Eating, Exercising and Losing Weight: Simple Math, Right?
For the past decade, I have been a primary care provider with certification in wound care. When I started my career, most of my patients were older adults with chronic issues such as high cholesterol and diabetes. More recently, I have been treating a greater number of people in their 30s and 40s who are diagnosed with the same problems. My colleagues are also confirming that they see younger patients with the same chronic problems. In addition to my primary care patients, I also have been treating younger people with skin ulcers who are in danger of amputation due to infections and poor circulation.
Part of this realization of chronic problems at a younger age is due to increased health screenings. But I also notice that when I see a patient for the first time and take a thorough history, people sometimes admit that they eat a lot of unhealthy fast food and do not exercise enough (if at all). One of the things I ask patients to do is to create a food and exercise journal with detailed information on what they eat daily as well as list the activities and the amount of exercise they perform.
But better nutrition and exercise habits must become engrained when we are children. Yes, there are certain barriers we must overcome. No doubt that the streets are not as safe as they used to be. More children in urban areas, for example, experience a more sedentary lifestyle than the kids of a generation ago, with more homework and video games today and fewer spontaneous physical activities on the streets and on playgrounds. Many kids go home from school to an empty house and snack on sugary and fatty foods. And for dinner, junk food and fast food is sometimes more convenient and economic than slow cooking with quality ingredients and organic fruits and vegetables.
Although we have a poor track record in reducing the incidence of obesity, and the dangers of being overweight are just around the corner for today’s children, there are efforts to getting people healthier. One example, the Let’s Move campaign, which first lady Michelle Obama helped to launch, has brought healthier lifestyles into many homes.
Regarding foods, the Web site ChooseMyPlate.gov illustrates the fruits, vegetables, grains, protein foods, and dairy items that should go on a plate, or in a cup or bowl. It also has a program to track what you eat and drink as well as provide a personalized plan for what you should eat and drink. It also has resources for weight management, graphs that show the empty calories that many foods contain, photographs of portion size dimensions, such as of corn tortillas and glasses of orange juice, and dozens of other features.
Since I work with minority and immigrant communities, the ChooseMyPlate Web site doesn’t have many foods that my patients and their family members eat at home: Lychees, passion fruit, cactus pears, soursop, rhambutan, mole, huancaina sauce, tamales cooked in banana leaves or corn husks, and arepas, to name a few.
Of course getting enough exercise is just as important as feeding the body nutritious foods. If we lose weight by burning more calories than we consume, how can we increase the number of calories our bodies metabolize? First of all, muscles consume more calories than fat. A person who is active and builds muscle mass burns far more calories at rest than a person who isn’t building muscle. Of course our bodies burn even more calories during exercise. Studies have shown that building strength along with working on the cardiovascular system is most effective in losing weight. Just as important as eating “smart” foods is also to do “smart” exercise, incorporating activities in our daily routines, such as walking up stairs instead of taking an elevator or escalator, parking a car a longer distance away from a store and moving our legs and arms when we’re seated are some examples. How to burn more calories while consuming “smarter” calories is the key equation we need to solve. #