Lose big by not winning! Why weight loss competitions probably won’t help you lose weight and what to do instead.

There are numerous community and workplace weight loss competitions and fitness challenges underway in our area right now. These programs are a popular way to start making health improvements with friends or coworkers. Many people find the competition aspect of these programs to be motivating. Even those who are reluctant to start a diet or exercise program are more likely to give it a try. But this raises the question, are “biggest loser” type weight loss programs effective at promoting lasting weight loss? This is the topic of my Health & Fitness column in the Aiken Standard this week.

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Get out of debt—health debt—in 2019.

Getting out of debt is a worthwhile goal and a common New Year’s resolution. This almost always means financial debt, which is a burden for millions of Americans. Many individuals and families have gotten themselves into debt by spending too much and not saving enough. For most, this situation has been years in the making, has no simple solution, and will have an impact lasting years into the future. Reducing this debt is essential for achieving financial health.

This is not the only type of debt we face—many people are also in health debt. Poor eating habits and increasingly sedentary lifestyles have led to an obesity epidemic. The problem is widespread, since most Americans are overweight, fewer than half of US adults meet minimum recommendations for physical activity, and about one in six adults smoke. Alone and especially in combination, these poor health habits are the major causes of the most common, and preventable, diseases including diabetes, heart disease, and some cancers.

Even if we have not been diagnosed with diabetes or heart disease or other health problems, our lifestyle has put us on that path. Small changes in what we eat or how active we are have added up over the years to create a condition of poor health. And our overall health and potential complications get worse year after year, so the longer we are overweight and inactive, the worse our health is likely to be in the future. That is our health debt. This is the topic of my Health & Fitness column in the Aiken Standard this week.

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When it comes to assessing your health, honesty is the best policy.

Have you ever justified your weight by saying you are “big-boned”? What about your eating and exercise habits? How often do you really eat out? How many days did you actually get to the gym last month? Are you being honest with yourself when it comes to your health? And are you asking others to be honest with you?

Being honest about your health is the topic of my Health & Fitness column in the Aiken Standard this week. This is particularly important if you are making New Year’s resolutions, so it’s just in time!


Being honest with yourself is essential for initiating health behavior changes and setting good goals. For example, someone who tells themselves they need to lose “a few pounds” may really need to lose much more and may not take their weight loss as seriously as they should. Convincing yourself that you are doing more exercise than you really are may mean that you won’t see the fitness or weight loss results you were expecting.

This type of self-deception is easy to do. Take body weight for example. The current standard for determining if you are at a healthy weight is body mass index (BMI), calculated from your weight and height (kg/m2). It requires a bit of math, so using a mobile app or online calculator is a good idea.

A BMI between 18.5 and 24.9 is considered normal, 25-29.9 is overweight, and if your BMI is 30 or higher, you are classified as obese. To put this in perspective, a BMI of 30 is equivalent to about 25–30 pounds of excess fat.

Let’s say your BMI puts you in the obese category, suggesting you should lose weight. But then you think about an article you read about how BMI isn’t accurate because you can be considered obese if you have excess muscle, not fat. And then there was the story on the news suggesting that it is okay to be obese as long as you are physically fit. So, maybe you don’t need to worry about your weight!

See how easy it is to tell yourself that you don’t really need to lose weight? In reality, BMI is an accurate method of assessing your body fatness; the inaccuracies reported in the news almost always involve athletes or people with lots of muscle mass developed through physical labor. Be honest…is that really you? It’s also true that people who are fit and fat can be healthier than people who are thin and sedentary, but it requires a lot of exercise to reach that level of fitness. Again, are you really that fit?

Probably the best test is to take a good look in the mirror and be honest about what you see. Try to “pinch an inch” of fat around your belly. One inch isn’t necessarily a problem, but take notice if you can pinch a handful of fat. Measuring your waist circumference (or looking at your pants size) can give you the same information. People who have a high BMI because of extra muscle, like athletes, have thin waists. If your waist circumference is greater than 35 inches ( women) or 40 inches (men), you have excess fat.

This honesty also applies to others, including your doctor. Many physicians are reluctant to discuss weight and weight loss with their patients, and many patients don’t want to hear what they interpret as a personal attack. Don’t be one of those patients! Ask your doctor for an honest assessment about your weight and the impact it might have on your health.

This is a real problem. According to one report, only 39 percent of obese people surveyed had ever been told by a health care provider that they were obese.     To help combat this problem, the American Medical Association has developed resources to help physicians better communicate with patients about their weight.

