Put focus on health rather than weight

Increase physical activity and good nutrition

Dieting should never be a New Year’s resolution, says Frances M. Berg, MS, LN, a licensed nutritionist and family wellness specialist in Hettinger, ND, and adjunct professor at the University of North Dakota School of Medicine.

Currently, there are no effective weight-loss programs, she says. Weight may come off initially but is not permanent. A better strategy is for people to learn to be healthy at the size they are, and this puts the focus on health rather than weight, explains Berg.

The first step to a healthier lifestyle is to become more active. The focus with physical activity should be on fun, however, and not on how many calories are burned. Physical activity will make a big change in a person’s health status and usually make some change in their weight too, says Berg.

There are health risks associated with obesity; this doesn’t mean that obesity causes them, she says. However, if people are more active and get regular exercise, they can improve these health risks.

Nutrition plays a factor in good health too, but it isn’t just what people eat; it is how they eat. If people would eat more balanced meals — from all five categories on the food guide pyramid — at regular mealtimes, they would be more satisfied.

"If you eat at mealtime, you tend to be hungry at mealtime and then eat until you are full and satisfied," says Berg.

People who diet to shed pounds usually lose 10 pounds and then gain back 15 pounds. Often there is a pattern of gaining and losing weight time and again. There is research that shows that this weight cycling is hazardous to a person’s health, reports Berg.

The key is to maintain a healthy lifestyle with exercise a priority rather than dieting. Frequently, the New Year’s resolution to diet is made because of extra pounds put on over the holiday season. Yet people will not gain weight if they eat normally and don’t binge, says Berg. This means eating when hungry and stopping when full and continuing to exercise.

When people gain 10 pounds over the holidays, they should go back to their regular eating and exercise habits, and the extra weight will come off, Berg suggests.

There are several reasons diets don’t work. When people restrict calories, their body uses fewer calories, she explains. Also, the body regulates itself becoming used to a certain weight so the metabolism may speed up or slow down to maintain that weight or get back to it if weight is lost or gained.

The body tends to want to be at its usual weight, which is called a set point, says Berg. No one is sure how to change the set point, but one way appears to be through physical activity. When people become more active, they seem to lower that set point.

"If people can lose weight gradually, they are more likely to keep it off," says Berg.

According to Berg, better New Year’s resolutions might be to:

  • Enjoy health at whatever size you are.
  • Quit obsessing about food or weight and instead live actively in ways that you enjoy.
  • Eat well.
  • Eat balanced meals from all the food groups and eat normally.
  • Relax and nourish health and well-being.

People should quit focusing on weight and food and concentrate on reducing stress in all areas of life, says Berg.

(Editor’s note: Healthy Weight Week is scheduled for Jan. 18-24, 2004. It is a time to celebrate healthy lifestyles that last a lifetime and prevent eating and weight problems. This health observance is sponsored by the Healthy Weight Network created by Frances M. Berg, MS, LN, a family wellness specialist. For educational activities to celebrate Healthy Weight Week, visit www.healthyweight.net.)


For more information about behavioral changes through focusing on exercise and healthy eating, contact:

• Frances M. Berg, MS, LN, Family Wellness Specialist, 402 S. 14th St., Hettinger, ND 58639. Telephone: (701) 567-2646. E-mail: fmberg@healthyweight.net.