Losing weight is hard, keeping it off is harder

By Phyllis Picklesimer
Media/Communications Specialist, University of Illinois College of ACES News and Public Affairs

URBANA, Ill. — If you think everything around you is conspiring to sabotage your weight loss, you’re onto something, said James O. Hill, director of the Colorado Nutrition Obesity Research Center and the keynote speaker at the University of Illinois’ Division of Nutritional Sciences recent Nutrition Symposium.

Since World War II, we have engineered an environment in which food is cheap and always available, and physical activity has declined because of cars, computers and countless hours of TV watching,” he said.

Becoming obese is a natural reaction to the world we find ourselves in, he said.

If you want a quick picture of how the world has changed, compare members of the Old Order Amish faith with today’s typical American. Amish men take 18,000 steps a day; Amish women take 14,000. The average U.S. male takes 5,940 steps, the average woman 5,276, he said.

Now, the fastest-growing segment of our population is adults with a BMI over 50, the average American gains a pound a year, and childhood obesity has tripled — and kids don’t grow out of it,” he said.

Obesity is implicated in almost all of our health problems, from cancer to heart disease to diabetes to arthritis to cognition. And, once you’ve become obese, if you succeed at losing weight, you’ll find that your body has a metabolic drive to regain those pounds, he noted.

So, what can someone who’s fighting the flab do? The news isn’t good.

The more weight you lose, the more you’ll have to work to keep it off. You have to be active. If you’re active, you eat less,” he said.

Following are some insights Hill gleaned from the practices of members of the National Weight Control registry, people who have lost at least 30 pounds and kept it off for a year:

1. They consume a reduced-calorie, reduced-fat diet.

2. They engage in high levels of physical activity (60 to 90 minutes a day).

3. They limit their TV viewing.

4. They use a high level of dietary restraint (they know how to say no).

5. They weigh themselves frequently (and if they gain 2 or 3 pounds, they do something about it).

6. They maintain dietary consistency.

7. They eat breakfast.

Successful weight-loss maintainers often link their dietary behaviors to other personal values, he said.

They use walking as their spiritual time or they walk as a way to connect with friends and family,” Hill said.

And many of them have made major changes in their lives to support their weight loss, including changing spouses, their circle of friends, and where they live, he said.

On the whole, Americans are not good at making good choices for the long term, he said.

If someone is going through a fast-food drive-through and they know they should make a healthy choice, with the reward being that they won’t get heart disease 20 years later, it usually isn’t going to happen,” Hill said. “The choice that’s getting their attention then is whether to supersize their meal.”

But small choices do matter. Eating 100 fewer calories a day will prevent weight gain in adults, and a reduction of 33 calories a day makes a huge difference in weight gain in children.

He praised companies that practice stealth health: Disney for putting veggies and milk in kids’ meals unless they’re asked for substitutions and Starbuck’s for switching to low-fat milk in all their beverages.

He encouraged restaurants to reduce portion size by 5 percent. “No one would notice it,” he said.

Also, to increase activity in adults and children, no student should be dropped off less than 500 feet from school, he suggested.

Citing recent research on exercise and cognition, he advocated a push to convince schools that healthy kids learn better, that weight control will improve test scores.

And, because there’s evidence that better health means greater productivity, employers should make wellness an expectation and provide a way to exercise and purchase healthy foods on site, he added.

Finally, Americans love a bargain — that’s why they love supersizing. Why not leverage the psychology of the deal? If Walmart announced a promotion, saying that for every 2,000 steps you took in their store, you got a discount when you checked out, you’d find Walmart walkers who put things in their cart as they traveled instead of mall walkers hiking past closed stores, he predicted.

From the April 25-May 1, 2012, issue

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