It’s shocking but it’s true: Two-thirds of all adult Americans are overweight or obese, and a staggering 9.2% are severely obese. Worse still, the problem is growing. Between 2000 and 2018, the prevalence of obesity jumped from 30.5% to 42.4%.1
Maintaining a healthy body weight is essential for overall health, but unfortunately proves very difficult for many Americans. This is a worrying trend, considering obesity is linked to many serious health problems.
The Risks Of Being Overweight: How Obesity Impacts Overall Health
Generally, after turning 21, people begin gaining 1-2 lbs per year. This increase is linked to changes in our bodies as we age – metabolism begins to slow down, and we experience changes in body composition.2 But the main factors behind weight gain, and difficulty in maintaining a healthy weight, are 21st-century issues: diet, sedentary behaviors, and a lack of exercise. Carrying too much body fat has implications for virtually every part of the body, none of which are good.3 Obesity can lead to serious health issues including:
- Heart disease
- Certain cancers
- Type 2 diabetes
- Breathing problems
- Sleep apnea4,5
Determining Your Body Mass Index: Are You Overweight?
It’s not perfect, but calculating your BMI can help you determine where your weight stands:
- Underweight (less than 18.5 BMI)
- Normal (18.5 – 24.9)
- Overweight (25 – 29.9)
- Obese (30 – 39.9)
- Severely or morbidly obese (40+)
For a better understanding of how your weight may be affecting your health, speak to your doctor. They will have the tools necessary to determine whether or not you would benefit from losing(or gaining) weight and the best way for you to go about it.
Maintaining A Healthy Weight: Understanding The Challenge
For many, a weight loss of only 5-10% is enough to reduce the risk of certain health problems. Unfortunately, 80% of dieters find themselves unable to keep their weight down (defined as maintaining a 10% lower body mass for one year).6 But why does weight management prove so difficult for so many of us? Of course, everyone’s body is different, but there are a few potential reasons.
Two Types Of Hunger
‘Bodily hunger’ is the natural need for food, best satisfied by eating a balanced diet. But ‘reward hunger’ is the body’s call for us to fulfill not a physical need but a psychological one – to change our mood, alleviate stress, or to help us ‘check out’ by entering an unthinking state in which we eat unconsciously. Reward hunger is represented by snacking, binging, or a late-evening feast.
The key here is to step back and articulate what’s causing these food cravings in the first place.7 Understanding the reasons behind your cravings can make the issue easier to address.
The Role Of Leptin
One common reason many people have an especially difficult time losing weight is due to a hormonal imbalance known as leptin resistance. Leptin is a hormone produced by bodily fat cells (the more fat cells, the more leptin). One of leptin’s roles is to signal to the brain to use the body’s fat stores for energy. Leptin resistance occurs when the brain is no longer able to recognize leptin signals. The body then perceives that no food is coming in and signals “starvation mode”. As a result, your body will turn on all hunger signals and any food that you do eat will be stored as fat(because your body is anticipating a falsely-perceived famine).8 This is a common but serious health issue that will need to be addressed by a healthcare professional. If you have any concerns speak to your doctor.
In the meantime, you may be able to support healthy leptin levels by:
- Avoiding highly processed foods (which can compromise gut health)
- Eating soluble fiber (which can support gut health)
- Exercising regularly
- Getting plenty of good-quality sleep
- Reducing your carbohydrate intake, specifically to help lower triglyceride levels
- Increasing your protein intake, which may support leptin sensitivity9
Other Factors In Maintaining A Healthy Body Weight
- Sleep impacts the hormones responsible for feelings of hunger and fullness. Therefore, being sleep-deprived may make you feel hungrier, have less energy, and become more likely to snack and less likely to exercise.10
- Stress can negatively affect mood, concentration, productivity, activity level, blood pressure, and quality of life. High levels of stress can make you more likely to crave sugary, fatty, and salty foods.11 If you’re feeling stressed out, talk to your healthcare provider or a mental health professional. They can get you on the right track to identifying the causing behind your stress and working towards a solution.
