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You know that being overweight is bad for your health. And you know that exercising and eating right are important. So what’s new? Although many of the basic principles of healthy weight management haven’t changed, we know a lot more today than we did a few years ago.
For one thing, we understand better the complex challenges we face in managing our weight. We’ve also discovered how people can get around these obstacles. And most importantly, we’ve learned that when it comes to health, there’s no such thing as “one size fits all.”
Weight control is about creating a healthy lifestyle that works for YOU, one habit at a time, day by day.
Sizing up the problem
Overweight and obesity have steadily increased over the past few decades— in both genders, all ages, all racial and ethnic groups, and all educational levels. Why do so many of us struggle with our weight? What are we up against in our quest to reach and maintain a healthy weight?
Our environment – the way we live now
Before the days of mass food production, microwaves, and fast food, we had to work hard for our meals. We hunted for, gathered, or grew our own food—and meal preparation was often a day’s work in itself. We were more physically active in other ways, too. For example, we had more active jobs and relied less on modern transportation. But although recent technological and social changes have improved our lives in many ways, they haven’t been kind to our bathroom scales.
Our biology – how our bodies work
Modern society can make weight management hard—and it sometimes seems like our own bodies and minds are working against us, too. Here’s how:
- Our bodies brace for the bad times. Our bodies are programmed to hold onto our weight—even after we gain weight. It’s a basic mechanism that helped humans survive in the past, but can get us into trouble today. In fact, many dieters work against themselves by starving their way into what’s called starvation metabolism. This is when your poorly nourished body, sensing starvation, begins burning calories at a slower rate to survive longer. Once you’re in starvation mode, you might eat very little—but still find that you’re packing on the pounds.
- We have food on the brain. When we eat, we stimulate centers in our brain that feel pleasure and satisfaction. Naturally, we want more of these good feelings—which can prompt us to overeat.
- Stress hits our bellies. Recent research shows a connection between stress and overweight. It seems that higher levels of cortisol, the so-called “stress hormone,” increase our tendency to store excess fat—especially fat around our waist.
- We battle genetics, health conditions, and other personal challenges. Everyone’s different. Some people have a genetic tendency toward obesity. Others have chronic conditions or behaviors that make weight control an extra challenge. That’s why it’s important to learn about your body, observe what you do and what works, and chart a plan that makes sense for you.
Proven principles for weight management
As you make a plan to reach (and keep) your target weight, make sure it’s based on the principles described here. They include the “golden oldies”—emphasis on regular exercise and good nutrition—as well as some ideas that may be new to you.
Be aware of your “high-risk situations.”
Keep a diary for a few days or so to find out what your “high risk situations” are—scenarios that seem to invite overeating, skipping exercise, or other unhealthy actions. Is it a bag of chips left open on the counter? A holiday buffet? A bad day at work? Awareness can help you make better decisions in a pinch.
Don’t gain weight, and if you need to lose—do it slowly.
Remember, your body is built to hang on to your weight. That’s why the first strategy for staying healthy is NOT to gain weight. If you do need to lose weight, do it slowly—a pound or two a week at most. Slow weight loss is healthier and easier to maintain than any crash diet.
Be active EVERY DAY.
Physical activity is the foundation of good health and weight control. In fact, when researchers looked at weight loss success, they found that regular physical activity is the single best predictor of success in maintaining weight loss over time.
Here is a list of more resources about Weight Management and Weight Loss:
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The content presented here is for your information only. It is not a substitute for professional medical advice, and it should not be used to diagnose or treat a health problem or disease. Please consult your healthcare provider if you have any questions or concerns. More health information is available at www.intermountainhealthcare.org.