By: Dr. Michael Martinez
As a bariatric and metabolic surgeon, I look forward to discussing health goals with the community and my patients, especially at the beginning of a new year. Bariatrics is aimed at helping patients treat or prevent serious illnesses such as high blood pressure, sleep apnea and diabetes among other issues. Those are the most common things we associate with being overweight. However, there are many aspects of health associated with being overweight such as increased cancer risk (breast and colorectal cancer, to name a few), increased risk of cognitive decline (such as Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia), depression and anxiety, fertility issues, risks of heart attack and stroke, fatty liver disease and many other problems that people do not realize are associated with being overweight.
I have found that the patients who successfully achieve their goals focus on the HEALTH IMPROVEMENTS they can accomplish and NOT just the number of pounds they can lose. I have seen many patients improve their health through weight loss and maintain those results for many years. The successful patients all have a few basic things in common.
First, and probably the most important, is to realize that the goal should be to improve quality of live by improving health. For people who have long-term success, their weight is only a guide to keep them on track or motivate them back when they find themselves straying from healthy habits. Weight loss means very little if you are short of breath when you walk long distances, if you are too weak to carry the groceries in to the house or if you cannot enjoy a night on the town or you child’s or grandchild’s little league game because your feet and back are always sore. By focusing on health improvements the weight will follow, but more importantly, you’ll experience an enhanced quality of life.
Second, stay hydrated by drinking more water. Water is vital for many body functions. Believe it or not, many people eat too much because they mistakenly associate the emptiness of thirst with hunger. Patients who maintain their desired results for a long time focus on drinking a lot of water, and realizing that when they feel hungry it’s most likely because their bodies are actually craving nutrition. Remember avoid drinking your calories. Choose water instead of sodas, sweet tea and sugary juices as a regular source of hydration because they can have a significant impact on your health and in some cases actually act to increase your hunger making you prone to overeating and gaining weight.
Third, dieting can be as complicated, but there are a few tips that we can improve almost any dietary situation for the purposes of improved health. Dietary changes come in many forms… the amount of food, the type of food, the way you prepare your food, the time of day or how often you eat, the particular types of calories you consume (sugars, fats, proteins etc.). All of these aspects are important and can impact your health.
While it may be confusing when faced with so many choices at the grocery store or restaurant, focus on eating clean. Clean eating incorporates food and you will become healthier. By this I mean food that is from whole, natural sources (vegetables, healthy sources of protein such as fish, poultry and occasionally beef or wild game and fruit in moderation). Many different diets (ketogenic, Atkins, Mediterranean, vegetarian, etc.) can be healthy if done under appropriate supervision or with the appropriate consideration for your particular medical circumstances. But at their core, they all involve eating cleaner foods. Stay away from or limit food that is artificially processed, artificially flavored or made to last forever on a shelf with chemical preservatives. For some this is as simple as staying away from fast food. If possible, prepare your food more often. When you have this control over your diet you will almost certainly eat healthier and in most cases eat better tasting food, as well as save some money.
Fourth, remember that improving your health is hard to do without getting enough rest. Sleep more and sleep more regularly. It is easy nowadays to bring a phone in to bed or have a TV in the bedroom and stay awake for an hour or two every night just distracting yourself from the stress of the day. Poor sleep habits and not enough sleep can greatly increase your stress hormones which will inhibit weight loss and often contribute to significant weight gain, countering health improvements your making.
Fifth, move your body. This is as equally as important as any other aspect of health improvement, MOVE YOUR BODY. Be creative and realistic when thinking about ways to become more active. For some patients the goal is a first ever marathon or even a 5k or 10k race. For other patients, the goal is tying their shoes or taking a shower without help. Being able to walk at the grocery store or from the parking lot to the baseball field to watch kids play can greatly improve quality of life and your overall health. The movement part of improving your health allows you to take all the hard work of drinking more water, eating cleaner and sleeping better and turn it into living life the way you want to live it. It allows you to have more energy for the activities you value.
Try one or all of these suggestions for improved health, but sometimes the most powerful thing you can do is making the decision that your health is worth changing or improving because it’s at the heart of your quality of life. And that’s what I hope for you in wishing you a healthy and happy new year!