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And the weight loss will happen.

The Canadian weight loss industry is racking up a whopping $7 billion annually and growing at six per cent a year. Unfortunately, our waistlines are following a similar trend. If it sounds too good to be true, it likely is. Rely on trustworthy sources like dietitians and other healthcare professionals for weight loss information.

Weight loss is hard work: maintaining it even harder. Many of us can relate to successfully losing weight at some point, but typically gaining it all back and more. Approximately 80 per cent of those who lose weight gain it back within a year.

Failure occurs for a variety of reasons, including lifestyle changes, unrealistic weight loss expectations, or an unsustainable diet/exercise plan. Maintaining weight loss for a two-year period decreases your risk of regain by 50 per cent.

Past behaviour predicts future behaviour—unless you put a plan in place that you can both healthfully and happily maintain in the long-term.

A weight challenge can take a toll; socially, mentally and physically. Many who struggle with weight may also struggle with social isolation and low confidence. This is a multifaceted issue. Media’s glamorization of a thinner body shape creates shame and unrealistic pressure to look a certain way.

From a health perspective, excess weight can be a risk factor for many chronic diseases including heart disease, type 2 diabetes, cancer, high blood pressure, sleep apnea, arthritis and infertility. It can also put strain on joints and back and lead to chronic pain. This creates a vicious cycle by limiting mobility and making it more difficult to improve health.

Rethinking a healthy weight

There are several ways to classify weight and assess health. The most common measure of obesity is the body mass index (BMI): the ratio of body weight (kg) divided by height (m). Online resources can help you calculate BMI—an appropriate calculation for non-pregnant or breastfeeding adults ranging from 18 to 65 years of age. This number is then categorized as: underweight (<18.5), normal weight (18.5-24.9), overweight (25-29.9) and

obese (>30).

By studying all body weights it was determined that a BMI below 18.5 or above 24.9 suggested an increased risk of disease and premature death.

BMI has limitations; it doesn’t consider muscle mass. For example, a bodybuilder could be considered obese according to the BMI. It also doesn’t consider where fat is carried. Fat around the waistline is closer to the heart and other organs, putting extra strain on these areas as opposed to a person who carries weight around the hips.

The recommended “normal” waist circumference for women is less than 80 cm (32 inches) and less than 94 cm (37.6 inches) for men. Keep in mind this is often not the same number as your pant size. Visit the Heart and Stroke Foundation for more information and how to appropriately measure your waist (heartandstroke.com/site/c.ikIQLcMWJtE/b.3876195/)

Can you be healthy at every size?

Weight is just one measure and there are numerous factors to consider when assessing health risks. It can be overwhelming and defeating if your current weight is above the “normal” BMI and waist circumference range. The good news is that even losing five to 10 per cent of your total weight can reduce your risk of weight-related diseases.

Aiming higher often means the change is too drastic and difficult to maintain. Bottom line, you can be unhealthy at any size. Consider your overall lifestyle—do you exercise, eat well, not smoke, etc?

Maintaining and not gaining

The average adult (18-48 years) gains one to two pounds a year. Research shows those who gain 11 to 22 pounds from age 20 to middle age are three times more likely to develop heart disease, type 2 diabetes and hypertension compared to those who stay within a five-pound gain.

Having a plan for long-term change

Attach a personal meaning to getting healthier: for your grandchildren, to improve mobility for better quality of life, and so on.

Set small goals—and don’t make weight loss one of them. Ask yourself, what habits and routines have prevented you from being the healthiest you can be? Perhaps it’s skipping meals or low fruit and vegetable intake. Change behaviour and weight loss will come.

As you succeed at each small goal you gain confidence and motivation to tackle the more challenging habits.

Environment plays a key factor in the foods we choose. If you weren’t thinking about that chocolate bar or burger you’ll be quickly reminded by a TV commercial, fast food restaurants, a billboard or the grocery shelves. Make rules. If you want a treat, limit it to a single portion and avoid purchasing multi-serving packages. Put healthy items in plain view.

Measure, track and move

Most of us underestimate our intake, and one study showed it’s by about 200 calories per day. A daily extra 100 calories can lead to a 10-pounds gain in a year. Start measuring your food.

Food journaling can keep us accountable, mindful and aware of our caloric intake. Individuals who track their food intake are 64 per cent more successful at losing weight opposed to those who just think about it. Even if you don’t consistently track, consider it for high risk times, such as holidays, vacations or weekends. There are also apps available now that make tracking easier, such as eatracker.com or myfitnesspal.com.

Daily sitting time can impact your risk for chronic disease as well. Going to the gym for 30 minutes is great—but also consider also how much you’re moving during those other 23½ hours.

Health Canada recommends 150 minutes of exercise a day. Where do you fall according to the guidelines? If that sounds overwhelming, is there room for improvement? Start off small and work from there, even 10-minute increments throughout the day count.

Weight loss is hard on your own and a good support system is key to staying on track. Intentional or not, saboteurs tempt you with unhealthy foods, may discourage exercise, or can undermine your confidence and motivation.

For the food pusher, just keep your response short and firm, but polite. Another approach is by politely explaining you’re really trying to stay on track and could really use their support.

Are you your own saboteur? One thing you can guarantee in life is that stress, holidays, vacations will come and go. Figure out a plan to cope with such events. People who can stay as closely as possible to their consistent routine are more likely to maintain weight loss in the long term. Find ways other than food to cope with emotions.

Frustrating as it is, weight loss slows despite following the same routine. Continued progress requires working harder by further decreasing calories and/or increasing physical activity.

Think of lifestyle changes as a climbing up a steep mountain. It requires a lot of hard work and practice. Expect challenging terrain that may cause you slip and fall. When you do, you get back up, and decide to either keep going up the same way or you change up the route. Expect the same obstacles when making lifestyle changes and cut yourself some slack. We don’t become expert mountain climbers overnight.

Maureen Tilley is a registered dietitian and author of Hold the Salt! and Hold that Hidden Salt!

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