The most significant contributor to our weight—or lack thereof—is the amount of food we eat.
Whether we’re overweight, underweight, or just right:
- To gain weight, we have to consume more fuel (calories) than we burn.
- To maintain weight, we have to consume and burn the same amount of fuel.
- To lose weight, we have to consume less fuel than we burn.
A multitude of healthy eating styles exist. Some examples are:
Food combining is the process of separating particular foods and eating specific ones at certain meals, for better digestive health and weight loss.
My favorite food combination is steamed broccoli, black beans, cottage cheese, and pico de gallo. It’s delicious, nutritious, and makes a positive impact on the body.
Blood-type eating agrees that “you are what you eat” but, further, that we should “eat what we are.” Eating by blood type means we eat a diet compatible with our blood type for optimal health and digestion.
Dosha-type eating has a specific mind-body constitution in mind. There are three ayurvedic doshas:
- Vata—controls movement
- Pitta—controls metabolism
- Kapha—controls structure
Personally, I try to avoid food that comes from a package—bag, box, bottle, can, or jar—and enjoy eating a wide variety of foods that are fresh and unprocessed, as close to the source as possible.
The American society has become ‘obesogenic,’ characterized by environments that promote increased food intake, non-healthful foods, and physical inactivity.
Obesity plays a significant role in causing poor health in women, negatively affecting the quality of life, and shortening the quantity of life. More than half of adult US women are overweight, and more than one-third are obese.
The life expectancy of women in the United States is approaching eighty years of age, and more women than ever are expected to turn sixty-five in the second decade of the new millennium. Prevention and early treatment of obesity are crucial to ensuring a healthy population of women of all ages.
—THE AMERICAN OBESITY ASSOCIATION
Two of the healthiest and easiest techniques to implement with any eating style are to start your day with a large glass of water and to make lunch the largest meal of your day.
What works for one person may not work for another. There’s an ideal number of calories for you. That number depends on your age, your physical activity level, and whether you’re trying to lose, gain, or maintain weight.
According to the National Institute on Aging, a woman over fifty who is:
- Not physically active needs about 1,600 calories a day.
- Somewhat physically active needs about 1,800 calories a day.
- Very active needs about 2,000 calories a day.
I personally don’t agree with these numbers. I believe they’re too high and should look more like this:
- Not physically active needs about 1,200 calories a day.
- Somewhat physically active needs about 1,500 calories a day.
- Very active needs about 1,800 calories a day.
Eating healthfully gives us more energy, keeps our weight in check, and helps us look better, which boosts self-esteem. It’s all connected—when our body feels good, we feel happier inside and out.
EXERCISE—FOR THE HEALTH OF IT
The human body burns fuel just like a car. We can’t continuously fill it with fuel; we have to burn fuel between fill-ups. The best way to burn fuel is with exercise.
First and foremost, exercise should improve our health, not risk it. We need to exercise intelligently and cautiously. When choosing an exercise, we need to keep in mind factors like our strengths, our schedule, the complexity of the exercise, our current stress level, and our available time. By selecting an exercise that fits well with these variables, we increase our likelihood of stick-to-itiveness.
After four hours of sitting, the body starts to send harmful signals because the genes that regulate the amount of glucose and fat in the body begin to shut down.
Australian researchers tracked the lifestyle habits of 8,800 adults and found that each hour spent sitting in front of the television daily was associated with:
- An 11 percent increased risk of death from all causes
- A 9 percent increased risk of cancer death
- An 18 percent increased risk of cardiovascular disease (CVD)-related death
Compared with people who watched less than two hours of television daily, those who watched more than four hours a day had a 46 percent higher risk of death from all causes and an 80 percent increased risk for CVD-related death.
This association held regardless of other independent and common cardiovascular disease risk factors, including smoking, high blood pressure, high blood cholesterol, unhealthy diet, excessive waist circumference, and leisure- time exercises.
My client, Karla shared, “I’ve been nursing an injury for about a year and during that time have done nothing but sit, sit, sit. I’m better now and ready to move. Unfortunately, it caught up with me, big-time. My lab tests came back, revealing that I’m now pre-diabetic and fifty pounds overweight. This could have been avoided if I’d exercised every day—just a little bit each day.”
Countless people exercise to control their weight, to get into better physical condition, to become healthier, or to look physically attractive. But exercise also offers a distraction from stressful situations, an outlet for frustration, and an endorphin lift.
Many of us in today’s world dance a wicked two-step with a very ungracious partner named stress. Stress flings us through our days and muddles up our mind with lists of things to do; worries about bills, potential layoffs, or the responsibilities of being a parent or grandparent; concerns about providing eldercare for aging parents . . . and the list goes on.
Excess stress negatively affects the body, mind, and spirit. In fact, it’s been estimated that more than 90 percent of health problems that bring people into a doctor’s office are stress-related. And while virtually all of us could benefit from adding healthy habits to our lifestyle, it’s harder to begin a new habit than it seems, especially if we’re over-scheduled and over-stressed.
Fat located in the abdominal area functions differently than fat found elsewhere in the body. It has a greater blood supply, as well as more receptors for cortisol, a stress hormone.
Cortisol levels rise and fall throughout the day, but when we’re under constant stress—the kind created by a marriage that’s unraveling, a job you hate, or financial worries—the amount of the hormone we produce remains elevated. With high stress and, consequently, high cortisol levels, more fat is deposited in the abdominal area, since there are more cortisol receptors there.
Chronically high cortisol levels also kill neurons in the brain and interfere with feel-good neurotransmitters—such as dopamine and serotonin—that can lead to depression and feeling more stressed.
The fat at our waist—what researchers call central obesity—is associated with higher rates of cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes, and several types of cancer. And while it’s true that heredity plays a role in overall body type, genetics accounts for only 25–55 percent of the tendency to develop the most serious diseases associated with abdominal fat—the remainder is lifestyle.
—BRENDA DAVY, Ph.D., RD, assistant professor, Virginia Tech
The American Council on Exercise tells us that:
- Exercise can make us feel less anxious.
- Exercise is relaxing.
- Exercise increases alertness.
- Exercise makes us feel better about ourselves.
- Exercise reduces depression.
- Exercise helps us to sleep more restfully.
- Exercise increases energy, which in turn helps us to better deal with stressful events.
- Exercise rids the body of stress-causing adrenaline.
- Exercise encourages us to follow a healthier diet.
- Exercise helps us take time for ourselves—often difficult when we’re stressed out.
Deepak Chopra said, “If you don’t take care of your health today, you will be forced to take care of your illness tomorrow.”
In taking an active role in our physical wellness, we come to understand and value the direct relationship between exercise, quality nutrition, and the way our body performs. We appreciate that the physical benefits of regular hygiene routines, looking good and feeling terrific, lead to the psychological benefits of enhanced self-esteem, determination, and a sense of direction.
Previously Published on Unbound Northwest