An honest guide to weight loss

Reprinted from Diet-Blog (6/23/08)

There has been much talk lately about the obesity epidemic which is sweeping the world, and the ensuing panic has resulted in an avalanche of books and articles packed with ideas about why we are growing larger and what we can do about it.

As a physician struggling with making sense of all this over the past few decades, I have come up with a few suggestions concerning how best to view the constant stream of data about diet, weight loss and lifestyle

  1. Take any claim which promotes a specific diet, device, or pill with a grain of salt. Selling people diet books, food supplements, and “lose weight fast” gimmicks is a multi-billion dollar industry with almost no regulation.
  2. Be aware that there is much valid research going on, but that none of it can address all of the variables that might affect you as an individual. We are in a very early stage of understanding even the basics concerning weight maintenance and nutrition. The research generally falls into three conceptual categories: biological, psychological, and interpersonal (or social). Unfortunately, research rarely addresses the complex interplay of all three categories, thus making it very difficult to apply the findings in real life.
  3. There is no quick and easy substitute for following a sensible diet, controlling serving size (we all suffer from “portion distortion” so that we underestimate how much we actually eat), and increasing daily activity levels through both “spontaneous” activity and planned exercise. Calories do count, both entering the body and leaving it (through activity). Realistic weight loss should be a slow process – no more than 1 or 2 pounds per month; otherwise, your body “thinks” it is starving, and powerful biological systems take over to prevent further weight loss.
  4. Many factors influence how we respond to the calorie flow, such as genetics, hormones, our age, and our health. Life isn’t always fair when it comes to weight management. Nevertheless, some things are under our control, and we can replace many of our unhealthy habits with healthier ones.
  5. Yo-yo dieting does more harm than good. Diets generally don’t work for long term weight maintenance because they are time-limited, boring, difficult, and involve self-deprivation. The best way to maintain a reasonable weight is to change our eating habits for good, by first changing our thinking about food (and activity) so that we do not think in terms of deprivation. We can train our brain to delight in eating fruits, vegetables, whole grains and lean meats, and sometimes we can even develop an active distaste for high fat and high sugar “junk” foods (including soft drinks and other high calorie drinks).
  6. We must be realistic about our weight loss and maintenance goal. For example, if my natural weight range (some call it “set point”) is between 170 and 200 pounds, my ability to maintain a desired weight may be practically limited to keeping it between 175 and 180 pounds. Shooting for 160 pounds would set me up for disappointment. Not gaining or re-gaining weight is even more important than losing it, and more difficult. The good news is that the more we practice healthy habits of eating, moving, and thinking, the easier and more natural the new behaviors become. And efforts toward maintaining a desired weight range, even if still overweight according to standard weight tables, do pay off in terms of better health outcomes (for example, preventing type 2 diabetes and lowering blood pressure).
  7. Alcohol and drug use (including prescribed and non-prescribed) can have a huge influence on weight and health, and cannot be ignored as we change our lifestyle in a healthy direction. Consultation with a health care professional may be needed before these changes can be made.
  8. Family relationships, friendship patterns, and support networks also affect our health and weight, and must be taken into consideration. Stress levels and the ways we cope with stress and change in our lives are extremely important. Automatic and emotional eating can be a large part of the problem, and we should learn to practice mindful eating (being aware of every bite, and taking the time to enjoy the process of eating).

Considering these principles has helped me cope with information overload. If you follow these simple guidelines, I predict you will feel less overwhelmed – and may become healthier and happier!

About the Author:
Charles Goldman, M.D. is the author of Weight Management for Your Life: Ten steps to prepare you for adopting a healthy lifestyle. You may contact him through the website www.wmfyl.com.
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