by Dr. Lorin Bradbury
Question: I am severely overweight, and have been most of my life. The weight is beginning to impact my joints, limiting my ability to get around. In addition, to the physical limitations, my doctor tells me I am a candidate for diabetes. When I think of dieting, it scares me. Are there some practical suggestions that you can make that I might try to curb my intake of food?
Obesity has become a very serious problem in the United States. Some are referring to it as epidemic. Nearly two-thirds of U.S. adults are overweight, and nearly one-third of U.S. adults are obese. Approximately 19% of children, ages 6-11, and 17% of adolescents, ages 12-19, were overweight in 2000. The most recent statistics indicate these numbers have remained constant over the past decade. Even if the increase in obesity has plateaued, the percentage of children and adolescents who are defined as overweight has more than doubled since the early 1970s.
A very basic principle is the relationship between caloric intake and weight gain. The amount you eat makes a difference. Many people have developed very unhealthy eating habits, such as eating fast, gorging oneself, and eating late at night. Gorging while eating rapidly results in taking in significantly more calories than necessary just to maintain weight before the brain receives the “full” signal. As a result, the body has to do something with extra calories and stores them as fat. This sets up a vicious cycle whereby the body screams for “more” while storing excess calories.
Another bad habit is eating late at night. Going to bed on a full stomach results in your body storing fat while you sleep.
Research indicates there a few things you can do to reduce caloric intake. Consumer Psychologist, Brian Wansink, Ph.D., suggests “ways we can rearrange our environment so we make better choices without giving it a second thought.” Studies have found that people typically serve 23% more food on a 12-inch plate than on a 10-inch one. Similarly, they pour 37% more liquid in in a short, wide class than in a tall, skinny one. Some have recommended ridding your cupboards of large plates and glasses.
If you want to lose weight, don’t plan to do it in a short period of time. Pace yourself. It took a long time to get to where you are. Another way is to simply fill only half your plate and plan ahead of time not to take seconds. Also, by eating more slowly, there is time for the satiety signal to reach the brain, informing your brain that you are full before you have stuffed yourself with twice the necessary calories.
Another environmental change is to change your eating schedule so that you go to bed on an empty stomach. That will cause the body to burn fat while you sleep. That means you need to prepare to eat early in the evening. With both husband and wife working, some find that difficult to do. However, the use of a crockpot can solve that and supper can be ready when you arrive home from work, rather beginning the meal when you arrive home.
Another way to have meals ready is to cook them ahead of time and freeze them. In the morning they can be put in the refrigerator to thaw slowly throughout the day and be ready to microwave in the evening as soon as you get home.
Increase your activity in the small things. Instead of yelling for the kids to get your shoes, get them yourself. Instead of asking your wife to get you the next soft drink, get up and get it yourself. Better yet, get up and get a drink of water instead of the soft drink. If there are stairs in the building where you work, take the stairs rather than the elevator.
Years ago, I read a book that advocated walking stairs instead of elevators or escalators. Every time I am in an airport, or a building with elevators, escalators, and moving sidewalks, I am reminded of that simple statement. Unless what I am carrying is too large, I always walk the stairs and avoid the moving sidewalks. If you have stairs in your home, begin slowly, but week by week increase the number of times you climb up and down the stairs just for exercise. If your work is in a building with long hallways, walk those hallways and stairways on breaks, instead of eating another doughnut.
Finally, get yourself a good digital scale and weigh every morning upon rising. Doing this has been controversial, but recent studies are supporting this technique. Instead of going a week or a month without weighing, and gaining a significant amount, you monitor your weight day by day. If it’s up, you eat less. If are trying to lose weight, it allows you to monitor your progress. There will day that you plateau, and there will be days you gain, but by weighing yourself every day, you can adjust your intake.
These may be simple suggestions, but you will be surprised at what a difference a few small changes can make.
Lorin L. Bradbury, Ph.D. is a licensed psychologist in private practice in Bethel. For appointments, he can be reached at 543-3266. If you have questions that you would like Dr. Bradbury to answer in the Delta Discovery, please send them to The Delta Discovery, P.O. Box 1028, Bethel, AK 99559, or e-mail them to [email protected]