A person does not sit down for dinner each night with the intention of becoming obese. The flavor of foods and the nourishment they provide are the draw. But too many dinner plates stacked high with fatty, unhealthy food eventually take a toll. Obesity does not occur overnight. It creeps up slowly – so slowly at times that the person never saw it coming.
Suddenly you look in the mirror and do not recognize the person staring back at you.
To make matters worse, some people – even when told they are overweight or obese – still have a hard time reconciling their self-perception with reality. To them the extra pounds are “healthy.” But those “healthy” pounds can be contributors to cardiovascular disease and cancer, the two leading causes of death in this country.
This is a scenario repeated time and again by a large number of people. So many people in fact that obesity is one of the fastest growing epidemics in the United States and one that can cause very serious health problems. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that 37 percent of adults in Massachusetts are overweight and 22 percent are obese. What’s worse is that black adults bear the brunt of the epidemic. More than 30 percent of black adults in the state are obese.
This problem is not confined to adults only. The Massachusetts Public Health Association notes that between 25 and 30 percent of the state’s 10 to 17-year-olds are overweight or obese, which can result in diabetes, asthma, heart disease, depression and low self esteem. Children who are overweight are more prone to becoming obese adults unless they adopt and maintain a lifestyle of healthy eating and exercise.
The American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychology cited many factors that can contribute to obesity in children and teens, but apply to adults as well:
• poor eating habits
• overeating or binging
• lack of exercise (couch potato kids)
• family history of obesity
• medical illnesses
• stressful life events or changes
• family and peer problems
• low self-esteem
• depression or other emotional problems
Most people know eating right and exercising is the key to maintaining a healthy weight; yet statistics from the CDC state that one in five adults in Massachusetts reported not having had any physical activity in the past month, and only 28 percent eat the recommended five daily servings of fruits and vegetables.
Losing weight can seem like an overwhelming task at times, but it is necessary to take steps – even if they are small – to avoid serious health risks. Studies show that losing just 5 to 10 percent of body weight can often make a noticeable difference in lowering blood pressure and helping with problems like sleep apnea.
1. Talk with your primary care physician (PCP) – Be open and honest about health problems, eating habits, physical activity level and mood. This will help your doctor better evaluate your condition and make appropriate recommendations for weight loss and resources. You may also be referred to specialists including dietitians, nutritionists and mental health professionals, who can provide specialized care and counseling.
2. Develop a plan – Once you have a better understanding of your health and condition, develop a plan that outlines realistic goals and the tactics for achieving them. Set yourself up for success by planning menus ahead of time to avoid making bad food decisions, plan an exercise routine with variety to keep from getting bored, and schedule exercise time on the calendar to ensure enough time is set aside for physical activity.
3. Eat healthy – Pay attention to the foods you eat and the nutritional value they provide. According to Blue Cross Blue Shield of Massachusetts’ web site www.ahealthyme.com, daily food intake should be composed of 45 to 65 percent carbohydrates, 10 to 35 percent protein and 20 to 35 percent fats. Learn how to read food labels to help you understand the nutritional value of food. Also, remember to control food portions. For example, at a restaurant, split an entrée with a friend or take half home for another meal. Avoid mindless snacking – don’t stand at the kitchen counter and graze, or sit on the couch and eat distractedly.
4. Increase physical activity – Most people cannot achieve weight loss goals by dieting alone. According to the National Weight Control Registry, 90 percent of the people who keep their weight off exercise regularly. Simply walking 30 minutes a day can be effective. Remember to check with your PCP for recommendations about the appropriate level of physical activity that’s best for you.
5. Track success – Writing down everything you eat and drink in a food diary is a proven technique for successful weight loss, as it helps increase your awareness of your eating behavior. Weight Watchers has found this method so effective that its program now is based on tracking food points. Write down what and when you eat and the amount. Don’t forget to include beverages and snacks.
6. Bounce back – Everyone blows his or her diet now and then or skips a day at the gym. Plan for a slip up once in a while to help you stay realistic – the important thing is to get back on track and not get discouraged. A lifelong change takes not only dedication – it takes patience.