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Inside every fat woman is a thin woman screaming for a chocolate
--Terry Pratchet

So you've decided it's finally time to shed the extra weight you've been carrying around for the last few years and find the slim, active, sexy person inside you?

Great! You'll feel a heap better once it's done, but do be careful while you lose the extra weight. Research suggests that losing 1/2 to 2 pounds a week by eating better and exercising more is the best way to lose weight and keep it off. By improving your eating and exercise habits, you will develop a healthier lifestyle and control your weight. You will also reduce your chances of developing heart disease, high blood pressure, and diabetes.

Many people, once they make the decision to lose weight, want results now. And who wouldn't? It's a hard decision to make, and you don't want to go back on it... and without the added spur of seeing results it's easy to fall down on promises you have made to yourself and to others.

  • TAKE MEDICAL ADVICE

Before undertaking any weight-loss programme, it is important to visit your general practitioner. It is a good idea to research your own habits for a week or so before this visit. If you take a list of your diet over the last week or so and a list of your activities with you to show your doctor, he or she will have a better idea on the best weight-loss strategy for you than if she or he is simply working from your physical measurements.

Your doctor may wish to send you to see a nutrition specialist if he or she feels her or his training does not enable him or her to properly prescribe a sensible diet and exercise regime for you.

  • FASTING and VERY LOW CALORIE DIETS

Losing weight through fasting, or through very low calorie diets has a range of bad effects, both short and long term.

Appearing first are fatigue, dizziness and even hair loss , and although these symptoms are usually transitory, they are still frightening and can be dangerous depending on the activity one is involved in when they occur. Remember, the leaner you are when you begin this rapid type of weight loss, the more severe these symptoms will be.

More serious and long lasting are the risks of acute gallbladder disease and gallstones caused by severe caloric restriction.

The most serious complications of fasting and severe calorie restriction are cardiac arrhythmia and even death. While these problems were fairly common in early studies, they have largely been eliminated by the use of high quality protein, mineral and electrolyte supplements.

  • DEPRESSION

The failure of a weight loss programme is likely to cause or increase depression, and to encourage depression induced binge eating (usually without vomiting or purging), leading to an increase in weight. 

  • THERAPEUTIC DIETS

There are many dietary recommendations made in numerous places. Women's magazines, newgroups, newspapers and websites all have their own different articles telling how one can lose weight "quickly and easily." These diets have come under scrutiny because of the risks that if they are improperly researched and executed, the person using them may suffer from various deficiencies.

If you want a special diet it is best to visit a nutritionist for a diet shaped especially for your body and lifestyle. If this is not possible or is impracticable for you, choose a reputable commercial diet programme which specialises in supplying calorie controlled, well balanced meals to you for a fee.

  • DEFICIENCIES of ESSENTIAL VITAMINS and MINERALS

Your body needs a certain amount of calories and nutrients each day in order to work properly. If you skip meals during the day, you will be more likely to make up for those missing calories by snacking or eating more at the next meal. Studies show that people who skip breakfast tend to be heavier than those who eat a nutritious breakfast. 

The Food and Nutrition Board of the National Research Council has established desirable levels of intake of certain essential nutrients. These levels are known as the Recommended Daily Allowances (RDA). If one consumes at least the RDA of any vitamin or mineral each day, one should not suffer from any deficiency illness associated with that nutrient.

Whilst consuming the RDAs of all vitamins and minerals will not allow a person with normal nutritional needs to suffer from the form of deficiency illness associated with these vitamins and minerals, they may not be the optimal dietary levels for these nutrients. Taking the RDA of a specific nutrient may, in fact, cause a mild to moderate deficiency which, while not leading to the classic deficiency illness associated with that nutrient, may contribute to many other illnesses, particularly in today's world where poor lifestyle habits and stress may overstretch the body's nutritional resources.

  • SELF PRESCRIBED DIETS and SUPPLEMENTS

Probably the greatest danger of self-prescribed diets, with or without self prescribed suppliments is the person's failure to seek medical advice, and so miss out on treatment for an underlying medical condition, rather than in lack of adequate nutrition or adverse reactions.

