Chapter 8 – Weight Management

Weight Management Through Diet

The majority of Americans are unhappy with their current weight. Almost everyone would like to lose at least 5 pounds. A growing percentage of Americans are carrying enough excess weight to put them at risk for many diseases and even death. Few people, however, know enough about their own bodies to successfully manage their weight. Anyone planning to start a weight loss program should begin by carefully considering the following factors:

  • How many calories are being consumed daily? Myplate or HappyForks
  • How many calories are being expended? BMR calculator
  • How much fluids are being consumed?
  • How well are electrolytes being managed?

Achieving one’s ideal weight can be a challenge. But like most endeavors in life, knowledge is power. The more people know about their diet, the better equipped they will be to manage their weight. Most people focus on the number of calories consumed. However, it is also important for them to know how many macronutrients are in the foods they eat. The most effective way to do this is performing a 10-day nutritional intake analysis. These analyses are best done on consecutive days to account for the habitual ebb and flow of one’s daily food intake.

Remaining healthy during any weight loss program is paramount. Fad diets that promise quick results do not consider the effects of rapid weight loss on the body. Restricting weight loss to 1 to 2 pounds a week is a far healthier approach. Slow weight loss also prevents the body from burning lean muscle since the body can only burn a certain amount of fat in a week. Dieters who experience steady declines in weight are more likely to keep the weight off. The term “diet” is often synonymous with strict routines that require drastic changes in one’s eating habits. In reality, the term “diet” simply describes the intake of food.

To lose weight, dieters need a clear understanding of how weight loss occurs. One pound of fat loss is going to require a reduction in caloric intake of 3,500 calories. When viewed in terms of daily food intake, to lose a pound a week, a dieter needs to reduce their daily food intake by 500 calories a day: 3,500 calories/7 days= 500 calories per day. To successfully lose 2 pounds per week, that reduction would have to be doubled to 1,000 calories per day. Attempting to lose 2 pounds or more per week would require a calorie reduction too drastic to be maintained and too restrictive to be healthy. Thus the recommendation of combining diet and exercise is the most effective method for experiencing weight loss. Subtracting 500 calories of food intake and exerting 500 calories in exercise will provide that same 1000 calorie reduction, but in a manner that is far easier to maintain, and certainly more enjoyable.

No matter what your weight loss goal is, even a modest weight loss, such as 5 to 10 percent of your total body weight, is likely to produce health benefits, such as improvements in blood pressure, blood cholesterol, and blood sugars.1

Getting Started with Weight Loss

On its website, the CDC explains the importance of including physical activity as part of any weight loss program. You can find information about the benefits of physical activity, recommended levels of physical activity, and the number of calories burned during common activities in this step-by-step guide to healthy weight loss. That same information is reprinted below for your convenience:

Step 1: Make a commitment.

Making the decision to lose weight, change your lifestyle, and become healthier is a big step to take. Start simply by making a commitment to yourself. Many people find it helpful to sign a written contract committing to the process. This contract may include things like the amount of weight you want to lose, the date you would like to lose the weight by, the dietary changes you will make to establish healthy eating habits, and a plan for getting regular physical activity.

Writing down the reasons why you want to lose weight can also help. It might be because you have a family history of heart disease, or because you want to see your kids get married, or simply because you want to feel better in your clothes. Post these reasons where they serve as a daily reminder of why you want to make this change.

Step 2: Take stock of where you are.

Consider talking to your health care provider. He or she can evaluate your height, weight, and explore other weight-related risk factors you may have. Ask for a follow-up appointment to monitor changes in your weight or any related health conditions.

Keep a “food diary” for a few days, in which you write down everything you eat. By doing this, you become more aware of what you are eating and when you are eating. This awareness can help you avoid mindless eating.

Next, examine your current lifestyle. Identify things that might pose challenges to your weight loss efforts. For example, does your work or travel schedule make it difficult to get enough physical activity? Do you find yourself eating sugary foods because that is what you buy for your kids? Do your coworkers frequently bring high-calorie items, such as doughnuts, to the workplace to share with everyone? Think through things you can do to help overcome these challenges.

Finally, think about aspects of your lifestyle that can help you lose weight. For example, is there an area near your workplace where you and some coworkers can take a walk at lunchtime? Is there a place in your community, such as a YMCA, with exercise facilities for you and child care for your kids?

Step 3: Set realistic goals.

Set some short-term goals and reward your efforts along the way. If your long-term goal is to lose 40 pounds and to control your high blood pressure, some short-term eating and physical activity goals might be to start eating breakfast, taking a 15-minute walk in the evenings, or having a salad or vegetable with supper.

Focus on two or three goals at a time. Great, effective goals are:

  • Specific
  • Realistic
  • Forgiving (less than perfect)

For example, “Exercise more” is not a specific goal. But if you say, “I will walk 15 minutes, 3 days a week for the first week,” you are setting a specific and realistic goal for the first week.

Remember, small changes every day can lead to big results in the long run. Also, remember that realistic goals are achievable goals. By achieving your short-term goals day by day, you will feel good about your progress and be motivated to continue. Setting unrealistic goals, such as losing 20 pounds in 2 weeks, can leave you feeling defeated and frustrated.

Being realistic also means expecting occasional setbacks. Setbacks happen when you get away from your plan for whatever reason—maybe the holidays, longer work hours, or another life change. When setbacks happen, get back on track as quickly as possible. Also, take some time to think about what you would do differently if a similar situation happens, to prevent setbacks.

Keep in mind everyone is different—what works for someone else might not be right for you. Just because your neighbor lost weight by taking up running, doesn’t mean running is the best option for you. Try a variety of activities: walking, swimming, tennis, or group exercise classes, to see what you enjoy most and can fit into your life. These activities will be easier to stick with over the long term.

Step 4: Identify resources for information and support.

Find family members or friends who will support your weight loss efforts. Making lifestyle changes can feel easier when you have others you can talk to and rely on for support. You might have coworkers or neighbors with similar goals, and together you can share healthful recipes and plan group exercise. Joining a weight loss group or visiting a health care professional, such as a registered dietitian, can help.

Step 5: Continually “check in” with yourself to monitor your progress.

Revisit the goals you set for yourself in Step 3 and evaluate your progress regularly. If you set a goal to walk each morning but are having trouble fitting it in before work, see if you can shift your work hours or if you can get your walk in at lunchtime or after work. Evaluate which parts of your plan are working well and which ones need tweaking. Then rewrite your goals and plan accordingly.

If you are consistently achieving a particular goal, add a new goal to help you continue on your pathway to success.

Reward yourself for your successes! Recognize when you are meeting your goals and be proud of your progress. Use non-food rewards, such as a new workout top or bottom or a new pair of running shoes, a sports outing with friends, or a relaxing bath. Rewards help keep you motivated on the path to better health.2


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Health and Fitness for Life Copyright © 2019 by Dawn Markell and Diane Peterson is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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