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News Archive - Progress Newsletter Summer 2001 Online

Food for Thought: Healthiest Weight

By Suzanne Dixon, M.P.H., M.S., R.D.
U-M Cancer Center Nutrition Specialist

Being overweight is a very common and very serious health problem in the United States. Individuals with a Body Mass Index of more than 25 are at higher risk for cancer, diabetes, heart disease, hypertension, stroke and many other diseases.

Health professionals use Body Mass Index or BMI, instead of weight alone, as a way to determine a person's ideal body weight. Keep in mind that BMI can be influenced by muscle mass. For example, a highly athletic person with a lot of muscle mass will have a higher BMI, even though their body fat might be quite low. This is because muscle weighs more than fat. For most adults in the United States, however, BMI is a good indicator of whether a person is at a healthy weight.

A registered dietitian can help you develop a sensible and successful weight loss plan. But there are things you can do yourself to help manage your weight. Follow the tips below if you need to lose weight.

Focus on eating a plant-based diet
A plant-based diet isn't a vegetarian diet. It's just a diet where most of your calories come from whole plant foods such as fruits, vegetables, whole grains and legumes (starchy beans). Eating a plant-based diet will help with weight loss. Picture a large, fast food hamburger, such as a Big Mac® or a Whopper®. These foods contain about 500 to 700 calories. Add a supersize fries and large soda and you more than double the calories - just for one meal! Try to picture 1,500 calories worth of apples, carrots, whole grain cereal or beans. You could fill up a room! If you eat plant foods, you will fill up faster with fewer calories. This is because plant foods contain fewer calories than animal foods for the same volume or quantity of food.

Fill up on fiber
Fiber can do three things to help with weight management. First, fiber helps to fill you up faster, so you eat fewer calories. Second, fiber will help slow down how quickly your body uses the food you eat for fuel. So, you'll feel full longer and eat less over the course of the day. Finally, fiber will cut down on the amount of calories your body absorbs. New research suggests that people who eat a lot of fiber actually absorb fewer calories from the foods they eat, which helps with weight loss.

Water, water, everywhere
Drink water before each snack and meal. Drink water throughout the day. Most people think that it's good to drink water because it will fill you up so you'll eat less. This is true, but there's an even better reason to drink more water if you're trying to lose weight. Our body gives signals that tell us it's hungry. Our brains register these signals. Unfortunately, our brains are not very good at telling the difference between a signal that says "I'm hungry" from a signal that says "I'm thirsty." So often, when people think they are hungry, they are just thirsty. They are dehydrated. So, if you keep your body well hydrated by drinking a lot of water, you can get rid of the "I'm thirsty" signals. That means, when your body tells you to eat, you know that it's really food that your body wants.

Try the following: Before each meal and snack, before you put ANY food into your mouth, stop and FIRST have 8 to 16 ounces of plain water. Wait 15 minutes. Then eat. It takes your brain a while to register that your body has received the water. So, if you drink water, wait a few minutes and then eat, the 'thirst portion' of your hunger will be gone. Then you might still be hungry, but chances are you'll eat less!

Set behavior-based goals
People who use behavior-based goals for motivation, rather than things such as a number on a scale, have more success with weight loss and weight management. For example, don't use goals such as, "I'm going to lose 20 pounds" or "I'm going to fit into that outfit in one month." Instead, set goals such as, "I will exercise three times this week," "I will eat three servings of fruit and three servings of vegetables today," or "I will bring fruit to snack on at work this week." That way, if you don't reach your goal, you can figure out why and come up with strategies for fixing the problem. For example, maybe you didn't exercise because you were too tired after work. One possible solution is that you exercise before work. Or, maybe you take a walk at lunch as a way to fit in exercise.

Think positive
Frame your diet goals in positive terms. For example, don't say, "I can't have any chocolate" or "I will never eat hamburgers again." This just focuses on what you can't have. Instead, say to yourself, "I can add in two servings of vegetables today to improve my diet and help myself lose weight."

Love yourself
Don't beat up on yourself. Research shows that the more you dislike your body, the LESS likely you are to succeed at losing weight and keeping it off! Don't say to yourself, "I'm so fat, I'll never reach my goal weight" or "I'm too heavy to exercise, I'll just look silly." Instead, begin to accept yourself as you are. Look at all of the wonderful things that your body can do for you now. Then design a diet and exercise program that you can live with.

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This publication is now a part of the Cancer Center's News Archive. It is listed here for historical purposes only.

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