Tag Archives: weight loss

Telling the truth to yourself and hearing–no, expecting–it from others.

Earlier this week I wrote about the importance of being honest with yourself about your health. Unless you can honestly assess your own health and health behaviors, making meaningful changes simply won’t work. Living in denial about your weight or eating and exercise behaviors means that you can’t recognize what you need to change.

We should also expect others to be honest with us, too. While family and friends may be hesitant to voice their thoughts, especially about sensitive topics like weight, we should expect them to be supportive. And we should certainly expect medical professionals to tell us the truth about our health, even if we don’t want to hear it.

Unfortunately, many doctors, nurses, and fitness/wellness professionals are reluctant to bring up topics like weight for fear of offending a patient or client. This was expressed eloquently in a recent article in the New York Times.

While the goal should never be to offend or ridicule, I believe that health professionals should always bring up potential health issues and talk honestly about what people can do to improve their health.

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Honesty is the best policy when it comes to your health

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.

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!

Nutrition, exercise, and health information can be confusing. 
But it doesn't have to be that way.
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 drbrianparr@gmail.com | http://twitter.com/drbrianparr

Stay cool and get fit by going for a swim

It’s hot! Whether you are swimming laps or splashing in a lake, swimming is a great way to stay cool. Swimming is also an excellent exercise for improving your fitness and helping with weight loss.

This is the topic of my Health & Fitness column in the Aiken Standard this week. You can also find more information about the fitness and health benefits of swimming from something I wrote previously.


There is nothing that feels better on a hot summer day than going for a swim. But beyond being a fun way to cool down, swimming is a great way to get in shape. Swimming is also an excellent exercise for injury rehabilitation or for people with certain conditions like arthritis.

The fitness benefits of swimming are well established. Since swimming is a whole-body exercise it uses all of your major muscle groups, building strength, endurance, and aerobic fitness. Highly trained swimmers have VO2max values, considered the best measure of aerobic fitness, that are similar to runners and cyclists. If you have doubts about the fitness benefits of swimming, think about how muscular and lean Olympic swimmers are.

Depending on the stroke and speed, swimming ranges between 5 to 10 METs. (METs are units used to measure the intensity of activity; one MET is equivalent to sitting at rest) For example, doing the backstroke at a moderate speed is about 5 METs while swimming laps freestyle with vigorous effort is about 10 METs.

This range is similar to walking at 4 mph up to jogging at a 9 minute per mile pace. What if you are just spending time in the pool or lake rather than swimming laps? Swimming leisurely is 6 METs, still a decent workout.

Swimming is a great way to burn calories, too. Even at a moderate pace, swimming laps for 30 minutes can burn over 200 calories. The exact energy expenditure depends on the stroke (butterfly is highest, backstroke is lowest) and the speed, but for most people swimming will burn as many calories as spending the same amount of time exercising on land.

There are two major reasons for this. First, water is more dense than air, so you need to expend more energy to move your body through the water. Second, swimming is a whole-body exercise which requires more muscle activity compared to walking or jogging which mostly involve the legs.

You may be surprised to learn that novice swimmers expend more energy per lap than elite swimmers. For example, one study showed that competitive swimmers expend only 280 calories to swim a mile, while less experienced swimmers burn about 440 calories to cover the same distance. The reason for this is that experienced swimmers are more efficient, so they expend less energy.

Aquatic exercise is popular for both therapeutic and fitness purposes, especially for people who don’t tolerate exercise on land well. When you are submerged up to your waist, 50% of your weight is supported; when you are up to your chest, about 75% is supported. This reduces the impact of exercise in the water, perfect for people who have arthritis, osteoporosis, severe obesity, or who are recovering from injuries.

Exercise in the water doesn’t have to mean swimming laps. Water aerobics, aqua walking or jogging, and resistance training using foam “weights” or webbed gloves offer safe ways to increase strength and endurance for almost everyone. Most fitness facilities that have a pool offer group aquatic exercise classes and you can find instructions online for exercises that you can do in your own pool.

