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May 3, 2001
Inching Toward Weight Loss

first letter Excess pounds and inches can be a weighty issue. Every day, millions of Americans try to lose weight or to avoid gaining it. Obesity has been proclaimed the second biggest public health problem in the United States -- second only to smoking. If being overweight is a concern for you, you may want to consider conforming to the American Heart Association's new dietary guidelines.

Food & Fitness


By Elaine Gavalas

Battle of the bulge

According to reports in the Journal of the American Medical Association, half of all Americans are overweight, and at least 20 percent are considered obese. If this trend continues, most Americans will become overweight or obese within a couple of decades, experts say. Obesity is defined as being 20 to 30 pounds above the average weight for a person's age, sex, and height, and having a body mass index (BMI) of over 30.

The BMI is a height-weight calculation that correlates body fat with risk for disease. A BMI between 20 and 25 is considered healthy for men and women. To figure out your BMI, multiply your weight in pounds times 700. Then divide this number by the square of your height in inches. Any number over 25 is considered overweight. For example, if a woman is 5 feet 7 inches, or 67 inches, and weighs 150 pounds, she would multiply 150 times 700, which equals 105,000. Dividing 105,000 by the square of 67 (or 4,489), results in a BMI of 23, which is within the acceptable range.

Losing the battle of the bulge places a huge toll on our health care system. Researchers have estimated that 325,000 deaths in the United States annually are linked to obesity; this makes the condition the second most preventable cause of death. The American Cancer Society has found that at every stage of life, excess weight translates into an increased risk of dying.

Weight loss tips

A person needs to burn 3,500 calories to lose one pound. This can be accomplished by modifying your diet and exercise habits. If you can cut 500 calories each day for seven days, at the end of the week you'll have lost one pound. With a little bit of patience, you could lose as much as 52 pounds in a year using this healthy method.


Weight loss gimmicks always seem so much easier and quicker, but they are detrimental in the long run. There are no magical pills or potions for losing weight or maintaining a healthy weight.


The American Heart Association (AHA) recommends focusing on losing one pound a week, not the total pounds you want or need to shed. Concentrating on a weight loss goal of 20 or more pounds may be overwhelming and discouraging. Any weight loss is a victory, as long as it is sustained. Set realistic expectations for your weight loss program.

Exercise is crucial to successful weight loss. To lose weight, you must burn more calories than you consume. You can increase the calories you burn by increasing the amount that you exercise. Focus on performing cardiovascular activities -- such as walking, aerobics, jogging, swimming, or biking -- for 30 to 60 minutes per day. In addition to burning calories, daily exercise will condition your heart and lungs, boost your metabolism, and could reduce your risk of heart disease and cancer.

To lose and then maintain your desired weight, the AHA recommends a varied, balanced diet rich in plant-based foods such as fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and legumes (beans). They also recommend fat-free and low-fat dairy products, two servings weekly of fish, and small portions of lean meats and poultry. Limit your saturated fats -- those fats found in animal products and tropical oils -- and trans fatty acids, like the partially hydrogenated oils found in hard margarines and packaged baked goods.

The bottom line is this: Eat less, eat smart, and exercise more. This mantra sums up the most effective known strategy to lose weight wisely and keep it off.

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Elaine Gavalas is an exercise physiologist, nutritionist, and weight management specialist currently earning her Ph.D. from Columbia University, where she also received her master's degree. Elaine is a contributing editor and columnist for a number of online consumer health and beauty sites.