Fighting the battle of the bulge seems to be an ongoing process for many men, women and children in America. According to the World Health Organization, nearly two-thirds of Americans are overweight or obese. With 50 percent of American women and 25 percent of American men currently on a diet, it’s not surprising so many Americans feel the need to count calories.
WHO also reported, “Globally, more than 22 million children under the age of 5 are considered overweight. This epidemic is largely due to increased consumption of processed foods high in calories and saturated fat, and a decrease in physical activity. However, chronic dieting and emerging eating disorders are becoming more common among elementary school children.”
Michelle May, M.D., an Arizona-based weight management physician, says, “People get so focused on weight loss they are willing to do unproven and potentially dangerous things that can backfire and cause serious health problems.”
Maggie Fotiadis, manager at Apple Tree Natural Foods in Cleveland, said she is concerned that many people trying to lose weight or trying to improve their health need more education associated with dieting, and the fact a product is claimed to be “natural” doesn’t mean it’s safe or good for you.
“A lot of people want to lose weight really fast. But what they don’t realize is that faster is not always better,” she said. “We hear people say, ‘I lost 20 pounds on this diet. But once I stopped, I gained it all back.’ You want to be able to keep it off. Slow, steady weight loss is going to last longer.
“Your body works in a certain way. For example, for a woman — if you go below 1,200 calories a day your body thinks it’s starving. It doesn’t matter if you eat fruits and vegetables. If you go below 1,200 calories your body thinks it’s starving. So the minute you eat above 1,200 calories your body takes those extra calories and shoves them into your fat cells because it thinks it’s starving and it wants to hold onto that. That’s why if you go on a crash diet you’ll lose the weight, but the minute you start eating above 1,200 calories you’ll gain it back, and then some.”
The National Institute of Health has estimated that dieters can expect to regain two-thirds of their lost weight within a year of completing their diet plan. These dieters can expect to regain all of their weight, and possibly more, within five years.
“Your weight loss will endure if you make a lifestyle change,” Fotiadis said. “I learned to stop calling it a diet. I’m on a lifestyle change. The word diet has such a negative connotation. Whether it’s weight loss, food allergies or diabetes — I tell people to come in with an open mind and be positive. The best way to go about it is to prepare for it.
“For example, Type 2 diabetics will come to me and ask, ‘What do you have that’s sugar free?’ They’re already setting themselves up for failure. I’ll tell them to go home and write down what they eat for the next week. Not what you think you’re supposed to eat, but what you normally eat. Come back with that list and I will find you an alternative. Because if [they] try to make an abrupt change real fast, most people are not going to make it. Set yourself up for success, not failure. If you’re a Type 2 diabetic but you love to eat biscuits, then you need to find an alternative that is safe for a diabetic who loves biscuits.”
According to Fotiadis, natural things can help you lose weight, but it’s best to use them in addition to other foods. The 28-year-old Agnes Scott College graduate admits, “Not everything that’s labeled ‘diet food’ is very healthy for you. It’s mostly about portioning and pairing your foods. For instance, if you want to eat a cookie — don’t deny yourself that cookie. If you do, you’ll be thinking about that cookie for days. But instead of eating a Big Mac, eat your cookie and pull your calories away from something else.”
Fotiadis said most people would be wise to learn how to read labels and educate themselves on these simple guidelines to becoming healthier, adding, “Some people will see diet food and it will say ‘low sugar, low carbs or low calories.’ So they automatically think, ‘Well, that’s healthy!’ But some products — not all — it’s mainly advertising. If you turn the package around you may see that the sugar is three, four or five times as high as the product with higher calories or the fat is very high or it’s high in carbs with no fiber. That’s where people can get confused and think they’re being healthy when they’re not.
“To give you another example, everyone needs sugar,” she explained. “Sugar is fuel for your body. However, you can get sugar from many different places and you don’t need as much as people think is acceptable. People say I can’t have any sugar. But they don’t realize that they have an abundance of carbs that turn to sugar. It’s all about balance. People go to extremes and then they fail. Your body needs a certain amount of carbohydrates to run. Your body needs a certain amount of sugar to run. Your body needs fat to run. But it’s certain types of fat — your non-hydrogenated fats. That’s where you need to educate yourself.”
Medical News Today recently reported, “Sugar is vital for good health, without it all the cells in our body would come to a halt and perish. However, too much sugar raises the risk of several diseases and conditions, including rotting teeth, obesity and Type 2 diabetes. Being aware of the existing and added sugar contents of the foods and drinks we consume is vital for our health — even more so today because so many products have sugar added to them.”
Experts agree that making small changes in your lifestyle and eating habits can improve your health as well as trim your waistline. Some suggestions from weight loss experts include: Start each day with a nutritious breakfast. Eat your meals seated at a table, without distractions. Teach yourself to eat when you're really hungry and stop when you're comfortably full. Reduce your portion sizes by 20 percent, or give up second helpings. Make sandwiches with whole-grain bread and spread them with mustard instead of mayo. Eat a nutritious meal or snack every few hours. Drink more water and fewer sugary drinks. Eat smaller portions of calorie-dense foods (like casseroles and pizza) and larger portions of water-rich foods (like broth-based soups, salads, and veggies). Flavor your foods with herbs, vinegars, mustards, or lemon instead of fatty sauces.
Fotiadis said multivitamins are the most popular product she sells. She said proper vitamin intake is very important to a healthy lifestyle, in addition to becoming better informed, but her best advice to customers is to eat healthy, exercise and make lifestyle changes to improve one’s health and fitness.
The Mayo Clinic commented, “For successful, long-term weight loss, you must make permanent changes in your lifestyle and health habits. For some people, however, supplements may be a useful way to get nutrients they might otherwise be lacking. But before you go shopping for supplements, get the facts on what they will and won't do for you. Talk to your doctor or a dietitian about which supplements and what doses might be appropriate for you.”
While experts say you can lose weight without exercise, exercise plus calorie restriction will likely give you the weight-loss edge you’re looking for. Exercise also offers numerous health benefits, including boosting your mood, strengthening your cardiovascular system and reducing your blood pressure. Exercise can also help in maintaining weight loss. Studies show that people who maintain their weight loss over the long term get regular physical activity.
The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition says long-term weight loss maintenance is possible by means of low-calorie, low-fat intakes, combined with “high levels of physical activity and maintaining a consistent eating pattern across weekdays and weekends.”