While obesity is linked to a variety of health issues, simply being at an ideal body weight does not guarantee you perfect health. Your eating habits, exercise patterns, and how you handle stress all contribute to your wellness and risk for disease. Give these health indicators some consideration as you continue to evaluate your progress and reach your fitness goals.
While maintaining a normal body weight is linked to improved health, a healthy weight does not ensure fitness. Strengthening your heart through cardiovascular exercise and your muscles through resistance training are important parts of a healthy lifestyle. Flexibility training also keeps you mobile as you age and allows you to perform cardio and strength exercises. Test your fitness level regularly to track your progress and ensure that you are not only losing weight, but also getting fit. If you belong to a gym, inquire about fitness testing. Sometimes an initial fitness assessment is included with your membership fees. You can also try out the self-guided Adult Fitness Test provided by The President’s Challenge that is available online.
Heart health is influenced by a number of factors including your weight, diet, exercise, age, and family history. While you don’t have control over all of these factors, there is plenty you can do to incorporate a healthy diet and stay active to benefit your heart. Get regular check ups from your doctor and gain a better understanding of the factors that contribute to heart health, such as blood pressure and blood cholesterol. The American Heart Association considers a blood pressure of less than 120 over 80 to be normal, and a total cholesterol reading of less than 180 mg/dL to be optimal.
Many unhealthy habits can zap your energy. Foods and drinks that are high in sugar with little nutritional value, not eating enough, lack of sleep, and excess stress all influence how you feel. If you fall into a mid-morning or afternoon slump that leaves you drained, you may need to pay closer attention to your diet, sleep, and exercise patterns.
Reduce simple carbohydrates that can spike blood sugar and then cause it to crash, leaving you sluggish and hungry. Eat the number of calories recommended to reach your weight loss goal. The Mayo Clinic recommends that adults get seven to eight hours of sleep each night. If you still feel low on energy despite adequate sleep, according to the National Sleep Foundation, napping can improve alertness and enhance performance. Keep naps to 20 to 30 minutes so that it doesn’t interfere with good sleep at night. Stick with your regular exercise routine, but be sure you work in at least one rest day per week. Your body needs this time to recover. Overtraining can lead to fatigue and disrupted sleep patterns.
Lean Body Mass
Maintaining muscle (or lean body mass) and reducing fat mass, especially around the abdominal area, can improve your health. Body fat percentage can be assessed in a number of ways, including skinfold caliper measurements, handheld BIA (bioelectrical impedance analysis), and underwater weighing. Your gym should be able to assist you with a body fat percentage assessment. The American Council on Exercise considers women with a body fat of 21 to 24 percent to be in the fitness category, while a body fat of 25 to 31 percent is acceptable. Men with a body fat of 14 to 17 percent are classified in the fitness category while 18 to 24 percent is acceptable.
Mood and Attitude
When you feel bad, it shows in your mood and attitude. There are many reasons you might feel cranky and irritable, such as excess stress, lack of sleep, and frustration with your health or your body weight. These feelings translate into a negative attitude towards healthy habits that can be difficult to overcome. The good news is that healthy eating can improve your mood and energy levels. Exercise releases endorphins that make you feel happier and healthier. When you find yourself in a bad mood, evaluate your current habits. Have you missed a few workouts or could you improve your nutrient intake? Identify what is causing these feelings and make the necessary changes to improve your mood and embrace a healthy lifestyle.
Marketers of fad diets try to appeal to your desire for quick-fix weight loss. Unfortunately, these diets are not the answer for long term health and many do more harm than good. Use these tips to spot and steer clear of fad diets.
It is very low calorie.
Weight loss requires that you burn more calories than you take in, but this doesn’t mean that an extremely low number of calories is a good thing. The National Institutes of Health warn that diets with 800 or fewer calories should be avoided unless you are being monitored by a doctor. An eating plan that provides 1,200 to 1,500 per day calories helps most women lose weight safely while an eating plan with 1,500 to 1,800 calories per day is ideal for men. Eating too few calories prevents you from consuming the nutrients your body needs, drains your energy, and leaves you feeling hungry.
