Excerpted from “Finding Your Way To A Healthier Weight” by Barbara Tanenbaum, M.A., R.D. et al
Before you start, ask yourself what your primary motivation is for wanting to lose weight. You will need to map out a plan for how much weight to lose and how to monitor your weight loss. To help develop the best approach for yourself, draw upon past dieting experiences and your childhood associations with food.
There are several methods you can use to effectively make changes. It is not easy to change old habits or establish new ones, but others have done it, and you can too.
A desire for good health is a strong motivating force. Patricia tells us, “When I was overweight, I couldn’t walk. I had chest pains. I was really sick.” Deborah had witnessed the devastating effects of cancer on her family. With commitment in her voice she says, “I had a strong family history of breast cancer. I decided to lose weight to decrease my risk.”
Research studies have shown that being overweight is associated with increased risk for heart disease, diabetes, high blood pressure, and some cancers. Weight loss oftentimes can alleviate these medical problems.
Deborah was tired of being tired and recalls, “I wanted to feel more energetic and when you’re heavy, you don’t have that energy.” Nichole says, “I remember walking down the street extremely slowly and saw a woman who was clearly in her sixties breezing past me in her running shoes and sweat suit. Then it dawned on me. Look at her. I don’t have to feel this way. It’s not a given. I’m doing this to myself.”
When you’re overweight, everything from sitting in a movie theater seat to finding properly fitting clothes can be a frustrating experience. Some motivations for losing weight never go away, such as the desire to maintain good health and have more energy. Other reasons are more immediate, such as wanting to look good for a special occasion, like a wedding or fitting into a certain bathing suit for the summer. While such immediate goals may be effective in the short term, they are unlikely to keep you motivated for long. You’ll need to establish a long term motivation to serve you in the years to come while you strive to maintain your weight loss.
What is the real reason you want to lose weight?
Why do you want to lose weight? Is the primary reason strong enough to motivate you to keep the weight off long-term? You may be motivated to begin a weight loss program but are you truly ready? Being ready is difficult to define. Think back to other times in your life when you’ve been ready to make a significant change, such as moving to another city, changing jobs, or buying a house. Perhaps you’ll recall a sense of determination and a willingness to invest the necessary time and energy to make that change a reality.
If you want to lose weight but unusual demands are being made on your time and energy right now, such as school, a family illness, on a job change –perhaps now is not the best time. However, you might consider making minor changes to your life to feel better. For example, you could attend an exercise class or take a meditation break during the day to relieve stress. You might be pleasantly surprised to discover that weight loss may come as an added benefit. Do you feel ready to begin a weight loss program?
Don’t lose any more weight than you believe you can keep off long-term. One way to gauge this is to set a goal to lose just 10-15 pounds at any one time. After you reach your goal ask yourself if you could comfortably maintain this loss in weight for a lengthy period. If you feel confident that you can maintain your new weight long-term, set yourself another goal to lose 10-15 pounds until you feel losing more weight will become too stressful at this time.
However, some people may not be able to reach a healthy weight. Patricia tells us, “I would like to get down to what a charts says I should weigh by can’t. I’m not over eating. I’m not starving myself. I can’t get up any earlier to exercise. There’s simply no time in the day. I have to accept this.” Patricia was able to acknowledge her disappointment and wished things were different.
Even though you may not be able to reach your healthy weight, health does improve dramatically with each 10 to 15 pounds of weight lost. Be aware that it is possible to pass through the healthy weight zone into one that is clearly unhealthy. “I didn’t expect to be as thin as I was at 125 pounds,” recalls Anne. “My ribs stuck out, my arms were skinny. My cheeks were hollow, my collarbone stuck out. People were concerned about me. I knew 125 pounds was too thin. I was hungry all the time, thinking about food all the time. I was really obsessing. But I the liked the number, so it was tough to let it go up. But within six months the number did go up and I wasn’t hungry any longer.”
Nicole remembers a similar experience, “My weight management program gave a goal range. For me it was 122 to 143. Being a perfectionist I had to aim for the 122. Actually I went below the 122. I was justifying every pound because I thought that someday I might be in a worse situation. But when I hit 116, I told myself I had to stop. This was almost anorexia. People told me I had lost too much weight, but I thought perhaps they were trying to sabotage me. I finally increased what I ate.”
Continued weight loss can lead to serious medical problems and if carried to the extreme, even death. If other people are telling you that you’re too thin, you may be below a healthy weight. If you can’t seem to eat enough food to regain the weight, seek professional help from a physician, dietician or social worker as soon as possible.
About The Authors: Barbara Tanenbaum, M.A., R.D. Research Dietician, General Clinical Research Center, New England Medical Center, Boston, MA.
Junaidah Barnett, PhD Assistant Professor of Community Health, Tufts University Medical School, Boston, MA.
Tim Cummings, M.S.W. Research Social Worker, General Clinical Research Center, New England Medical Center, Boston MA.