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Food, Fitness and Losing Weight: The Complexities of a Simple Plan

March 27, 2018

[caption id="attachment_13462" align="alignleft" width="150"] Peter Ford[/caption] It always sounds easy when we talk with our health-care provider about the importance of exercise and diet in reaching and maintaining a healthy weight. So why is it so difficult to do? It’s a challenge for many overweight or obese teens and adults. It’s not surprising that many of us find it difficult, at best, to shop and prepare healthy foods and resist the urge of eating at fast-food restaurants. We’re too busy with our stress-filled daily lives. Most of us know what foods are “healthy” or not, but making the right choice can be overwhelming. For those who try to be diligent with dietary choices, how many actually know what an appropriate “serving size” really is? So much information is available, with so many perceptions of what “eating healthy” means. Then there is exercise. How many times have you heard this exhortation from your health care provider: “You need to exercise at least five days a week for an hour”? What does that mean? Most of us have our own idea or definition of exercise, but how often does it align with what is required to achieve a healthy weight? Let me try to clear some of the smoke and move some of the mirrors from this discussion. First, it is important to build a strong understanding of healthy dietary guidelines. Second, adopt a definition of exercise as it pertains specifically to weight management. Finally, it is imperative to have a fundamental and honest commitment to change. Diet Pattern and balance are two very important concepts with healthy eating. First, maintain a healthy baseline metabolism by distributing food throughout the day. Don’t skip meals. Eating breakfast and one or two healthy snacks can help keep us on track. Finally, understand balance between proteins, fats and “good” carbohydrates. We need them all as a part of a healthy diet. Take the time to weigh and measure your food and keep a log for accountability and accuracy. Exercise The benefits of regular exercise stretch long and wide. Not only does exercise help with weight loss and management, but it also helps reduce the risk for high blood pressure, heart disease, diabetes, osteoporosis and some types of cancer. It is critical to understand how to define exercise if we are hoping to elicit some of its healthy influences. Start with this simple definition of exercise: “Physical activity done for the sake of moving.” Then establish realistic expectations and set a measurable goal. For instance, “I will walk at lunch three days this week for 10 minutes.” Next, establish a routine that fits your lifestyle’s demands. Start slowly and increase gradually, maybe two to three days per week for 10 to 15 minutes and work up over several months to five days per week for 30 to 60 minutes. Set weekly goals to improve and progress. Add muscular strength and endurance exercises if you have access. Improving muscular strength and endurance goes a long way for our bone health and keeps our baseline metabolism from decreasing over time. Remember the “FITT” principle:

  • F: Frequency: 3-5 times per week.
  • I: Intensity: Low to moderate effort and gradually increase over time.
  • T: Time: 30-60 minutes per session.
  • T: Type: Low-impact activities that are “fun.”
Finally, exercise safely. Stay well-hydrated before and after exercise. Wear proper clothing and footwear. Do not exercise in extreme weather conditions. If you experience chest pain, light-headedness or dizziness, shortness of breath or pain of any source, stop immediately and seek help. You must decide to make a commitment to change if you want to reach your goals. Help is everywhere, but you must take the first step. Peter Ford is a medical weight loss specialist at the Hartford HealthCare Surgical & Medical Weight Loss Center.