Tips For Achieving Your Weight Loss Goals: The Importance Of Mindset
Weight loss isn’t a quick fix solution; it requires planning, commitment, and sustained effort. To truly keep weight off, aim for lifestyle changes, not just a long list of rules. Your BMI, waist circumference, and weight are useful indicators, but true wellness is achieved through a broad effort which encompasses sleep, exercise, and a healthy diet. Talk to your doctor if you’re concerned about your weight. They can help you identify underlying issues or reasons behind your weight gain, set achievable goals and get you on the right track to improving your health.
Tips For Achieving Your Weight Loss Goals: Set Realistic Goals
Setting achievable goals is a great way to motivate yourself. A doctor and/or fitness professional can help you decide your goals. Include realistic aims such as:
- A specific weight loss goal (number of lbs/kgs by a given date)
- A target BMI (by a given date)
- A target waistline (“by the start of beach season”)
- A target time for a given distance (1 mile, 5K)
- A heart rate goal (e.g. 120bpm for at least 10 minutes)
- A given number of reps, sit-ups, star-jumps, etc.
For example, if you’re really not a morning person, but decide to attend the 6AM bootcamp at your gym, you’re likely setting yourself up for failure. By taking things slow and setting reasonable aims, you’ll be more likely to stay motivated.
Once they’re decided, make good use of your goals by:
- Making them personal and individual, tailored to your program; there’s no need to worry about other people’s goals
- Tackling one goal at a time, to avoid overwhelming yourself
- Deciding a reasonable timescale for each goal
- Dividing the larger goals into small ones, where necessary (e.g. when aiming for a nine-minute mile, make your initial goal achieving a 4.5 minute half mile)
- Keeping track of everything – visits to the gym, distance run, reps completed – so that you can measure your progress
- Being flexible and taking your physical reactions seriously. If your body responds negatively to one goal or approach, it’s fine to move the goalposts
Tips For Achieving Your Weight Loss Goals: Prioritize Exercise
Diet contributes to around 75% of weight loss while exercise contributes to the remaining 25%. So while a balanced, healthy diet is key to weight loss and improving your overall health, exercise is also essential.12 Studies show that 150-200 minutes a week of moderate or vigorous exercise helps people keep their weight down.13
You don’t have to spend money on a gym membership or special equipment to get adequate exercise and support your health. A brisk walk counts as moderate exercise, along with activities like household chores or dancing. Vigorous exercise would include activities such as weight-lifting, cycling, and skiing. Finding a physical activity that you enjoy may make the commitment much easier. Look for a dance class to join or get a group of friends together for a daily walk or jog. Just remember to set reasonable goals for yourself, start slow and work your way up to longer or more intense exercises.
Talk to your doctor about which types of exercises are right for you and are best suited towards meeting your goals.
More Tips For Sticking To A Diet And Meeting Weight Loss Goals
- Get plenty of good-quality sleep. Aim for 7-9 hours of sleep per night.
- Drink plenty of water, including a glass of water 15 minutes before each meal.
- Cut out refined and added sugar from your diet. Instead, focus on healthy fats (lean meat and fish) and good-quality grains, fruits, and vegetables.
- Studies show that eating more protein may help reduce your intake of calories. Protein (for example, lean meats) is harder than carbohydrates for the body to break down, so eating more of it may lead to an increase in calories burned. Protein also induces feelings of satiety and when we’re satiated, we’re less inclined to reach for more food, potentially leading to a decrease in calories consumed.14
- Stock your home with healthy snacks. Reduce risk and avoid temptation by not buying unhealthy food. Plan carefully when eating out.
- Practice mindful eating by deliberately slowing the process of having a meal. Put down your utensils between bites, chew each mouthful thoroughly (6+ times) and really focus on the taste and texture of each bite.
- Plan home-cooked meals in advance, too. This helps with the all-important issue of portion control and lets you track your intake of calories. 15
- Avoid soda, including ‘diet’ soda. Science is gradually revealing its considerable dangers and adverse effects on weight loss.16
- Track your progress so that you can modify your goals, and eventually set more challenging aims for your weight-loss program.
Being Kind To Yourself… And Realistic
Setbacks are inevitable and shouldn’t signal an end to your weight-loss project. When you relapse back into old habits, quickly get back on track. Be honest about why it happened, search for other ways to deal with stress, and perhaps choose more appropriate goals.
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