss plan?
More than 186 million American adults – or eight out of ten men and women aged 18 and older – are "weight conscious". And for good reason. It is estimated that two-thirds of American adults are overweight or obese.
If you've answered yes to any of these questions, you're not alone. And you've probably been unsuccessful at long-term weight control. Unfortunately, many people who try to lose weight don't understand that successful weight control requires fewer calories and regular exercise, combined with healthy eating habits that can be maintained for life.
What are the benefits of reaching proper weight? According to the National Institutes of Health, people who are obese (more than 20 percent above their ideal weight) are more likely to have hypertension, high blood cholesterol levels, diabetes and some kinds of cancer. Achieving a healthy weight reduces health risks. It also makes you feel better -- more energetic and more confident.
It is important to understand your weight loss needs. Ideally, both you and your physician should determine if you need to lose weight. If so, how far off are you from your "winning weight?" Is a complete change in eating habits necessary, or do you just need to cut back a little and watch the extra helpings? If you're close to your goal, you may not need to start a full-scale weight-reduction program. If you're more than 20 percent above your healthy weight, or if you've had a weight problem for many years, consult a health professional before starting any type of serious weight-loss program.
One of the first steps to weight-loss success is to evaluate how you feel, both physically and emotionally, then establish realistic goals. If you want to lose weight, set several short-term goals, and reward yourself (with non-food rewards) each time you make progress. Remember, even small weight losses have been shown to be beneficial. Should you reach a plateau that you cannot get past, perhaps you need to reevaluate your weight goal.
Although your mind may have high hopes for success, your body may have a different opinion. The human body reacts negatively when calories are reduced, even when a weight-loss plan is nutritionally complete. Cutting back on food threatens the body. Your body tries to protect itself by slowing its "basal metabolism," the rate at which it burns calories at rest. This makes weight loss harder. To counter this effect, it’s important to make gradual changes in your eating habits.
Many dieters try to find a quick fix for their weight problems, but there are no simple solutions. Americans spend billions of dollars each year on diet books, gimmicks and other products to try to lose weight ($6 billion per year, according to the Federal Trade Commission). Almost monthly, a new book or magazine announces the latest "miracle diet," promising dramatic weight loss. Beware of "fad" diets and know how to recognize one. A fad diet:
- doesn't include the variety of foods necessary for good health or doesn't teach good eating habits
- claims you can "trick" body metabolism into wasting calories or energy
- makes dramatic claims for fast and easy weight loss
Health professionals agree that the most sensible approach to weight loss is a balanced diet — eating a variety of foods, all in moderation — combined with exercise. The U.S. Department of Agriculture, the American Heart Association, the Association of Nutrition and Dietetics and the American Medical Association all recommend this combined approach.
Your weight is determined by the number of calories you consume and the number of calories your body uses as energy. If you consume more calories than you burn, you will gain weight. You will lose weight by eating less, by being more active or – preferably – by doing both.
For permanent weight loss, you also need to learn sound eating habits. While fad diets may take the weight off, they don't teach you how to keep it off. Remember, you're learning a way to live, not just a way to diet. And to keep weight off, you must stay motivated. Successful weight control depends upon YOU — not upon any particular product or program.
Most health professionals recommend slow weight loss as the safest and most effective approach. A sensible weight-loss program allows you to lose weight gradually -- about one-half to one pound per week. Gradual weight loss promotes long-term loss of body fat, not just water weight that can be quickly regained.
Most people leading moderately active lives need about 15 calories per pound to maintain their weight. For example, a 150-pound person would have to eat foods containing no more than 2,250 calories each day to maintain his or her weight.
To lose one pound, a person must burn 3,500 calories more than are consumed. For example, reducing calories by 300 per day and increasing daily activity to burn off an additional 200 calories should result in a weight loss of one pound per week.
When limiting calories, you still need to satisfy basic nutritional needs. Eat a variety of foods every day. Choose from each of the five food groups — milk, meat, fruit, vegetable and bread — and allow for an occasional treat. Balanced food plans encourage making wise choices about everyday food — choices you can make to stay at your proper weight for life.
You should also evaluate your eating patterns. Sometimes six small meals a day can help you control your hunger. If you prefer to stay with eating three main meals, always plan for some low-calorie between-meal snacks to help avoid overeating at your next meal.
All foods and beverages can be consumed in moderation. Try to cut down on foods high in fat and sugar, or substitute with reduced-calorie and reduced-fat foods and beverages.
Most successful weight-loss plans call for a reduction in both calories and the amount of fat eaten. The fat in your diet should be limited to 30 percent or less of total calories each day. And calories still count!
