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Real-world weight loss advice the works

Woman on scale

It’s only natural to want a healthy start to the New Year. And one of the most common New Year’s resolutions is to lose weight.

Yet achieving a healthy weight isn’t just about vanity. Obesity is a major risk factor for chronic diseases, such as diabetes, high blood pressure, heart disease and cancer, that not only impact our overall quality of life but also raise our lifelong health care costs.

Unfortunately, a new U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC) report shows that obesity rates in the United States continue to increase. About 38 percent of American adults were obese in 2013-2014, compared to 35 percent in 2011-2012, the CDC said. In Iowa, nearly 30 percent of adults are considered obese.

We all know that losing weight is tough. Following a restrictive diet plan may work for some people in the short term, but often not in the long run.

So for science-based weight loss advice, I turned to Erin Good, a registered dietitian at Hy-Vee in Waukee and a spokesperson for the Iowa Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.

Surprisingly, Good says dietitians tell their clients not to obsess over the number of pounds on a scale. Nowadays, dietitians look at their client’s body fat composition to determine if they’re in a healthy range.

A range of 10 to 22 percent for men and 20 to 32 percent for women is considered satisfactory for good health, according to the American College of Sports Medicine. A dietitian can help you determine your body fat composition measurement, Good says.

The latest research also shows that body shape may be important to overall health, Good notes. Having a large amount of abdominal fat raises your risk of chronic disease.

“Ultimately, it comes down to are you carrying more weight in your gut, or is it more in your hips and thighs, because that’s going to determine more of your risk for heart disease, high blood pressure or cancer,” Good says.

If you still want to set a weight loss goal, Good recommends starting with a range of 5 to 10 percent of your body weight.

“Even just a 5 percent weight loss can improve your blood sugar; it can improve your blood pressure,” Good says.

Although exercise plays an important role in weight management and overall health, Good says weight loss is “about 90 percent of what you eat.”

Good says that instead of focusing on what to cut from you diet, look at what you can add to your meals. Here are a few simple healthy eating goals that Good recommends:

  • Eat more fruits and vegetables. The U.S. Dietary Guidelines recommend that Americans eat five to seven servings of fruits and vegetables per day. But most people eat maybe one to three a day.

    “It’s not that you can’t have pasta or pizza. You can still eat the foods you like. But add something to it,” Good says. “So if you have a slice of pizza, also have a salad and an orange. Or instead of spaghetti and a bread stick, have spaghetti, a salad, some meat and maybe another vegetable.”

  • Watch out for added sugar. The American Heart Association recommends about 6 teaspoons of added sugar a day for women and 9 teaspoons of added sugar a day for men. But most of us tend to consume way more.

    “It’s really looking at what do you want to use that added sugar towards. A cookie or something at Starbucks? Can you have fruit to help with that sweet tooth or a piece of dark chocolate to get that chocolate fix without eating a whole package of M&Ms?” Good says.

  • Get enough sleep. Yes, adults need a bedtime too. The later your stay up, the more likely you are to mindless eat whatever you find the fridge, Good says.

  • Stay hydrated. Some people are good at drinking water throughout the day, while others tend to drink coffee or diet soda. Watch out for energy and specialty coffee drinks that may be loaded with sugar and extra calories.

  • Make a plan. It’s best to have a shopping list when you visit the grocery store, and take a little time in advance to prepare the ingredients for a healthy meal, Good says.

  • Find a buddy. Team up with family and friends to share or try new healthy recipes and snack ideas. “It will help with accountability and longevity, and it will make (weight loss) more fun,” Good says.

Even if you have the best weight-loss intentions at the beginning of year, don’t get discouraged if you fall back into old eating habits or gain back a few pounds that you lost, Good adds.

“You can’t beat yourself up on it. Everyone has a bad day. But you have to either start the meal over or have a fresh mindset the next day,” she says.

“Weight loss can be fun and easy and achievable. You have to plan. You have to be in check your mindset. Are you in the right mindset to start? You have to be ready to make a change.”

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