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Weight management

Being overweight is unhealthy, but so it is being underweight.

Proper weight management is about much more than simply focusing on a single number, your weight. There are other, very important, objective measurements to add to your intellectual toolkit - BMI, waist circumference, body fat percentage, muscle-to-fat ratio and others - in order to achieve a physical result.

That physical result, too, should be more than just reducing a number. Your fundamental goals are to look attractive and optimize your health. Everything else is a means to those ends.

The first step to achieving those interlocking twin goals is to recognize that there are no short cuts, no easy and safe miracle cures. There are aids that modern nutritional and exercise science can supply. By all means, take advantage of them.

But along with proper nutritional supplements, appetite suppressants and the like, it's still essential to have a proper diet and adequate daily exercise. Some appetite suppressants, when used under a reputable doctor's guidance, can be a helpful short-term addition to the overall program.

But when you stop taking them, in the overwhelming majority of cases, the weight will quickly return unless they are only part of an overall strategy. That strategy has to include good nutrition and proper exercise.

There are hundreds of fad diets around. The 'low carb, high protein' diet is one of the latest. People following them often experience rapid weight loss, initially. But the long term benefits are few and the costs are high.

Carbohydrates are the primary source of energy for the body. When the body has a shortage of available carbohydrates -chiefly glucose- to use to produce energy, it turns to other sources. One result of that, though, is often muscle loss and not just fat consumption.

Low carbohydrate diets reduce the amount of glucose available in the muscles and liver. That leads to muscle fatigue and less tone. At the same time, that fatigue also makes exercise more difficult and less pleasant. It also leads to a lower basal metabolic rate, which means fewer calories will be consumed per hour than would otherwise be the case.

That's an unhealthy trade off for a rapid, short-term weight loss.

What's needed instead is a disciplined, long-term commitment to lifestyle change. That, admittedly, is much more difficult than simply changing a few things on the menu. It requires learning more about nutrition, and more care in the selection of things to eat. It may mean substituting whole grain brown rice for potatoes. It means substituting fruits for ice cream and candy as dessert.

At the same time a person is struggling to change eating habits, something very difficult to do when the body is urging a return to the old items, another hurdle needs to be overcome: beginning a regular exercise program. Regular exercise is the second factor essential to proper weight management.

It isn't necessary to become a fitness fanatic, but a regular series of vigorous running or weight lifting or other form of age-appropriate exercise is critical. That requires great willpower, to be sure. Most people give up too soon, because they try too hard at first. That results in injury and abandoning the program.

Think long term, make changes slowly but permanently, and you'll find that weight is the last thing you have to think about. Your general appearance and health will improve. Those are the ends to keep in mind.

What is Basal Metabolic Rate?

Most diet and exercise programs focus on what kinds of food to eat, which exercises are best for weight loss and toning, etc. That's sensible, since both diet and exercise are the twin partners that have to be adjusted to maintain a preferred weight range and a healthy body.

But adjusting calories and daily exercise times and types only makes sense when measured against a standard of some kind. Part of that standard is something called the basal metabolic rate. The BMR is the base rate at which the body consumes calories for basic metabolic functions like maintaining internal temperature, repairing cells, pumping blood, powering muscles at rest, etc.

What you eat and how you exercise are both topics that are important for achieving health and the type of physique you want. But, the basic equation remains the number of calories taken in minus the number of calories consumed equals what's left over to be stored in adipose tissues as fat.

Though every individual has a slightly different rate, the average is about 70 calories per hour. Slightly more when we're awake, slightly less when we are sleeping. Factors other than sleep influence the rate as well.

Internal body temperature is a big influence. For every 1/2 degree Celsius rise in body temperature, the BMR increases about 7%. This is easily seen in more extreme cases where we have a fever. If your internal temperature is about 7°F (4°C) above normal, the metabolic rate increases about 50%. Not the preferred method of increasing calorie consumption, obviously.

Certain medications, such as anti-depressants can modify the BMR, leading to weight gain. As a result, anyone on a weight loss diet or exercise program should consult a physician about the potential impact of any prescribed medicines. Taking the prescription is generally best for health, but the added knowledge can help reduce any guilt from weight gain.

