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Family Health Magazine - NUTRITION

Weight Loss
Taking and keeping it off

If you want to lose a few pounds you are not alone. According to the National Eating Disorder Information Center, 70 per cent of Canadian women and 35 per cent of Canadian men are dieting to lose weight at any given time.

While many people are interested in losing weight, it is often hard to do. Ninety-five per cent of all diets don't give long lasting results and dieters frequently struggle with feelings of failure and frustration. In addition, the volumes of material about dieting and weight loss in magazines, books, on television and the Internet has led to information overload. People often feel confused about which strategies are most likely to help them tip the scales in the right direction.

Benefits of achieving a healthy body weight

Given the dismal success rate of dieting, you may be wondering if trying to slim down is worth the effort. It is, absolutely! Maintaining a healthy body weight can significantly impact overall health and improve quality of life.

Achieving and maintaining a healthy body weight isn't always easy. It takes time, commitment and hard work, but the potential benefits are well worth the trouble. Research shows that weight loss can reduce the risk for a number of serious health concerns including:

  • diabetes
  • hypertension (or high blood pressure)
  • heart disease
  • certain types of cancer

It is important to recognize that to obtain the benefits of weight loss you need to maintain your new, lower weight. Repeatedly losing and re-gaining weight does not offer the same rewards.

What works for weight loss?

Weight loss occurs when you take in fewer calories than your body requires to build, maintain and fuel itself. Sounds simple! However, in practice, losing weight (and keeping if off) can pose a significant challenge.

Dieting is a multi-billion dollar industry in North America. A wide variety of programs, plans and products are targeted at people who want to slim down. As a result, it may seem that there is no clear solution to our weight woes. Fortunately, this is not the case. In fact, thanks to a great deal of research over the past several decades, health professionals now have a good understanding of the strategies that promote long-term weight management. Drawing on these strategies can help you develop a personal approach to weight loss that takes into account your own needs.

Begin by re-thinking your focus. Abandon the on again, off again thinking about dieting that many dieters adopt. Instead, view weight management as a life long project. Re-train your overall lifestyle. Focus on developing healthy eating habits that you can stick with over time rather than restrictive diets that cause you to drop a few pounds quickly. Take part in activities you genuinely enjoy, not just those that burn calories. Remind yourself that learning new habits is difficult. Expect to experience periods of frustration along the way.

Be realistic. Aim for a goal weight that is ideal for you. This may not be the same as your ideal weight from a chart, or your lowest adult weight. Instead, a realistic goal weight is one that you can maintain without resorting to constant dieting or extreme exercise programs. It is a weight that allows you to fully enjoy the activities of daily life, giving you a sense of well-being.

Realistic timelines are another key element of a sensible approach to weight management. Healthy weight loss takes time. To be successful, you need to give yourself the opportunity to develop new eating habits and activity patterns. Your body also needs time to adjust to lower calorie eating and draw upon stored body fat. Recognize these facts and aim for slow, but steady results. On average, you should expect to lose no more than one to two pounds each week. More dramatic losses, while very appealing, are extremely difficult to maintain and, as a result, weight that comes off fast often returns just as quickly.

Recruit Support. Weight management is hard work and, at times, it can be frustrating. Develop a strong network of friends and family who will lend you their support and encouragement as you take on this sizeable challenge. Strong support will help you to stick with it during times when the results of your weight management program are slow or unpredictable.

Get moving! Exercise plays a key role in weight loss and long-term weight maintenance. Despite this, many diet plans and programs do not promote the importance of active living, and many dieters do not understand the relationship between exercise and weight loss.

Exercise impacts body weight and weight loss by regulating metabolism (the rate that you burn calories). Physical activity builds and maintains muscle tissue. Muscle burns more calories per pound than virtually any other tissue in the body. As a result, the more muscle a person has, the more calories (and food!) he or she will need to take in.

Traditional weight loss diets frequently ignore the important link between exercise and weight maintenance. Without regular exercise, dieters tend to lose some muscle tissue along with body fat. Loss of muscle tissue tends to slow metabolism. As a result, inactive dieters are much more likely to regain any weight that they have lost when they abandon their diet and return to a less restrictive way of eating. Regular exercise can help to prevent this from occurring.

The benefits of exercise extend well beyond its impact on metabolism. Moderate exercise can help to control appetite and reduce stress levels. Managing appetite and stress levels can, in turn, reduce over-eating and promote weight loss. In addition, regular physical activity has been linked to lower levels of osteoporosis (fragile bones), cancer, diabetes, heart disease and stroke.

Starting an exercise program can be overwhelming, especially if you've been inactive for many years. Begin by focusing on activities that you enjoy. Think about activities you liked as a child or activities that you have secretly wanted to try. Next, consider your daily routine. Identify the spots in your day when you can dependably fit in a moderate 30-minute walk, run, bikeride or other activity. Finally, consult with an expert if you have any physical limitations or special needs in terms of exercise. Physical therapists and certified personal fitness trainers can help you develop a program that safely meets your special requirements.

