Who should lose weight?
Health care professionals generally agree that people who have a BMI of 30 or greater can improve their health through weight loss.This is especially true for people with a BMI of 40 or greater, who are considered extremely obese.
Preventing additional weight gain is recommended if you have a BMI between 25 and 29.9, unless you have other risk factors for obesity-related diseases. Obesity experts recommend you try to lose weight if you have two or more of the following:
- Family history of certain chronic diseases. If you have close relatives who have had heart disease or diabetes, you are more likely to develop these problems if you are obese.
- Preexisting medical conditions. High blood pressure, high LDL cholesterol levels, low HDL cholesterol levels, high triglycerides, and high blood glucose are all warning signs of some obesity-associated diseases.
- Large waist circumference. Men who have waist circumferences greater than 40 inches, and women who have waist circumferences greater than 35 inches, are at higher risk of diabetes, dyslipidemia (abnormal amounts of fat in the blood), high blood pressure, and heart disease.
Fortunately, a weight loss of 5 to 10 percent of your initial body weight can do much to improve health by lowering blood pressure and other risk factors for obesity-related diseases. In addition, research shows that a 5- to 7-percent weight loss brought about by moderate diet and exercise can delay or possibly prevent type 2 diabetes in people at high risk for the disease. In a recent study, participants who were considered overweight and had pre-diabetes—a condition in which a person’s blood glucose level is higher than normal, but not high enough to be classified as diabetes—were able to delay or prevent the onset of type 2 diabetes by adopting a low-fat, low-calorie diet and exercising for 30 minutes a day, 5 days a week.
Selecting a Weight Loss Program
Some people lose weight on their own; others like the support of a structured program. Overweight people who are successful at losing weight, and keeping it off, can reduce their risk factors for heart disease. If you decide to join any kind of weight-control program, here are some questions to ask before you join.
- Does the program provide counseling to help you change your eating activity and personal habits?
The program should teach you how to change permanently those eating habits and lifestyle factors, such as lack of physical activity, that have contributed to weight gain.
- Is the staff made up of a variety of qualified counselors and health professionals such as nutritionists, registered dietitians, doctors, nurses, psychologists, and exercise physiologists?
You need to be evaluated by a physician if you have any health problems, are currently taking any medicine or plan on taking any medicine, or plan to lose more than 15 to 20 pounds. If your weight-control plan uses a very low-calorie diet (a special liquid formula that replaces all food for 1 to 4 months), an exam and followup visits by a doctor also are needed.
- Is training available on how to deal with times when you may feel stressed and slip back to old habits?
The program should provide long-term strategies to deal with weight problems you may have in the future. These strategies might include things like setting up a support system and establishing a physical activity routine.
- Is attention paid to keeping the weight off? How long is this phase? Choose a program that teaches skills and techniques to make permanent changes in eating habits and levels of physical activity to prevent weight gain.
- Are food choices flexible and suitable? Are weight goals set by the client and the health professional?
The program should consider your food likes and dislikes and your lifestyle when your weight-loss goals are planned.
There are other questions you can ask about how well a weight-loss program works. Because many programs don’t gather this information, you may not get answers. But it’s still important to ask them:
- What percentage of people complete the program?
- What is the average weight loss among people who finish the program?
- What percentage of people have problems or side effects? What are they?
- Are there fees or costs for additional items, such as dietary supplements?
Guide to Behavior Change
Your Weight Is Important
Over the past few years it has become clear that weight is an important health issue. Some people who need to lose weight for their health don’t recognize it, while others who don’t need to lose weight want to get thinner for cosmetic reasons. We understand that in some ways your weight is different from, for example, your cholesterol level or your blood pressure, because you can’t see what these are by looking at someone. Many patients have had health care providers who approached their weight in a less-than-sensitive or helpful manner. Some patients may have had health care encounters in which they felt blamed, but not helped. Successful weight management is a long-term challenge.
Weight can affect a person’s self-esteem. Excess weight is highly visible and evokes some powerful reactions, however unfairly, from other people and from the people who carry the excess weight. The amount of weight loss needed to improve your health may be much less than you wish to lose, when you consider how you evaluate your weight. Research has shown that your health can be greatly improved by a loss of 5–10 percent of your starting weight. That doesn’t mean you have to stop there, but it does mean that an initial goal of losing 5–10 percent of your starting weight is both realistic and valuable.
