Experts say changing thought and behavior patterns is the first step to better health
Monday, October 22, 2012 BY SACHI FUJIMORI STAFF WRITER The Record Print | E-mail
Like eating your broccoli and sitting up straight, we know that dropping even a few pounds is good for us, but often, we don't do it.
In an age when dramatic weight loss has become prime-time entertainment on reality TV shows such as "The Biggest Loser," many of us have become complacent about the small amount of weight we could stand to lose.
"People adopt a mind-set of, 'It's just the way I am. I'm just average,' " said Joe Galasso, a clinical psychologist at Volt Wellness in Glen Rock.
Those looking to lose weight can become frustrated by the fact that everything they read – about consuming the proper amount of calories and burning off the rest through exercise – makes shedding pounds seem simple. That weight-loss equation, however, ignores how small decisions we make throughout the day can lead us to quick fixes that rarely, if ever, result in long-term success.
This is where psychiatrists and other mental health professionals come in. They say that people lose weight – and keep it off – by changing behaviors and thought patterns, not with crash diets or juice cleanses.
Dr. Sharad Wagle, chief of psychiatry at Teaneck's Holy Name Medical Center, offered a simple metaphor: Given two paths, a bumpy one and a smoothly paved one, most people choose the easier route with instant payback – in this case the pleasure of having a bowl of ice cream after dinner or the comfort of pressing snooze and skipping your morning workout. But people don't think about what the better long-term decision is: "How long is that road smooth for? How long is that road rough for?" said Wagle.
Yolanda Santiago of Oakland knew she needed to lose a few pounds, but it wasn't until her doctor prescribed exercise for her debilitating migraines that she found the motivation to change her behavior by going to the gym. "I felt like I needed to lose a bit, but the doctor never said, 'You need to lose weight.' I was lazy," said the stay-at-home mom.
Last May, she jotted down her body mass index (BMI) on her calendar: 27, which put her in the overweight category. A person with BMI over 25 has a higher risk of dying early from heart disease or cancer, according to the Harvard School of Public Health.
After enlisting the help of a personal trainer, Santiago began a weekly workout routine with one of her best friends. Six months later she has shed nine pounds and is now at a healthy weight for her 5-foot-1 frame. She needs to wear a belt to hold up her pants, and overall her body feels more toned, she said. "I know it's not a lot of weight, but it definitely feels a lot better," she said.
Shedding those stubborn extra pounds has wider societal implications than fitting into that favorite pair of jeans. New Jersey residents would save $1 billion in health care costs over two decades if they could reduce their average BMI by 5 percent, according to "F as in Fat: How Obesity Threatens America's Future," an annual report commissioned by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the Trust for America's Health. The report projects that nearly half of the state's population will be obese (having a BMI of 30 and over) by 2030 if current trends persist.
An even stronger indicator of the risk for developing obesity-related diseases than BMI is waist circumference, says Dr. Orhan Karatoprak, director of family medicine at Holy Name. "Any excess of abdominal fat is dangerous," he said. Even if your weight is normal, an excess of fat around the belly increases one's chances of having a heart attack, stroke or developing diabetes, he said. For men the risk factor of developing these diseases goes up with a waist circumference over 40 inches, and for women, over 35 inches.
Even losing a few pounds and inches around your waist can swing your health in the right direction. Studies show that patients who drop just 5 to 10 percent of their body weight lower their blood pressure and cholesterol and improve their glucose tolerance, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
What's commonly known as the "middle-aged spread" is not inevitable. Dr. Joel Ingersoll of the Center for Psychological Health & Fitness in Oradell recommends that middle-aged people establish pragmatic goals and a realistic timeline for achieving them. "Having a realistic perspective may save people from experiencing frustration, self-criticism and possibly sabotaging their goals," he said.
People who are trying to lose a small amount of weight – say 10 pounds – shouldn't obsess over the number, adds Ingersoll. "I deemphasize the number, and rather than thinking I have to lose 10 pounds, I say I'm going to increase my physical activity to 30 minutes three times a week," he said.
For Wagle, the answer lies in exercising the brain as well as the body. If we work on strengthening the intellect, which he defines as our ability "to understand and make the appropriate decisions" for our long-term well-being, we will get better at controlling our desires. "Start with something easy, like waking up earlier, and the next thing like starting to exercise will become easier," he said.
With her BMI down to a healthy 20.8, Santiago says her migraines are gone and she can't imagine going back to her old habits.
"I feel too good to drop off my routine. I had a space where I didn't have workout sessions last week and I felt terrible. I couldn't wait to exercise again."
Write something about yourself. No need to be fancy, just an overview.