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Thursday, May 12, 2011

Losing Weight

Another recommendation in the Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2010, is to achieve a healthy weight. Easier said than done. Many people have made a fortune on weight loss books and fad diets. Too many people fall for the quick fix, only to fail once again. Maybe the goal should be to eat healthier and exercise more. At least then even if one didn't lose weight or reach their target goal they would still be healthier. Some students in my classes start the class overweight and admit to little or no exercise. Then we start talking about healthy eating and how important exercise is to one's overall health. One of the first things I emphasize is to eat five fruits and vegetables a day, then adding whole grains and exercise – any kind of exercise. One of my students came to the third class announcing he had started eating more fruits and vegetables and was losing some weight; probably because these healthier foods were displacing some of his more caloric choices. Then he added breakfast and whole grains at breakfast and lost more weight. Then he said he started eating healthier lunches by buying Lean Cuisine and Healthy Choice. At about week 10 of class he had lost over 20 pounds and said he felt great. No fad diet, no quick fix, just changing eating habits.
Many people don't know some basic facts about weight and diet.
Fact: each pound of weight is equivalent to 3500 calories. Yes, a lot of calories. Thus, if you wanted to lose a pound a week, you would need to cut back by 500 calories a day. This is hard and I tell my students maybe too hard. But there is another option, cut back by say 250 calories a day and burn an additional 250 calories a day by walking, gardening, cleaning house, or any activity that burns some calories. Gyms are great but one needn't go to the gym to burn calories. If you do go the gym the exercise equipment often tells you how many calories you burn. However, you can also you Apps such as Lose It (see blog post for 3-20-2011) which tells you how many calories you burned for a host of activities.
Fact: Fat provides 9 calories a gram while carbs and protein provide 4 calories a gram.  Fat calories are fattening calories. Those interested in losing weight or maintaining weight should focus on lowering the amount of fat in their diets. Thus, fried foods are bad foods because they are loaded with extra fat calories. Focusing on low fat options can save hundreds of calories a day. That is why most nutritionists recommend low fat options such as low fat dairy (fat –free milk, low-fat yogurt, lower fat cheese such as part-skim mozzarella), lean cuts of meat, and limiting or no fried foods. Read food labels. Choose the spaghetti sauce with less fat calories; choose the salad dressing with less fat. Have the spaghetti but use a sauce providing less fat per serving, have the salad but put on a lower fat salad dressing.
Fact: many overweight people aren't eating more they are just exercising less. An overweight person may just be more sedentary than their normal weight friend. Moving more and sitting less can a huge factor in achieving and maintaining one's weight. Many children who are overweight aren't eating more than their friends but they are sitting more than their friends. CDC recommends parents should limit children's screen time (TV, videos, internet) to no more than two hours a day. Focusing on physical activity is great for kids and great for parents.
Fact: Even a modest weight loss has great health benefits. CDC notes that if one is overweight even a loss of 5-10% of body weight can have huge health benefits such as lowering blood pressure and lowering blood cholesterol. As CDC notes, "For example, if you weigh 200 pounds, a 5 percent weight loss equals 10 pounds, bringing your weight down to 190 pounds. While this weight may still be in the "overweight" or "obese" range, this modest weight loss can decrease your risk factors for chronic diseases related to obesity."

What can parents do to help their children maintain or achieve a healthy weight?
CDC has some excellent recommendations for parents (see tips for parents at Some suggestions for parents:
  • Healthy eating habits: More fruits and veggies, whole grains and lean meats, and less sugar and saturated fats.
  • Focus on healthy snacks – fruits, veggies
  • Help kids stay active – limit sedentary time and focus on physical activity, at least 60 minutes of physical activity a day. This can be brisk walking, jumping rope, swimming, tag, soccer.

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