#5: Reduce to a Healthy Body Weight

Control your weight through better eating, more exercise, and smaller portions.

“Paul D. Sorlie, Ph.D and colleagues, authors of the study, from the U.S. National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute said the ever-increasing rate of Americans with high blood pressure may be related to the obesity epidemic and suggested that more prevention effort needs to be invested in preventing obesity.” 

Click here for more info on the study.

I was one of those teenagers that could eat anything and any amount and never change my weight by an ounce. I was 125 pounds when I was married at age 26, skinny as a rail and ate 3 times as much as a “normal” person. I was also very active, with badminton, swimming, tennis and running. I thought nothing of packing on 4000 calories in a day, and had ample helpings of ice cream, cookies, and whatever I desired. I never thought about weight until I was turning 40 and discovered I had crept up to 140 pounds.

By the time I was 46 years old I was pushing 200 pounds. 200 pounds was clearly way too heavy, and I needed to do something. So, I’ve tried various strategies to manage weight control. Walking to and from work as I mentioned in an earlier blog was the best single thing I found helped to reduce weight more than anything. For the last 10 years, I’ve been monitoring my weight on and off, and I’ve noticed a strong seasonal effect. I lose weight from about February to September, and gain weight from September through to the end of January. The only problem with this pattern is that it seems I gain more in the 5 winter months than I lose in the 7 other months of the year. So, my recent goal is to control that peaking each winter, and to drive my summer values lower.

Obesity and the problem of weight in our society is currently a matter of great debate and research. Medical science is starting to unravel the weight control processes in the body, but they still have a long way to go to completely understand it all.

Meanwhile, there are all kinds of diets and dieting products, and literally thousands of books on the subject. I’ve read a couple of hundred of those books, and I’ve learned an enormous lot about how the human body works. Generally when we eat food, the body processes it into a sugar type compound with water and stores it in the liver.

A typical adult can store a whole day’s worth of activity in their liver in this manner. Because your liver needs water to store this sugar compound, a glass of water with a meal is actually a great idea. If you had a really full meal and filled up, so to speak, your primary energy tank, this amount of stored energy can hold you for a whole day’s worth of activity.

Generally, folks burn about 100 calories an hour during the day, and 50 calories an hour during sleep, for roughly 1600 Calories and 400 Calories a day, respectfully. (Just a word of note: a food Calorie is actually 1000 physics calories.) Obviously, there are many factors here controlling these numbers including body size, activity level, body shape, the temperature of the environment, metabolic condition, and our genetic inheritance.

Assuming you didn’t eat again, when your primary tank starts to get below 500 calories, most persons start to become interested in food. When it drops to below 200 calories serious hungry feelings normally kick in. Assuming for some reason you don’t eat in this state, we know you don’t just collapse in 2 hours, so where does the new energy come from? It turns out that we have various kinds of fat cells in our body, and through a complex chemical signal process, those fat cells can be coaxed to release fat into the blood stream. The liver picks this up this fat, and converts it into sugars to supply your body.

You may have read in books about the danger of hypothermia when being lost in the wilderness. Hypothermia occurs when more heat is lost than the body can generate. While our primary energy tank in the liver can turn out energy at rates up 400 calories an hour or more, (Olympic athletes can easily top 1000 calories an hour), it turns out that our fat conversion engines aren’t as powerful, and we have trouble producing even 100 calories an hour from fat reserves, and 50 calories an hour might be reasonable value for an out-of-shape person. It also seems that fat conversion engines take a while to get really going. All this means that if you are lost in the woods you don’t want to run around, get cold, and burn out your primary energy tank too rapidly. If your primary energy tank goes to zero you die.

The fat burning energy normally releases sugar straight into the blood stream, but it can also be captured and stored by the liver. Indeed, when our primary energy tank is low, the body will try to store whatever “free energy” is floating around into this primary energy tank. Now, in cases of an extreme energy shortage, the body has still another way to free up more immediate energy reserves. It will start to burn muscle. One problem with starvation diets is that even though your body is burning fat as fast as it can, this may not be fast enough to supply your energy needs, so besides making you cranky, listless, and irritable, being this short of energy triggers muscle burning.

