The state of health in America is not very positive. As of today, according to the Center for Disease Control, an estimated 65% of adult Americans are considered overweight and 30% of those are considered obese. Cancer - much of it preventable -- has now surpassed heart disease as the number one cause of death and the number of people who know they have diabetes is now up to 14.6 million.
But what are the causes of increased weight gain, what is science telling us about this 'condition', and most importantly, what can people do about it?
It's no surprise that most Americans are eating more than they need and are less active than they were meant to be. According to recent findings by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the average daily caloric intake of Americans is 2,757. Compared to 1970, this is an increase of 523 calories per day. It takes roughly 3500 calories to gain or lose a pound of weight. If a person increased or decreased their daily intake by 500 calories a day, there is the difference in weight - you can gain or lose in a week with that difference. It's very easy to add an extra 500 calories a day to a person's diet. Just a large order of French fries will do it! The same is true with NOT eating that extra order of French fries, however.
Although some statistics show that there is a slight increase in leisure time activity across the country, according to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), physical activity drops in children from 69% at ages 12 and 13 to 38% for young people between 18 and 21. Between 1991 and 1997, the CDC reports that the percentage of students who attended a daily physical education class dropped from 42% to 27%. If adults are not staying physically active, and children are not getting physical exercise in school, the message they receive is that exercise is not important. Studies show that if children do not learn healthy eating habits and exercise habits when young, they will likely struggle with healthy habits as adults. Could we be killing our kids by not taking care of our own health, setting healthy examples for them, today?
But not all people struggling with weight are just sitting around, not exercising and eating ice cream and French fries. Could there be something more going on? Researchers are now looking at what genetics can tell us about weight gain. Some people suffer from the need to eat large amounts of food, no matter how full they feel. Researchers are looking at a substance in our body called Leptin. Studying mice, they find that those mice who have very little Leptin in their bodies tend to eat more, thus they gain more weight, suffering from obesity.
But there still is no real solution available for people suffering with large amounts of weight. Although supplement companies have quickly jumped on the bandwagon to capitalize on what preliminary research is telling us about Leptin, these supplements are still false promises that just guarantee emptying the pocketbooks of the hopeful who feel there is no other help for them.
What about the claim that some people just can't lose weight, no matter what they do? I have a program that requires clients to document their intake of everything they eat for 30 days, sending me their daily report. What consistently has developed from this is a new awareness to the client of 'hidden' times they eat. It's common for a client to say, 'I had no idea I grabbed ice cream when I was mad at my husband', or, 'I had no idea I was eating that bag of chips while working at the computer!' As a consequence, every client who goes on this program loses weight. Many people state, as a matter of fact, that they just can't lose weight anymore. Many claim it's their age, menopause, you name it. However, when real changes are made, the body does still respond, no matter what the age.
In every case that a person's intake is closely monitored, and the calories are decreased, people have lost weight. Even in the case of a 1000 pound man. At home, all he did was gain and gain. By the time he was over 1000 pounds, unable to breathe or move, he was hospitalized. In the hospital, he was put on a strict 1200 calorie diet. While there for six months, on this diet, he lost 600 pounds. Although in later interviews he claimed he never ate much at home and didn't know why he couldn't lose weight at home, the facts speak for themselves. It still is just a matter of calories in versus calories out.
So what does a person do? According to the National Weight Control Registry (NWCR), there are three keys to permanent success to weight loss. The NWCR was established in 1994 by two university professors and is the largest prospective investigation of long-term successful weight loss maintenance in the country. Currently the NWCR has over 5,000 people who have lost at least 30 pounds of weight and kept it off for at least a year who are eligible to join the ongoing research study. What researchers have discovered is, regardless of how people have lost the weight, keeping it off has included several necessary consistent steps: Success for these people have included following a low-fat, low-calorie diet and regular exercise. However, let's look at a few more details; many successful NWCR participants exercise for a total of 60-90 minutes a day, regularly. Many break it up through the day, and almost all claim they hated it to begin with, but now it's just a part of their lives. They made a choice to avoid regaining their weight and love their lean and active lifestyles. Another consistent aspect of participants is they all eat breakfast. This is another habit that many had to get used to, but realize how important it is to eat a good meal at the beginning of the day in order to avoid cravings and high calorie snack foods later in the day. Three-quarters of all participants weigh themselves on a weekly basis, just so they can catch any increases that may slowly be developing, and take corrective action before it's out of hand.
Support is critical to success. Many people who struggle with weight already know that they just can't do it, themselves. They have proven this. However, often they are unwilling to admit they need help, thus they struggle for their entire lives. First of all, when someone has emotional eating issues, it's critical that they seek the help of a qualified therapist they can work well with. Someone they can share their feelings with, who they feel they can confide in and trust. Next, it's important to also find a Registered Dietitian (RD) to help them learn how to apply the wealth of nutrition knowledge they already know to their own lives. There are many people who call themselves 'nutritionists' and many 'food coaches', but these people are not educated in all aspects of nutrition the way an RD is. The third important piece of the support team is to find someone who can help them learn how to become more active. If a person is very overweight, it's important to find someone experienced in this population, not a 'hunk' who now likes to train others to look like 'hunks' or competitive body builders. Most people are not interested in looking like they just won the Mr/Ms America pageant; they just want to lose weight, feel great and feel they can enjoy shopping for clothes again.
The ultimate key is to eat fewer calories than the body needs. However, with exercise, the need for decreased calories will be less than if a person tried to lose weight by dieting alone. The topic of TOO few calories is beyond the scope of this article, but if a person ate too few calories, they then will burn their own body muscle tissue for the needed fuel, thus defeating the purpose of exercise, which is to increase lean body mass so the body will burn more calories at rest. However, once a person learns to listen to their own body cues, they can learn how to tell when they are eating too little, as well as too much. So, first they control their calorie intake. Then they do some type of physical activity. As we have seen above, this must be consistent. It could be as simple as taking a walk, but it should be every day, every month, for the rest of their life. Most of the participants in the NWCR site walking as their primary exercise. Not a day here and there, then skip a week; it has to be consistent. Once the walking gets easy, then there should be some type of activity that increases muscle endurance or strength. Weight training isn't the only activity that can do this, although it's the most common. I challenge everyone who is reading this article to think of what activity you would like to do if your weight was not an issue; it may be wall climbing, it may be hiking a mountain, it may be snow skiing, maybe Pilates or Yoga.
It's a hard road to travel when a person has a large amount of weight to lose. They feel like there is just no hope and it's too hard to even attempt it. Most in this position have tried more times than they'd like to admit. Or, they have allowed life to get away from them, and they now look in the mirror with disgust, but just feel overwhelmed and don't understand how to get their old body back. They feel they have no control over their life. It is possible! Read through some of the success stories from participants in the NWCR, http://www.nwcr.ws/stories.htm. Just as with anything else in life, though, if you want to make it happen, you have to work through the struggles to achieve the rewards.