Losing Weight Is More Than Counting Calories

Janis Hunter
Home & Garden Information Center

January is the month that many people decide to lose weight and/or start exercising on a regular basis to improve their health. Exercising and achieving a healthy weight are important health goals to set anytime of the year.

Reduce Your Chances of Health Problems From Being Overweight or Obese: Americans are getting fatter and don’t get enough physical activity, which can lead to premature death. Approximately two-thirds of American adults are either overweight or obese. The number of obese adults has nearly doubled since the 1980s, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

Being overweight or obese makes you more likely to develop the following health problems: heart disease, stroke, high blood pressure, diabetes, gallbladder disease, joint pain caused by excess uric acid (gout), sleep apnea and osteoarthritis. Obesity also is linked to certain types of cancer (breast, colon, endometrial, prostate and kidney). Losing a small amount of weight can send obesity-associated complications (e.g. high blood pressure, diabetes and high cholesterol) into remission and improve your overall health.

Follow These Six Tips for Successful Weight Loss:

  1. Know how many calories you need to consume to maintain a healthy weight.
  2. Plan your meals so you won’t resort to eating unhealthy fast foods.
  3. Eat recommended amounts of vegetables, fruits, lean protein and whole grains. Use MyPyramid, USDA’s food guide pyramid, to choose a healthful assortment of foods, including vegetables, fruits, grains, fat-free milk, fish, lean meat, poultry and beans. To feel full with fewer calories, choose foods naturally high in fiber, such as fruits, vegetables, legumes (e.g. beans and lentils) and whole grains.
  4. Drink plenty of water and fat-free milk, but stay away from high-calorie, sugary beverages.
  5. Don’t skip meals, especially breakfast. Establish a regular eating pattern, which typically means eating every three or four hours throughout the day.
  6. Get plenty of physical activity every day.

Most contestants on The Biggest Loser TV show begin their weight loss program lacking in all those areas, reports Cheryl Forberg, the show’s registered dietitian.

Set a Realistic Goal: The first step to weight loss is to set a realistic goal. To determine what a healthy weight is for you, use a body mass index (BMI) chart. BMI, a number calculated from your weight and height, provides your body’s “fatness.” It reliably screens for overweight and obesity, which may lead to health problems. Find out your BMI at http://www.cdc.gov/healthyweight/assessing/bmi/.

Lose Weight Gradually: A safe weight loss is one-half to 2 pounds per week, according to the Dietary Guidelines for Americans. You can lose 5 to 10% of your weight by decreasing the calories eaten and increasing the calories burned by 250 to 1,000 calories per day, depending on your current calorie intake.

Eat Fewer Calories and Move More: The best and safest way to shed pounds and improve your health is to eat a balanced diet, modestly cut calories, and be physically active every day. The Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommends that adults get at least 30 minutes of moderate physical activity on most days of the week. For most people, 60 to 90 minutes of more vigorous activity brings even greater health benefits. Unless your job includes lots of vigorous physical activity, this total is in addition to usual activity at home or at work.

Limit Food Portions, Fat, Protein, Sugars & Alcohol: You can enjoy all foods as part of a healthy diet as long as you limit fat (especially saturated fat), protein, sugars and alcohol. Limit portion sizes, especially of high-calorie foods (e.g. cookies, cakes, French fries, fats, oils and spreads). Refer to HGIC 4010, MyPyramid and www.MyPyramid.gov for more information on planning daily meals and snacks.

Read Food Labels: Read the Nutrition Facts Label on food packaging. This label helps you choose nutritious foods, correct portion sizes and calories. For more food labeling information, see HGIC 4056, Reading the New Food Labels.

Talk to Your Doctor Before Starting a Weight Loss Program: Consult with your doctor or health-care provider if you plan to lose more than 15 to 20 pounds, have any health problems, or take medication on a regular basis.

Change Your Behavior to Keep Weight Off: Dr. Rena Wing, professor of psychiatry at Brown Medical School in Providence, R.I. and co-developer of the National Weight Control Registry, maintains a database of weight-control information on more than 5,000 American adults. These participants have shed an average of 66-70 pounds and have kept it off for approximately 5½ years.

To keep off the weight you lose, follow the behaviors of the successful “losers” in the National Weight Control Registry.

  1. Eat a low-calorie diet with moderate fat intake, and limit fast food consumption. Since the Registry began in 1995, fat intake of the successful “losers” has increased while remaining within the levels of the Dietary Guidelines for Americans, which recommend no more than 30 percent of daily calories from fat. Carbohydrate intake has somewhat decreased in recent years, which may partially be due to the popularity of the low carbohydrate diet.
  2. Weigh yourself frequently to monitor your progress.
  3. Be very physically active an hour or more a day. Many successful “losers” in the Registry burn up to 2,800 calories a week on a variety of activities. This is equivalent to walking 28 miles a week, or four miles a day.
  4. Eat regular meals, including breakfast every day. Eating breakfast reduces your urge to overeat and snack too often. Breakfast also provides the fuel to jump start your metabolism after fasting all night.

If you made a New Year’s resolution to lose weight, it’s important to remember that it takes commitment and hard work. There is nothing magical about losing weight. For more detailed information, see HGIC 4094, Losing Weight Is More Than Counting Calories.

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