You already know weight loss can help you live a longer, healthier life, but do you know how it benefits your body and mind?
Weight loss is about more than fitting into smaller jeans. By maintaining a healthy weight, you could improve your mobility and mood, and you’ll also lower your risk for serious illnesses.
“If you control your weight better, you have a lower risk of cancer,” says Jeffrey McDaniel, M.D., a Piedmont obesity medicine physician. Weight loss can also reduce chronic pain and ward off diabetes.
What’s more, shedding even a few pounds can improve your health. Though many people fixate on a “goal weight,” Dr. McDaniel encourages patients to take small steps toward a healthier overall outlook.
“Don’t have a dieting mentality,” he explains. “Have a lifestyle-change mentality.”
How weight loss improves your health
When Dr. McDaniel sees new patients, he asks what motivates them to get in shape. People may want to manage back pain, fight prediabetes or look better for a big event.
But, Dr. McDaniel says, the benefits don’t stop there.
Other benefits of weight loss can include:
Lower blood pressure
Lower levels of triglycerides
Less risk of heart disease
Improved mobility and reduced pain
Better sex and less erectile dysfunction
Improved insulin resistance
Lower risk for multiple cancers
Though a better mood and sleep aren’t always simple to track, there’s no doubt that weight loss can have a quantifiable impact.
“These are direct, measurable effects,” Dr. McDaniel says.
Why is weight loss so hard?
Even given the many benefits, most people struggle to lose pounds and keep them off. The difficulties they encounter have almost nothing to do with willpower or motivation, Dr. McDaniel says.
“Obesity or being overweight is a chronic relapsing disease,” he explains. “It’s not the patient’s fault.”
Factors that may influence a person’s weight include:
If you do lose weight, you may be surprised by how easy it is to regain it all. Your body is hardwired to protect you, and it may perceive prolonged dieting as a kind of starvation.
“A common response to weight loss is your body fights it,” Dr. McDaniel says.
How to lose weight and keep it off
Despite its challenges, weight loss still offers invaluable health and lifestyle benefits. Getting started can be intimidating, but Dr. McDaniel advises patients to take it slow, be honest with themselves and avoid fixating on a single number.
“It doesn’t mean you’re a success or a failure,” he says.
Ask yourself what inspires you to lose weight, and create a realistic plan for dropping pounds slowly. (Sorry, but there’s no healthy way to lose 20 pounds in a single month.)
Small, measurable goals are key, Dr. McDaniel says. If you want to eventually lose 20 pounds, you might aim to drop just a pound or so each week. That way, you can enjoy frequent successes that keep you motivated, and better diet and exercise habits will take center stage in the meantime.
Dr. McDaniel encourages his patients to try a version of the keto diet, which focuses on more healthy fats and fewer carbohydrates, but he recommends talking with a doctor or nutritionist about meal plans that may work for you.
Remember your weight is not your value
Dr. McDaniel also recognizes the psychological baggage these topics can carry. Many people have battled weight and societal stigmas for years, and they may struggle with body image and self-esteem.
Here are his tips for people who have emotional issues around weight loss:
Don’t pay too much attention to the body mass index (BMI) chart. It’s just one indicator, not the ultimate measure of fitness.
Weigh yourself less often.
Use a scale that can display your weight in kilograms or stones, which can help remove any mental stigmas you have around pounds.
Work with a friend to keep yourself accountable and make the weight loss experience more pleasant.
At the end of the day, Dr. McDaniel says, weight loss should lead to fuller, healthier days—not a constant battle with the scale.
“Success, in my mind, is losing weight that’s predominantly fat mass, not losing your muscle, and having better quality of life,” he says.