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The Lowdown on Losing Weight

How to lose weight the right way

Being overweight is not what most of us aspire. Yet over more than one third of Americans are obese. Unfortunately overweight and obesity is negatively viewed by our society more for aesthetic reasons (e.g. clothes are too tight, thighs too large) than for health-related reasons. The real reasons we should be concerned are more critical to our society, both economically and socially, as well as our own personal health.

Overweight and obese individuals are at greater risk of the following, to name a few:

  • Coronary artery disease
  • Stroke
  • Some cancers
  • Diabetes
  • High blood pressure
  • Gallbladder disease
  • Osteoarthritis.

Not to mention that it just plain doesn’t feel very comfortable carrying an extra 10, 20 or more pounds around with you.

There are many causes of obesity. These include diet; lack of regular activity; environment (such as family eating patterns, work, oversized food portions, lack of access to safe exercise or food markets, and advertising); medical conditions; certain medications; emotional factors; and even lack of sleep.

Read on to find ways you can start to take charge of your life and aim for a healthy weight.

Aim for a Healthy Weight – and for the Right Reasons

Just like you inventory your cupboards before heading out to the grocery store, you must first, above all things, do a personal inventory of yourself before trying to lose weight. Take 10 or more minutes to answer the following questions:

Why is it I want to lose weight?

Is it for health reasons, cosmetic reasons or both? The real reason you should want to lose weight is to reduce your risk for disease such as heart disease or diabetes. Feeling great should be next, for example, walking without pain or moving around more easily. Lastly, looking good is a good goal, but it shouldn’t be your only reason (think of it as a weight-loss perk).

What risk does my weight currently put me at?

Health professionals use the Body Mass Index (BMI) to determine your risk of being overweight through a calculation using your height and weight (for many athletes the BMI is overestimated due to extra lean body mass – see your healthcare provider for more information on an ideal weight). A BMI of 19 – 25 is considered healthy, 25 – 29.9 indicates overweight and greater than 30 obese. Determine your body mass index.

What is your goal weight (based on the BMI)?

Take into account that the safest weight loss (true fat loss) is achieved when 1 – 2 pounds of weight is lost per week. Aiming for your high school weight would be great, and is ideal for many of us. But with respect to being reasonable, consider your most comfortable, and healthy, adult weight. Was it easily maintained? How were you successful in maintaining that weight? Where did that weight fall on the BMI chart? Keep in mind that a modest 5 – 10% loss of body weight has shown considerable health benefits.

What obstacles keep me from losing weight?

Do your work, family, or social responsibilities inhibit you from losing weight? List the obstacles you feel prevent you from reaching your weight loss goals.

How will you overcome these obstacles?

Now that you have them listed, decide how you can change, minimize, alleviate, work around or avoid some of the obstacles in your life. Come on now, there’s got to be a way to work around some of these; remember there’s no more excuses. If you find overcoming these obstacles too difficult to do on your own, consider seeing a psychologist or therapist who can provide you with some effective strategies.

What are my short-term (one to two month) and long-term (six months to a year) goals?

Remember estimate no more than 2 pounds of weight loss per week. Do not set yourself up for failure. The weight didn’t come on overnight and it surely won’t go off overnight. Set reasonable short and long-term goals (even if it isn’t your end weight goal) and remember to REWARD yourself once you achieve the goal. Why not reward yourself, who else is going to do it for you? You do deserve it you know!

Diet Inventory – Be Honest with Yourself

Now it’s time to take a look at your dietary habits. For three consecutive days, take an inventory of what you eat, drink, chew, taste – you get the picture. Don’t miss one morsel or you’re not being honest with yourself. Once you’ve done this, look at the various times you eat each day and observe your portion sizes.

  • Do you follow any specific schedule when you eat or do you grab food on the go?
  • Do you eat because you’re hungry, bored, or for emotional reasons?
  • Do you graze or snack at night?
  • Do you drink excessive alcohol in the evenings?
  • Do you read food labels to determine portion sizes or caloric content?

Once you take a look at three-days (or more) of eating determine some areas you can improve on. For example, if you grab a second helping at dinner each evening, portion yourself one serving and leave it at that; or enjoy a second helping of vegetables, skipping the extra potatoes and meat. Or if you always grab a super-sized meal deal at lunch, pack your lunch for one or more days instead. This strategy saves both time and money.

Make a list of what rewards you would like once you achieve each small goal.

Just like your weight goals, your rewards should be reasonable. Buy yourself a new outfit, those golf clubs or that purse you’ve had your eyes on. Or donate your now too large clothes to your favorite non-profit organization. Never make food a reward, it is counterproductive.Once you have these questions answered, move on to the diet and lifestyle inventory.

Lifestyle Inventory – A Key Component to Weight Loss

All too often people who try to lose weight cut back on foods and don’t change anything else. This may be why so many people gain back their lost weight so quickly. The goal is not to starve yourself back to a svelte size 6 or 32-inch waist. This is a lifelong change, which includes behavior change, dietary change as well as lifestyle change. Getting adequate exercise is one lifestyle change that leads to successful weight loss.

To optimize your caloric expenditure, aim to exercise aerobically at a moderate intensity for 30 minutes or more on most, if not all days of the week. Find an activity that you like and you know you’ll stick with. Try some of these examples:

  • Brisk walking
  • Swimming
  • Cycling
  • Roller blading
  • Stair climbing
  • Elliptical training
  • Basketball
  • Tennis
  • Hockey
  • Cross country skiing

The list is endless.Many times people quit their usual routine when it gets cooler outside. Have a back-up plan in case this occurs. A gym membership, mall walking or aerobics class is a great alternative and can also give your workout a change of pace. In addition to aerobic exercises, consider adding some resistance training to your routine. It builds muscle mass, which helps you burn calories more efficiently at rest.

Consider having a personalized exercise prescription done to determine the best exercise and intensity for you. Ask your doctor or call Preventive Cardiology for more information at 216.444.9353.

Burn some extra calories each day by taking the stairs to your office, parking your car a little further away from your destination, taking a brisk walk at lunch, putting a little more oomph to your housecleaning or turning on the radio and just dance. Whatever you do, get off the couch and get moving!

All of the above material is a lot to take on when you are trying to make lifestyle changes to promote your overall health and lose weight. Take small steps day by day and realize that there will be pitfalls you didn’t anticipate, life changes that are uncontrollable and days you just plain don’t feel like eating that third serving of fruit. Just pick yourself up where you left off and never give up! These things take time and patience. Remember the first time you learned to ride a bike or drive a car – it didn’t happen overnight, nor will weight loss. But a little determination, positive thinking, planning, and practice can go a long way.

Make an appointment with a Preventive Cardiology registered dietitian to create a nutrition plan at 216.444.9353, or, toll-free 800.223.2273, ext. 49353. Individual counseling and group weight loss programs are available. For online assistance in creating a weight loss plan, check out our MyConsult Nutrition Counseling Service.

Whatever you do – good luck and don’t forget to reward yourself.

The best rewards: living healthier, happier and at lower risk of disease.


Melissa Stevens, MS, RD, LD is the Nutrition Program Coordinator for the Preventive Cardiology and Rehabilitation Program at the Miller Family Heart & Vascular Institute. For more information or to schedule an appointment, call 216.444.9353.

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Reviewed: 07/14

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