The body can convert muscle into energy fairly rapidly. This muscle burning produces a pile of chemicals in the body and besides being hard on your kidneys, will cause you to literally waste away. Without muscle, you start sagging all over, hardly the way to win a beauty contest. Muscle of course is your strength, and it turns out that muscle is one of our primary energy burners, so once one loses muscle mass, the daily energy requirements drop. This condition is one problem with yo-yo dieting, each cycle of dieting reduces your muscle mass, and causes your body to burn even less calories. Returning to a more normal calorie intake, the body naturally replaces the muscle, and the dieter puts back on all the weight they just lost. Here is one benefit of weight and strength exercises is that they increase muscle mass, and therefore are helpful in that they allow you to eat a little more without putting on weight.

It turns out that our bodies are incredibly fine-tuned machines. When operating properly, we regulate energy intake and energy burning to maintain an amazingly consistent weight for decades at a time. However, this complex metabolic process can easily become damaged either through stress, injury, disease, viruses, infections, in-activity, poor diet, and genetic processes including aging. Suppose that the energy store function becomes damaged so that the body consistently puts out even a small signal to store fat, then the body will take a few calories every day and store it as fat. Even 10 calories a day would add up to a pound a year, and in 30 years you have a weight problem. Furthermore, it seems that the more fat you have, the more the body puts out signals to store fat. So, once you become fat, it becomes extremely difficult to get that fat to burn off and stay off.

To get your body to do more fat burning, it’s actually a good idea to encourage the body to encourage some fat burning. This means getting hungry for a couple of hours per day. When you come to a meal you should feel hungry, and when you leave the meal you should feel satisfied but not stuffed. When we overeat, we fill our primary energy storage to the top, so that the extra food is stored as fat. This means of course that we get hungry just as fast as we did on a smaller meal, and repeating this process daily adds up to huge weight gain.

I don’t believe in dieting per say, whatever you do, you have to adopt it as a from now on life style. So, when you want to lose weight, don’t stop eating, you want to keep eating. In fact, eat enough so that most of the time you don’t feel hungry, but eat a little less so that by meal times you have a good appetite. It’s also helpful if you learn to listen to your body; don’t eat when you aren’t hungry, don’t pig out when you are satisfied.

What is causing today’s obesity problem? I suspect that it is a combination of factors, starting with too little daily exercise and activity. You don’t get thin, sitting in front of a computer or TV for 10 hours a day. The second big factor is improper foods. Our high calorie, low nutrition foods are a killer. Suppose your body is short of a particular vitamin, say vitamin C. It’s highly likely that the body knows that it can only get vitamin C from food, so it turns on your hunger. You eat more. Instead of eating fruit to get the vitamin C you need, perhaps you pig out on potato chips or pizza. The body gets lots of energy but not the vitamin C it needs. Conversely, if we eat higher quality foods, it stands to reason that we don’t need to eat as much food to get the requirements for minerals and vitamins our body needs. Also, the ingredients in high quality food helps our body run better, and we regulate our own weight better. I suspect that stress, pollution, toxins and the like in our environment aren’t doing our metabolic engines any good. If you put dirt in your car’s gas tank, the car engine won’t run as well, and similar things happen in the human body, when we ingest toxins, chemicals, and various drugs.

I mentioned earlier that stopping eating is generally a terrible method of weight control. Starvation does considerable damage to our bodies. However, a short 24 hour fast, once a week appears from research to be a helpful thing. In such a fast, the primary energy reserves in the liver get taken down to a lower level and the body is encouraged to fire up the fat burning processes. An analogy is that when you take your car out on the highway and get the engine really burning hot, it kind of burns the crud out of the system. Similarly, these short, 12 to 24 hour fasts, get the body burning some fat. When you get hungry for a couple of hours before a meal, it is also a kind of mini-fast. Most of us can handle a 12 hour fast, the only danger being that when we do decide to eat, we over-eat, and gorge out. The way to avoid this is that when you start to get really hungry eat about 200 calories. This burst of calories will supply your body for 2 hours but is also low enough that your body will continue to burn fat. So, I suggest if you are thinking of a 24 hour fast, start eating some food around 12 hours, and by the time you to reach 24 hours you should be again eating a normal calorie intake. The secret here is to eat smaller portions every hour during the fast time.

Check if you’re at a healthy weight

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