Between your mirror, your doctor, honest family members, and how well your clothes fit, you probably don’t need a seemingly arbitrary number like BMI to figure out whether you should drop a few pounds.
And if you’re like many Americans, you may have decided now’s the time of year to do something about it. With the holiday treats out of sight and out of mind, it’s time to get back into a routine.
When using BMI (body mass index, a score derived from your height and weight) to measure, the trends are disturbing, says Dr. Varalakshmi Niranjan, a primary care physician who sees patients in UConn Health’s West Hartford office, 65 Kane St.
A BMI of 19 to 24 is considered normal, 25 to 30 is considered overweight, and more than 30 is considered obese.
“In the U.S., 36 percent of adults are obese, and by 2030, 50 percent will be obese and another 30 percent will be overweight,” Niranjan says. “One in five adolescents are overweight, one in six elementary school children are obese, and one in 12 preschool children are obese.”
Niranjan, who offers a physician-supervised weight-loss program, breaks down the most prevalent causes of weight gain:
- Overeating/portion control – What used to be considered large portion sizes are today considered normal.
- Busy lifestyle – We’re often too busy to be mindful of our eating habits.
- Eating out more – (See #2) This means more processed foods, with added sugar and salt.
- Lack of exercise – Advances in technology and transportation have removed a lot of incidental physical activity.
- Sedentary lifestyle – (See #4) Screen time in many cases has become excessive, both at work and at play.
- Sleep – Either too much, or (more likely) not enough.
But there is hope.
“These causes are largely within our control, at least to some degree,” Niranjan says. “Taking control goes beyond dieting for a few weeks to temporarily lose some weight. Taking control is how we build the foundation for lifestyle change.”
She offers the following tips:
Fat is not always the enemy. It just depends on what types of fat. The “good fats” are unsaturated fats such as those found in avocados, olive oil, nuts, and certain fish, plus eggs and certain dairy foods. “A balanced diet with good fats prevents heart disease,” Niranjan says. The trick here is keeping it a balanced diet.
“What is killing us is not the good fats but the sugar,” Niranjan says. “People go for the ‘low fat’ option, which is basically high in sugar. When they read food labels they should be looking for carbohydrates content and sugar content. If that is high then that product is not good.”
Ideally, you’ll want to choose foods with less than 10 grams of sugar per serving. The recommended limits for consumption of added sugar is 150 calories (about 9 teaspoons or 36 grams) per day for men, and 100 calories (6 teaspoons or 24 grams) per day for women.
Find time to exercise. Try to make getting that heart rate up a daily routine, at least three hours per week, give or take (the type, intensity, and duration of exercise will vary based on your age, fitness level, and overall health). “If you exercise for one hour, it still matters what you do the remaining 23 hours of the day,” Niranjan says.
If you’ve been sedentary for a while, start off with walking more, and consult your physician before ramping it up. And be sure to …
… Set realistic goals. The best exercise routine is the one you’ll actually do. Same goes for modifications to your diet. If you set out to, starting tomorrow, run five miles every day and eliminate all grains and sugars from your diet, you’re setting yourself up for failure. Remember, you’re changing your lifestyle.
Try to make it fun. Reward yourself – just not with food. Be flexible. Try to get family or friends to join you, or let them know what you’re trying to do so they can be a support system (and hold you accountable). Remind yourself that the results won’t be instant, and that gradual results are easier (and often healthier) to sustain anyway.
“You can treat yourself occasionally, but not every day,” Niranjan says.
Pay attention to what you’re doing, identify strengths and weaknesses, likes and dislikes, learn from failures, and build off successes. Don’t feel the need to change everything all at once. You’re in it for the long haul, and there’ll be plenty of time to make changes along the way.
Most importantly, make a commitment to these behaviors. By now, most of us know what we should and shouldn’t do, it’s just a matter of staying motivated.