Weight Loss Program, Part 1: Basic Weight Loss Concepts

By Kathleen Goodwin, RD


In Part 1, we'll look into the primary factors that lead to weight gain, how to assess your obesity-related health risks, how to determine if you are overweight, and how to assess if you're really ready to lose weight permanently. It's true that calories consumed must be less than calories burned in order for weight loss to occur, but obesity has many other causes that we'll explore. It's also true that the more pounds you carry above your ideal weight, the higher risk you have for certain chronic diseases. It's important for you to assess, however, if you truly do have a weight problem, and what a realistic "ideal weight" is for you. Lastly, you must decide whether this is a good time for you to lose weight by doing a self-assessment. The overwhelming statistics show that most people who lose weight eventually gain it all back. You must be willing to take on the challenge and commitment that it takes to lose weight permanently. If you're not really ready, then it is likely that you too will be another "statistic". This weight loss program will guide you through the necessary steps to lose weight permanently so that this is the last time you'll ever have to shed pounds.

Topic outline for Part One:

Causes of obesity

In general, when you take in more calories than your body burns each day, you will gain weight. As simple as this sounds, however, it's not just whether you overeat that determines whether or not you will become obese. There are several other factors which contribute to obesity. Some factors, such as genetics and age are unchangeable. However, as you will see, many other factors are within your control to modify. You should focus on changing these factors to help you in your quest for greater health and weight loss. Review the causes below to determine which factors might be playing a role in why you're overweight today.

Obesity: the "Unchangeables"

1.   Genetics may determine your chances of being overweight

The genes our parents passed on to us play some role in whether or not we have a greater chance of being overweight as children and adults. If your parents were obese, your chances of being obese are about 25 to 30 percent higher than those who have no family history of obesity. This does not mean, however, that you are destined to be overweight. Remember, even with bad genes, you have more things working for you than against you when it comes to weight loss if you choose to put them into practice (see the “changeables” below).

2.   Gender - men burn more calories than women

Men can naturally burn more calories than women on a pound-for-pound basis. This is because, pound for pound, men have more muscle tissue. Since muscle tissue is active, and fat tissue is not, muscle consumes a significant number of calories each day simply for its own maintenance. Thus, the more muscle you have, the more calories you burn each day. The good news is that anyone can have more muscle, not just men. We'll get more into gaining muscle mass in Part 3, which focuses on exercise.

3.   As we grow older, we can gain weight

As we age, our metabolism begins to naturally slow down. When our metabolism decreases, our calorie intake must also decrease to compensate, or weight gain occurs. Another reason that weight increases with age is that we begin to lose muscle tissue, which, as mentioned above, burns many calories even at rest. Once again, however, anyone can acquire more muscle tissue with a good strength-training program, no matter what your age!

4.   Weight gains through medical conditions

Certain medical conditions can play a role in obesity, but they are rarely the primary cause. Many people have a condition known as hypothyroidism, or an underactive thyroid gland. However, people with hypothyroidism generally only gain between 5 and 10 pounds due to the condition in and of itself. In addition, most of this weight is usually fluid. According to The Mayo Clinic, less than 2% of cases of obesity can be specifically linked to conditions such as hypothyroidism and other metabolic disorders.

Obesity: the "Changeables"

1.   Physical activity affects your weight loss and weight gain

Lack of exercise can be a big influence on weight gain. It is also a critical factor in maintaining lost weight. Overweight individuals tend to be less physically active than their "normal weight" counterparts. Activity on some level is critical in keeping our metabolism elevated so we can burn more calories each day. Some exercises even help you burn more calories at rest.

2.   A high-fat diet = calories stored as body fat

Dietary fat provides more than two times the calories that protein or carbohydrate in the diet provides. High-fat diets tend to promote more storage of calories as body fat versus low-fat diets. Learn to reduce your intake of fats, especially saturated fats like red meats, high fat dairy products, butter, lard, cream sauces, gravies, sausage, bacon, and baked goods. We'll explore more about healthy eating in Part 2.

3.   Environmental and behavioral influences causing obesity

Habits are hard to break. This is especially true if they've been ingrained in you since childhood. Behaviors from childhood tend to continue into adulthood unless we make concerted efforts to identify and change them. Did your family serve large portions? Was food used as a reward? Was food used to combat stress or avoid other unpleasant situations? If so, chances are you're doing the same thing today. The good news is that any environmental or behavioral influence on our weight is changeable. But, it is also one of things that can take the most work and the most time. We'll tackle behavioral issues in Parts 4 and Part 5.

4.   Portion sizes and overeating

Would you like that super-sized? Today's portions are out of control, and many have come to expect enormous portions and feel disappointed or “ripped off” when presented with a more normal-sized meal. Most people also tend to clean their plates no matter how much food they receive. Here's a situation where you continuously need to evaluate your level of fullness and stop when you're satisfied, not stuffed! A food diary will help you with this - more on this in Part 4.

5.   Obesity due to modern conveniences

Modern life both at home and at the office has come to revolve around moving from one seat to another: television, computers, remote controls, automobiles, and the list goes on. In short, we have a significant increase in sedentary lifestyles. To be active, one now must make a concerted effort as we no longer walk to the grocery store or even get up to change the television channel. Simple daily activities like this that were a normal part of life just a couple decades ago translated into huge amounts of calories burned over the course of a year. Now, we don't have to physically work so hard for our wants and needs. This makes regularly scheduled exercise all the more critical.

