Butler County Times Gazette
  • HealthStyle: How to win the battle of the bulge

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  • Many Americans suffer with problems of obesity. It is estimated that nearly two-thirds of Americans are now overweight and many have given up the struggle to return to a healthy weight. As your weight increases, the chances of losing it seem to slip away. If you lose only a pound here and a pound there, any chance for significant weight loss seems to be out of reach. You get discouraged and stop trying.
    The risks of obesity and being overweight are many. It is the number one public health problem in America, leading to multiple diseases. Weight related diseases include hypertension, Type II diabetes, fatty organs, acid reflux, heart disease, shortness of breath, joint pain, lowered immune response, stroke, high cholesterol, sleep apnea and premature death. The costs of medical care for these diseases has skyrocketed to $147 billion for Medicare and Social Security Disability claims in one year. People who are obese spend 42 percent more on medical care, 72 percent more on medications, and 48 percent more time in the hospital. That adds up to as much as $10,000 more per year in health care costs.
    The factors that can influence excessive weight gain are different for each person. The trajectory toward obesity can begin as early as five or six years old when hereditary factors and family lifestyle can contribute to the problem. You can inherit certain genetic predispositions for weight gain. However, in most cases heredity can be overcome with a healthy lifestyle. If the family meals include many calorie dense foods you not only gain excessive weight but you are likely to develop unhealthy eating habits as an adult. Family schedules may be arranged around the foods that are fast and easy but also more likely to be unhealthy. If the family eats a lot in restaurants many of the foods tend to be in larger portions and may have too much of the “big three” - fats, sugar and salt - in them. Subsequently the entire family can easily become “biggie-sized.”
    What about your body? It seems to betray you too. Your taste buds seem to prefer donuts over broccoli. The taste of processed foods may also be engineered to maximize your consumption. “You can’t just eat one” is not just a catchy slogan in a commercial. And it doesn’t help that your body is biologically predisposed to store foods for energy. But in modern life you do not need all of that stored food energy that will be enable you to run ten miles, chase down an antelope, kill it with your spear, and drag it back home. Instead you are more likely to eat a bag of potato chips while you sit on the couch, turn on the TV, and watch someone else catch that antelope. Women’s bodies tend to gain more weight with pregnancy but many women gain excessive weight during pregnancy and do not lose it. Hormones sometimes play a part in increasing susceptibility to weight gain or slower body metabolism. Some medications also contribute to weight gain.
    Page 2 of 3 - You may also be mentally conditioned for excessive consumption of foods. Many of the commercials and ads are designed to make food look even better than it tastes. On any city street and you can see multiple temptations to stop and grab a snack. Each one beckons, “Come and try me.” Before you know it you are mentally tasting that mouth-watering pizza or those delicious French Fries and stopping in to sample some.
    Much of your social life probably revolves around getting together to eat with friends and family? People who are overweight often have friends who are also overweight. Eating too much or unhealthy foods becomes the norm in the peer group. And what kind of a host would you be if you didn’t serve food when guests come to your home? Pass around those carrots and cauliflower and they might not come back again!
    Don’t forget an important part of the weight loss equation is calorie expenditure. Most Americans spend too much time in sedentary activities. Sitting at work, in a car, and finally at home does nothing to burn up calories. Opportunities for walking, running, and even moving may be very limited in your daily routine.
    While it may seem hopeless with all of these obstacles it is possible to lose weight. It involves a new psychology of self and food utilization. Successful weight reduction requires increased knowledge and awareness of all of the potential threats to your health and a belief in your power to control your life called self efficacy. All of the factors that can influence weight gain can be managed if you first become more aware of the subtle and not so subtle triggers for relapse. This includes our thoughts, beliefs, emotions, and the environment. It requires conscious living or achieving a level of mindfulness about yourself that most of us are not accustomed to practicing.
    Consider the vision you have of yourself. If you imagine yourself as a healthy person you are more likely to act in ways that are congruent with the way a healthy person acts. You will consciously seek health enhancing activities and be more aware of the choices you make.
    Use behavior modification principles to set up your life for managed eating such as eating slowly, making a food journal, and developing alternative ways to manage feelings.
    Be patient and set realistic goals for weight loss. Weight gain did not happen overnight. Practice healthy behaviors and weight loss will follow.
    Be aware of the foods you have around you. Certain foods may look good, taste good and smell good but they create havoc with your organ systems. Remove them from your home and surroundings. Become knowledgeable about foods and read labels. Buy more fruits and vegetables.
    Eat more rationally and less emotionally. Change your view of food. Food must be viewed as a means for sustenance instead of a way to make yourself temporarily feel good, manage stress, conquer boredom or reduce bad feelings.
    Page 3 of 3 - And don’t forget to move every day. Hop, skip, walk, run, jump or dance. Just get your body to experience enough motion to use up some of that stored food energy.
    Being a healthy person of normal weight is not convenient. It requires an investment of time, thought, and planning. It requires a change in some of the beliefs you have held about yourself for a long time. The dividends can be a new and happier way of living your life and loving yourself.
    David Gannon, Ph.D., Psychological and Family Consultants, Canton, Ohio.
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