The hot summer weather makes swimming and other water exercise appealing. But even if you don’t use the time for exercise, spending time playing in the pool or lake can still burn as many calories as going for a walk and is a great way to have fun and cool down!

Lose, win, gain: The fate of Biggest Losers

The Biggest Loser has been in the news again this week. This time, though, the focus isn’t on the remarkable transformations the contestants experience through a strict low-calorie diet combined with hours of vigorous exercise each day.  The results are impressive considering that the average weight loss of the winners is almost 170 pounds, or nearly 50% of their original weight! The show does demonstrate that hard work and dedication do lead to results, and provides inspiration for many viewers who should lose weight themselves.

But what happens when the cameras are turned off? Unfortunately, most of the contestants regain much of the weight they lost during the show and some end up even heavier than they were at the beginning. A new study published last week confirms that this is true and suggests that long-lasting changes to metabolic rate are to blame. But there is more to the story, which is relevant to anyone who has lost weight and gained it back, as I explain in my Health & Fitness Column in the Aiken Standard this week.

feet on scale

The new study followed contestants from season 8 of the Biggest Loser for six years. Only one of the 14 contestants continued to lose weight after the show ended. The others gained back much of the weight they lost and four are heavier than they were previously. The researchers also measured resting metabolic rate which tells how many calories you burn at rest, the majority of your energy expenditure each day. The results show that the metabolic rate of the contestants decreased significantly after the show ended and stayed low for years. The decreased metabolic rate was expected, but the fact that it stayed low for so long was a surprise.

This finding is an important reason why the contestants gained weight back: they were burning hundreds of calories less each day! Considering that a difference as small as 100 calories per day can lead to weight gain over time, it is no surprise the Biggest Losers became big gainers. Even if they were careful to maintain a low calorie diet and exercise every day, weight regain was almost inevitable.  This change was so dramatic because of the extreme weight loss; people who lose more reasonable amounts of weight would have a much smaller change in their metabolism.

While the change in metabolic rate is important in explaining weight regain in Biggest Loser contestants, it is far from the only factor. In order to lose weight and keep it off, people need to learn a whole new lifestyle involving what, when, why, and how to eat and exercise. These lifestyle changes are difficult to make and can take months or years to fully adopt. Participating in any weight loss competition, whether that is the Biggest Loser or a team weight loss program at work, leads to quickly losing weight by following and inappropriate diet or participating in exercise that is too intense instead of learning new skills and behaviors.  Again, maintaining that weight loss is difficult, to say the least.

It shouldn’t come as a surprise that losing weight rapidly, especially under the watchful eyes of doctors, nutritionists, and personal trainers (not to mention millions of viewers), would be difficult to sustain upon returning home without that support. This is consistent with prevailing wisdom that the quicker someone loses weight, the quicker they are likely to gain it back.

The lesson here is that there are powerful biological changes that occur following significant weight loss that make it challenging to keep the weight off. Add to that a focus on losing weight quickly rather than developing long lasting habits only makes it more difficult.  Being a “successful loser” requires realizing that the effort must be sustained long after the diet ends.

Nutrition, exercise, and health information can be confusing. 
But it doesn't have to be that way.
What can I help you with?
 drbrianparr@gmail.com | http://twitter.com/drbrianparr


Diets don’t work!

Exercise can actually make you gain weight!

You can take supplements that will melt fat away while you sleep!

Claims like these should make you wonder if someone is trying to fool you. Since April Fools’ Day was last week, my Health & Fitness column in the Aiken Standard is an attempt to uncover the truth about these common weight loss myths.

Diet pills

Diets don’t work
Considering that most people who lose weight end up gaining it back, this belief is understandable. The fact is that diets do work—that is how people lost weight in the first place! The problem is that many diets simply aren’t sustainable and don’t teach healthy eating habits necessary to keep the weight off. The result is that after the diet ends, a return to old eating patterns leads to gaining the weight back. The solution, of course, is to find a diet that you can stick with even after you have lost weight, one that teaches you how to make healthy choices and adapt your lifestyle.