6.   Obesity as a result of chronic dieting

Have you tried several "starvation diets" or Popular Diets over the course of your lifetime? If so, chances are you are having a much more difficult time taking pounds off now. Our primitive ancestors didn't have the mass quantities of food available like we have today. During times of famine and starvation, their bodies became programmed to slow down metabolism and conserve every calorie in order to survive. That programming hasn't changed today, despite the significant amounts of food available. So, every time you go on a starvation diet or crash diet, your body kicks in to "starvation mode" and lowers your metabolism in an effort to conserve every calorie you eat. For all your body knows, a famine has set in for months, and it must do what it can to survive. In addition, when you lose weight too rapidly, the body uses muscle tissue as a primary source of energy. Losing muscle is never desirable because that causes a direct decrease in your metabolism. So, chronic crash-dieting over the years generally leads to nothing more than a decrease in metabolism due to muscle loss as well as the body's programmed survival response. Many chronic dieters find that they will literally gain weight on 1200 calories a day. How do you get your metabolism back up to par if you've been a chronic dieter? You guessed it - regular exercise (more in Part 3)!

Health problems associated with obesity/obesity risk factors

One of the best motivators for achieving long-term weight loss is when our health is at stake rather than simply our appearance. The more overweight you are, the higher your risks are for the following conditions

Obesity causing shortness of breath

This can be one of the first recognizable health consequences of obesity. That's because the more fat you collect, the more pressure that is put upon vital organs such as your lungs, making it more difficult for you to breathe even while seated. This is a health risk, but it is also very psychologically damaging to be unable to perform normal daily activities easily.

Osteoarthritis as a result of obesity

Carrying excessive weight puts constant strain on your joints that can lead to arthritic conditions as well as chronic back pain and knee pain.

Obesity as the cause of high cholesterol levels

Obesity can cause a significant increase in total cholesterol and triglyceride levels in the blood. High levels of cholesterol and triglycerides can block the arteries, one of the primary causes leading to a heart attack.

Obesity induced high blood pressure/stroke

Your risk for high blood pressure doubles if you are obese. Having high blood pressure is a significant risk factor for having a stroke or developing heart disease. Even modest weight loss has been shown to be significantly beneficial in reducing blood pressure.

Obesity increasing the risk of insulin resistance and Type 2 diabetes

Obesity is overwhelmingly associated with Type 2 diabetes. That is, most people with Type 2 diabetes are obese. Many researchers blame the increase in obesity and sedentary living on the recent surge of Type 2 diabetes over the past few years. Diabetes significantly increases your risk for heart disease, kidney failure, blindness, loss of sensation in the extremities, and gangrene, which often leads to amputations.

Obesity now linked with cancer

Many studies have linked excessive weight with an increase in cancers of the esophagus, uterus, gall bladder, colon, breast, and prostate gland.

Sleeping disorders due to obesity

Obese people take longer to fall asleep, have more sleep disturbances, and sleep less on average than people at a normal weight. Sleep deprivation can leave people feeling tired and more vulnerable to snacking and less likely to exercise.

Obesity resulting in emotional and social problems

In a country that regales beauty and thinness, being obese can cause significant emotional and social distress. Many obese people report increased stress, emotional problems, and discrimination.

Your BMI, Ideal Weight and Health Risks

In this week's web site activity, you will be guided to Web sites that further explain and help you to calculate your BMI, ideal weight, and obesity-related health risk. You should always keep in mind, however, that height and weight tables or calculations do not always represent an appropriate weight for you as an individual. For instance, if you are a female who is 5'4" and weighs 220 pounds, some calculations will tell you that your ideal weight is 108-132 pounds.

However, if you've never weighed below 155 pounds in your adult life, then it is probably not realistic to expect to achieve a goal weight of 120 pounds. You should probably strive for the upper end of the figures you see or even strive for what you feel is the most realistic goal for you. If you're overweight, then any amount of weight loss or exercise significantly adds to better health and a better attitude. So make your goal better health and not to look like a supermodel!

Requirements for permanent weight loss

If you're like millions of people out there, you've tried multiple diets only to watch the weight come back on time and time again. Why do most diets eventually fail? Because they do not take into account all the components that you must address and incorporate to lose weight permanently. In general, most of these diets deal only with restricting calories, limiting certain types of foods, or eating only certain food combinations. Chances are, however, that the reasons you're overweight are about more than just what you're putting in your mouth. Do you eat when you're not hungry? Is exercise a foreign concept? Does a stressful day lead to empty ice cream containers? In other words, it's not usually what you're eating, but why you're eating. Successful, permanent weight loss must address not only a healthy diet plan that works for you, but also how to incorporate regular exercise and modify the behaviors that drive you to overeat to begin with.

In a nutshell, to lose weight permanently you must take each of the following steps:

  • Choose a healthy, well-balanced diet plan that works for you.
  • Find exercises you enjoy and do them regularly.
  • Commit (for a lifetime) to identifying, learning about, and changing the behaviors that cause you to overeat.

This weight loss program is designed to teach you all of the above. First, you must decide if you're really ready to lose weight after you complete this week's exercise. Then, you must be ready to learn about and commit to making the changes above. If you stick with them, make the commitment, and realize it is not just a temporary, quick-fix diet, then it will be the last time you ever have to walk down the weight loss path.

Remember: Consult your physician before beginning any diet or exercise program.

Next: Activities for Part One

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