Three Key Factors in Successful Weight Loss

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If you’re overweight, you don’t need someone to point it out to you. You know you need to shed some ballast. If you’re like most overweight Americans, though, you’ve already tried dieting, exercise, weight-loss supplements and possibly even prescription drugs. And, if you’re like most other people in your situation, you’re probably not having much luck.

Nearly three-quarters of Americans are overweight or obese, a situation that portends dire consequences for our society, both on an individual and collective basis. Obesity increases your risk for heart disease, osteoarthritis, diabetes, sleep apnea, cancer and a number of other serious illnesses, and being overweight significantly increases your risk for premature death. As for society at large, the costs of treating obesity now exceed those associated with smoking, and many healthcare experts predict that expenditures on obesity and obesity-related complications could bankrupt the country.

If you haven’t yet capitulated to your frustration, and if you’re still striving to get your weight under control, you may also still be looking for that one “secret” that will (ahem) tip the scales in your favor. Unfortunately, there are no earth-shaking weight-loss secrets, and (alas!) there are no easy fixes. Despite intensive research (which admittedly has yielded some fascinating information about the physiologic underpinnings of human obesity), successful and sustained weight loss still boils down to a formula that consists of three basic elements:

You must adjust your caloric intake to account for your daily metabolic needs and the amount of weight you wish to lose. In general, a pound of body weight contains about 3500 calories. Therefore, if you want to lose one pound every week, you’ll have to consume 500 fewer calories each day than your body needs to maintain its current weight (7x500=3500). Ninety-eight percent of people who lose weight and successfully keep it off modify their caloric intake. If you can’t design your own diet, or if you’re not good at wrestling numbers, see a dietician. (And keep in mind that as your weight drops, you’ll have to keep modifying your diet.)

You must improve your body’s ability to burn calories. Despite the hyperbolic claims of many supplement manufacturers, exercise is the most efficient and consistent way to accelerate your metabolic rate. Individuals who claim exercise doesn’t help them lose weight are typically stuck in an “activity rut”: they walk for 20 to 30 minutes every day, they get on the scale after their walk, and they throw up their hands in disgust when the numbers don’t budge. Research shows that people who mix aerobic exercise, such as walking, with resistance exercise, such as weightlifting, are more efficient calorie burners. So if you want to make your exercise count, become a “cross-trainer.” Go to the gym if you think that will improve your motivation, but you can design a reasonably good set of weights with two plastic gallon-sized milk jugs and some sand or water (the amount of weight can be adjusted by adding more or less sand to the bottle). With your no-cost weights in hand, you can do curls, triceps extensions and overhead presses in your own living room; pushups and sit-ups are free, too. And while you’re cursing your way through your workout – whether it’s “aerobic day” or “resistance day” – remind yourself that 90% of successful weight-losers exercise, on average, about one hour daily.

Get some sleep. Scientists have known for a long time that sleep-deprived people produce more stress hormones – including cortisol – and these hormones throw a big wrench into the cellular machinery that burns calories. Recent epidemiological studies confirm that obese individuals who get fewer than 7 to 8 hours of sleep each night have far more difficulty losing weight, even when they’re doing everything else right. And consider this: if you’re overweight you might have obstructive sleep apnea, which can lead to sleep deprivation even if you’re in bed for 12 hours. Check with your doctor to see if sleep apnea could be an issue for you.

Once you accept the importance of proper diet, daily exercise and adequate rest, there’s one more hurdle to leap on your way to successful weight loss: like any other healthy behavior, weight control is an ongoing process; persistence will become habit, and habit will carry you through to a longer, happier life.

Here's to your wellness,


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