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February 20, 2018

Healthy Weight Control: Cognitive Approach

By Dr. Richard Boyum

Each year, over 300,000 people die from obesity and weight-related problems. This is as many deaths each year, as are due to tobacco-related products. It is also three times the number of deaths each year, related to alcohol. While it is important to avoid behaviors that get us into trouble with tobacco and alcohol-related products, it is also important to look at behaviors involving food, that may also cost us both quality and quantity of life. The material listed below is to help you better understand how to manage your weight and health effectively. This material is meant to focus on the majority of individuals living in contemporary, American culture, who are prone to eat too much of the wrong foods and maintain a sedentary lifestyle.

1. Recognize that you have an old brain and a new brain. Your old brain comes from a time where you were predisposed to be a hunter/gatherer, and lots of time and energy (exercise) was involved in catching and growing food, when food was caught, picked, or dug. It was often consumed in rapid fashion. There was little or no refrigeration, depending upon the time of the year and the climate that a person lived in. Extra calories were stored and then used if hunter/gatherers could not find things to catch, pick, or dig. A new brain gives us many more choices. We live in a world where there are literally tons of different foods available to us all the time. Our new brains have a higher level of awareness in the ability to make informed choices. New brains can override old brains. Eating is a very pleasurable experience, but new brains can do a better job of helping choose when to eat and what to eat. New brains know that most of us live in warm houses and drive around in warm cars, so that we do not have to store extra calories to burn to keep us warm. New brains know that we have canned goods, and refrigerators, and freezers, and restaurants that can provide us with food at any time. New brains know that healthy food should be consumed in reasonable quantities, at reasonable times of the day - and don't forget breakfast.

2. Structure determines function. Because of the way human beings are put together, if you are going to manage your weight and stay healthy, there is a simple and basic rule. You must exercise on a daily basis. Remember all movement such as walking counts as exercise. Aim for at least 30 minutes a day. The formula here is, calories burned = calories earned. If you do not burn calories through some form of work/exercise; you simply are going to consume, as an average individual, more calories each day than you burn. You can decide what type of exercise or physical activity you do, but if you are going to manage your weight, you must do it. To monitor your weight, decide how often you wish to weigh yourself.

To lose one pound a week, a person must burn 3,500 calories more than are consumed (500 calories per day over the course of a week). For example, reducing calories by 250 per day and increasing daily activity to burn off an additional 250 calories should result in a weight loss of one pound per week.

3. Eat nutritionally dense foods, and avoid calorically dense foods. Complex carbohydrates, such as fruits and vegetables are better than refined carbohydrates that have a lot of sugar in them. Another form of calorically dense food is fats. It is important to follow the food pyramid, developed by the U.S. Dept. of Agriculture, in your eating patterns. Fats should compromise a relatively small percentage of your diet.

4. It is important to become a label-reader. Many processed foods have sugars and fats of various types hidden in the product. Learn to identify these substances and try to make healthier choices.

5. If you are going to try to lose weight, it is important to write down what you eat. The rule here is out of sight, out of mind. When you require yourself to write down what you eat, you are guaranteed to make more careful choices. If you are going to have a snack, it's simply going to be easier at the end of the day to see the word apple, than the word chips or candy bar. It is also important that you share what you write down with someone, which leads to our next point.

6. Have a friend, who can act as a coach; someone who can encourage you, support you, and help shape better patterns. As social, psychological, and biological beings, having another human being to support us in these changed behaviors is extremely important.

7. Part of managing your caloric intake is to manage your emotions. Food is usually about more than just nutrition. Food often symbolizes many other things in our lives. Research demonstrates that people who are in touch with their feelings and their emotions are better able to make careful food choices, than people who do not understand or appreciate or express what they are feeling. When you know you are in need of emotional eating, give yourself permission to eat small quantities of pleasure foods, but also address the issue of your emotional hunger. Research has shown that small quantities of pleasure foods in moderation can reduce your stress levels. So remember a little goes a long way.

8. Understand that it is simply harder to lose weight than to maintain weight. Once you have reached a level that you determine is healthy (and that is a healthy level, determined by a physician or nutritionist), if you have made the appropriate life-style changes, you will be able to maintain that weight. Give strong consideration to knowing and using the BMI or Body Mass Index (BMI Calculator). Do as well as you can to stay in the normal range between 18.5 and 24.9. Use that link to compute your BMI using weight and height.

9. Consume, as often as possible, low-calorie beverages. Primitive man drank mostly water. He didn't have sugared, soft drinks, milkshakes, or even calorically dense fruit juices (there are between three and four apples in an 8 oz. glass of apple juice), so drink a lot of water and choose your other beverages carefully (skim milk, for example, is a wonderful drink and so are fruit juices, in moderation or in diluted fashion).

The bottom line is we are our bodies, our bodies are us, and we must start by accepting our bodies for what they are, but also knowing that we are capable of making informed choices that allow us to become healthier. What you do today, indeed, can and will affect the quantity and quality of life you have in the future. Food is a wonderful thing. It is to be enjoyed. Food is one of our most sensual experiences. It has taste, and texture, and color, and aroma. It is one of life's great pleasures. By making wise choices, whether eating by yourself or with friends and family, food can be something that enhances both the quality and quantity of your life. At no time in human history have we had the kinds of food choices that we have today. We can choose to eat a diet and be physically active in ways that help us reach our genetic potential, in terms of longevity. The quality of our life along the way will be greatly enhanced as well, or we can make choices that cause us to physically degenerate and perhaps die long before our time. The choice is up to us. Hopefully, this material will help you to make a choice that will give you a better life. So, eat well and be active.