By Karly Kolaja 2017-01-06 12:29:04
Understanding some of the science behind weight loss. AS A SCHOOL NUTRITION PROFESSIONAL, you spend much of your day thinking about the best ways to make sure your students are eating well. Are they getting the nutrients they need to thrive? Are they eating appropriate portions? Do they have balanced meals featuring different food groups? Is the food you’re serving helping them to maintain a healthy weight? Chances are, you have confidence about the answers to those questions. After all, compliance with federal and state regulations regarding school meals and menu planning allows you to keep students’ health and nutrition needs at the forefront. But do you consistently ask similar queries about the meals and food decisions you make for yourself and your family? The National Institutes of Health reports that more than two-thirds of U.S. adults are considered overweight or obese; one-third fall into this second category. The situation has become so grim that the medical community is now tracking those deemed to have “extreme obesity,” with more than one in 20 fitting this definition. So, the odds are sadly good that a majority of School Nutrition readers are at risk for serious health consequences, including type 2 diabetes, heart disease and high blood pressure. Overweight adults also can develop non-alcoholic fatty liver disease, osteoarthritis and even some types of cancer. Plus, they’re at a higher risk for stroke. So, how can we all make sure we’re doing our best to maintain a healthy weight? Well, while there’s no single cause behind being overweight, there’s no denying that what we eat (and how much) is a critical factor. But there are many myths and misconceptions about how/what to eat in order to lose weight. How does one successfully navigate such a confusing weight-loss landscape? In this article, we’ll start by exploring some facts and fictions related to eating and losing weight. Sources for this article include reliable health and wellness organizations, such as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the National Library of Medicine and the National Institutes of Health. TRUE OR FALSE Losing just 10% of my body weight can reduce my risks for certain medical conditions. Answer: True! Studies have shown that you can lower your risk of developing many serious health conditions, like type 2 diabetes, simply by losing 10% of your body weight. Diabetes occurs when your body can’t make enough or correctly use insulin, a hormone that helps convert food into energy. Losing just this small percentage of your body weight can help you maintain proper levels of insulin and decrease your levels of Hemoglobin A1C (one of the markers used to screen for diabetes). And reducing the number on the scale by 10% can help the body regulate blood sugar, too. Shedding that 10% also can help lower your blood pressure and cholesterol levels—two major risk factors for heart disease. That 10% success will help you feel better emotionally, too. It can give you confidence that weight loss is possible, while also allowing you to experience more vigor and energy. Perhaps the best part of losing even a small amount of weight, though, is that it’s an attainable goal. While many of us yearn to get back to the body we had in high school or aim for a particular dress or pants size, such a goal is not necessarily realistic or wise. Losing just 10% of our body weight, however, is something almost every one can do by making simple, mindful changes in diet and exercise. The 10% goal is achievable and viable—especially when getting started. Think of it this way: Lose a little, gain a lot! TRUE OR FALSE Eating certain foods will make it easier for me to burn calories. Answer: False You’ve likely heard references to the role that metabolism plays in burning fat and losing weight, but what does that mean? Your metabolism is a collection of life-sustaining chemical reactions that occur within your cells. Two top functions of your metabolism are to convert food to energy that will power your body and keep it working and to convert food to larger, complex molecules that serve as building blocks for other critical functions. While there are a variety of products on the market that claim to boost your metabolism and prompt your body to burn more calories, the truth is there’s little scientific evidence to back up such assertions—at least on a significant scale. Certain foods, like those high in fiber or water, can aid in weight loss because they stay in your system longer and help you stave off hunger, but they don’t necessarily increase your metabolic rate. And while foods high in caffeine may spur your metabolism a bit, the boost you’ll receive is very small (and won’t make a difference in your ability to lose weight). The digestion of protein uses more energy than, say, that of fats and carbohydrates, but it’s not a very sustainable change for your metabolic rate. In general, it’s a misconception to think that calories in one food vary in type from the next (they can vary in sheer numbers, of course!). So, instead of focusing on foods that claim to kick your metabolism into overdrive, opt for those that provide great nutrition and taste. You’ll be able to fill yourself up and support your long-term weight-loss goals. TRUE OR FALSE Weight loss is easier for men than for women. Answer: True, at first It all comes down to body structure. Men tend to have more lean muscle tissue than women do. As human beings evolved, women developed a greater concentration of body fat to help with pregnancy. And while this is simply part of a woman’s