Losing Weight Sensibly
Many overweight men have tried dieting and exercising to lose weight, with only modest success. Backsliding is easy, especially during the holidays or on special occasions. Successful weight loss depends on setting attainable goals and having reasonable expectations of meeting them. Losing 10 percent of your total body weight is an example of a sensible goal that you will be likely to reach. The sense of accomplishment that you feel will encourage you to keep the weight off and lose more if you desire. Most people should lose weight gradually; a rate of 2 pounds per week is about right. If you have a serious weight-related health problem that requires you to lose weight faster, do so only under your doctor’s supervision.
How much you weigh is determined by a number of factors, including the amount and type of food you eat, whether you exercise, whether you eat in response to stress, your genetic makeup, your age, and your health. If you want to lose pounds and maintain a reasonable weight, you need to deal with all of these issues. Eating less and exercising are both critical to any weight-loss pro- gram, but if you eat out of boredom or fatigue, you will have a lot of difﬁculty keeping those pounds off permanently. Losing weight requires permanent changes in your lifestyle—changes that might be tough to make.
Fad diets that offer quick and easy results usually deliver only empty prom- ises. Such diets may even be harmful to your health. Be especially wary of any diet that eliminates an entire food group, such as carbohydrates, because you could become deﬁcient in essential nutrients. The only proven way to lose weight is to cut your intake of calories—especially high-fat foods—and to increase your physical activity to burn more calories. The healthy eating advice presented in the Food Guide Pyramid (see page 5) and the Dietary Guidelines for Ameri- cans (see page 6)—to eat a diet that is low in fat; includes plenty of whole grains, vegetables, and fruits; minimizes salt and sugar; and includes alcohol only in moderation—is even more important for men who need to lose excess weight.
The ﬁrst thing you should do when thinking about starting a diet is to see your doctor. He or she can tell you whether your health status allows you to undertake a weight-loss program safely. Work with your doctor to determine the type of diet that is best for you. Your doctor may want to perform a physical examination or certain tests before you begin dieting, depending on your health.
When deciding on the type of weight-loss plan you want to begin, consider several factors. Do you want to lose the weight on your own or join a commercial weight-loss program?
Before choosing a commercial weight-loss program, ask the following ques- tions. Does the program require periodic check-ins or meetings? Is the location easy to get to, and are meeting times convenient? Do staff members have appropriate training and credentials? If you need any medication or nutritional supplements, do they have unwanted side effects? Be sure to get a full account- ing of all the costs involved with the program you are considering.
If you choose to lose weight on your own, you need to become aware of your eating habits so you can learn to control or modify them. A good way of raising awareness about your eating habits is to keep a detailed journal of the food you eat, how much you consume, and when you eat. As you take in fewer calories, charting your weight loss will build your motivation. Looking back at your food journal entries, you can sometimes see eating patterns emerge because you ate when you were feeling depressed, anxious, or angry instead of because you were hungry. You will probably be surprised at your eating habits. This new aware- ness will inspire you to change not only how much you eat but also the way you eat.
A strong support network is key to successful weight loss. Enlist your partner, children, siblings, coworkers, and friends to help you get through the most difﬁ- cult periods. Plan low-fat, lower-calorie meals with your partner. Find a buddy who is also trying to lose weight so you can share experiences and exercise together. It’s a lot easier to fall back into your old eating habits when you don’t have anyone to answer to but yourself. If you do return to your old eating habits, don’t be too hard on yourself. It can be especially difﬁcult to stick to your diet at restaurants, dinner parties, and on holidays. Resolve to start fresh the next day, and consider your temporary lapse a learning experience.
Exercise is one of the most important components of any weight-loss plan because it burns excess calories, increases your energy level, and improves your mood. Make time in your day for 30 minutes of physical activity—every day. If you have been very inactive, start by taking a couple of ﬂights of stairs rather than using the elevator or by parking farther from your destination so you can walk part of the way. Spend less of your time on activities that use little energy, such as watching television, and more time on activities that get you moving, such as yard work. Then, with your doctor’s permission, gradually begin doing some type of exercise that you enjoy. It could be brisk walking, bicycling, swim- ming, jogging, or working out on exercise machines at a health club—whatever your doctor recommends as appropriate to your age and overall health. Remem- ber that the activity does not have to be done all at once. You will burn the same amount of calories in three 10-minute exercise sessions as you will during 30 consecutive minutes.
Keeping a record of your exercise sessions is a good way to combat a lack of motivation. You can also write down the health-related improvements, such as easier breathing, that you have noted. Overweight men often feel discomfort or pain when beginning an exercise program. If this happens to you, try switching to non–weight-bearing activities such as bicycling or swimming.
Doctors may prescribe medications or even surgery to help some severely overweight men, or men whose weight poses a very high health risk, attain a more reasonable weight. Most drugs prescribed for weight loss work by sup- pressing your appetite. They are most effective if you use them as part of a weight-loss program that emphasizes consuming fewer calories and exercising more to burn excess calories and fat at the same time you are taking the drug. Weight-loss drugs work differently in different people and all have side effects, which are usually mild. You should carefully talk over your options with your doctor to determine whether weight-loss medication is right for you.
Doctors perform surgery to treat obesity only in cases in which the person’s health risk from being overweight is extremely serious. This type of surgery can promote weight loss in two ways. In the most common type of surgery for obe- sity, commonly called stomach stapling, the surgeon closes off or removes part of the stomach to restrict the amount of food the person can eat. In the second type, the surgeon connects the stomach to a lower portion of the small intestine, bypassing the ﬁrst section, known as the duodenum, so that food is less effec- tively digested and absorbed. This type of surgery usually causes vitamin and mineral deﬁciencies. Weight loss is signiﬁcant after either type of surgery, but men who have surgery to correct obesity need to see their doctor regularly for the rest of their lives to monitor their condition. Because any type of surgery has health risks, you and your doctor need to weigh the risks and beneﬁts of this type of surgery to determine if it is the best option for you.