Many factors contribute to a weight problem -- biology, habits learned before you can even remember, and how easy it is buy huge portions of high-fat, high-sugar food. It may seem like the deck is stacked against anyone trying to fight obesity.
The often-quoted advice "Eat right and exercise" simply isn't the whole answer to this complex problem. That's why the FIT Platform includes four parts: FOOD, MOVE, MOOD, and RECHARGE. Learning how to live a lifestyle that includes a healthy focus on all four can help you win the weight battle.
Achieving a healthy weight and fitness is really "about being healthy," says Chris Tiongson, MD, a pediatrician with Sanford Health, WebMD's FIT educational partner. And that requires "a balance between mind, body, and spirit, and having everything be in sync," he says.
Using FOOD to Manage Weight
Of the four areas in the FIT Platform, FOOD probably has the most direct affect on weight. If you eat too much of any kind of food, you'll gain weight.
But it's harder to eat too much of foods that are "low-density" -- meaning they are low in calories relative to their portion size. Low-density foods include fruits, vegetables, legumes, and cooked whole grains like wild or brown rice and oatmeal. The goal is to use these foods as the base of your diet, so you have less room for those high-fat, high-calorie foods like baked goods, fried foods, and junk food.
How to MOVE to Manage Weight
When a family moves together, it can help family members maintain a healthy weight -- or lose excess pounds. It's hard to lose weight with exercise alone. But combining healthy, low-fat eating with moving your body makes it easier to create a calorie deficit. And that's what you need in order to lose weight.
To lose weight, you need to:
- Exercise to burn off the calories you eat that your body doesn’t need.
- Eat fewer calories than your body needs to maintain your current weight.
Many people find splitting the difference between eating less and exercising more is easier because they don't feel as deprived. Plus, the more you exercise, the more muscle you build, and muscle helps you burn calories even when you're resting.
Cope With MOOD to Manage Weight
When stress becomes chronic, it can lead into a downward spiral of poor health habits -- and even weight gain. A recent article that reviewed studies evaluating the link between being overweight and depression found that overweight adults are more likely to become depressed. The study revealed that the opposite was also true: People who are depressed are more likely to become overweight or obese.
The risk extends to children. A study found that children who identified themselves as overweight or obese were more likely to be depressed as adults.
"It's a two-way street," says David Ermer, MD, child psychiatrist with Sanford Health. "Sometimes when people feel that they're overweight, their self-esteem is lower, maybe because they are not happy with their appearance. They might be teased or bullied because of their size, and that can be stressful and lead to mood symptoms.
"Conversely, if your mood is down, part of depression can be overeating, isolating yourself, and not being as physically involved," he says. "It can go both ways."
Depression isn't something to ignore. "If you have significant depression, you stop caring. You have low energy, low motivation, you're not really as concerned about your appearance or healthy living," says Ermer. "In those situations you need to get some help." Talk with your health care provider, a counselor, or minister.
How to RECHARGE to Manage Weight
When we don't recharge with sleep, we are more likely to gain weight. You may or may not have noticed that lack of sleep and weight gain often seem to go hand in hand. It seems to make sense -- when you are tired and stressed out, you may be less likely to exercise and eat healthy foods.
Researchers aren't sure exactly what connects lack of sleep and weight gain, but there definitely seems to be a connection -- especially for kids. A study found that kids who don't get enough sleep are more likely to be overweight by the time they reach 6th grade. And a survey of sleep studies found that too little sleep was a major risk factor for overweight and obesity, especially for children.
Can fixing sleep problems actually help you lose weight if you don't do anything else? Not really. The only way to lose weight is to burn more calories than you take in, and sleep doesn't help you burn more calories. But it can help you control your appetite and maintain your focus and motivation to make healthy choices.
Keeping Everything in Balance
So where should your family start? When it comes to following the FIT Platform, "I would try to emphasize a sense of balance," says Tiongson. "You can't overemphasize one thing more than another."
Look over the four FIT components to see what the problem areas are for your family. Perhaps you already eat healthy foods, and your children are active in sports. But maybe the whole family is stretched a little thin from being involved in so many activities. Tempers may flare; kids may cry easily. Emotional resilience may be at a low. Take a step back and set small, achievable goals as a family.
Prioritizing each aspect of the FIT Platform is worth the effort. Because as Linda Bartholomay, LRD, a nutritionist at Sanford Health says, "Fitness means more than having a healthy weight. Fitness is a feeling of overall wellness, where you have the ability and desire to do the things that help you have of the quality of life you desire."