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Lifestyle Changes to Manage Obesity

Animation Movie Available Related Media: Overcoming Your Obstacles to Exercising

Managing obesity is mostly about making lifestyle changes, which may be difficult. To maintain your weight, you must burn the same amount of calories you take in when you eat. To lose weight, you have to burn more calories than you take in. Your body burns calories just doing the normal bodily functions that keep you alive along with any extra activity. Exercise, besides burning calories, also builds muscle which in turn increases the amount of calories you use just to be alive. However, your body is a very efficient engine, so it takes a lot more time and energy to burn calories than it does to take them in. Therefore, it is important to both decrease your calorie intake and increase your exercise when treating obesity.

Talk to your doctor about a weight loss program that is right for you. You are more likely to successfully lose weight and keep it off if you participate in a program that is easy to follow and continue forever. A program should include a combination of strategies, like diet, exercise, counseling, and medication. Your doctor can refer you to a dietitian and an athletic trainer for more personalized help.

Dietary Changes

Diet trends may make one type of nutrient seem more important than others when it comes to dieting. This can be seen when you compare the Mediterranean diet , the low-carb diet, or the low-fat diet . However, research has not found one particular diet to be the best. The key to successful weight loss appears to be reducing caloric intake and not in reducing certain nutrients, like carbohydrates. Adhering to the diet is what mattered most. American Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics recommends aiming for a lose of about 1-2 pounds/week (0.45-0.91 kg/week) and to lose about 10% of weight by the first 6 months. This can be done by decreasing food intake by 500-1,000 calories every day.

Increasing your dietary protein to 25% of your overall calories in your low calorie diet has also been shown to improve weight loss.

It's challenging to eat fewer calories, though, when the custom in the US is to be served large portions. Another team of researchers found that using special portion-control plates help people who are obese and have type 2 diabetes lose weight and lower their diabetes medications. If you are interested in buying a portion-control plate, you'll find a lot of information online.

While you make dietary changes, also think about the kinds of beverages that you typically choose. For example, if you like to have a 12-ounce can of regular soda with your lunch, this drink adds about 150 calories to your meal. For a healthier option, have a glass of water or a diet soda instead. You can quench your thirst without the extra calories.

Your doctor and a dietitian can help you create a safe and healthy diet that fits your lifestyle.

Physical Activity Changes

Exercise helps you to lose weight and keep the weight off after you've lost it. Participating in a regular exercise program can also reduce the risk of a number of health conditions, like high blood pressure, heart disease, and diabetes.

To be safe, check with your doctor before starting a program. You may also want to make an appointment with a certified athletic trainer, who can help you understand what elements of a fitness routine are most effective for you.

There are 3 basic categories of exercise and each provides specific health benefits.

  • Aerobic exercise raises your heart rate through repetitive movement of large muscles groups, burns calories, increases endurance, and strengthens your heart. This includes jogging , walking , dancing, biking, or swimming.
  • Strength training exercise increases the power, tone, and efficiency of individual muscles by contracting isolated muscles against resistance. Strength training can be done with weights or resistance bands.
  • Stretching improves or maintains the flexibility of your muscles. Yoga and tai chi are good examples of ways to improve flexibility.

Regardless of your weight and health status, there is a program that will work for you. If you are interested in working with a trainer, you can find one at a local gym or through a referral from your doctor or a friend.

Lifestyle Changes for Children and Teens

The growing prevalence of overweight children has become a serious health concern. In the US, an estimated 17% of children and young adults aged 2-19 are obese. These children are more likely to have high cholesterol , high blood pressure, and type 2 diabetes . There is also some evidence that being overweight or obese during late adolescence may shorten life expectancy as an adult.

If your child is struggling with a weight problem , what can you do? Just as with adults, kids benefit from making diet, exercise, and behavior changes. The US Preventive Services Task Force (USPTF) also recommends counseling for kids who are obese.

Be an active participant with your child. Children take their cues from adults, so make healthy eating a family event. In the end, it will benefit everyone if you are all in it together.

The National Institutes of Health offers some positive steps that you can take at home to help your child:

  • Encourage healthy eating habits—Make an effort to keep a variety of healthful foods— fruits, vegetables , low-fat dairy products, whole grains , and lean meats—on hand. Practice healthful eating habits, such as eating breakfast everyday, eating fast food less often, and healthy snacking. A dietitian can work with you and your child to create a healthy meal plan.
  • Encourage daily physical activity—Help your child get some exercise everyday. When it’s safe and feasible, let him walk to school, the store, or a friends' houses. It also helps to encourage physical education in school and participation in extracurricular sports teams or classes. For a more structured routine, a trainer can work with your child to create a fun and safe exercise program.
  • Discourage inactive pastimes—Limit the time your child is allowed to watch TV, play video games, and surf the internet. A reasonable rule is no more than 2 hours per day total of screen time.

Another option is a weight-loss camp for your child. At camp, your child will have an opportunity to learn about fitness and nutrition in a fun environment. He may also lose some weight at the camp by exercising more and eating healthier food.

Revision Information

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  • Dietary guidelines for Americans 2010. US Department of Agriculture and US Department of Health and Human Services. Available at: Accessed March 20, 2013.

  • Explore overweight and obesity diagnosed. National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute website. Available at: Updated July 13, 2012. Accessed February 27, 2014.

  • Gordon-Larsen P, Hou N, Sidney S, et al. Fifteen-year longitudinal trends in walking patterns and their impact on weight change. Am J Clin Nutr. 2009;89(1):19-26.

  • NHLBI integrated guidelines for pediatric cardiovascular risk reduction. Available at: Updated February 12, 2013. Accessed March 20, 2013.

  • Key recommendations for a healthy weight. National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute, National Institutes of Health website. Available at: Accessed March 20, 2013.

  • Obesity in adults. EBSCO DynaMed Plus website. Available at: Updated July 10, 2016. Accessed October 6, 2016.

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