Lifestyle Changes to Manage Obesity
by Ricker Polsdorfer, MD
Managing obesity is mostly about making lifestyle changes, which may be difficult. To maintain your weight, you must burn the same amount of calories you take in when you eat. To lose weight, you have to burn more calories than you take in. Your body burns calories just doing the normal bodily functions that keep you alive along with any extra activity. Exercise, besides burning calories, also builds muscle which in turn increases the amount of calories you use just to be alive. However, your body is a very efficient engine, so it takes a lot more time and energy to burn calories than it does to take them in. Therefore, it is important to both decrease your calorie intake and increase your exercise when treating obesity.
Talk to your doctor about a weight loss program that is right for you. You are more likely to successfully lose weight and keep it off if you participate in a program that is easy to follow and continue forever. A program should include a combination of strategies, like diet, exercise, counseling, and medication. Your doctor can refer you to a dietitian, an athletic trainer, or multicomponent weight-loss program for more personalized help.
Diet trends may make one type of nutrient seem more important than others when it comes to dieting. This can be seen when you compare the Mediterranean diet, the low-carb diet, or the low-fat diet. However, research has not found one particular diet to be the best. The key to successful weight loss appears to be reducing caloric intake and not in reducing certain nutrients, like carbohydrates. Adhering to the diet is what mattered most. The American Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics recommends aiming for a loss of about 1-2 pounds/week (0.45-0.91 kg/week) and to lose about 10% of weight by the first 6 months. This can be done by decreasing food intake by 500-1,000 calories every day.
Increasing your dietary protein to 25% of your overall calories in your low calorie diet has also been shown to improve weight loss.
It's challenging to eat fewer calories, though, when the custom in the US is to be served large portions. Another team of researchers found that using special portion-control plates help people who are obese and have type 2 diabetes lose weight and lower their diabetes medications. If you are interested in buying a portion-control plate, you'll find a lot of information online.
Commercial programs such as Weight Watchers, Jenny Craig, and Nutrisystem may improve your chances of success.
Other factors that can contribute to a healthy diet include:
Factors to consider in children
Your doctor and a dietitian can help you create a safe and healthy diet that fits your lifestyle.
Physical Activity Changes
Exercise helps you to lose weight and keep the weight off after you have lost it. Participating in a regular exercise program can also reduce the risk of a number of health conditions, like high blood pressure, heart disease, and diabetes. Aim for 150 minutes per week.
To be safe, check with your doctor before starting a program. You may also want to make an appointment with a certified athletic trainer, who can help you understand what elements of a fitness routine are most effective for you.
There are 3 basic categories of exercise and each provides specific health benefits.
Regardless of your weight and health status, there is a program that will work for you. If you are interested in working with a trainer, you can find one at a local gym or through a referral from your doctor or a friend.
Lifestyle Changes for Children and Teens
The growing prevalence of overweight children has become a serious health concern. In the US, an estimated 17% of children and young adults aged 2-19 are obese. These children are more likely to have high cholesterol, high blood pressure, and type 2 diabetes. There is also some evidence that being overweight or obese during late adolescence may shorten life expectancy as an adult.
If your child is struggling with a weight problem, what can you do? Just as with adults, kids benefit from making diet, exercise, and behavior changes. The US Preventive Services Task Force (USPTF) also recommends counseling for kids who are obese.
Be an active participant with your child. Children take their cues from adults, so make healthy eating a family event. In the end, it will benefit everyone if you are all in it together.
The National Institutes of Health offers some positive steps that you can take at home to help your child:
Other options for your child include multidisiplinary programs and weight-loss camps. At camp, your child will have an opportunity to learn about fitness and nutrition in a fun environment. They may also lose some weight at the camp by exercising more and eating healthier food.
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Last reviewed February 2017 by Michael Woods, MD, FAAP
Last Updated: 2/23/2017
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