Exercise doesn’t lead to weight loss
The traditional advice for losing weight is to eat less and exercise more. But some research suggests that exercise itself doesn’t lead to significant weight loss. In fact, exercise alone results in lower weight loss compared to diet only or diet plus exercise. While this is true, concluding that exercise isn’t important is a mistake.

First, even if exercise only leads to a small amount of weight loss (about a half pound per week in my experience) it does add up over time and can help someone achieve their weight loss goal more quickly. Second, research involving individuals who have succeeded at long-term weight loss in the National Weight Control Registry shows that exercise is important. It is noteworthy that 94% of these “successful losers” increased their physical activity in order to lose weight and 90% said that they maintain their weight by exercising an average of 60 minutes every day.

You can boost your metabolism and burn fat using supplements
Losing weight really does require making changes to your eating and exercise behaviors. Many of these changes can be difficult, so it is no surprise that people look for shortcuts. And there is no shortcut more appealing than a supplement that will increase your metabolism and burn fat while you sleep.

Keep in mind that there are no dietary supplements that have been shown to be effective for promoting long-term weight loss, despite what the manufacturers claim. In fact, some could even be dangerous. The only way to make a meaningful change in your metabolism is to exercise and significant weight loss simply won’t happen unless you change your diet.

Be especially skeptical when you see words like “flush” and “cleanse,” which are meaningless and have nothing to do with weight loss. There are a few prescription medications and one over-the-counter drug (Orlistat) that has been shown to promote weight loss—but only when combined with a healthy low-calorie diet and exercise.

Hopefully this advice will help you make healthy decisions and avoid becoming an “April Fool” when it comes to weight loss claims. The good news is that you can start losing weight today by making some simple changes including reducing your portion sizes at meals, choosing water or other calorie-free beverages when you are thirsty, and making it a point to be active every day. These modifications can lead to weight loss now and are exactly the type of changes you need to make to keep the weight off in the long run.


Nutrition, exercise, and health information can be confusing. 
But it doesn't have to be that way.
What can I help you with?
 drbrianparr@gmail.com | http://twitter.com/drbrianparr

The case of the missing beach body. How to get yours back…and keep it!

Now that spring has arrived you may have noticed that your eating and exercise habits over the winter (or past several winters!) haven’t been kind to your body. For some people this comes as a surprise, and they wonder where their beach body from last summer went. For others, their beach body may long gone, but they want to lose some weight and get in shape before summer.

Obviously, this will mean making changes to what you eat and your exercise habits. If you want to lose 5–10 pounds and get back in shape, this means small changes to your diet and exercise designed to meet your fitness goals. If you have more significant weight to lose you will need a stricter diet and an exercise program that will help you to burn calories and build your strength, endurance, and flexibility.

While diet and exercise can help you get back in shape, staying in shape requires making lasting behavior changes. My Health & Fitness column in the Aiken Standard this week includes a few key questions that will help you find your missing beach body now and, importantly, not lose it again in the future.Luddington beach

When did you last see it?

Many people can identify a time in their life when their lifestyle changed and weight gain began. Commonly, this is getting married, starting a new job, or having children. Other people notice that they have gained weight, but can’t point to any specific reason why. In both cases, healthy eating and exercise routines get replaced with other less beneficial habits. The result for most people is gaining weight, either very quickly or slowly over time. Understanding what led to your weight gain is important for making changes to fix it.

How long has it been gone?

The longer you have been inactive and eating poorly, the longer you have been developing these unhealthy habits. The consequence is that it will be more challenging to undo the damage these habits have caused and teach yourself new habits that are consistent with better health. Your task is relatively easy if you have just gained a few pounds since last summer. Trying to reverse years or decades of inactivity and unhealthy eating is a bigger challenge, but one you simply must take on!

