You don’t need to be “the biggest loser,” dropping the most weight and body fat like the winner of the reality television series, to reap the benefits of weight loss. Losing 5 to 10 percent of your body weight can have a disproportionately positive effect on your health no matter how overweight you may be.
Scientists now know that body fat is not just a storage site, but also acts as an endocrine organ that produces hormones. When people become obese, their fat cells can plump up to three times the normal size, churning out more hormones that promote inflammation, the root cause of many diseases. “This knowledge about fat is revolutionary and enlightening because there are ways to treat obesity and reduce disease risk” says James Nicolai, MD, medical director of the Franciscan Center for Integrative Health in Indianapolis, Indiana, who assists numerous overweight and obese patients with weight management, “The idea of losing 5 to 10 percent of body weight and gaining great benefit from it is validated over and over again in medical research.”
Lowers risk of diabetes. There’s a direct correlation between obesity and type 2 diabetes, and losing weight may delay or prevent the full-blown disease. In the Diabetes Prevention Program, a study of some 3,200 overweight and obese people, researchers found that losing just 7 percent of body weight reduced the risk of diabetes by 58 percent for people with impaired glucose tolerance, which often precedes diabetes. How long diabetes can be delayed past the three-year period studied is unknown, but every year without diabetes can mean a year free of disability and costly health care.
Eases knee pain. Even taking off a few pounds may drastically reduce the burden on your knees. For every pound lost, there’s a four-pound reduction in the pressure that’s exerted on the knees, found a recent study that looked at nearly 150 older adults with osteoarthritis of the knee.
Reduces cardiovascular risk. Studies show that losing 5 to 13 percent of body weight can reduce harmful levels of triglycerides and LDL (“bad”) cholesterol and increase HDL (“good”) cholesterol. Moderate weight loss may also reduce or eliminate the need for blood pressure medication. One study concluded that a person with hypertension who took no medication and lost just 5 percent of 200 pounds, or 10 pounds, could expect a 7-point drop in systolic pressure and a 5-point drop in diastolic. What’s more, participants who lost weight and kept it off for three years showed a persistent reduction in blood pressure and were 65 percent less likely to be hypertensive compared to those who didn’t lose weight.
Taking the First Steps. If learning about these health benefits has renewed your motivation to lose weight, I have put together some advice on how to start losing those extra pounds.
1) Set realistic goals. A reduction of 500 to 1,000 calories a day from your calories maintenance level. That and exercise combined should result in one to two pounds lost a week. To check your progress, measure your waist. Abdominal or visceral fat puts stress on the internal organs and seems to set in motion metabolic changes that favor the development of diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and some cancers; fortunately, it’s also among the first fat to go when you take weight off the right way.
2) Eat an anti-inflammatory diet. While this diet, which I recommend for everyone, is not specifically a weight-loss plan, eating mainly super low-fat protein, fresh fruit (berries), vegetables, whole grains, fish, and plant proteins helps reduce your risk of age-related diseases. It optimizes health by stabilizing blood sugar, lowering glycemic load, and adding more fiber and omega-3 fats to your diet.
3) Slowly start to exercise. Begin to walk for 20 minutes each day. You should feel like you’re moving briskly, not just strolling. If this is too hard on your joints, try water exercises. As your fitness improves, increase the time you spend exercising and gradually increase intensity.
4) Practice mind-body techniques. Stress is often linked to weight gain. Whether stress brings on weight gain or weight gain causes stress, you need to find ways to relax and tune into your body. Mind-body approaches such as breath work, meditation, yoga, and guided imagery are all helpful.
5) Become a conscious eater. Curb your emotional eating and become aware of situations that cause you to reach for an unhealthy snack or draw your focus away from your meal, such as the television or work. Eat slowly, savoring food’s flavors, colors, aromas, and textures.
6) Happier in the Bedroom. Weight loss may spark your sex life, too. People who lose up to 10 percent of their body weight report significant improvements in the quality of their sex life found Duke University researchers who collected questionnaires during a two-year study. The most significant improvements were seen during the first three months, following an 11 percent weight loss. Despite additional weight loss, improvements in sex life remained relatively stable. Women, the majority of the 187 participants, seemed to have more sexual problems at the start of the study and more benefit midway. One year into the study, the number of women who felt sexually unattractive dropped from 68 percent to 26 percent. And women also felt more comfortable being seen naked and had increased desire and sexual enjoyment. The small number of men in the study reported similar improvements.

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