Making changes to diet and activity habits is a difficult process, to be sure. Telling yourself that you don’t need to make them only delays getting started and can lead to poor health in the meantime. When it comes to your health, honesty is the best policy!


Santa’s annual fitness report

Since Christmas is this week our attention is naturally focused on one person: Santa Claus. Have you ever wondered how Santa gets in shape for his yearly sleigh ride to deliver gifts to good boys and girls around the globe? Like many elite athletes, Santa does not publicly discuss his training or his fitness. There are certainly no published studies that report his one repetition maximum strength or his maximal oxygen uptake. Given this lack of information, I attempted to make an educated guess about Santa’s training, fitness, and health. This is the topic of my Health & Fitness column in the Aiken Standard this week.

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Don’t wait for January 1st, get a head start on your New Year’s resolutions now.

It’s almost time to get started on your New Year’s resolutions. If your goal is to eat healthier, lose weight, start to exercise, or quit smoking, you are not alone. Not only are these some of the most common changes people want to make, but these are also among the most challenging behaviors to alter. Progressing from just starting out on January 1 to successfully changing habits, in the long run, can be a difficult and lengthy process. Here (and in my Health & Fitness column in the Aiken Standard this week) are some simple steps you can take now to get a head start on New Year’s resolutions.

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2018 HOLIDAY HEALTH AND FITNESS READING LIST

Looking for a good book to read? Maybe you have some extra time during the holidays or need a gift idea for a friend or family member. Here are some suggestions related to nutrition, exercise, and health, all written by experts in a way that make them easy to read and understand. While some of these books have been around for a while, the information in them is just a relevant today as the day they were published. Together, these books provide the why and how of smart eating, sitting less, and moving more.

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Maintain, don’t gain, this holiday season: Six tips for preventing holiday weight gain.

Now that Thanksgiving has passed, the holiday season is in full swing. In addition to spending time with family and friends, the big events of the season also seem to involve shopping and eating. This will almost certainly result in big numbers on your credit card bill. And, because holiday weight gain is a reality for most people, on your bathroom scale, too!

This is the topic of my Health & Fitness column in the Aiken Standard this week.

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Research shows that, on average, people gain about one pound between Thanksgiving and the new year. The problem is that this extra weight may not be lost during the spring or summer, meaning that holiday weight gain can be a contributor to the gradual increase in weight, about one pound per year, that most people experience over time.

The good news is that the weight gain that typically occurs during the holidays can be prevented. Since people tend to gain less than one pound, even small changes to what you eat and your activity can make a difference, without taking away from your holiday cheer. Here are some strategies:

Stay active. The average holiday weight gain could be prevented by walking about one mile, or about 20 minutes, per day. Since time may be a factor, you can turn a shopping trip into a chance to be active by taking an extra lap around the mall or parking further away in the parking lot. Go for a walk when you have free time—and take your family and friends (and dog) with you.

Stay away from the food. Most holiday parties include lots of food, and usually not the healthiest choices. You can reduce the amount you eat by limiting your time near the food—literally, fill your plate and move away from the food. Using a smaller plate will reduce the amount of food you take, too. Getting rid of the candy dish on your desk at work or the plate of treats on the countertop at home are also smart ideas.

Don’t drink your calories. Alcoholic beverages, soda, and juice all contain calories and can add up to a big part of your total calorie intake. Many beverages, including hot chocolate and coffee drinks, can easily contain hundreds of calories. This doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy your favorite drinks, but enjoy them in moderation.

Plan ahead. If you are trying to watch what you eat, have a healthy snack before you go to a party. You will feel less hungry so you will probably be less inclined to eat as much. If you are bringing a dish to the party, make it something healthy that you like.

Focus on family and friends, not food. The holidays are a time to enjoy special meals and events with family and friends, and that should be your focus. You should enjoy your favorite foods and drinks, just do it in moderation.

Give yourself a break! Healthy eating and exercise are always important, but they are more difficult to do around the holidays. In research, even people who said they were trying to lose weight over the holidays ended up gaining about a half pound. So, do your best maintaining your healthy habits, accept that you may struggle, and make a commitment to get back on track after the holidays!

The bottom line is that you can prevent holiday weight gain by watching what you eat and staying active. It is easier to keep the weight off than it is to lose it later, so a little extra effort now is worth it in the long run. Considering that many people plan to exercise and lose weight after the holidays, you could get a jump-start on your New Year’s resolutions along with making this a happy and healthy holiday season.


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