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Little Weight Loss Goes A Long Way
From driving up your blood pressure and cholesterol, to increasing your risk of heart disease, diabetes, cancer, and more, there's no question that being overweight is more than just a cosmetic problem - it's a serious threat to your health.
At the same time, if you're like most folks, even the thought of embarking on a 20-, 40-, or even 100-pound weight-loss plan can seem like a mountain that's impossible to climb.
If this is the way you're feeling right now, take heart. Today, the most progressive weight-loss experts agree you don't have to climb the whole mountain, or even go halfway up, to improve your health. Indeed, taking even a few small steps toward your weight-loss goals can go a long way in reducing your health risks, even if you never reach the ideal number on your bathroom scale.
Even Small Steps Have Big Benefits
"Depending on what you take or what you do, you could end up with higher blood pressure and a worse cardiovascular profile than when you weighed more," says Sondike.
Along these same lines, University of Utah nutrition expert Shawn Talbott, PhD, cautions that attempting too stringent a weight-loss plan can also backfire, and take its toll on your health.
"Both extreme calorie restriction and placing yourself under a great deal of mental stress about losing weight has been shown to increase cortisol levels, the hormone that is associated with high stress," says Talbott, the author of The Cortisol Connection.
When this happens, he says, it causes your appetite to soar, not only encouraging you to eat more, but also increasing the likelihood that whatever weight you do gain will be stored as abdominal fat.
"This can then increase your risk of heart disease and other significant health problems," says Talbott.
In the end, he says, it's the act of living more healthfully, and not just dieting, that matters most, even if you never reach your weight goals.
Anhalt agrees. "A little weight loss achieved in a healthy way is far more beneficial than a large weight loss that happens in an unhealthy way." If you lose even one pound through healthy living, he says, "You do an incredible service to your body and your health."
Better to Be 'Fat and Fit'
As remarkable as that sounds, in studies published in March 2003 in the Annals of Internal Medicine, CDC researchers found that those folks who simply tried to lose weight lived longer.
The finding does not surprise dietitian Samantha Heller, MS, RD, who believes effort does count.
"Very often, simply making the effort to lose weight, such as adding more fruits and vegetables to your diet, reducing your intake of sweets, junk foods, and saturated fats (found in foods like meat, cheese, and butter), and becoming more physically active can improve your overall health and reduce your risk of heart disease and diabetes, too," says Heller, a nutritionist at New York University Medical Center.
So, Heller tells WebMD, even if you never actually lose any weight, doing these things alone is bound to help you feel better and ultimately, impact your health in a positive way.
And many doctors now believe that even if you are unable to lose any weight at all, keeping yourself from gaining pounds as the years go by will also help you gain some important health benefits.
"If you can focus your efforts on achieving a more healthy lifestyle, if you increase your level of physical activity just a little bit, and maybe incorporate some healthful changes into your daily diet you will not only be successful at preventing weight gain, in the process you will be doing something positive for your health," says Sondike.
"In the end," says Anhalt," it's not about the pounds, it's all about the lifestyle changes, and about understanding that, in the long run, fat and fit is ultimately better than thin and unfit."
If you make the changes that lead to a healthier lifestyle, experts say you will definitely be healthier, and ironically, you'll probably weigh a lot less as well.
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