Inner Fitness

No More Bad Scale Days
By Carol Krucoff

Forget the notion of an "ideal weight." Don't follow a restrictive diet that considers some foods "good" and others "bad." Because all too often, these traditional approaches to battling the bulge fail.

"Americans spend more than $33 billion per year on weight control products and services," says the American Dietetic Association (ADA), "yet these efforts seem to have no effect on slowing the increasing prevalence of obesity."
One in three adults and one in four children in the United States are obese, and obesity-related medical conditions are the second leading cause of death in America, after smoking-related illness.

That's why the nation's largest group of nutrition professionals is now advising people to stop focusing on weight loss alone.

Instead, they recommend working toward "weight management," which they define as "achieving the best weight possible in the context of overall health."

Hung Up On The Numbers

"Too many people get hung up on reaching a number on a height/weight chart that for them, genetically and physiologically, may be unattainable," says ADA spokeswoman Josephine Connolly, a nutritionist at the State University of New York at Stony Brook.

Inability to achieve these unrealistic goals can be physically and psychologically damaging, she says, since discouraged people often abandon healthy habits and consider themselves "failures."

That's why the ADA has "redefined success," Connolly says, "by encouraging people to focus on behaviors they can control rather than on weight loss, which they may not be able to directly control." These behaviors, which ADA recommends for all weight management programs, include:

  • Gradual change to a more healthful eating style with (proportional) increased intake of whole grains, fruits and vegetables.
  • A nonrestrictive approach to eating based on eating when hungry and stopping when full.
  • Gradual increase to at least 30 minutes of enjoyable physical activity each day.

In addition, Connolly says, "we're encouraging the notion of a healthy weight, which someone can achieve and maintain, as opposed to a cosmetic weight or ideal weight on a standardized chart."

Each person's healthy weight is determined individually, she says, based on his or her weight history and current medical condition including blood pressure, cholesterol profile and glucose tolerance.

Even modest weight losses, such as dropping 10 to 16 pounds, can dramatically improve these health parameters, Connolly notes:Take it slow

Rather than "racing to a goal weight for one day, then gaining the weight back," Connolly says, "it's better to lose a modest amount, then maintain it for three to six months before you try to lose any more. It's a great confidence builder. Plus, some research indicates this can help your body adjust its metabolic rate."

ADA also stresses the importance of daily physical activity — at least 30 minutes of moderate physical activity per day.

"Exercise is the single most powerful tool for weight control," says ADA spokeswoman Kathleen Zelman, a registered dietitian in Atlanta. "We're encouraging people to pick an activity they enjoy, like gardening or walking, because we know that if people consider exercise a chore, it's not going to happen."

Pleasure Principle

This "pleasure principle" also applies to food choices.

"All foods can fit," she says. "What you love, you can have in moderation. But we also want to teach people to love healthy foods like broccoli, with lemon instead of butter, and plenty of fresh fruits, vegetables and whole grains."

The basic message is "an attitude change," sums up ADA spokeswoman Leslie Bonci, a nutritionist at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center.

"We're taking a more positive and realistic approach that encourages people to adopt healthy eating and exercises practices they can sustain and enjoy for their lifetime," says Bonci. "And we're recognizing that how you feel and how much energy you have can be just as important a measure of success as a number on a scale."


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