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When thinking about reaching and maintaining a healthy weight, a simple equation usually comes to mind: Watch what you eat and add some regular exercise. Though these two factors are crucial for your weight management journey, there’s more to it. Rest, lifestyle choices, stress management, and overall well-being are key factors to keep in mind when thinking about weight management.
But first things first: There’s no magic number that equates to a healthy weight. Barometers like waist measurements or your Body Mass Index (BMI) shouldn’t be taken at face value. Regardless of what society may say about what a healthy body looks like, medically speaking, bodies of all shapes and sizes can be considered healthy or unhealthy. In other words, we should all consider a range of lifestyle factors when thinking about what a healthy body looks and feels like for you as an individual. Trying out the following tips will bolster your unique weight management journey.
Don’t underestimate sleep
Weight loss is about more than nutrition and exercise—an active body also needs rest. The good news is that good habits beget good habits, and exercise and better nights go hand in hand. A good night’s sleep—at least 7 hours per night—can also improve your energy levels, mood, and productivity, kickstarting a virtuous cycle of health.
But having trouble sleeping goes beyond impacting your mood and energy levels; poor sleep can also lead to weight gain since sleep deprivation is associated with increased blood sugar and decreased insulin. Sleep can be improved with exercise, meditation, calming hobbies, and when necessary, speak with your primary care doctor to diagnose and treat potential sleep disorders.
Small changes have a big impact
While some might be ready to overhaul their kitchen pantry or buy into a restrictive diet, major nutritional changes can be overwhelming and unsustainable for many, especially in a society where mealtimes are a social ritual and portions are exceedingly large. The trick is to make small changes, educate yourself on nutrition basics, and find ways to turn healthy habits into a lifestyle so that you can partake in treats and social dinners when they present themselves, sans guilt. For example, swap grains for whole grains as often as possible, limit your intake of carbohydrates, switch from sugary drinks to flavored water, and limit your protein portion to about the size of your palm. If you have trouble maintaining a healthy diet, don’t know where to begin, or are concerned about weight-related health issues, speak to your doctor or nutritionist to find tailored solutions that work for you.
Exercise is key
It goes without saying that exercise is a key component of a healthy lifestyle and successful weight management. Not only that, but physical activity can also help you improve your blood pressure, cholesterol, and blood sugar levels, as well as have a tremendous impact on your mental health. But how much should you aim to exercise? Generally speaking, most adults need 150 minutes per week of moderate physical activity per week, but what is considered moderate? It comes down to each person’s fitness level. While 150 minutes might sound daunting, this can be split throughout your day. Combining an activity you enjoy with ways to incorporate exercise into mundane tasks, such as a brisk walk to the grocery store, mowing the lawn, or deep cleaning your place, can be a great start towards a more active lifestyle.
Keeping your stress levels under control
Stress can have a significant impact in your ability to reach and maintain a healthy weight. And, unfortunately, it can also prevent you from losing those extra pounds. Whether it’s the result of unhealthy stress-induced behaviors, high levels of cortisol (known as the “stress hormone”), or a combination of the two, there is a clear connection between stress and weight gain.
Everyone, regardless of if they’re looking to shed extra pounds or maintain their weight, should strive to find effective ways to manage their stress levels. Practicing a physical activity you enjoy, from walking your dog to playing pickleball, and integrating mindfulness practices, which can range from meditating to reading a book, will help you manage stress.
Understanding the other side of the coin: The dangers and warning signs of eating disorders
Dieting has become common and normalized in our society and is estimated to be a $75 billion market. Though dieting may not cause eating disorders, it's often a precursor. The National Eating Disorders Association reports that 35 percent of "normal dieters" progress to pathological dieting, and 25 percent of those individuals develop eating disorders.
Eating disorders, such as anorexia, bulimia, or binge eating, are mental illnesses that affect an individual's eating habits and can cause severe distress about body weight and shape. A person's altered eating patterns may include inadequate nutrition or periods of excessive food intake. Eating disorders are serious, even deadly, conditions that can affect any age group, gender, or race. Some of the warning signs and symptoms include, but are not limited to:
- Dramatic weight loss or gain
- Frequently talking about food, weight, diets, and body shapes
- Excessive or compulsive exercise patterns
- Purging, restricting, binge eating, or compulsive eating
If you or someone you know is struggling with their relationship with food, losing or maintaining their weight, know that there is help available. Click here to learn more about Palomar Health and book an appointment at the Palomar Health Weight Management Center.