physiology, it does put her at a disadvantage when it comes to losing weight. Because luckily for the guys out there, those lean muscles burn more calories than body fat does, even at rest. So, let’s say a man and woman were to make equal changes to their diets (and exercise). Thanks to his lean muscle tissue, the man would likely see the first weight-loss results. And because men tend to store fat around their abdomen, while women store it all throughout their bodies, his weight loss is likely to be more visible, too. But don’t give up hope, ladies; it’s not all discouraging news. Studies have shown that when men and women sustain efforts to lose weight over time, women eventually catch up to their male counterparts. So, while you may feel like the man (or men) in your life can shed pounds more quickly, remember his success doesn’t affect your ability to do so over the long run. Keep up your healthy diet choices, and eventually your weight losses will even out. TRUE OR FALSE All carbs are bad. Answer: False We’ll concede that not all carbohydrates are created equal—some are certainly more (and less) nutritious than others. But the popular contention of certain diet regimes that all carbs must be eliminated in order to lose weight just isn’t true, according to most medical experts. Consuming certain carbohydrates won’t destroy your weight-loss plans, and some actually can help in your efforts to shed pounds. Complex carbohydrates take longer for the body to break down, which provides you with more energy. These are considered “good” carbs. Simple carbs, on the other hand, are easy to digest, and thus add relatively little nutritional value to your body. These are ones you want to reduce. Adding to the confusion? While many fruits and vegetables are simple carbohydrates, they also contain more fiber and less sugar, which makes them better for you than, say, the simple carbs found in soda or baked goods. On the other hand, potatoes are considered a complex carbohydrate, but they act like simple carbs in the body. So, how do you identify the “right” carbs? Start by focusing on whole grains. Whole-grain foods contain the entire grain kernel (the bran, germ and endosperm). Refined grains, on the other hand, have been milled to remove the bran and the germ—and along with them, antioxidants, B vitamins, fiber, protein, minerals and healthy fats. The endosperm left behind in refined grains is by far the largest and starchiest part of the kernel, meaning it’s packed with the type of simple carbohydrates responsible for giving grains their bad rep. While consuming large quantities of refined grains can cause major swings in blood sugar levels (a danger for those with type 2 diabetes or who are pre-diabetic), studies have shown that incorporating whole grains into your diet can aid in fighting fat, especially around the belly. They’ll help reduce your risk of heart disease and increase your consumption of dietary fiber, which will allow your body to feel full and make you less likely to overeat in an effort to satisfy a sense of hunger. And because our bodies absorb good carbohydrates slowly, whole-grain foods can help avoid those problematic spikes in blood sugar levels. Some people don’t like the taste of whole grains, and others find them to be hard on their digestive system. If this describes you, focus on trying to get the “good” carbohydrates from vegetables, fruits and beans. In addition, you will improve your weight-loss success when you can reduce your intake of the “bad” carbs that come along with added sugars. TRUE OR FALSE It’s harder to lose weight as you age. Answer: True (sadly) Your body changes as you age, and try as some of us might, there’s nothing we can do to completely avoid that. Once we turn 30 (yes—30!), we tend to lose lean tissue and gain body fat. On its website, medlineplus.gov, the National Library of Medicine reposrts that older people may have almost one-third more fat compared to when they were younger. In addition, as we age, our metabolism slows down, and we simply can’t burn calories the way we once did. It’s a rude shock when a certain go-to diet that had always worked over the years to help lose those holiday pounds or get you bathing-suit ready in late spring is suddenly ineffective. Instead, you’ll need to make new adjustments to both your food consumption and your activity level. Even if you’re at a healthy weight now, it may pay off to start making small changes to keep it that way. Try cutting just 100 calories from your daily diet. It might mean switching to skim milk for your coffee or tea or opting for balsamic vinegar instead of ranch dressing on your next salad. Women also must acknowledge that slowing metabolisms aren’t the only reason we have a harder time losing weight as we age. As we get older, our estrogen levels fall, too. This causes big changes in blood sugar levels and thyroid-hormone production, which can increase your appetite. So, the next time you find yourself craving a snack, turn to foods that are rich in fiber, like fruits, vegetables and whole grains, which will help you stay fuller longer. TRUE OR FALSE Skipping meals is a good way to lose weight. Answer: False At first blush, skipping breakfast, lunch or even dinner sounds like a good way to shed pounds. You’re avoiding a lot of calories when you just simply skip a meal, right? In a word: wrong! Skipping a meal is a surefire way to lose essential nutrients, which means you’ll be more likely to snack on high-fat and high-sugar (aka calorically dense) foods. You’ll be hungrier, which means you’ll be more likely to overeat at your next meal. In