Say no to fad diets. Fad diets are everywhere and, despite their convincing marketing, these kinds of eating plans rarely lead to long-term weight loss. Most cannot verify the miraculous results that they promise and some are potentially quite harmful.

Recognizing that most fad diets share similar characteristics is the first step in avoiding these often frustrating approaches to weight management. In general, unsound weight loss plans:

  • promise rapid or dramatic results
  • restrict one or more foods or food groups
  • promote so-called miracle products, supplements or food choices
  • encourage bizarre eating patterns or food combinations
  • suggest that their approach is painless and easy.

Focus on eating for health, instead of dieting. Traditional weight loss diets are often nutritionally unbalanced, too restrictive, and woefully unsuccessful. As a result, most people cannot stick with this kind of eating pattern long-term so achieving a healthy weight becomes impossible.

Canada's Food Guide to Healthy Eating is an easy-to-use blueprint for good nutrition and a practical alternate to dieting. The Food Guide breaks foods into four basic groups and provides guidance on how many servings from each group you need to choose each day to maintain the best health. By aiming for the lower end of the serving range for each food group you can construct a nutrient-rich eating style that is low enough in calories to promote gradual, healthy weight loss.

Don't let hunger control you. Hunger is a powerful, physical instinct that drives humans to seek out food. Contrary to many dieting myths, hunger cannot be ignored. Allowing yourself to become hungry will make healthy eating a challenge, and typically promotes an eating binge at some point during the day.

Frequent eating is the key to avoiding hunger. Aim to eat something every two to three hours during the waking part of your day. Don't skip meals or snacks in the hopes of cutting calories. If necessary, carry healthy snack foods with you to ensure you have something to eat when hunger calls. Weight wise, healthy snacks include:

  • three to four crackers and one ounce of lower-fat cheese.
  • one piece of fruit and 3/4 cup (175 ml) low fat yogurt.
  • three to four graham wafers and 3/4 cup (175 ml) fruit juice.
  • raw vegetables with four teaspoons of lower-fat dip.
  • one sandwich made with lower-fat meat, fresh vegetables and condiments like mustard, relish or cranberry sauce.
  • one protein-energy bar containing 200-250 calories.

With all snacks, include one to two glasses of water.

Recognize the factors that cue you to overeat. Hunger is not the only reason that people eat. Stress, boredom, fatigue, excitement, fear and just being around food can signal you to eat even though you may not be truly hungry.

Take the time to consider what may cause you to overeat. Develop a plan to side-step these barriers to weight management. For example, break free from boredom-inspired eating by getting up and out. Volunteer to coach your child's school team, take a continuing education class, or go for a walk. Interfere with your eating cues by identifying them and establishing new behaviour patterns.

Develop portion perspective. The past decade has seen the size of restaurant portions grow significantly. It's now it easier to over do it when eating out and many people are unsure about what makes up a portion of food.

Canada's Food Guide to Healthy Eating describes portion sizes for a variety of foods. To help make this information meaningful, consider measuring your food choices for one to two days. This will help you gain a visual appreciation for how much space portion sizes for various foods occupy on your plate. This approach will allow you to see when you've got too much of a good thing. The amount of food that you hold in your cupped hand is also a good general rule for the amount of food at each meal.


The National Eating Disorder Information Center
Health Canada

Opt for small changes, instead of a complete lifestyle 'renovation.' Changing behaviour takes work and building new eating habits or creating an active lifestyle are no exceptions. However, you can make things much easier if you phase in change slowly and over time. Research shows that people adapt best to small changes rather than complete lifestyle renovations. Recognizing this, don't aim to change your eating habits overnight. Focus on making over one meal or one food choice at a time, letting yourself become comfortable with your new approach before adding anything new. Gradually increase your activity level rather than setting a goal to work out for a prescribed period of time every day of the week.

Achieving a healthy body weight can lower your risk for disease and significantly improve your overall sense of well-being. Don't allow yourself to get caught up in hype that surrounds this common concern. Instead, focus on what really works for weight loss: healthy eating, active living, commitment and hard work.

FAMILY HEALTH is written with the assistance of
Alberta College of Family Physicians
FAMILY HEALTH is written with the assistance of
Alberta College of Family Physicians
While effort is made to reflect accepted medical knowledge and practice, articles in Family Health Online should not be relied upon for the treatment or management of any specifid medical problem or concern and Family Health accepts no liability for reliance on the articles. For proper diagnosis and care, you should always consult your family physican promptly. Copyright 2012, Family Health Magazine, a special publication of the Edmonton Journal, a division of Postmedia Network Inc., 10006 - 101 Street, Edmonton, AB T5J 0S1  [NU_FHa02]
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