Many of the negative health effects of obesity can be reversed by losing weight. The challenge, of course, is getting started. Several weight loss experts provide the following advice.
START WITH CALORIES. “Limiting calories is much more effective for initial weight loss than exercising, so don’t worry if your condition limits what you can do in terms of physical activity,” says Lawrence Cheskin, MD, director of the Johns Hopkins Weight Management Center in Baltimore. Many weight-loss experts, including Dr. Cheskin, recommend reducing your calorie intake by 500 to 700 calories a day to lose one to one-and-half pounds a week.
AVOID REFINED CARBOHYDRATES. It’s not just the quantity of calories that count; quality matters too. “Most people consume more carbohydrates than they need,” says Molly Kimball, RD, nutrition program manager of the Ochesner Health System’s Elmwood Fitness Center in New Orleans. She advises cutting down on refined carbohydrates and focusing on eating more fiber and whole grains like quinoa and brown rice, lean protein like skinless poultry and fish, vegetables, and spice and aromatic herbs.
CHOOSE BRAIN FOOD. Consuming antioxidant-rich berries, plums, cherries, apricots, grapes, broccoli, sweet potatoes, bell peppers, spinach, and tomatoes can help protect your brain from harmful free radicals that cause wear and tear on your cells, explains Gary Small, MD, director of the UCLA Longevity Center. The omega-3 fatty acids in fish such as salmon, mackerel, tuna, sardines and anchovies can reduce harmful inflammation in your body.
EAT SMALLER PORTIONS. Be mindful of the size of your meals. If you don’t prepare your own food, make sure people involved in your care adhere to your nutritional goals, Kimball adds.
ENLIST A BUDDY. Get plenty of sleep and learn to manage stress without turning to food. “It helps if you have a friend for support,” Kimball says. “That buddy system helps keep up motivation.”
SET A CALORIE BUDGET. Pick your target weight, then determine how many calories you need to reach it. If for example, you want to weigh 150 pounds and have no physical limitation, allow yourself 10 calories for each pound for a total 1,500 calories per day, says Kimball. If you exercise more than an hour a day, you may need more calories. To track your calorie intake, Kimball recommends using a smartphone app like MyFitnessPal. If you have physical limitations or mobility problems, you may decrease your daily calorie allotment by 10 to 25 percent while trying to lose weight, depending on the extent of your limitation, Kimball says. If you don’t want to count calories, Kimball recommends limiting starchy carbohydrates of all types, including whole grains, and focusing on lean proteins, vegetables, and small amounts of healthy fats.
HONOR YOUR HUNGER SIGNALS. Get in the habit of listening to your body and paying attention to when you’re truly physically hungry and when you simply have the urge to eat, Kimball suggests. If you’re hungry, you should eat healthy foods but stop eating before you feel completely full. If you have an urge to eat, identify what’s causing it. If it’s loneliness, for example, call a friend. If you’re feeling sad, listen to upbeat music. If you’re tired, take a nap.
INCOPORATE AEROBIC ACTIVITY. Besides helping you burn extra calories during a workout, exercising helps shed body fat, add lean muscle (which will help you burn more calories all day), and increase your cardiovascular fitness, Dr. Cheskin says. If you’re new to exercise and have no physical limitations, start with 10 to 20 minutes a day and build up from there. Eventually, the goal is to do at least 45 minutes of aerobic exercise—such as walking, swimming, bicycling, or using the elliptical machine—most days of the week. “Cardio exercise is good for your heart and vascular health, your mood and stress levels,” Kimball says.
ADD STRENGTH TRAINING. Working out with resistance bands or weights twice a week builds lean muscle, increases your strength, and helps you with activities of daily living. “Increasing lean muscle can raise your resting metabolic rate: One pound of muscle can burn approximately seven calories [per day], so adding 3 to 4 pounds of lean muscle, which is very reasonable with 12 to 15 weeks in proper strength training program, can increase your ability to burn calories when you aren’t exercising by up to 30 calories a day,” says Pete McCall, a professor of exercise science at Mesa College in San Diego.
ACCOMMODATE PHYSICAL LIMITATIONS. If you have mobility problems, start by doing what you can three times a week and building from there. And consult your neurologist about any possible limitations. “Just getting up and moving for five minutes at a time with two to three 10- to 15-minute intervals throughout the day for activities such as walking, climbing stairs, or simply standing can improve your ability to burn calories,” says McCall. Find an activity you enjoy—whether it’s walking, riding a stationary bike, or doing exercises in a pool—and make it a habit. “Start slowly, then increase intensity and frequency,” McCall advises.
WORK WITH A THERAPIST. If you have limited use of your legs or difficulty gripping things, consider teaming up with a physical occupational therapist who can show you how to use various exercise machines and pieces of equipment. For example, some people may benefit from using a hand cycle, which is powered by arms instead of the legs, or resistance bands that are attached to a wall or door, or Velcro weights for the wrists or ankles for strength training. “Do anything to move your muscles and get your heart rate up so you can burn more calories, Kimball says.
Published by NeurologyNow.com