September 9, 2019

Five Principles of Healthy Weight Loss

By Dr. Edward Prince 


It happens to all of us. The summer ends, and we become less active. Then the holidays arrive, and we overindulge in that gift bag of chocolate-covered superfruit. By the time January rolls around, the scale is showing some bad numbers, so we resolve to hit the gym (and Costco subtly fills the isles with exercise equipment). As spring arrives, the weight is still with us, and we vow to get swimsuit ready by summer. 

The weight gain/weight loss cycle I just described is sometimes difficult to break. However, if you are carrying around extra pounds, losing weight is one of the best things you can do for your overall health. Let me illustrate this point with an orthopedic example: Research has shown that the forces experienced across the knee joint with simple stair climbing can be as high as seven times your body weight. Ten pounds of extra weight can lead to seventy pounds of extra stress on knee joints! This eventually takes its toll, wearing out the protective cartilage in the joints and leading to arthritis. Excess weight also raises blood sugar, raises cholesterol, and increases your risk of diseases, which can lead to a number of health complications.

In today’s fast-paced and social-media driven world, losing weight can often seem confusing and perplexing. Last week, a woman asked me, “With so many diet plans available, which one do you recommend?” As a physician and surgeon, I am frequently asked this same question by many of my patients. Here are my key principles for losing weight and becoming healthier:

  1. Consume fewer calories than the energy you expend each day.
  2. Exercise daily (or six times a week).
  3. Use technology devices and apps to keep you on track.
  4. Reduce portions and limit snacks. 
  5. Change your lifestyle.

If you want to lose weight, you have to burn more calories than you take into your body.  Plain and simple, right? However, this requires some effort. You need to look at each food you eat and add up the calories. Although this process takes time, it is well worth the effort as you learn what ingredients are in the foods you eat and what you can safely consume each day to lose weight. (Unfortunately for me, chocolate-covered superfruit is not a low-calorie food!)

Counting the number of calories you burn each day is a little more complex, but there are various tech items available to help with this. Activity trackers (think Fitbit or other similar trackers) measure your heart rate and account for your height, weight, and age to determine an accurate calorie output. I use mine every time I workout. It helps me gauge my effort as I watch my heart rate go up and down. 

Apps can help track your successes or point out your shortcomings. One app I am familiar with is My Fitness Pal, which allows you to enter calories from food and exercise and does the math for you. The My Fitness Pal app will help you set a weight-loss goal and tell you how much of a calorie deficit you need each day in order to lose a set amount of weight.  

Strava is an app that will track you as you walk, run, or cycle. It will tell you how far and how fast you have gone and will keep track of where you have traveled, comparing your time with previous times you have traveled the same route. It also estimates calories and automatically communicates with the My Fitness Pal app. 

Here are a few additional tips that might help you out:

  • Reduce your portion size at home by filling your plate as usual. Then, remove twenty percent of the amount on your plate.
  • Leave the table a little early so that you don’t pick at the extra food.
  • Hydrate. It fills your stomach with a zero-calorie substance.
  • Exercise in the morning. This sets your metabolism a little higher and helps burn more calories throughout the day.
  • Eat plenty of vegetables. No one gains weight eating vegetables.
  • Eat the low-calorie foods on your plate first. If you don’t finish it all, you will be leaving the high calorie foods on your plate.

Finally, when you lose the weight, you absolutely must adopt new habits as a lifestyle in order to keep the weight off. You cannot go back to your previous habits and expect to keep the weight off. This is why people who have lost weight gain it all back. Making a lifestyle change is worth it! Once you’ve lost the weight, you are going to look better, feel better, and be healthier. What is more, you may never have to come to my office to discuss joint pain issues!

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