You know how it goes: a celebratory dinner here, an office party there, a few weekend barbecues and birthdays sprinkled throughout…and the next thing you know, a year’s gone by and you’ve mysteriously gained 10 pounds. Most people don’t intend to let excess weight creep on, but for many — year after year — it does. And it doesn’t take much for a few pounds to add up to some major health issues, especially as we get older. Maintaining a healthy weight is important not just for fitting into your favorite jeans, but because it can improve and prolong your quality of life.
If you’re carrying extra weight, chances are you’ve felt some of the side effects — ranging from physical to emotional. Do any of these sound familiar?
- Fatigue, which can range from mild to severe
- Shortness of breath after sudden physical activity (feeling winded)
- Back pain
- Difficulty sleeping
- Increased sweating
- Joint pain (osteoarthritis)
- Snoring and/or waking up for no reason during the night
According to the Mayo Clinic, one of the most problematic places to store excess fat is in the abdominal area. “The trouble with belly fat is that it’s not limited to the extra layer of padding located just below the skin (subcutaneous fat). It also includes visceral fat — which lies deep inside your abdomen, surrounding your internal organs.”
Regardless of your overall weight, having a large amount of belly fat increases your risk of:
- Cardiovascular disease
- Insulin resistance and type 2 diabetes
- Colorectal cancer
- Sleep apnea
- Premature death from any cause
- High blood pressure¹
Obese-related conditions cause an estimated 300,000 premature deaths in the US, according to Stanford Health Care. In addition to a decline in the quality of life you experience, carrying extra weight can also be costly. In 2008, according to the CDC, the medical costs for people who are obese were $1,429 higher than those of normal weight people; the estimated combined medical cost of obesity in the US that same year was $147 billion dollars.
Stanford Health Care defines the top three most common factors for extra weight as genetics, metabolic and hormonal factors, and lifestyle. When you combine those with a lack of exercise and physical activity, it can be difficult to lose or even maintain your weight as you get older. Modern-day food choices are also part of the problem — since the convenience and low cost of poor-quality “food” can be difficult to pass up. An article at HealthDay.com noted: “In the simplest terms, Americans as a whole are eating more calories than they burn. And why not? Food is more plentiful and more convenient than ever before. We don’t have to hunt it or scavenge it or harvest it. We just have to pull it out of the fridge, pick it up at one of 170,000 fast-food restaurants, or order it over the phone. Everywhere, from coffee shops to restaurants, portion sizes have swelled beyond imagination.” The U.S. Department of Agriculture found that the American diet has increased by about 530 calories a day over the past 35 years.
If you want to start a weight loss program, first schedule a visit with your primary care physician to make sure you’re in otherwise healthy condition. Choosing the right weight loss plan for you and your lifestyle is important. For example, a former athlete may find it easier to incorporate physical activity back into their daily routine than someone with physical limitations or someone used to a sedentary lifestyle.
Most nutritionists will agree that cutting out junk and opting for “real” food is a good start. Preparing your own meals can also help — letting you control the quality and amount of ingredients, which can help trim unnecessary calories. Another helpful tip? Forgoing starches and simple carbohydrates, which can leave you feeling hungry sooner, and even lead to cravings. So opt for vegetables and healthy fats instead. (Try mashed cauliflower in lieu of mashed potatoes — it’s delicious!) And decreasing your sugar intake can have a big effect — both calorically and in the way you feel energy-wise. If you’re craving something sweet, a fresh bowl of strawberries is a much healthier bet than strawberry shortcake!