Determine what type of physical activity best suits your lifestyle. You should work your way up to regular aerobic exercise, such as brisk walking, jogging or swimming, since it is a key factor in achieving permanent weight loss and improving health. Aerobic exercise works the body's large muscles, such as the heart, and should be moderately vigorous, but not exhausting, to be most effective. For maximum benefits, most health experts recommend exercising 30 minutes or more on most, preferably all, days of the week.
Try to incorporate some simple calorie-burners into your everyday routine. Even the most basic activities (such as taking an after-dinner walk, using the stairs at the mall instead of taking an escalator, or parking farther away so you have a longer walk) can get you prepared for more aerobic activities.
Exercise not only burns calories, it may increase the body's metabolic rate and actually decreases appetite for some people. Exercise also has psychological benefits. It improves your sense of well-being and decreases stress (which often leads to overeating).
Lose It — And Never Find It Again
Controlling weight means having to learn two sets of behavior: weight loss and weight maintenance. According to many health professionals, weight maintenance is the more difficult. Less than a third of the people who lose weight are able to keep it off. Long-term success depends upon continuing the good eating and exercise habits you developed while losing weight.
It will take time to make these new habits a permanent part of your life. Continue to modify your behavior by:
- accepting the fact that you will still be tempted by "fattening" foods
- realizing you can eat tempting foods in moderation, so you won't feel deprived
- increasing low-calorie and low-fat choices
- trying new forms of exercise (by making exercise fun, you will likely stick to it.)
Know your eating habits. Do you overindulge when eating your "favorite" foods? Do you eat when you're depressed or worried? Do you use food as a reward? Keeping track of your eating habits in a food diary may help you cut down on how much you eat.
Don't let a temporary setback get you down. Go right back to your winning ways!
Stay motivated — focus on your goals. Seek help if you cannot do it alone. Join a weight-loss organization or a health club. Your local hospital may even offer a weight loss clinic. Also ask friends and family for support.
Controlling Weight Made Easier
Eating can still be fun! With the variety of low-calorie and "light" foods and beverages available today, watching your weight no longer means eating carrot sticks and rice cakes. More and more good-tasting, reduced-calorie dinner entrees, desserts, diet soft drinks and other foods are now available. Also, the development and use of a wide variety of low-calorie ingredients known as fat replacers are making many new reduced-fat and light foods and beverages possible.
Low-calorie sweeteners, as part of an overall weight-control program, can help you reduce calories and therefore reduce weight. Recent studies show this to be true. Also, low-calorie foods and beverages can help make managing weight easier. They can:
- satisfy the natural desire for sweet taste without extra calories;
- provide more choices when juggling calories. Weight can be maintained by saving calories, which you may or may not "spend" later in the same meal or the same day. As long as the calories are not overspent, you will maintain your weight;
- help you stay on your weight-control program by keeping your diet interesting and enjoyable.
Low-calorie and reduced-fat foods and beverages can easily be made part of a lifelong, sensible weight-control program. Recent surveys indicate that many people are consuming these products as part of an overall healthy lifestyle.
Many people find it hard to accept the facts about weight control. Miracle diets and quick cures are not the answer; permanent lifestyle changes are. The best way to control weight is to consume fewer calories and exercise more.
You can't just change your habits for a week or two and go back to the way you were. You can successfully manage your weight, but it means a lifetime commitment and permanent changes in eating behavior. Weight takes time to gain, and it takes time to lose. But, once the weight is gone, it's well worth it. Now that you know how to "Win by Losing," get out there and beat the odds!
- Pan-fry or saute foods with a non-stick spray or low-calorie butter substitute. Bake or broil instead of frying.
- Eat high-fiber foods, such as a bran muffin instead of the morning donut.
- Use sugar substitutes when sweetening foods and beverages.
- Order from the light menus now offered at many restaurants, or purchase low-calorie or reduced-fat products at the grocery store.
- Try a meal plan using "exchange lists" based on foods grouped together according to similar food values. Most exchange lists include several "free" foods: those lower than 20 calories per serving, such as many low-calorie, sugar-free foods and beverages.
- Never skip meals. Eat three to six times a day in smaller portions to keep from getting hungry.
- Use a smaller plate at mealtime to satisfy your psychological need to see a full plate.
- Eat and chew slowly. Learn to stop eating before you feel full. (It takes 20 minutes for the stomach to tell the brain that it is full!)
- Weigh yourself on a regular schedule, but don’t become a slave to your scale.
- Reward yourself with pleasures other than food--buy some new clothes, get a different hair style, see a movie, visit a friend, etc.
For the Spanish language version of this article, click here.
|John P. Foreyt, Ph.D., is a leading authority on obesity, dieting and behavior. He is director of the Nutrition Research Clinic and Professor, Department of Medicine, at Baylor College of Medicine in Houston.|
|Gail Becker, R.D., is recognized for communications expertise on diet, nutrition and fitness. She is president of Gail Becker Associates in Great Neck, New York.|