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Health Hazard: Carrying Excessive Weight

Excess weight is associated with many health problems, including diabetes, heart disease, breast cancer, colon cancer, and gallbladder disease. About one woman in three is considered, by current medical standards, to be overweight. While there is such a thing as taking weight management to an extreme - one need only think of super-slender models - maintaining a reasonable weight is very important for your health. Besides, being overweight can make you feel embarrassed around others, uncomfortable making love, and bad about a fundamental aspect of yourself.

Fad diets come and go, but the best way to get to and then stay at a healthy weight has always been the same: get regular exercise - the key to losing weight - and eat sensibly. If you simply exercise every other day for half an hour straight and reduce your daily calories by five percent or so, you'll lose about two pounds a month, or twenty-plus pounds in a year. Plus it will be easier to maintain your weight since now you've got more muscle mass, which uses up more calories, and your overall metabolic rate - how fast your body burns calories - will be greater.

If you can dive into and sustain an intense exercise regime and a serious diet - and then keep the gains without your weight yo-yoing up and down - fantastic. But for many of us, the big push is followed by the big flop. Instead, it's really all right to think small: get relatively brief (thirty minutes or so) sweat-generating exercise three or four days a week and make little omissions of fat, sugary, or white-flour foods every day. And whatever approach you take, drink at least eight glasses of water a day; besides filling you up, water helps eliminate the toxins in fat cells that are released when you lose weight.

Women who treat themselves kindly reach their weight-loss goals with less of a struggle than women who are mad at themselves for "being fat." If you take a little side trip from your personal program - or a major detour through the forbidden continent - don't be harshly self-critical (which makes diet-busting comfort foods more appealing than ever), or keep on stuffing down the wrong foods while thinking something like: Oh, well, I already blew it for today. I might as well go whole hog and load up on my forbidden items. Be self-loving, not self-punishing!

The basic methods of losing weight are straightforward, and almost everyone can use them. The crux, therefore, is - as usual - motivation. By now, you're getting familiar with the steps.

Change the thinking. The brain sees the cookie on the tray and thinks, Oh boy, that's really going to be delicious, but in fact, when you actually put it in your mouth and chew and swallow and feel it in your stomach . . . oh well, it's pretty ho-hum, even disappointing. So when you're faced with a choice - eat this or not - remember the fundamental unsatisfyingness of overeating. Second, tell yourself the price you'll pay later from that chunk of unnecessary calories: sluggishness, pants that are too tight, feeling unhappy about what you see in the mirror, or the health risks down the road. Third, think mainly about how great you'll feel and look if you eat more of the foods that are really good for you and less of the ones that are not. Eat to live, instead of living to eat!

Change the context. If you're always tempted by the pastries at a diner, eat somewhere else. If you nibble snacks in the kitchen, sit down in another room and munch a couple of carrots or handfuls of popcorn.

Replace the pleasure of the bad habit with one that's more positive. Books on losing weight often have delicious low-calorie recipes. If you eat to relax or to give yourself a treat, do something else - like read, knit, take a quick walk, or make some special tea. If you eat to feel full, drink lots of water - or another cup of that tea! This may sound odd, but you can breathe deeply for a few minutes and imagine that your body is being fed by the energy in the air. Or look at art, flowers, or your child's sweet face, and imagine that your eyes are absorbing all that beauty, which is filling and nourishing you.

Get support. You could tell a close friend or your husband that you are going to lose some weight. Overeaters Anonymous could also be a good source of support. You might like to check out Weight Watchers or other companies like it. Some have inexpensive home programs combined with telephone support that are convenient for a busy mom.

Be good to yourself. Eating less, or differently, can bring up feelings of boredom, deprivation, or even panic, sometimes reaching all the way back to childhood. So you'll need more kindness than ever, both from others and yourself. Try to increase the nice things in the nonfood parts of your life, like more cuddles with your kids, a fantastic new novel, or a deepening of your relationship with your husband. Give yourself rewards along the way, like permission to linger in the shower or to buy a new pair of pants that fit great.

Avoid relapses. Rebound weight gain is very discouraging; a friend of Jan's once said, sighing, I've lost two hundred pounds, but it was the same twenty, over and over again. Once you've gotten to a weight you like, you could write a letter to yourself - to be opened if you're tempted to overeat - that talks about how good you feel and look when you're trim. If you use a program like Weight Watchers, find out what its success rate is with helping people maintain their weight loss. If you start down the slippery slope of eating the wrong things, try to have the warning bells ring loudly inside your head; tell someone if you're starting to slip, and go back and do the things that worked for you the last time you lost weight.

Approximate KCal burned per 20 Minutes of Exercise
Aerobic dancing : 105
Bicycling (12 mph) : 188
Cross-country skiing : 205
Dancing : 74
Downhill skiing : 169
Hiking (average slope) : 174
Ice skating : 100
Jogging (6 mph) : 160
Roller skating : 171
Rowing machine (400 strokes) : 206
Running (7 mph) : 245
Skipping rope : 245
Standing : 23
Swimming (800 yds.) : 152
Walking fast (4.5 mph) : 100
Watching TV : 18

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From Mother Nurture: A Mother's Guide to Health in Body, Mind, and Intimate Relationships by Rick Hansen, Jan Hansen, and Ricki Pollycove. Copyright © 2002 by Rick Hanson. Jan Hanson, and Ricki Pollycove. Used by arrangement with Viking Penguin, a member of Penguin Group (USA) Inc.

To order this book visit amazon.


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