Weight management is all about health. In a culture that has produced Barbie and a media filled with waiflike images of male and female celebrities (who often look way too thin), what's needed is an accurate and realistic assessment of our body-image goals and the fortitude to carry out a healthy weight management plan.
There are 30 to 40 billion fat cells in your body. At times, they may seem like an army of enemies out to sabotage your appearance in a swimsuit, but they saved our ancestors from starving by storing fat to get them through lean times. Trouble is, we have more than enough food available in America in this day and age, and we're usually not trekking across frozen tundra or arid steppes in search of the next encampment.
Combine our hefty calorie intakes with generally sedentary lives -- sitting in front of the computer all day, driving from office to home, plopping down on the couch with the remote control to unwind -- and it's easy to see why too many Americans weigh more than they should.
Being overweight can damage much more than your ego. Overweight people have increased risks of developing high blood pressure, high triglycerides and low HDL ("good") cholesterol, type 2 diabetes mellitus, coronary artery disease, gallbladder disease, stroke, respiratory problems, osteoarthritis and various kinds of cancer. Due to these problems, overweight people may have a substandard quality of life and possibly die sooner than their healthy counterparts.
There is good news; however, if you are overweight. Even a five to 10 percent weight loss can lower your health risks. You may find your energy level and confidence increasing as the pounds come off, too. It's also true that genetics plays a role in how your body deals with calories. A family history of obesity increases your odds of ending up obese by 25 to 30 percent, but that just means you may have to work a little harder than those without such a history to achieve and maintain a healthy weight. You're not doomed. You can choose to adopt healthy habits.
Here are some things that can help.
Before you set any weight loss goals, be realistic. The goal isn't necessarily to look like a super model. A good way to assess your weight health is to measure your Body Mass Index, or BMI. This method is better at estimating body fat and health risks than other methods... including the bathroom scale. If your BMI is 19 to 24, there's probably not a health advantage to losing weight. Keep up healthy habits to stay in this ideal range. If your BMI is 25 or more, losing weight might improve your health. If your BMI is under 19, you're most likely underweight.
STOCK THE PANTRY WITH HEALTHY FOODS
Instead of jumping on the diet-of-the-week bandwagon, experts advise eating a diet with 50 to 65 percent carbohydrate (emphasizing whole grains, legumes, fruits and veggies); 20 to 25 percent protein; and the remainder from mostly unsaturated fat (olive oil over butter or meat fat, for example). High-fiber foods will fill you up and are not very calorie-dense. They also take a while to chew, giving your body time to signal you that it's time to put your fork down after you've had enough. Instead of potato chips or crackers containing hydrogenated oils, opt for almonds, peanuts, soy nuts, air-popped popcorn sprinkled with nutritional yeast or mixed seasonings, carrots, grapes, pretzels or other non-fried snacks.
EAT WITH INTENTION This one seems easy, yet few of us do it in our multi-tasking frenzy. For many people, eating while driving, watching TV or working at the computer is practically second nature. But these distractions take away from our enjoyment and awareness of what we're eating, often contributing to eating too fast and overeating. Make a point of sitting at the table, turning off the TV and computer and setting aside your work for mealtimes. In addition many overweight people feel they have to sneak their food or that they don't deserve to enjoy their food. It's better to sit and really enjoy some of what you really want than to sneak it or end up depriving yourself until you end up bingeing out of frustration.
GIVE UP YOUR MEMBERSHIP TO THE CLEAN PLATE CLUB As a child, you may have been encouraged to finish every last morsel of food on your plate. While we certainly don't want kids in India to go hungry, stuffing yourself to the brink of exploding won't help anyone, including you. Get used to pushing your plate aside when you've had enough.
PORTIONS In this age of super-size everything, it's easy to lose sight of what a portion of food actually looks like. To keep portion sizes in check, use small dishes to serve meals and desserts. Instead of a cereal bowl, use a dessert dish for ice cream. Put your pasta in a cereal bowl instead of loading it onto a gargantuan plate.
PLAN AHEAD The amount of planning you do for the week ahead can make or break healthy eating patterns. Have healthy snacks on hand and bring sandwiches if you'll be away from home at lunch or staying late at the office. Determine whether you'll be walking by a store, where you can buy yogurt and/or fruit during a snack or lunch break.
LOOK FORWARD TO YOUR WORKOUT It's not always easy to drag yourself out of bed for a morning jog. If that's the case, find some other aerobic activity that you enjoy enough to keep doing. Walking is one easy option. Take a dance or yoga class, or sign up at a gym and ask a trainer to help you use the weights. Find out if there's a local indoor pool for lap swimmers; it's easy on the joints and a darn good workout. Aim for 30 minutes of cardiovascular exercise most days of the week-getting your heart pumping is important. (If you have health problems, be sure to ask your doctor to help you devise an exercise program that is safe, and before beginning an exercise program, become familiar with your maximum heart rate so you don't put unnecessary stress on your heart.)