A certain amount of fat in the diet is healthy. EFAs (essential fatty acids) are needed for hormone regulation, electrical functions (which take place in the muscles, heart, brain and elsewhere) and other tasks.

After an injury, BMR can change, temporarily, while the body uses EFAs and proteins to rebuild damaged structures and create new tissue. Again obviously, you wouldn't want to injure yourself for the purpose of increasing it, but it's good to factor this in when monitoring calorie intake and consumption.

High-fat foods and refined sugars, however, can reduce BMR since they are lower in fiber and bulk. That slows down intestinal activity and the body will absorb more calories from them before passing through the digestive system. Getting the proper amount of vitamins and minerals can help regulate BMR to keep that process efficient.

BMR is determined chiefly by genetics and general physiological factors. A proper diet and regular, age-appropriate exercise will help you achieve your fitness and body goals.

When striving for those goals it's good to know what the BMR is. That way you'll know how much you need to be above it to achieve desired results.

Weight gain

In the developed world, weight management means weight loss for most of us. Being skinny is seen as very desiderable. However, people with a BMI below 20 can also have health problems and need to gain weight. The same as weight loss, weight gain needs to be done gradually to achieve a healthy, long-lasting outcome.

What Is the Body Mass Index?

The BMI or Body Mass Index has become a useful tool in managing weight and body fat percentage in the last 20 years. Calculating it requires only simple arithmetic and can be performed by anyone. It's important because it provides an objective measurement that, combined with the appropriate scale for age and body type, helps someone manage their body weight more scientifically.

Judgments about body weight can easily become clouded by emotionalism. It's good to be passionate about managing your body, but you need to get a good grounding in facts, first. BMI is an important tool for achieving that goal.

BMI factors in not only your weight, but also your height. Simply divide your weight in kilograms (1 lb = 0.454 kg) by the square of your height in meters. (1 inch = 2.54 cm)

So, for a person 5 ft 7 in (67 inches) tall, who weighs 120 lbs the calculation would look like this:

Height: 67 inches x 2.54 cm/inch = 170.18 cm = 1.7018 m
Height squared: 1.7018 m x 1.7018 m = 2.896 m^2
Weight: 120 lbs x 0.454 kg/lb = 54.48 kg

So, BMI = 54.48 kg / 2.896 m^2 = 18.81

But what does this number mean? The following table lists one commonly accepted classification, using BMI:

Under 18.5 = Underweight
Between 18.5 and 24.99 = Normal
Between 25 and 29.99 = Overweight
Between 30 and 34.99 = Obese (Class 1)
Between 35 and 39.99 = Obese (Class 2)
40 and above = Extreme Obesity

Of course, anyone near the borderline of one classification shouldn't panic, since these can't be anything but guidelines. Nevertheless, anyone nearer the higher range should consider the health risks associated with a high BMI. Some of those are: hypertension, increased risk of cardiovascular disease (heart problems) and increased chance of diabetes. Consult a physician for details.

There are limitations on the usefulness of BMI. It doesn't take into account different body types, athletic conditioning, age, muscle-to-fat ratio and other characteristics. As a result, it can overestimate the risk for stocky athletes and underestimate it for older individuals who have reduced muscle mass. And, gender isn't taken into account either. Yet women, just as one example, have a naturally larger percentage of body fat than men, on average.

Another measure is useful to couple with BMI: waist circumference. Since, for men and women both (though particularly for men) body fat is stored preferentially around the waist this can be a useful piece of information. For most men around, say, 5 ft 9 inches a waist measurement over 37 inches (94 cm) is substantial, while one over 40 inches (101.6 cm) indicates a health risk. For women approximately 5 ft 7 inches tall, the numbers are 31 inches (78.7 cm) and 35 inches (89 cm), respectively.

Keep in mind that these are averages, but those with substantial waistlines can see the amount of excess fat stored, confirming that the numbers constitute a useful piece of information.

What to do with, or about, those numbers is a different story, of course. No single measurement tells the whole story about weight, body fat and how to manage it. But these represent useful and objective measures when considering any weight loss program.

Common sense weight loss