Maintain your weight and live longer |

Maintain your weight and live longer

Eileen JoyceMary Ellison (left) and Evelyn Hunt work out at the South Yuba Club in Nevada City on Wednesday.
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The verdict is in: we as a people are getting larger and larger. Fully two-thirds of us are overweight. This is up from the turn of the century when only 5% of us were overweight. And a staggering 44 million of Americans are obese.

That isn’t just adults either. According to the California Center for Public Health Advocacy childhood obesity rates in the state are soaring-doubled in the last 20 years–and constitute an epidemic.

The fallout from this is diabetes, high blood pressure, asthma, orthopedic problems, and low self-esteem.

It’s costly too. According to a report aired on NPR in December, California alone is spending $14 billion dollars in health care related to obesity.

And it is starting young. The director of Rising Starz Gymnastic Academy in Grass Valley, Crystal Harris, 25, says she is seeing overweight starting as early as the 3 and 4 year olds.

According to the California Center for Public Health Advocacy, as reported in a recent (12/12/02) article in the San Francisco Chronicle, body weight, along with aerobic activity, is the best indicator of overall health. No surprises there.

What is it, though, about what and how much we’re eating and our exercising habits that aren’t working? Lots of controversy abounds about this. There’s no “one size fits all,” unfortunately. Even the sacred Food Pyramid has been turned on its ear and is in the process of being revamped by the Food and Drug Administration.

It’s scary to contemplate that as little as an extra 10 calories a day to what you normally eat could add up to a 10-pound increase over a decade. That’s just a nibble of a Danish, a small French fry, and one ounce of a soft drink per day, says Laura Seeman, a registered dietician with the SNMH. Yikes!

Considering that a general rule of thumb is that once you stop growing, usually by 20 years of age, you shouldn’t add more than 10 or 15 pounds for the rest of your life, a couple of decades of an extra Ritz cracker a day can easily put you over the mark.

Maximizing nutrition while minimizing calories is the holy grail says many an expert. The five fruits and vegetables a day mantra, endorsed by some heavy hitters like the National Institutes of Health, provides lots of vitamins, minerals, and fiber without the fat and calories of, say, meat.

Ah yes, meat. What about that popular diet that promotes high protein intake (Atkins). Seeman concedes that it does help people lose weight, but only temporarily. “High protein diets cause dehydration, which looks like weight loss (as in loss of body fat), but it’s actually a loss of body water.” She’s quick to point out that by cutting out carbohydrates such diets do translate into low calorie intake, but apparently eliminating a major food group isn’t such a smart idea. Barry Sears’ The Zone Diet is more reasonable with its focus on choosing the right kind of carbohydrates to eat.

It’s a bummer not being able to eat what and how much you want.

It’s even more of a bummer knowing that popping a pill, rubbing on a cream on a body part, or attaching a stimulator to your thighs won’t do the trick. The stark reality, Seeman says, is “Calories In (eating) has to equal Calories Out (exercise and metabolic needs). Eat more than you use, and you’ll gain weight.”

Her recommendation: “Eat a diet with all the food groups in moderation. That will provide you with the best chance of success with long-term weight reduction.”

But if you really want to hit the floor running a general rule for losing one pound of weight a week is to decrease your caloric intake by 500 calories a day. Even that advice, however, varies due to age, metabolic needs, and exercise habits. So, what’s a body to do when figuring what is optimal for its own special self? See a registered dietician is Seeman’s advice.

That’s easier than you think. The hospital’s Wellness Center, under the direction of Debbie Wagner, 50, is dedicated to the science and art of helping people change their lifestyle to move into a state of optimal health; that includes collaborating with such experts as Seeman. It does this through personal health appraisals and classes for staff and the public that run the gamut from disease prevention and management to how beliefs and attitudes affect one’s health.

The center runs a 2-month weight reduction program that divulges the latest research as well as offers great support for achieving goals.

They show you what to eat and how much of it and how to expend those calories, as in just the simple art of walking (“Swing those arms, push yourself a little, do it regularly-no excuses, and you don’t have to do it all at once; several 10-minute periods work.”). The next program starts this April.

“My best advice,” concludes Wagner, “is to stay physically fit. By doing so you’ll maintain or lose weight and live longer. Move. Do something, anything. The more you do, the better you’ll feel.”

Local physician Stephen Banister agrees that obesity is a huge problem in our culture and is seeing more diabetes, high blood pressure, and oesteoarthritis (a contributing factor to which is carrying lots of extra pounds around). His approach to coaching patients about losing weight is go slow and get support from someone.

“Losing a pound a month for the next 4 years,” he says, “adds up to 48 pounds. That’s a spectacular weight loss, and it’s quite doable.

Just drop those two Pepsi’s a day.”

He recommends visiting your health practitioner every 6 months to get the support (and kudos) you need to maintain the new lifestyle.

“And get out and walk,” he advises, something he does every day. “I walk a couple of miles a day, my standard exercise. Yet I don’t see many folks doing it.” Besides hurting ourselves, he feels, we’re also not setting a very good example for our children. “I don’t see many physically active people who are obese.”

Oh, yes, one last thing: he says unequivocally that “diets don’t work” because he has seen it in his practice. Mike Carville of the South Yuba Club concurs. “You need to make permanent lifestyle changes, which means learning to eat wisely and exercising!”

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