There is good news and bad news on the health front these days. The good news is that a recent study by the Center for Disease Control shows Americans consuming fewer calories per day since 2010. In the study, the average number of calories consumed has declined by 74 calories per day. That’s the good news.
The bad news is the number of obese women remains constant at 27 percent, and the number of obese men has grown from 27 percent to 35 percent since 1999. Of course, this begs the question if we are eating less, why are we gaining weight?
I never had a weight problem until I entered my thirties. I was the type of person who could eat whatever I wanted and still not gain. I even drank milkshakes for breakfast just to keep from losing weight. As I matured, my metabolism began to change. Unfortunately, like most people I didn’t really notice or pay attention. By the time I hit forty, my weight was topping out at close to 200 pounds. For someone who stands about 5’8” on a good day, that was a bit of a problem.
Since that time, I have lost my excess weight and kept it off, but it was not a question of dieting or simply eating fewer calories. It was a lifestyle change. I had to make a fundamental shift in the way I viewed my own health and well-being.
Part of the CDC study indicates that although we may be eating fewer calories, as a nation we still are not exercising enough to burn the calories we do ingest. It’s not surprising. Given everything that needs to get done in a day, making time to exercise is one thing that can easily be put off until tomorrow. And for many people, it usually does.
There is another piece of the healthy weight puzzle that is often overlooked by those trying to lose or keep off those extra pounds. The level of stress in our daily environment plays a big role in the success or failure of a weight loss program.
When a person reacts to stress, the body releases cortisol as part of the “fight or flight” reaction to perceived to danger. Once the anxiety lessens, the cortisol lingers in the body, causing us to crave carbohydrates in order to replenish the energy lost in the stress reaction. The problem is that most people don’t perform enough physical activity to burn the extra calories the cortisol causes us to crave. The result is literally a steadily increasing waistline. It seems that fat cells in the stomach area are highly sensitive to the effects of cortisol and very efficient in storing the excess energy.
If someone is truly serious about losing weight and keeping it off, just reducing the number of calories eaten per day isn’t going to cut it. Adding exercise is as critical to weight loss as it is to overall health and well-being. However, in order to receive the maximum benefit from the first two ingredients, you can’t ignore the stress levels of daily life.
Being healthy is not just about a physical number. True health is a combination of mind, body, and spirit. It only makes sense that the best way to improve your health when trying to lose weight is one that involves each of those factors.
The CDC study shows that we are moving in the right direction. We are becoming more aware of what we eat. Although encouraging, that is not enough to be truly healthy. We don’t seem to be addressing all the issues necessary to reach an actual state of well-being. If we do that, I believe we will see a marked decrease in the rates of obesity.
Losing weight is never easy. But when you stop looking at a weight problem simply as a caloric issue and begin to focus on the bigger picture, you tend to gain new perspective. Changing the way you eat is not enough. Changing the amount of exercise in your daily routine as well as developing new ways to manage stress will go a long way in creating new healthy lifestyle habits and patterns.
And that is one of the best ways to lose weight and keep it off while feeling great about yourself, your health, and your life.
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