It requires the purchase of special foods or supplements.
A fad diet that requires you to purchase special meals, bars, and powders is not a sustainable way of eating. You may find this convenient at first, but soon those same boring bars will lose their appeal and the extra costs will add up. Often these fad diets require a big initial investment, which ends up wasted when you don’t achieve the unrealistic results promised by the program. A healthy eating plan needs to be both flexible and affordable to fit your lifestyle.
It is too restrictive.
Cutting out entire food groups, eating only certain foods together, and avoiding foods at specific times of day are all indications of a fad diet. These practices restrict your ability to eat when you are truly hungry and may prevent you from satisfying cravings in a healthy way. Restrictive eating leads to deprivation. When you feel deprived, often all you can think about is the one thing you can’t have -- that food. Few people have the willpower to stick to such strict rules, making you more likely to give in and overindulge. A balanced diet that allows you some of your favorite treats on occasion is a much more effective way to gain a healthy relationship with food and lose weight for good.
It ignores the importance of exercise.
It is possible to lose weight without physical activity, but research shows that those most successful at keeping weight off are regular exercisers. A fad diet that promotes only dietary changes for weight loss is not providing you with the balanced plan you need to be successful. A healthy lifestyle is about much more than losing a few pounds. Exercise combined with healthy eating will help you lose weight while also improving your fitness and energy levels.
It emphasizes that you don’t need to change anything.
A plan that assures you that you don’t need to change your eating and activity habits to lose weight is likely a fad diet. The truth is that you do need to make positive changes to see results. If you are currently unhappy with your weight and your fitness level, you cannot continue your current eating and exercise patterns and expect to see results. Getting fit requires commitment. Anything worth having, including good health, is worth working hard for.
Portion control is the key to reaching your weight loss goals. Understanding more about healthy serving sizes and reducing portions to meet these recommendations provides a way to satisfy cravings while sticking to your nutritious eating plan.
Portions versus serving sizes
A serving size and a portion are not always the same thing. A serving is a healthy amount of a food recommended by health professionals, and a term used by food manufacturers as a base for determining nutritional information. A portion is how much food you serve yourself. A healthy goal is to reduce your portion sizes so that they more closely align with what health professionals consider to be an appropriate serving. For example, according to the Dietary Guidelines for Americans, one serving of grains is one slice of bread or a half-cup of pasta.
Gaining control of portion sizes doesn’t mean you have to carry around measuring cups. These tools can be helpful in your own kitchen, but you can also make yourself familiar with common objects and how they compare to appropriate serving sizes to make healthy eating easier.
Reduced portions and total calories
Regardless of the food, the more you eat of it, the more calories you consume. By simply reducing portion sizes, you can create the negative calorie balance necessary to initiate weight loss. Choosing nutritious foods is still an essential part of improving your health, but reducing portion sizes allows you to include your favorite treats while still losing weight. Choosing a mini cupcake over a full size dessert, or adding a half-cup of whole wheat pasta as a side instead of a main course are ways you can satisfy cravings without consuming excess calories.
Portion control and fullness
Research shows that the more food people are served, the more they eat. As a result, large portions, like those served in restaurants, cause people to eat much more food than they need. It takes time to get back in touch with hunger cues and to recognize true hunger and fullness. As you gradually decrease portions, you will begin to feel full after eating much less food. As a result, your calorie intake will decrease and you will be on your way to reaching your goal weight.
While many studies focus on how screen time affects body weight in youth, there is evidence that the same risks apply to all age groups. One study found that increased time spent watching television was significantly associated with increased body weight in adults. Other studies suggest that risks for obesity, diabetes, and heart disease in women increase for every two hours of television watched daily. Limiting your screen time and paying better attention to how it influences your appetite and actions can help you better control your body weight.
Screen time can take the place of exercise.
