Losing is Winning
One of the national health objectives by the year 2010 is to reduce the number of adults who are obese to less than 15 percent of the total population. However, the latest data indicates that the situation is getting worse rather than improving.
Jeffrey Hallam, a University of Mississippi associate professor of health promotion, said his research has shown that certain lifestyle changes could make a significant difference.
A regular exercise program brings health benefits for people who are overweight or obese, said Hallam, director of the UM Center for Health Promotion and Behavior. “However, when tackling obesity, other factors are equally important, including changing your environment, communicating your weight-loss efforts and adapting a healthy diet.”
Considering all the factors, Hallam said weight loss must be approached from multiple angles to achieve success.
“When you look at obesity, you can boil it down as energy in and energy out,” Hallam said. “With America’s tendency of overconsumption and lack of exercise, our environment plays an important role in weight-loss success or failure.”
“Many of our unconscious decisions keep us from expelling energy effectively,” he said. “Weight loss is about numbers. If you have a surplus of 100 calories a day, over a year you will gain 10 pounds. You need a caloric deficit. So, if you walk a mile a day, you’ll expend about 100 calories, or at least a pound a month.”
Hallam said even small changes can make a difference, such as walking instead of driving, taking the stairs instead of the elevator, parking farther from your office or biking to work if you live a mile or less away.
Also, socializing with people who exercise and eat well, monitoring your success and setting realistic goals help, Hallam said.
“Sometimes people will say that they want to lose 30 pounds for a wedding that is a few months away; that’s unrealistic,” Hallam said. “Although infomercials insist you can have six-pack abs in six weeks, it’s not going to happen. True weight loss is a slow process.”
Hallam advises Americans to become more physically active throughout the day, including making time for regularly scheduled exercise. He suggests delivering your own mail, walking to lunch and visiting instead of calling.
A preliminary study on overweight and lean subjects by UM doctoral students shows that both groups report exercising three days a week, but lean subjects seem to be more active throughout the day.
“There are 24 hours in a day, so physical activity must increase to lose weight,” Hallam said. “There are some hospitals that encourage workers to walk stairs if there are only two floors.”
If increasing physical activity does not produce weight loss, Hallam said it is a good idea to lower calorie intake, but advises that drastic caloric reduction may be harmful.
“Sudden lowering food intake to 1,000 calories is bad,” Hallam said. “Slow progressive weight loss is better and lasting. People [normally] gain about 10 pounds a year, so you need to slowly lose 10 pounds a year.”
Hallam does not advise weighing daily to monitor progress because that can be misleading.
“Increasing exercise and physical activity will increase muscle mass, which weighs more than fat,” he said. “A body composition test is a better way to monitor weight loss success and physical fitness.”
For those in need of instant feedback, a pedometer is a good investment, Hallam said.
“If you’re supposed to get in 10,000 steps a day, and you’ve made only 8,000, then a pedometer will let you know that you have a few more steps to make,” he said. “Try it for a week and slowly work up to your step goal.”Hallam advised that anyone thinking of embarking on any exercise and diet endeavor should first visit his or her doctor.