Obesity is one of the number one health concerns in today’s society. The US Centers for Disease Control estimates that over 60 million Americans, or 30% of the adult population, are obese. The term obese refers to people who weigh over 30 pounds more than their ideal weight, or who have a Body Mass Index of 30 or more.
One of the national health objectives in the US is to reduce the incidence of obesity to less than 15% of the adult population by 2010; however, current statistics indicate that the problem is still on the rise. In addition, the percentage of young people in America who are overweight has more than tripled since 1980.
Over 9 million children and teens between the ages of 6 and 19 are considered overweight. This equates to 16 % of the population.
There’s no question that losing weight is not easy. And, it’s also clear that we’ve changed our lifestyles in ways that are making it easier for us to become obese. Some of the biggest culprits in the battle of the bulge are the following.
• Busy Schedules – The average family has a much more demanding schedule than in years past. Because of this, mealtimes often go by the wayside, and we choose lots of fast food. Our stress levels may also lead to emotional eating, where we have no concept of how many calories we’ve consumed. These factors combined have made our diets poor and our concept of a normal meal skewed.
• Sedentary Lifestyles – Today many people spend lots of time sitting down between our desk jobs and our love of watching television and playing computer and video games. For many of us, regular exercise is simply no longer a part of our daily life.
• Large food portions – Most restaurant portions are 2-3 times the size that makes up a reasonable meal. From this we’ve gained a distorted image of the size portions we should be eating, and we’re consuming far too many calories in a day.
• Poor nutrition – Processed foods are a staple in the American diet. In addition, we eat lots of red meat and products made with white flour. These overly processed and high fat foods make it easy to gain weight. They also lead to heart disease and high cholesterol.
So, what do we do to overcome our weight problems? Well, as with many things, there are no magic bullets. To lose weight, we have to expend more calories than we consume. It’s just that simple.
Losing weight is simple, but it’s not easy, particularly since much of the food we’re presented with every day is not conducive to weight loss. So, if you want to lose weight and keep it off for good, you need to make a commitment to making long term changes in your life.
Starving yourself is not the answer; making changes you can live with is the way to go.
First, take a look at what you eat. If you’re guilty of eating lots of processed foods, red meat, sugar and white flour, make changes in what you eat.
Substitute chicken and fish for red meat most days of the week.
Cook your own meals using fresh ingredients; don’t rely on processed foods that are loaded with preservatives.
Eat lots of fresh fruits and vegetables
Choose whole grain products over those made with white flour
Reduce the amount of sugar in your diet.
These changes alone should help you lose weight. However, for many people it will also be necessary to look at how much you eat. Portion control is very important, because very large portions of even healthy food can mean that you’re consuming too many calories.
The second half of the weight loss equation has to do with exercise. Not only will exercise help you burn more calories each day, but it will also help you build muscle. Muscle is important because even when resting, muscle mass burns more calories than fat. So, if you have a lot of lean muscle, you’ll burn more calories in a day, without even trying.
Aim for 30 minutes of cardiovascular exercise five times a week. Walking is a great way to get your cardiovascular exercise, and it will help build muscle in the lower body, too. Just be sure that you’re walking at a pace that will make you sweat. Raising your heart rate during your cardiovascular workout is important for keeping your heart healthy.
In addition to your cardiovascular workout, get in some strength training three times a week for about 20 minutes each session. You don’t need to become a body builder, but adding some lean muscle will speed up your metabolism and make your body look thinner and leaner.
Finally, take a look at adding some “functional foods” to your diet. Functional foods are those that have benefits to the body above and beyond their basic nutritional qualities. Foods that would be considered functional foods for weight loss would be those that make us feel full and satisfied for longer, and those that have the potential to increase our metabolism.
For example, you may have heard of negative calorie foods. These are foods that contain fewer calories than your body uses to digest them. Some examples of negative calorie food include raw carrots, celery, asparagus, apple, beet, berries, broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, chili, cucumber, garlic, lettuce, grapefruit, lemon, mango, onion, orange, papaya, pineapple, spinach, turnip, and zucchini.
There are likely other functional foods for weight loss. Foods that are believed to be functional for weight loss include low fat milk, nuts and tea. A study reported by the UK Tea Council discusses certain foods and their potential to be functional weight loss foods.
Studies have shown that people who drink 24 ounces or more of milk each day tend to weigh less than people who don’t drink milk. So, it appears that adding 24 ounces of milk to your diet each day might be a good way to lose some weight, and help keep it off.
Nuts have gained a lot of attention because of two important properties. The first is that nuts are very satisfying. Nuts can help you feel full for longer, helping to ensure that you eat fewer calories in a day.
Secondly, nuts are a good source of healthy fats. These are the fats that help raise your HDL cholesterol level. HDL cholesterol is what is known as “good cholesterol” because it has the power to carry molecules of LDL cholesterol “bad cholesterol” to the liver, where it can be removed from the body.
A final food that is likely functional to weight loss is green tea. Green tea has been shown to help regulate blood sugar naturally, which may help us store fewer calories as fat. Secondly, green tea has been shown to promote thermogenesis; heat that burns body fat.
Green tea is extremely low in calories, and very healthy overall. So, if it can also help us lose weight, it may just qualify as a “super food”. There have been numerous studies linking green tea with preventing disease and protecting health.
So, if you’re battling the bulge, get some exercise and make some changes in your diet. And, make sure that one of those changes is adding some “functional foods”, so that losing weight can be easier than ever!