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
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
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
At the same time, Sondike tells WebMD that losing weight in
an unhealthy manner, for example, by starving yourself or
using diet aids like ephedra, can work against your overall
health, sometimes leaving you in worse shape than before you
attempted the weight loss.
"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
"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'
If you simply take some healthful steps in the direction of
your weight-loss goals, you are likely to reap some healthy
rewards, even if you never drop a single pound.
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
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
"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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