When it comes to dieting, it’s best to slim down goals
By Ben Sutherly
But experts warn eleventh-hour dieters not to set unrealistic goals for dropping those pounds within days or weeks. Unsustainable eating habits frequently cause crash-dieters to quickly regain weight and even put their health at risk.“The worst thing you can do to yourself is be a yo-yo dieter,” said Dr. Julie Cantrell, who oversees the medical weight-treatment program at OhioHealth’s McConnell Heart Health Center. “The quick weight loss is not the way to think about things.”
People who try to lose too much too quickly can find themselves facing ketosis, the body’s starvation state, Cantrell said. That can increase the risk of heart-rhythm problems and electrolyte abnormalities.It also can slow a person’s metabolism, making it easier to regain weight. And rapid weight loss often costs the dieter lean muscle as well as fat. If a dieter regains the weight, Cantrell said, it’s often all fat.
Jenny Lee, 35, of the Far West Side, knows firsthand how easy it is to gain weight back. In her 20s, Lee lost 75 pounds in less than five months.But then she had her gall bladder removed and became pregnant with her first child. Eating for two, she found it easier to justify eating foods that she had denied herself during her rapid weight loss.
“Everyone’s expecting me to gain weight anyway,” Lee said, recalling her thinking at the time. She regained the lost weight and then some. In all, she gained 90 pounds during that pregnancy.
“It probably was not the best idea,” Lee said of her rapid weight loss. “For someone who might be very, very disciplined, I’m sure it could work. But it’s not life.”
Taking the wrong approach to weight loss is one reason that only about 5 percent of people who lose weight succeed at keeping it off long-term.
“We’re really good at losing weight. We’re not so good at keeping it off,” said Amy Jamieson-Petonic, a registered dietitian and wellness coach at the Cleveland Clinic who also serves as a spokeswoman for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.
Weight-loss experts say adults should strive to lose 1 to 2 pounds a week, which typically requires eating 500 to 1,000 fewer calories than one burns daily. But that rough rule of thumb can vary, depending on the individual. Severely overweight people who face serious health problems sometimes must drop weight more quickly, but they typically are advised to do so under medical supervision. Those who have undergone bariatric surgery also drop weight more quickly. And senior citizens must be careful not to deprive themselves of protein, for example, when trying to slim down.
In the case of children, ideal weight-loss rates depend on their age and how severely overweight they are, said Dr. Ihuoma Eneli, the medical director for the Center for Healthy Weight and Nutrition at Nationwide Children’s Hospital.
Losing a set number of pounds per week or month should not be the primary focus of weight management, Eneli said. Rather, the chief focus should be on healthy behaviors, such as balancing the foods on one’s plate and increasing physical activity, she said.
Mary Dye, 52, of Columbus, said she had tried numerous weight-loss tricks as a young woman, including fasting, diet shakes and “all that nonsense.” But she gained weight while being treated for breast cancer.
Then, a little more than a year ago, Dye learned during a health screening that she was pre-diabetic. She was told that she had, at most, five years to shave off 7 percent of her body weight to reduce her risk of becoming diabetic.“This was the wake-up call,” she said.
Dye enrolled in a yearlong diabetes-prevention program through the YMCA, which she recently completed. She far exceeded her goal of losing about 15 pounds, shedding about 40 pounds. She has managed to achieve the weight loss by being more mindful of what she’s eating thanks to a food-tracker, as well as through regular exercise.
“Optimistic is not realistic, and that’s what I was not before,” said Dye, a Goodwill Columbus social worker. “I had to commit to wanting to be healthy.”
Lee, meanwhile, resolved to lose weight when she found it difficult to keep up with her two young children and was reticent to take part in many activities with them, such as going to a water park or to the county fair. “They were missing out on their childhood, and so was I,” said Lee, an accountant.
She joined Weight Watchers, determined this time to make her weight loss stick. Over the course of two years, she lost 129 pounds, reaching her target weight of 160 pounds in August 2011.
Like Dye, Lee said she has benefited by keeping tabs on what she eats. She and her family have cut out fast food for the most part, pay attention to portion size, grill more of their food and have incorporated more fruits and vegetables into their diets.
Last summer, right before Lee achieved her target weight loss, she remembers something her 8-year-old daughter, Alexandra, told her: “Mom, you are so much more fun now.”
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