Behaviors That Will Help You Lose Weight and Maintain It
Set the Right Goals
Setting the right goals is an important first step. Most people trying to lose weight focus on just that one goal: weight loss. However, the most productive areas to focus on are the dietary and physical activity changes that will lead to long-term weight change. Successful weight managers are those who select two or three goals at a time that are manageable.
Useful goals should be (1) specific; (2) attainable (doable); and (3) forgiving (less than perfect). “Exercise more” is a great goal, but it’s not specific. “Walk 5 miles every day” is specific and measurable, but is it doable if you’re just starting out? “Walk 30 minutes every day” is more attainable, but what happens if you’re held up at work one day and there’s a thunderstorm during your walking time another day? “Walk 30 minutes, 5 days each week” is specific, doable, and forgiving. In short, a great goal!
Nothing Succeeds Like Success
Shaping is a behavioral technique in which you select a series of short-term goals that get closer and closer to the ultimate goal (e.g., an initial reduction of fat intake from 40 percent of calories to 35 percent of calories, and later to 30 percent). It is based on the concept that “nothing succeeds like success.” Shaping uses two important behavioral principles: (1) consecutive goals that move you ahead in small steps are the best way to reach a distant point; and (2) consecutive rewards keep the overall effort invigorated.
Reward Success (But Not With Food)
An effective reward is something that is desirable, timely, and dependent on meeting your goal. The rewards you choose may be material (e.g., a movie or music download, or a payment toward buying a more costly item) or an act of self-kindness (e.g., an afternoon off from work or just an hour of quiet time away from family). Frequent small rewards, earned for meeting smaller goals, are more effective than bigger rewards that require a long, difficult effort.
Balance Your Food Checkbook
“Self-monitoring” refers to observing and recording some aspect of your behavior, such as calorie intake, servings of fruits and vegetables, amount of physical activity, etc., or an outcome of these behaviors, such as weight. Self-monitoring of a behavior can be used at times when you’re not sure how you’re doing, and at times when you want the behavior to improve. Self-monitoring of a behavior usually moves you closer to the desired direction and can produce “real-time” records for review by you and your health care provider. For example, keeping a record of your physical activity can let you and your provider know quickly how you’re doing. When the record shows that your activity is increasing, you’ll be encouraged to keep it up. Some patients find that specific self-monitoring forms make it easier, while others prefer to use their own recording system.
While you may or may not wish to weigh yourself frequently while losing weight, regular monitoring of your weight will be essential to help you maintain your lower weight. When keeping a record of your weight, a graph may be more informative than a list of your weights. When weighing yourself and keeping a weight graph or table, however, remember that one day’s diet and exercise patterns won’t have a measurable effect on your weight the next day. Today’s weight is not a true measure of how well you followed your program yesterday, because your body’s water weight will change from day to day, and water changes are often the result of things that have nothing to do with your weight-management efforts.
Avoid a Chain Reaction
Stimulus (cue) control involves learning what social or environmental cues seem to encourage undesired eating, and then changing those cues. For example, you may learn from reflection or from self-monitoring records that you’re more likely to overeat while watching television, or whenever treats are on display by the office coffee pot, or when around a certain friend. You might then try to change the situation, such as by separating the association of eating from the cue (don’t eat while watching television), avoiding or eliminating the cue (leave the coffee room immediately after pouring coffee), or changing the circumstances surrounding the cue (plan to meet your friend in a nonfood setting). In general, visible and reachable food items are often cues for unplanned eating.
Get the Fullness Message
Changing the way you go about eating can make it easier to eat less without feeling deprived. It takes 15 or more minutes for your brain to get the message that you’ve been fed. Eating slowly will help you feel satisfied. Eating lots of vegetables and fruits can make you feel fuller. Another trick is to use smaller plates so that moderate portions do not appear too small. Changing your eating schedule, or setting one, can be helpful, especially if you tend to skip, or delay, meals and overeat later.
Learning Activity 7.1
Find out about Weight Loss Fraud.
- How can you protect yourself?
- What should you keep in mind when buying supplements?
- How do you spot fraud?
Optional Learning Activity
Read this article—How Sweet It Isn’t
- Should excess sugar consumption be regulated?
Who should lose weight?: Understanding Adult Obesity, WIN, NIDDK, NIH, http://win.niddk.nih.gov/publications/understanding.htm
Selecting a Weight Loss Program: Lose Weight Program, NHLBI, NIH, http://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health/public/heart/obesity/lose_wt/wtl_prog.htm
Guide to Behavior Change: Guide to Behavior Change, NHLBI, NIH, http://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health/public/heart/obesity/lose_wt/behavior.htm