Lacing up your tennis shoes and hitting the gym takes more organization and commitment than it takes to sit down and watch a television show or do some research online. It’s not surprising that screen time often takes the place of exercise, leading to fewer calories burned.
Food ads trigger cravings.
Have you ever taken note of your hunger or cravings while watching television commercials or seeing food online? If not, start taking note. Simply seeing a food ad can lead to thoughts about food and take you straight to the kitchen or the fast food drive-thru. Reducing screen time reduces your exposure to these triggers and may help you better control your cravings.
Screen time leads to mindless snacking.
Distractions like the television, laptop, or your smartphone can lead to overeating. When you are watching a movie or working at the computer, it is easy to grab snacks by the bag or box for convenience. One handful quickly leads to two and sometimes half the box. What’s worse is that not focusing on the food or truly enjoying it may leave you unsatisfied even after eating hundreds of extra calories.
Screen time can interfere with sleep.
Screen time activities can be addictive. You may stay up to finish watching a show or to play a few more rounds of your favorite computer game, which eats into the hours of sleep you need each night. In addition, research shows that light from electronic devices may lower levels of important hormones that help regulate sleep patterns. Not getting the recommended seven to nine hours of sleep each night can influence appetite hormones that lead to hunger and weight gain.
Understanding proper food portions allows you to develop a healthier relationship with food and decrease your calorie intake. For at least a few weeks, grab the measuring cups, spoons, and kitchen scale. Measure your food so that you know what a four ounce chicken breast, a half cup of rice, and eight ounces of milk look like. Over time you will be able to eyeball a healthy portion. This will help you better control the amount you eat when you are served too much food -- like when dining out.
Leave serving dishes in the kitchen.
Serve your meals buffet style in the kitchen. Fill your plate with healthy portions and take it to the dining room table. Save family-style meals where the serving dishes sit on the table for special occasions. It makes it much easier to mindlessly scoop out a second or third helping when the food is within reach.
Eat more often.
Research results are mixed as to whether it is more beneficial to eat three larger meals a day or to incorporate smaller meals with snacks. If you find you can’t control your appetite between meals, consider spreading your calorie intake more evenly throughout the day. This makes it easier to listen to hunger signals and have a snack when you are truly hungry without consuming too many calories that could prevent weight loss. Everyone is different. Experiment a little to find what combination of healthy meals and snacks work best to keep you satisfied.
Increase your protein intake.
Protein helps to stabilize your blood sugar and prevent spikes and crashes that drain your energy. If your diet is heavy in carbohydrates, like fruit or grains, try increasing your protein intake to better control hunger. Eat a few nuts with your fruit, or try beans with rice or quinoa.
Incorporate your favorite foods.
Deprivation always leads to more cravings. When you deny yourself your favorite foods, you risk overdoing it when you finally indulge. When you know a food is not off limits and that you can have a small amount whenever you truly want it, you will be less likely to become fixated and binge on those foods.
Clear off the countertops.
Simply keeping food out of sight can do wonders for controlling your appetite. Seal up those bags of pretzels and boxes of crackers and put them in the pantry. This will prevent you from wanting to grab a quick handful every time you walk into the kitchen.
Sometimes simply staying busy is enough to keep your mind off unnecessary snacking. Make a running list of things you would like to accomplish or things that will distract you from food. When you find yourself tempted to snack during down time, pull out the list. Send the email you’ve been putting off, organize your pile of magazines, or do a quick set of ab exercises.
Eliminate distracted eating.
Eating when your focus is not on the activity at hand only leads to overeating. Turn off the television, close the laptop, and set down the smartphone. Eat mindfully, enjoy your food, and stop when you begin to feel full.
Developing healthy habits and eating to lose weight takes discipline and that means setting a few boundaries. This might be closing the kitchen after dinner, only eating pre-portioned healthy snacks, or having dessert only twice a week. Identify what makes you stray from your plan and develop some healthy rules that help you stay on track.