Take Control of Your Weight

Let’s say I told you I’d created and patented a new pill that would lower your risk of heart disease, reduce your high blood pressure, cut your triglycerides, raise your level of HDL (good) cholesterol, lower your LDL (bad) cholesterol, reduce your risk of diabetes, and even lower your blood sugar levels to prevent or even reverse diabetes.

You’d call it a miracle drug, for one thing. Then you’d call your pharmacist. Well, there is no such miracle pill. That’s the bad news. The good news is that I can prescribe something that will do all of these things, has no side effects, and is cheap as well. In fact, with this prescription, you’ll probably end up actually saving money.

Talk about miracles! What’s the miracle prescription? For people who are carrying extra pounds, it’s weight reduction. That’s right: the simple act of losing excess weight will do all these things. So if you are carrying extra weight, you have a special opportunity to help yourself.

An Obesity Epidemic

Recent surveys estimate that almost two-thirds of all American adults are overweight or obese, and the numbers are increasing. A 2002 Harris Poll concluded that 80 percent of Americans over the age of twenty-five are overweight, up from less than 60 percent in 1983.

And of those who are overweight, a third are very overweight (at least 20 percent overweight), a number that’s doubled since 1983. The problem of excess weight and obesity is so widespread affecting men, women, and even children of all races and ethnic groups and growing so quickly that the Surgeon General has termed it an epidemic and concluded that it’s become a major health problem for the country.

We’re not talking here about the discomfort of a belt that’s a bit tight. The health consequences of overweight and obesity are profound: they increase the risk for heart disease and many other illnesses, including diabetes, stroke, arthritis, breathing problems, and depression.

Here’s an example of just how dangerous being overweight is: it is now an established medical fact that smoking is deadly; but obesity decreases the life expectancy of adults just as much as smoking. It can dramatically affect your health, and if left unaddressed long enough, it will. The causes of this epidemic of increasing obesity are complex, but experts point to poor nutrition and our increasingly sedentary lives as the primary culprits.

Although scientists have recently found genes that appear related to appetite and obesity, exactly how genetics affects weight is still not well understood. There is also research showing that individuals metabolize nutrients at different rates, which may help to explain why some people seem to gain weight more easily than others.

Although most weight gain is just a result of eating too much and exercising too little, it is possible that a medical condition could be responsible. If you have noticed a marked increase in your weight or waistline over a short period of time, at least part of this may be due to an underlying medical condition in need of treatment.

Clues that this may be the case include other recent changes in your health, such as severe fatigue, muscle weakness, or leg swelling. Although these underlying medical conditions are relatively rare causes of weight gain, you should see your doctor if you have these symptoms.

What the Guidelines?

Most people have a sense of whether they are overweight. But how do you really know—and, if you are, how much? Scientists have created a measure called the Body Mass Index (BMI) that takes into account both how much you weigh and how tall you are and produces a single number that identifies where you stand on a scale between being underweight and severely obese.

The scale is not perfect, but it can give you a general idea of where you stand. If your BMI number is lower than 18.5 you’re considered underweight. A BMI above 25 puts you in the overweight category. The expert guidelines say your BMI should be between 19 and 24.9. That’s the range doctors consider optimal.

Here are the formal BMI classifications:

  • Underweight - less than 18.5 (kg/m2)
  • Normal - 18.5 to 24.9 (kg/m2)
  • Overweight - 25 to 29.9 (kg/m2)
  • Obesity, class I - 30 to 34.9 (kg/m2)
  • Obesity, class II - 35 to 39.9 (kg/m2)
  • Obesity, class - III40 or over (kg/m2)

How do you determine your own BMI? You can refer to the chart on page 64, for one. If the weight/height categories you find there don’t correspond with your own weight and height, you can use the following formulas (but most people prefer to use the chart):

  • Using Metric Units - BMI = Weight (Kg)/height (m)2
  • Using Non-Metric Units - BMI = [Weight (LBS.)/height (In.)2] × 703