Where did you last see it?

The environment has a huge impact on our health, largely through influencing our activity and eating behaviors. In many cases, weight gain may be at least partly a consequence of where we spend our time. For example, a new job that involves long commutes by car and workdays spent sitting can make gaining weight almost inevitable. Quitting that job probably isn’t reasonable, but knowing how it has affected your health allows you to focus your efforts on increasing your activity outside of work. For many women, weight gain occurs after graduating from college, getting married, and having children. While there are many contributing lifestyle factors in this case, the change from an active college campus to a more sedentary environment certainly plays a role.

Once you figure out when and where you last saw your beach body you will have an idea of what you need to do to get it back. Keep in mind that the type of behavior changes you need to make to lose weight and get back in shape are difficult and will take time to adopt. While you shouldn’t expect any miracles in the next month or two, developing healthy eating and activity habits can have a miraculous effect on your weight, your health, and how you feel in the years to come!

Nutrition, exercise, and health information can be confusing. 
But it doesn't have to be that way.
What can I help you with?
 drbrianparr@gmail.com | http://twitter.com/drbrianparr

Breaking the chain: What you can do to prevent a relapse in your diet or exercise program.

Making changes to diet and exercise habits for weight loss or to improve health and fitness are among the most difficult behavior modifications to make. Being able to change these behaviors now and in the future is a key to success. Since what we eat and our activity become habitual, many people have spent years developing bad habits, so it will take time and effort to change them.

Making lasting changes—think years, not weeks or months—means that these behaviors must be maintained, and success depends on much more than simply following a diet or exercise program. Perhaps the most important tool for promoting long-term behavior change is relapse prevention.

A lapse is a one-time or short-term “slip up” in making a behavior change. For example, a bad day or even a bad week following a diet is considered a lapse. A relapse is a lapse that is continued for so long that you have essentially gone back to your previous behaviors, what some might call “falling off the wagon.” Since getting back on is so difficult, your goal should be to stay on the wagon by preventing a lapse from becoming a relapse. This is the topic of my Health & Fitness column in the Aiken Standard this week.

breaking the chain

No one is perfect, so lapses will naturally occur. While we often think that lapses occur without warning, the reality is that these events are often the last link in a chain of behaviors. This is illustrated by Barbara, a participant in one of my weight loss programs.

After several weeks of success on her diet Barbara faced her first real challenge, attending a catered event after work. She was rushed in the morning getting her kids ready for school and she didn’t have time for her usual breakfast. She settled for a banana and coffee, but she was hungry by midmorning. She spent her lunch break running errands. Instead of grabbing something unhealthy to eat while she was out, she didn’t eat anything. After a busy afternoon, she was tired and hungry when it was time to go to the event. She made her way to the food table and filled a small plate with the healthiest options she could find. But she wound up standing near the food talking to friends, and she ended up filling her plate a few more times with the very things she meant to avoid at first, including desserts.

Barbara’s story is a perfect example of a lapse, both because it is so common and because it demonstrates the chain of events leading up to it. The lapse—overeating at the party—actually started much earlier in the day. Not having her normal, filling breakfast and skipping lunch meant that Barbara was unusually hungry when she arrived at the party. And standing near the food table made it easy for her to go back for seconds (and thirds). Barbara was able to identify the links in the chain that led to the lapse in her diet, allowing her to get back on track the next day and make efforts to break those links in the future.

Like Barbara, recognizing the steps that lead up to a lapse in your diet or exercise program can help you avoid a slip-up in the first place and prevent a lapse from becoming a relapse. In many ways, long-term success is as much about building confidence in your ability to handle difficult situations as it is the number on the scale or the time you spend in the gym.

Nutrition, exercise, and health information can be confusing. 
But it doesn't have to be that way.
What can I help you with?
 drbrianparr@gmail.com | http://twitter.com/drbrianparr