Ten years ago, my gradually-increasing weight reached a lifetime high ~ 199 lb. Though not clinically obese, that's still pretty chunky for a male 5'9" frame. At the time my circadian rhythms were out of sync, since I was working a graveyard shift and sleeping during late afternoon and evening, and not getting nearly the cardio or weight training exercise I needed. So I decided to take matters into my own hands by adhering to a simple yet strict diet ~ taking in no more than 1200 calories per day. My goal was to lose 1-2 lb. per month. I knew that people who try to lose weight too rapidly generally end up gaining it back.
That daily goal meant I had to think about everything I ate. The nutrition panels on food packages were very helpful, but mostly I used common sense and restraint. And even though I hit a temporary plateau at 165 lb., ultimately my plan worked. Within three years I was down to my slender high school weight of 155 lb., and today I hover around 142 lb.
My weight goal was by no means arbitrary. I used two guidelines ~ how I felt physically, and frequent reference to a height-weight chart, broken down by gender. Clicking on that link will also give you access to a body-mass index (BMI) calculator (see image below). Note that the height-weight chart provides a range of acceptable weights for a given height for men and women. As a rule of thumb, the lower you are within your range, the better your health. If you exercise rigorously and pack around a lot of muscle mass (which is heavier than most other tissues), you'll probably fall higher within your range, and still be perfectly healthy.
Based on my experience, I can't recommend this approach highly enough. Most of us are aware of the obesity epidemic in the U.S. One-third of adults and children are seriously overweight, and another one-third are obese. Even if we didn't live in a world where entire populations are starving, those figures would be shameful. Americans eat crap food and lots of it, and we don't exercise. And we're paying the price in higher rates of heart and liver disease, kidney failure, stroke, diabetes, a gamut of bodily malfunction which strains the health care system, diverts funding from an array of worthy endeavors (a safe and clean environment, public works programs to provide improved employment, et al.), and ultimately sends us to an early grave.
A few days ago, Smithsonian published an article titled Is There More To Obesity Than Too Much Food? It summarizes recent research on overeating, being careful to note that none of the results are conclusive. For instance ~
- One study suggests that chemicals used to treat crops, and to package and process foods, may disrupt hormonal systems and cause stem cells to turn into fat cells. Numerous and larger fat cells. Critics take issue.
- Another study found that pyschologically, many people eat more because it takes more to provide the pleasure formerly found in smaller amounts of food. The FDA is on the verge of approving a drug called Qnexa, which is intended to increase the pleasure of food while reducing the desire to keep eating.
- Other studies offer unsurprising findings ~ that people can overcome a predisposition to obesity by walking briskly for an hour a day ~ that people who drink high-sugar soft drinks have a 20 percent higher risk of coronary heart disease ~ that soft drink companies spend $70 million annually to lobby against state taxes on sodas ~ that obese men are more likely to be infertile and to have a lower sperm count ~ that health care costs for obese people are fully twice as high as the costs for people with a normal body mass index, to the tune of an additional $80 billion for costs related to obesity in 2011 alone.
It is a weighty subject.