For most people, maintaining a desirable weight and body fat percentage can only be achieved through an integrated program of nutrition and exercise--or balancing energy intake with energy expenditure.
To reduce weight and body fat requires cutting back on calories and increasing the amount of exercise. Dieting alone won't work. Even when a person's weight-control system has genetic flaws and one of the new diet drugs is prescribed, proper nutrition and plenty of exercise is still part of the prescription for health.
Most Americans have more than enough to eat, but many people don't eat a healthy range of foods. Consuming too many calories from any kind of food source can produce fat. One of the best models for healthy eating is represented in the Food Pyramid. To get the proper daily nutritional value:
- Eat a variety of foods
- Eat a high-fiber diet (choose more grains, fruits and vegetables instead of protein, fats and sugar)
- Maintain a low-fat, low-cholesteral diet (eat no more than 30% of calories from fat, including only 10% from saturated fat)
- Use moderate amounts of salt and sodium and choose sugar substitutes
- Limit alcoholic intake
Breaking Old Habits
Often the first step to a good diet lies in changing food and eating behavior:
- Don't skip meals
- Eat a series of small meals throughout the day and avoid a big meal late in the evening
- Eat and chew slowly
- Use a smaller-sized plate to achieve a "full plate"
- Don't go back for seconds
- Bake or broil food instead of frying
- Order from light menus and purchase low-calorie or low-fat foods (remember that low-fat does not necessarily mean low-calorie)
- Learn about food values and make healthy combinations in meals
- Weigh yourself regularly and focus on measuring body fat percentage
- Reward yourself with non-food pleasures
Exercise plays an increasingly important role in weight management and overall fitness for people of all ages. The revised Dietary Guidelines for Americans emphasizes the importance of physical activity for both weight control and health. Weight maintenance rather than weight loss should be the primary focus.
The Guidelines encourage people to increase physical activity and reduce sedentary activity in order to maintain or lose weight, recommending a minimum of 30 minutes of moderate to intense physical exercise every day. They also recognize the link between weight gain and health risks (i.e. premature death) for adults. And they acknowledge that the distribution of fat in the body affects the risks associated with obesity, identifying exercise as one of the few factors that reduces central body fat.
Planning an exercise program should be based on personal goals as well as on individual capabilities. The most important element is to think long-term and make exercise a permanent part of your life.
Moderately Intense Activities:
- Brisk Walking (3-4 mph)
- Cycling (10 mph)
- Swimming or calisthenics
- Racket sports or table tennis
- Golf (without cart)
- Housecleaning, general*
- Raking leaves*
- Playing actively with children*
*Considered moderate only if they are performed at an intensity comparable to brisk walking. (Source: Journal of the American Medical Association 273:402:1995.)