Weight loss and you

WAC Nutrition & Health Coach weighs in on weight loss and how it really works

By Melissa Petrichko, WAC Nutrition & Health Coach

Nutrition & Health Coach 2

Have you ever wondered why losing weight doesn’t work like it did in your 20s?

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), nearly half of all adult Americans have tried to lose weight over the past 12 months through exercising, eating less, eating more fruits and vegetables, drinking more water, and eating less “junk” food. Unfortunately, roughly 90 percent of those who successfully lose weight will regain it within 12–24 months. As futile as this sounds, it is possible to lose weight at any age, keep it off permanently, and join the 10 percent club of those who have been able to experience long-term success in their weight-loss efforts.

Why is weight loss so hard to achieve and maintain?

  1. We are at the mercy of biology when we attempt to lose weight
    • New research shows how much a woman weighs and what she eats before and during pregnancy can influence the genetics that control her child’s weight.
    • When we gain weight, our body establishes the heavier weight as its new set point or baseline and defends this addition of body mass as if a mother were protecting her young.
    • Years of yo-yo dieting, cycling through severe calorie restrictions, missing meals, and fad diets lacking essential macronutrients take their toll on our metabolism. These constant changes to our metabolism make it more challenging to lose weight in your 50s than in your 20s, when your metabolism was faster.

My best advice is to simply put yourself in a position where you don’t gain weight in the first place. Do something about it immediately if you feel your body gaining weight, even a slight five-pound gain. A small weight gain of five pounds is much more manageable to lose than 50 pounds.

  1. It’s not as easy as calories in versus calories out.
    • Many factors contribute to weight loss other than what we eat or how much exercise we get. Other factors—including biology, behavior, and environment—can affect the efficacy of weight loss. In addition, the quality and quantity of sleep we get, how well we manage and cope with various forms of stress, and our overall mental attitude and mindset will also affect the body’s ability to lose weight successfully and keep it off.
    • Severe dieting (calorie restriction below one’s basal metabolic rate) slows down your metabolism substantially. To prevent metabolic slowdown, you want to ensure that you eat enough calories to meet your basic biological needs, which is denoted by your basal metabolic rate (BMR). This, combined with your activity level, will result in a sustained eating behavior capable of yielding long-term success.
    • Any short-term drastic or fad diet will not yield long-term results. You may lose weight quickly at first, but will join the 90 percent club who have regained the weight they lost within a year. Long-term permanent weight loss requires long-term attention, patience, and persistence.

Six key factors that will help you lose weight and keep it off

1. Be well-hydrated

  • The National Academy of Medicine recommends that adult women drink 11 cups of water daily and adult men drink 16 cups daily.
  • Optimal hydration is necessary for every function in the body and crucial in maintaining organ function.
  • Signs of dehydration are dark and strong-smelling urine, constipation, dry mouth and thirst, headaches, muscle fatigue, and tiredness.
  • Be mindful of beverages that dehydrate you, such as coffee and alcohol.
  • Carry a refillable water bottle with you and drink from it throughout the day.

2. Get adequate amounts of sleep

  • The National Sleep Foundation offers sleep recommendations for people of all ages, with an average of seven hours or more for adults. Although sleep requirements may vary slightly among individuals, there is science behind the health benefits of getting enough quality sleep to restore hormone balance, build memory, and optimize daily performance.
  • Adequate sleep is necessary for proper immune, endocrine, and neurological function.
  • Lack of sleep decreases glucose tolerance, insulin sensitivity, and leptin levels (a hormone that helps maintain average body weight).
  • Sleep is crucial to successful weight loss and management. It should not be treated as simple downtime but instead viewed as precious time to improve mental, emotional, and physical health.
  • Sleep.org is a valuable resource for the importance of sleep.

3. Manage all forms of stress

  • Stress in all forms (perceived, real, imagined, or recalled) sets off a natural alarm system in your body that releases cortisol (stress hormone). This uncontrollable biological system keeps us safe while in danger and subsides when the threat is gone. When we are under chronic and unmanaged stress levels, this biological system works against us. Stress can encourage anxiety, depression, digestive issues, headaches, muscle tension, pain, hypertension, stroke, sleep problems, weight gain, and more. It can also increase one’s risk of heart disease.
  • When cortisol is high, other systems in the body shut down, and digestion is one of those systems. When we are stressed out, we are prone to overeating and under-eating.
  • Because cortisol slows digestion, chronic levels of stress encourage fat storage.
  • A focus on stress management techniques can go a very long way in helping you lose weight.

4. Eat nutrient-dense whole foods in the appropriate amounts for your personal energy needs

  • Eat a natural food diet laden with vegetables, proteins, and low-glycemic index carbohydrates. Refer to Harvard Health Eating Plate as a reference.
  • Reduce “junk” food choices to 10 percent of your daily intake, or roughly 200 calories per day. This includes highly processed carbohydrates, sugary baked goods, desserts, and high-calorie beverages.
  • Keep alcohol consumption within a low-risk category (One drink for women and two for men per day).

5. Meet the recommended exercise requirements for basic health

  • Evidence proves that physical activity and daily exercise will help you feel, function, and sleep better. According to the CDC, regular exercise is one of the most important things you can do for your overall health and well-being.
  • The Department of Health and Human Services has put out a Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans. Within this guide, it is recommended that all adults get a minimum of 150–300 minutes of moderate exercise per week or 75–150 minutes of vigorous aerobic activity per week.
  • Additional mental, physical, and emotional benefits are gained when individuals engage in more activity and exercise than the minimums mentioned above.

6. Maintain a positive attitude and optimistic mindset.

  • Overall attitude and mindset are often overlooked when it comes to weight loss and overall health. Taking the time to objectively look at your well-being, clarify long-term health goals, and build a solid foundation of new positive behaviors is the best way to achieve permanent weight loss. Consistently practicing positive, healthy lifestyle skills will allow you to enjoy a sustained higher quality of physical, mental, and emotional health for a lifetime.

In conclusion, although weight loss may be challenging due to biological factors out of our control, it is not impossible to work toward a healthy weight for your body type. Having the patience and persistence to make slow and progressive improvements is the key to successful weight loss, improved health, and long-term well-being.

View WAC Wellness services online and contact the Wellness Center at wellness@wac.net.

—Posted June 6, 2022; JC.

Resources:

https://www.cdc.gov/nchs/products/databriefs/db313.htm#:~:text=Nearly%20one%2Dhalf%20(49.1%25),40%E2%80%9359%20(52.4%25).

https://healthblog.uofmhealth.org/health-management/weighing-facts-tough-truth-about-weight-loss

https://www.sleep.org/how-sleep-works/how-many-hours-of-sleep-do-we-need/

https://www.hsph.harvard.edu/news/hsph-in-the-news/the-importance-of-hydration/

https://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/stress-management/in-depth/stress/art-20046037#:~:text=Through%20a%20combination%20of%20nerve,pressure%20and%20boosts%20energy%20supplies.

https://www.niaaa.nih.gov/alcohol-health/overview-alcohol-consumption/moderate-binge-drinking#:~:text=According%20to%20the%20%22Dietary%20Guidelines,in%20a%20day%20for%20women%2C

https://www.cdc.gov/physicalactivity/basics/index.htm

https://www.hsph.harvard.edu/nutritionsource/healthy-eating-plate/

https://health.gov/sites/default/files/2019-09/Physical_Activity_Guidelines_2nd_edition.pdf

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