a short time, you’ll exhaust yourself. Plus, as you deprive your body of an appropriate supply of nutrients and calories, it may begin to anticipate the possibility of starvation, leading it to try and retain as much weight as possible. And then, when calories are re-introduced, your body is likely to regain more weight as a preemption to another restriction. Our conscious brain simply can’t explain our motives and intentions to our cells. The correlation between skipping meals and retaining weight is strong. In particular, studies have shown a clear link between obesity and skipping breakfast—people who deliberately missed breakfast tended to be heavier than those who ate healthy morning meals. So, instead of avoiding a mealtime, look to adding a variety of healthy foods to your diet. For example, at breakfast, think oatmeal with berries, veggies with hummus or whole-wheat toast instead of sweetened cereals, pastries or bagels and cream cheese. That said, allowing occasional indulgences, such as a single scoop of your favorite ice cream or a slice of truly great pizza isn’t a bad idea. It’ll help you avoid the feeling of deprivation and stay on track with long-term weight-loss goals. Just watch out for your personal “trigger” foods—if one piece of pizza turns into eating the whole dang pie, because once you’ve had a little, you “can’t” stop, then you may have to avoid that particular luxury altogether until you’ve reached certain weight-loss benchmarks. TRUE OR FALSE Lowfat and/or fat-free foods are always a healthier option. Answer: False Surprising, right? The truth is that many lowfat or fat-free foods have as many calories as their full-fat counterparts. Since they’re likely not as yummy without inclusion of said fat, food producers tend to fill them with other tasty additives, including sugar and salt. Plus, because it’s easy to think, “lowfat is good for me,” you may trick yourself into feeling self-righteous, winding up either eating greater portions or indulging elsewhere—ultimately undermining your good efforts and intentions. In addition to the self-sabotage of certain lowfat food switches, you may be denying yourself the consumption of certain “healthy” fats. These actually can have beneficial weight-loss effects—certain studies show greater success with high-fat diets than lowfat ones over the course of a year or more. But this is not license to embrace all high-fat items! Like carbs, fats are not created equal. You’ve probably heard the terms “unsaturated,” “saturated” and “trans” fats. Saturated fats are solid at room temperature and are typically found in animal products. Unsaturated fats, on the other hand, are liquid at room temperature and most often come from plant sources. Trans fats can be made by converting liquid vegetable oils into solid or semi-solid fats through a process called hydrogenation. While they’re naturally found in small quantities in some animal products, most trans fats are found in many processed foods, like cookies, microwave popcorn and crackers. In general, you want to avoid saturated and trans fats and opt for foods rich in unsaturated fats. Think olive oil, nuts and seeds, avocados and coconut butter. These can improve “good” cholesterol levels and reduce your risk of heart disease. And they’ll help curb your appetite and prevent weight storage. Still, eating too much of any one food is never a good thing, so make sure you consume even “good” fats only in moderation. TRUE OR FALSE Snacking between meals is always bad. Answer: False It’s a common misconception that the best weight-loss solution is to cut out snacks and consume calories only at set meal times. This may be the right strategy, if you find you always choose high-calorie snacks or if you struggle to snack in moderation. But for others, avoiding snacks can leave them so hungry at mealtimes that they can’t resist binging or giving into the temptation of indulgent foods. In acknowledgement of this reality, some dietitians recommend eating five small meals each day, instead of the traditional three. Find the strategy that works best for you. Begin by rethinking your snack choices and portioning moderate amounts in advance—before your hunger pangs strike. Buy favorite fruits, vegetables and nuts at the grocery store, and pack them in appropriate on-the-go portions at the beginning of the day. That way, when hunger hits you, you’ll be armed with a nutritious response. FACING FACTS The key to weight-loss success is being smart and realistic. There are no quick fixes—be skeptical of any source that suggests otherwise. Stay wary of weight-loss myths and misconceptions. This article shed light on some of the more common ones that take advantage of our collective reluctance to tackle changes and challenges, but you are likely to encounter others. Maintaining a healthy weight is a crucial part of living a long, happy life. Although beginning a weight-loss plan may seem overwhelming, remember that every journey starts with initial steps. You can start today, if you simply focus on making small, gradual changes to a more-nutritious diet! Remember, even if you know you have a lot of pounds to lose to get to your healthiest weight, shedding just 10% of your body weight will have significant results. Your first goal can be to simply start prioritizing healthy eating, with your next goal to drop that 10%. Don’t look beyond those two benchmarks if you fear you will become discouraged! SN Karly Kolaja is a freelance writer based in Bethel, Conn.
Published by School Nutrition Association. View All Articles.
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