May 3, 2001
Inching Toward Weight Loss
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
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
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.
Send feedback on this article.
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.