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A thinner you is waiting

Dr. Drew Werner
Vail CO, Colorado

Perhaps you have heard the old medical saying about adipose tissue, better known as body fat. It goes something like this: “Adipose tissue, you can’t live with it, and you can’t live without it!” How is your New Year’s resolution going?

Dear Doc,

I have been trying forever to lose weight, but it never stays off. What can I do?

Feeling Desperate in Vail

Dear Desperate,

Let me reassure you, you are not alone! The fact is 50 million Americans will try to lose weight this year. Even more astonishing is that they will spend over 30 billion dollars on over-the-counter and non prescription supplements, diets and plans. Despite this enormous expense, only 5 percent of them will have long term success. Understanding more about food and body fat may help explain why losing weight is so hard.

Body fat is essential as an energy store for our metabolism. It also keeps us warm, providing an insulating layer underneath our skin. Fat cells cushion us when we fall and surround many of our internal organs. Just the right amount and we are healthy and happy. Unfortunately too much is a bad thing. If you know your Body Mass Index or BMI then you have a good idea whether you have too much or not. A BMI of 25 or less is the goal, although any BMI below 18.5 is too low.

Unlike blood, hair, skin and many other cells in our body which come and go, a fat cell is with you forever. Once a fat cell is formed, beginning in infancy and throughout life, it never goes away. That is one of the reasons overweight people can have their weight fluctuate so much. For them weight loss simply means emptying some of their fat cells, which are, unfortunately, ready and waiting to fill up again. A thin person who was never overweight has to build a new fat cell then fill it up to become overweight. That is harder to do. It also in part explains why overweight children tend to become overweight adults.

Too much adipose tissue is a tremendous strain on the body. All those fat cells add weight, which the bones and joints have to lug around. At the same time, the heart has to work overtime just to pump blood to them while the lungs, liver, kidneys and virtually every other organ work harder too. It is no wonder, then, that overweight people have more medical problems because everything just wears out faster. Add in the complication of diabetes caused by insulin resistance from those excess fat cells and the problems only multiply. All is not lost, however. The good news is problems caused by excess weight are reversed by weight loss. Insurance companies are just beginning to recognize that and more benefits are becoming available to help people lose weight.

While diet and exercise are essential, often help is needed in the form of dietary counseling, fitness training, stress management and even medication and surgery.

Without the basics of diet and exercise well under control, other weight loss strategies are unlikely to succeed in the long term. Both a healthy diet and regular exercise are simple to think about, harder to do and challenging to continue. Like anything else we do successfully, these lifestyle changes require commitment, reinforcement and habit. Just by reading this means you are ready to make a change. The next step is to get someone else involved to help. They can be the commitment you need to continue and you can be theirs. Finally, building habits makes your new healthy changes sure to endure. Rather than wait for tomorrow, build a healthy diet and regular exercise into your routine. Recognize your importance and allow yourself to have the time and effort that change requires.

Exercise itself needs to be at least moderate in intensity for 30 minutes, five days a week. Vigorous exercise on three of those days for at least 20 minutes is acceptable as well. Living here in the midst of God’s country in the Rocky Mountains, exercise can be as easy as a walk out our front doors. Our numerous health clubs, fitness centers and rec centers are also easy ways to add variety to your routine. If you can brush your teeth, comb your hair and shower or bathe, you can exercise, too.

While there are countless diets in the world, the only one that will work for you is the one you can stick with. In America, the land of excess, the simplest thing to do is just remember that when it comes to weight loss, less is more. My recommendations are:

– Eat three meals every day and do not skip breakfast.

– Always eat on your smallest plate (preferable a desert plate), and no seconds.

– Have a balanced diet, but always eat some protein with your carbohydrates.

– Snacks should be green, like celery, lettuce and broccoli.

– Drink plenty of fluids, but keep them calorie-free, too. Water is best. Skim milk is healthy at two glasses per day. Caffeine should be limited to two servings per day.

– Alcohol, cookies, cake and ice cream are for special occasions. So, keep them special. We all need to indulge but not too often!

– Remember that you will be hungry because your body would rather use calories you eat than burn up “precious” fat stores. As time passes and your habits change, that hunger goes away as well.

Plan on weight loss of one or two pounds per month. If you are doing that, consider yourself successful. Slow and steady wins the race, while crash diets too often bring the weight crashing back just as quickly. If you are giving it your best shot and still are not successful, see your doctor. He or she can recommend a specific weight loss program, counseling with a dietician, or even prescribe medications to help. Surgery is a last option, but a consideration for the very obese who are suffering one or more medical problems from their weight. Those complications include sleep apnea, diabetes, joint problems, hypertension and heart disease. Weight loss is frustrating, but do not give up! A thinner and much healthier you is waiting!

Let me know what’s on your mind ” write to me c/o cschnell@vaildaily.com. Remember, your health is your responsibility! Health is our greatest asset, and it doesn’t happen by accident. If something doesn’t seem right, questions are left unanswered, don’t wait, call your doctor.


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