With the spotlight on childhood obesity, many families and schools are trying to address overweight and obesity as school begins. I have heard lots of chatter about what people are planning to do, and I want to share some pointers from recent research and clinical experience.


Assess What You Eat and Drink

A simple way to do this is to write down everything that you eat or drink for a few days. Look at the list and attack the sources of empty calories. The likely offenders are sweet tea, sugared soda, bread, french fries and chips. Dietitians and weight loss programs also recommend writing down what you eat, because it makes you think twice before eating.


Eliminate Junk Food

Eliminating junk food may be all that you need to do if you are drinking regular soda and are eating "nabs" and potato chips. I often hear, "But I don't eat much of it." However, the unwelcome truth is that just a little sugar and starch can turn off your body's ability to lose weight. Some people, I fear, are very sensitive to sugar and need to get it out of their lives completely.


Follow a Program

Lifestyle programs use many different approaches. It is okay to count calories, fat grams or carbohydrate grams to achieve a healthier lifestyle. Other preferences may lead you toward vegetarian or meat-based approaches. Internet support groups, diet books, packaged food programs and work-site groups can all help (I don't know of any legitimate lifestyle program that promotes eating "junk food").


Seek Help If You Take Medication, or If You Can't Do It on Your Own.

Some patients tell me that changing what they eat is difficult or even "the hardest thing that that they've ever done." Under medical supervision, medications and "prescription-strength" diets may be necessary to overcome hunger. If you have medical problems like diabetes or high blood pressure, these conditions need to be monitored, if you are making a major change in your diet.


Have Your Health Measurements Checked Periodically

While there are many recommendations for "healthy eating," you cannot know what foods are best for you, unless you have certain tests checked by your doctor. I see people who are frustrated, because even though they are doing everything that they have been told for general healthiness, they look and feel unhealthy. In many instances, the "general recommendations" are not appropriate for individual people.


I have seen "lifestyle therapy" improve or eliminate type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, high blood cholesterol, sleep apnea, asthma and many other health problems that are so common today. Losing weight is just one step toward a healthier lifestyle.


Avaz Virji, MD, is a part of the American Board of Bariatric Medicine as a board member.


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