Obesity has become a national epidemic in the US of the late 20th and early 21st century. The statistics show that 2/3 of American adults are significantly overweight or obese. Even 3/5 of our children are very overweight or obese. Add capitalism to this outsize problem and the natural result is a multi-billion dollar weight-loss industry. Whether widely known companies like Weight Watchers and Jenny Craig, or your friendly neighborhood personal trainer, everyone seems ready to sell us a service or product that will pave the way to our dream body. Ads show slim, athletic, beautiful people, ready to convince us we’re just a phone call or mouse-click away from a new gorgeous us (never mind the small-print disclaimer “results not typical” placed at the bottom at the insistence of corporate lawyers). Reality TV shows depict morbidly obese people transforming and becoming slim, healthy and athletic, all within 60 minutes of an episode, or at most, a season. Viewers watch these shows by the millions, many while guzzling sodas and munching on chips and dips.
So is there truly no hope for the overweight? Are we doomed to repeated cycles of minimal weight loss using the latest fad diet, only to regain the lost weight with interest? Is normal weight a forlorn dream for all but the fortunate few with the right genetics and/or good childhood habits? No! Losing weight and keeping it off may not be as easy as sitting in front of the TV with the greatest effort being clicking a remote control, or perhaps getting up for another raid on the fridge. It is, however, very doable for the great majority of us, if we only learn a few important tips, and follow them dutifully until they become new, healthier habits.
How I gained Far Too Much Weight and How I Lost Most of It
Just over 10 years ago I went through a rough time in my personal life. The details of my personal case are unimportant. The details will differ from your personal trials, but the level of stress, anxiety, anger, etc. are likely similar. It might have been stress hormones, or the lack of mental energy to deal with eating right and staying physically active on top of dealing with the day to day challenges, or perhaps a combination of both, but in a year I gained 50 lbs. Body mass index (BMI), ratio of height to waist, pant size, or any other measure you cared to use, all showed I was on the borderline between very overweight and obese, and perhaps a bit over that border.
While I did not suffer any medical conditions or maladies that frequently accompany being overweight, maladies such as diabetes, high blood pressure, heart attacks, and strokes, it was only a matter of time before one or more of these would introduce themselves into my life. According to the Medical College of Wisconsin’s Coronary Heart Disease Risk calculator, the average ten-year probability of serious heart attack or stroke for American males in their late 40s is 11%. Yes, that’s right. If you know 9 average American guys in their late 40s, the likelihood is that within the next decade, at least one of them will have a massive coronary or stroke. While I wasn’t quite there, my probability was getting close to that scary average.
Then, with the help and inspiration of my wife, and following fairly straightforward and sane tips (see below), I made overdue changes, and in 2 years lost 35 lbs and reduced my waist size 5”. I’m still heavier than I’d like, and am working on shedding another 15 lbs and 4” from my midsection, but the direction of change has shifted. Rather than getting heavier and heavier, I’m getting lighter and more trim.
The “top ten tips” I learned for what I call sane weight loss are not complicated, though some may appear counter-intuitive. The gist is that sane weight loss is a matter of maintaining reasonable eating habits, reasonable levels of physical activity, and staying aware of both. These are not things I invented, but they are ones I’ve learned and adopted into my life that have helped me more than 2/3 of the way down to my ideal weight, and counting.
My Top Ten Tips for Sane Weight Loss
- Set a goal, write it down, share it – Make your goal concrete, perhaps “by September 1st I will weigh 120 lbs” or better yet “by November 15 I will fit into my skinny jeans”. Write it down and read it frequently to stay present to what you’re trying to accomplish. Share your goal with your spouse or best friend, along with what you’re doing to reach it, and your progress. Most of us are motivated to look good to people who are important to us. Giving up on an important goal doesn’t look good, so sharing with others sets us up for staying the course when things get tough. Make sure your goal is reasonable, however. Losing 3 pant or dress sizes in 3 months is not easy, but is doable. Doing the same in 3 weeks in neither healthy or sustainable. It’s also a good idea to check with your doctor before changing your level of activity in a very significant way. This is true especially if you have any medical issues like diabetes, heart problems, high blood pressure, etc., but even if you’re healthy but have been sedentary for a long time.
- Keep your total calorie intake reasonable – Depending what you read, the daily total number of calories our body burns by simply living, known as your Basal Metabolic Rate (BMR), varies. Discovery.com has a BMR calculator you can use to calculate your number. According to Dr. Oz in an episode of his eponymous show, your estimated BMR is about 200 plus 8 times your body weight in lbs. The nutrition guide accompanying the widely known P90X in-home workout program, estimates your BMR at about 10 times your body weight in lbs. Add to your favorite version whatever you burn in exercises, subtract a few hundred calories, and you’ll lose weight. For example, if you weigh 150 lbs and burn 400 calories a day working out, you could calculate 200 + 8*150 + 400 = 1800 which is the number of calories that should maintain your weight (the P90X calculation would be 10*150 + 400 = 1900). Subtract 300 calories a day and you should lose about a pound every couple of weeks.
- Keep your fat calorie intake low – Some recommend no more than 10% of calories from fat, but a more reasonable 20-25% is more doable, and good enough to achieve sane weight loss.
- Eat high-nutrition meals – If your meals provide all the nutrients your body needs it will reduce your cravings.
- Snacking is good for you, if done right – Eat three meals a day, but add healthy snacks two or three times in-between meals. Good snacks include fruits, nuts, protein bars, etc. Avoid snacks with high fat content like candy bars and chips.
- Whatever you do, don’t go hungry – your body will go into starvation mode and become more efficient. “Efficient” sounds good, but the result is burning fewer calories doing the same work, implying less weight loss. Don’t take this to mean you can eat everything in sight as long as you feel any hunger. Eat slowly, and don’t watch TV or read at the same time. You’ll feel sated earlier and avoid over-eating.
- Combine resistance training with cardio workouts – Resistance training, using weights or resistance bands, builds muscles, which burn fat even when you’re not active. Cardio workouts burn more calories during activity.
- Vary your workouts – This is the main premise of such successful fitness programs as Beach Body’s P90X, which is one of my favorites. Tony Horton, the trainer who developed P90X calls it “muscle confusion”. If you get into a routine of the same workout all the time your body will become more efficient at it, you’ll burn fewer and fewer calories doing the same work, and your weight will plateau.
- Keep track of the calories you eat and those you burn – If you accurately record what you eat throughout the day, every day, you’ll become much more conscious of what and how much you eat. This is a huge factor in successful weight loss. For example, MyFitnessPal is a free online tool for tracking your workouts and eating, and the community there is supportive with very little negativity.
- Everything in moderation – If most of the time you keep to whatever guidelines you adopt, but don’t hold yourself to an unattainable goal of “perfect eating” and “perfect workouts”, you’ll do much better in the long run. This is because you’ll be able to turn your choices into a new lifestyle. If you try for perfection you’ll feel deprived and end up binging on junk food and giving up exercising.
My Weight-Loss Results
Following the above tips, I’ve not only dropped 35 lbs and 5″, I’ve also reduce my ten-year risk of heart attack or stroke by a whopping 57%, to a level far below the average for my age. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out this is a good thing.
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