By Sejal Desai, M.D
The prevalence of obesity has more than doubled in the US in the last 30 years. Nearly two thirds of all adults in America are either overweight or obese. Furthermore, childhood obesity is an increasing epidemic. Despite abounding evidence touting the benefits of maintaining a healthy weight and physically active lifestyle, Americans continue to eat larger portion sizes than necessary while remaining less physically active than recommended. Obesity is a major risk factor for many chronic illnesses, such including, but certainly not limited to diabetes, high blood pressure, heart disease, and certain cancers. On an encouraging note, even a modest weight loss of 5-10% sufficiently results in major health benefits.
Simply maintaining a healthy weight can be tough. And losing weight can be even tougher. If you’ve tried and failed to lose weight before, you may believe that diets don’t work for you. However, not all diets are for everyone. For long term success with weight loss, it takes a comprehensive approach, tailored to the individual, factoring in eating patterns, emotions, risk factors, family history and physical activity. There is no easy fix to losing weight, but here are a few steps to get you started:
1. Know your numbers – The first step in weight loss is to find out where you stand. What is your weight, BMI (Body Mass Index), blood pressure, blood sugar, cholesterol, thyroid level? All of these values will give important information on your risk factors and possibly rule out reasons for weight gain. It’s important for a weight loss professional to keep track of these parameters as you go through your weight loss program. If you haven’t had a complete physical in the last year, contact your primary care doctor to get it scheduled.
2. Food & Activity Journal – Start by logging everything you eat for 3-5 days. Calculate your current calories. There are great apps that help you do this easily. Be completely honest!
3. Set your goals – Now set a goal to cut out 500 calories per day. With 3500 less calories a week, you can lose 1 pound per week. I know this may seem like very little weight loss, but remember that losing it slowly and steadily will give you the best chance of keeping that weight off long term.
4. Get on a schedule – It’s important to eat 3 meals with 2-3 snacks each day. This means you are typically eating every 2-3 hours. Don’t skip meals. This will only make you more likely to choose unhealthy options at the next meal. Eating regularly also keeps your body in a state of burning calories as opposed to storing them.
5. Watch your portions – For many people, it’s not what they eat, but how much they eat. Make sure your portions are appropriate. Fill half of your plate with vegetables, one quarter with protein, and the last quarter with carbohydrates.
6. Hydrate with water – Cut out sodas, juices and caffeinated beverages. Drinking at least 64 oz of water daily helps keep you full and has tremendous benefits for your whole body.
7. Avoid eating out as much as possible – When you eat out, you have no idea what is in the food. Most restaurant and fast food options are loaded with salt, butter, oil, and sugar. If you must dine out, choose healthier options (such as salads with dressing on the side).
8. Physical Activity – Aim for 30 minutes to 1 hour daily of moderate intensity physical activity (walking, jogging, treadmill, swimming). The key is to find activities that you enjoy. Keep a pedometer to count your steps and challenge yourself to increase those steps over time.
9. Get adequate sleep – Studies have shown that getting 7-8 hours of quality sleep per night is essential in achieving your weight loss goals. People who get too little sleep tend to make unhealthy food choices and have been shown to have increased levels of the hunger hormone, ghrelin.
10. If you still have trouble losing weight despite your best efforts, talk to your doctor to be referred to a medically managed weight loss program.
Remember that the journey to successful weight loss and maintenance takes time and many attempts. It should be a slow and steady work in progress. There will likely be challenges along the way. You may have good and bad days, but it’s important to stay focused, motivated, and not give up. After all, it’s a journey to achieving a healthier you!
Sejal Desai, MD is a Board Certified family physician who has been active in primary care in the Houston area for the past 7 years. Prior to that, she worked in Austin and southern California. She sees patients of all ages and has a special interest in weight loss medicine. Dr. Desai speaks English and Gujarati, practices at Memorial Hermann Katy.