More and more practitioners agree that multivitamin and mineral supplements can be useful because of the stress today's lifestyles can put on the body. But all agree that supplements do not substitute for a nutritious diet.

It is important not to take more of a self-prescribed supplement than is recommended on the packaging.  Most supplements are tested at the levels listed on the packaging, and it is not always safe to take more then the recommended dosage.

  • WEIGHT LOSS DRUGS

There are many weight loss drugs available over the counter at chemists. Most of these drugs claim to help in weight control by suppressing appetite and boosting energy. Although currently used weight-reducing drugs appear to be safe in controlled studies, the studies are short term and have involved populations where the potential for abuse may be low. 

Before you try any of these (usually quite expensive) drugs, talk with your doctor about them. He or she may have another avenue for you to explore.

There are also a few prescribed weight loss drugs. Again, these should only be taken under the supervision of your doctor.

In addition to the advice one usually gets (get a checkup before diving into a weight-loss program, be careful with diet pills, don't starve yourself), I'd like to stress the importance of exercise. A lot of people have put on weight because they sit in front of a computer all day and city planners have deemed it important that people be forced to drive to their workplace rather than being able to safely walk or bicycle there.

One exercise, in particular, is extremely beneficial for people who are out of shape or have joint problems to the extent that vigorous sports or aerobics classes are a bad idea: walking.

If you've been sedentary, I guarantee that you'll lose weight if you start walking at least 45 minutes a day (provided you don't start consuming more calories, of course). You won't drop a lot all at once; this is a gradual, steady kind of weight loss. Regularly walking at a brisk pace (2.6-3.2 miles per hour) will also get your body in shape for more vigorous activities. And you'll get a bit of sun and fresh air.

Don't let bad weather or allergies stop you; most indoor gyms have walking/jogging tracks and/or treadmills. Treadmills, of course, can be deadly dull; try reading or watching TV. If you have the funds, you might consider purchasing a treadmill for home use (try looking for a used one first). A much cheaper alternative is a jogging trampoline: you can get one for about $20US at Wal-Mart, and they take up much less space than a treadmill. Challenge yourself to not watch TV unless you're also walking or jogging.

Swimming is another excellent exercise; it's easy on your joints, tones your muscles and improves your cardiovascular system. However, some people find that swimming in cold water makes them very hungry afterward, and the urge to hit the snack machine may undermine your efforts to lose weight.

The key to losing weight is to try to keep active and raise your metabolism while you reduce your calorie intake. You'll also lose more weight if you spread your calories out over 5 or 6 small meals during the day than if you skip breakfast and gorge on a big dinner. Continually "grazing" throughout the day helps keep your insulin levels steady.

A simple thing a lot of people can do to reduce calorie intake is to quit drinking Coke and other sugary sodas. If you drink soda all day, you could be consuming hundreds of empty calories as well as possibly putting yourself at a greater risk of developing diabetes later on. Switching to diet sodas works for some, but artificial sweeteners taste bad to some people and may be unhealthy in the long term. Try switching to teas and juices (the 100% juices -- fruit juice cocktails are loaded with extra sugar). Green tea, in particular, has been found in lab studies to promote weight loss by raising your metabolism slightly (this effect was independent of its caffeine content).

Anyone trying to lose weight should drink lots and lots of water. Some people feel hungry when they actually need water. Water helps fill you up and flushes out toxins. It also greases the biochemical wheels that help your body's metabolism work to its fullest.

A lot of us are either too busy or too unmotivated to cook. A lot of us eat out of snack machines. If you can't quickly change where you eat, try changing what you eat. Choose fresh fruit or yogurt or pretzels over potato chips. Nuts like peanuts and almonds are good because they contain fiber, protein and minerals -- they are high in calories, yes, but studies have found they are overall less fattening than sweets with equal calories. Also, try consuming more salads and non-cream-based soups. If you have a place at work or school where you can store your own snacks, bring in instant vegetable soup cups (look for types with higher fiber and lower sodium). These will fill you up more and feel more satisfying than many other kinds of snack foods.

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