The Trouble with Fat
by Vicki Pepper, M.S., R.D. Kaiser Permanente, San Diego, CA
If only you would lose some weight. You’ve heard that phrase a million times and then you hear things like…your knees or back wouldn’t hurt so much…your blood cholesterol would come down…you could go off blood pressure medication…avoid diabetes…get pregnant…get healthy…get a date…be happy…whatever! You know these things are true, but the idea of losing all your extra weight can be overwhelming, making it easier to give up and do nothing at all.
The trouble with fat is that many people blame all their problems on it, but the truth is too much fat isn’t as much of a health problem as the lifestyle choices that lead to weight gain. Regaining and maintaining your health doesn’t necessarily mean attaining an ideal body weight. It may be more about making a few different choices on a daily basis.
Physicians advise weight loss for various health problems because they know that restricting calories to the point of weight loss helps correct metabolic disturbances in the body. Losing as little as 10% body weight can reverse blood sugar problems, lower blood pressure, and decrease elevated blood lipids (cholesterol). That means that a six foot, 290 pound man needs to lose about 29 pounds to see health benefits. At 261 lbs. he may still be considered overweight—but as his blood sugar normalizes and blood lipids decrease with his 29 lb. loss, he is in much better health.
The benefits of restricting calories can be seen in the dramatic effects of bariatric surgery on health. The surgery reduces the amount of food that can be eaten or absorbed. Blood sugar values typically normalize within days or weeks of having bariatric surgery even though patients are still carrying 100 lbs. or more of extra body fat.
Luckily, the same health benefits are easy to achieve without the risk of surgery. We see the phenomena in Kaiser Permanente’s Positive Choice Weight programs participants every day. Over two-thirds of insulin dependent, type 2 diabetics—some of whom have struggled with diabetes for decades—attain normal blood sugar values within the first several weeks of using OPTIFAST® supplement in our full fast weight loss program. The average weight loss for the first two weeks is usually 10 to 12 pounds. Although people have not lost much weight at this time, they have already dramatically improved their health and eased the risk of future disease. Full liquid fasts provide added health benefits. Studies suggest that for some people with type 2 diabetes, the act of fasting helps to repair insulin receptor cells so that even if they are unable to maintain their weight loss and gain weight back, their blood sugars remain normal. Unlike surgery, full liquid fasts have other health advantages for many like relief from migraines, asthma, and arthritis. Cholesterol levels drop an average of 81 points. Forty percent of hypertensive people are able to discontinue medication completely and another 30 percent greatly reduce their dosage of medication.
Achieving optimum health isn’t about being skinny or weighing in at the number listed on the height/weight tables or even about achieving a certain body mass index. These are just indicators that you are on the right track. Your health is determined by all the small, seemingly insignificant choices you make every day. It is about how you choose to move, eat, play, and take care of yourself. It’s easy to fall into the trap of thinking you have to be perfect—e.g., always eat healthy foods, exercise everyday, lose all your extra weight, etc. But small lifestyle choices, done consistently on a daily basis can have a dramatic impact on your health, especially when you limit calories.
You can start now. No matter what you weigh, no matter what your blood sugar or blood cholesterol is, you can make this day a healthy one. Start now. If you need help or are looking to make big changes in your health, Kaiser Permanente’s Positive Choice Wellness Center offers free nutrition and fitness counseling, and free wellness seminars throughout the year, and fee-for-service options. Fee-for-service options using OPTIFAST® 70 and OPTITRIM® 800 supplement include full and partial fast Weight Management programs or H.E.A.T. (Healthy Eating and Training individual weight loss plans), metabolic rate testing, body fat testing, personal training, muscle toning and yoga classes, biofeedback, and food addiction recovery classes.