News & Events

Battling the bulge: Obesity an individual fight

May 9, 2012

By Shannon Harsh, The Review, Published May 9, 2012

Alliance internal medicine specialist Dr. Debra Lehrer said obesity is an individual battle.

"We shouldn't all aim to be 'Twiggies,' and we shouldn't all aim to be a certain size -- 2, or size 4, or size 8. We should aim to be healthy in our own skin," she said.

Lehrer said obesity is a difficult topic to address and a tough problem to tackle, but one that must be addressed.

"Obesity has become one of the most serious national epidemics ongoing in the United States," she said. "We need to put the brakes on it now and get it stabilized and then start to turn it around. We have to do something about it. There isn't enough money for health care, as the next generation needs more and more tests, medications, procedures, surgeries, and on and on it goes. There just isn't enough for everybody. We have to start making better choices. We have to take more responsibility for our health."

Lehrer said obesity puts stress on every part of the body. She said carrying extra weight can cause everything from joint and bone issues to gall stones, liver failure, diabetes, stroke, sleep apnea and major heart problems. "There's been an estimate that for every extra pound of flesh and fat that we have on us there's an extra mile of blood vessels," she noted. "The heart has to pump through an extra mile of blood vessels, so the heart wears out."

With health issues come other side effects, Lehrer said.

"People don't feel well. We're not as happy. Our self-image isn't as good. We maybe don't get out and mix and mingle, so it affects our social situation. People become depressed. They stay in," she said. "So, it just affects everything -- it affects our whole life."

Lehrer encourages her patients to make small changes to make their lives better. "Every time we eat, every time we have a snack, we're making a choice. And every time we do that, we have an opportunity to make a different choice, and perhaps make a better choice," she said. "You have multiple opportunities to affect change, and if you make small changes over time they add up and they do make a difference."

Some of the changes Lehrer suggested are:

Keep a food diary. Assess what you're eating. Start with a food diary and monitor everything you're putting in your mouth.

Switch from bread or flower-based snacks to vegetable-based snacks with some crunch, which is more satisfying.

Eat healthy. Increase your vegetables and fruits and avoid processed and prepackaged foods.

Say no to fast food. Drive, walk or run by fast food restaurants rather than stopping. Make fast food a special occasion rather than a daily occurrence. And never supersize anything, because we've managed to supersize ourselves as an American society.

Eat breakfast. Eating calories early will get your body working early.

Start small. Walk a few extra feet each day and gradually increase your activity. We need at least 150 to 250 minutes of moderate activity per week to avoid weight gain and more to lose weight.

Exercise safely. Males over 40 or females over 50 should consult their physician before starting a strenuous exercise program.

Aim for slow and steady loss. Get on a regimen that will allow one or two pounds of weight loss per week.

Use technology. Use tools like apps available for smartphones and information available on the Internet to help monitor and maintain your new lifestyle.

Beware of pills and fads. Many diet pills on the market have been shown to have significant side effects on health and should be used with cautions. Fad diets often don't offer a balanced nutritional diet.

Lehrer said there is still much to be learned about the human body, but it has been discovered that biology plays a big role in obesity. She said because everyone is different, the Body Mass Index (BMI)chart that is often used as a gauge of obesity is not one-size-fits-all.

"BMI is the ideals, but everybody doesn't fit into the ideals. There are so many issues with weight and with body image, and I think that the populous should focus on just being healthier instead of trying to maintain perfection," she expressed. "Make your body what it can be. You're an individual, and I wouldn't expect everybody to be exactly the same. How boring is that? But I would want everybody to be as healthy as they can be."

Lehrer said she has seen weight loss success in her own patients who have lost weight and gotten healthier. One patient, in particular, was as much as 100 pounds overweight with high blood pressure and cholesterol. She got a scare when her blood sugar was elevated, a sign of diabetes.

"That was her wake-up call to make changes. She switched her diet around, kept her food diary, started a regular exercise program, cleaned out the cupboards in her house and restocked for, not only herself, but her family with healthier foods and better choices. She lost somewhere in the neighborhood of 60 or 70 pounds, and we were able to stop her cholesterol medication and her blood pressure medication and get her sugar normalized," she recalled. "That was a big success story, and she was able to maintain that weight loss, but it took attention to the issue every day. Once she was determined to do it, she made it happen, so it can be done."

Lehrer said the most important thing to remember is to keep trying and do the best you can to be the healthiest you can be. "Don't despair and give up," she said. "The worst thing to do is just give into the fact that you're overweight. Don't give up. Changes can be made, but you really have to set your mind to it first. It's easy to slip up, but don't beat yourself up, just get back on track."

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