With the holiday season on the horizon, now it’s time to start thinking about the importance of maintaining a healthy weight and avoiding the diet and exercise pitfalls that come after the most wonderful time of the year. Getting ones weight in check before the holiday season may be especially important, as one study found that a person’s weight going into the holiday season had a large impact on how much their weight increased. According to the study, overweight individuals gained nearly five times as much weight as the general population between Thanksgiving and New Year’s. Unfortunately, the issue is more serious than having trouble fitting back into that favorite pair of jeans.
While many people are aware that being overweight can increase the risk of heart disease, stroke, diabetes, high blood pressure and kidney disease, fewer may realize that it increases the risk of some forms of cancer. The National Cancer Institute estimates that in 2007, four percent of cancer cases in men and seven percent of cancer cases in women were related to obesity.
Obesity and Cancer Risk – National Cancer Institute
According to the American Cancer Society, there is a clear link to weight issues and numerous types of cancer such as breast (in women past menopause), colon and rectum, endometrium (lining of the uterus), esophagus, kidney and pancreas. It is also believed that there is increased risk of cancers of the gallbladder, liver, cervix, ovaries, more aggressive forms of prostate cancer, non-Hodgkin lymphoma and multiple myeloma in some cases. There are a number of possible reasons for the increased risk, but the general thought is that increased insulin levels and excess hormones produced by fat cells may contribute to cancer cell growth.
Current projections estimate that by 2030, there will be about 500,000 additional cases of cancer in the United States due to individuals being overweight or obese. However, the good news is that there is growing evidence showing that weight loss may reduce that risk.
Reaching and Maintaining a Healthy Weight
The medical community generally determines healthy weight ranges by dividing a person’s weight with their height in order to determine their body mass index (BMI). A BMI between 25 and 30 is considered overweight and a BMI over 30 is considered obese. Individuals can easily access BMI tables online or ask their physician to calculate this number during their next visit.
Because weight-gain is the result of consuming more calories than the body burns, the first step to controlling and maintaining a healthy weight is to examine one’s diet. The U.S. dietary guidelines recommend eating nutrient-rich foods such as:
Fruits and vegetables
Fat-free or low-fat dairy products
Legumes (beans), nuts and seeds.
For the most part, individuals should avoid:
Refined grains (think pasta, white bread, etc.)
Fried foods or foods made with butter or shortening
The second step is to increase physical activity, which should include a combination of aerobic and strengthening exercises. Adults should strive for 2.5 hours of aerobic exercise a week and those looking to lose weight should strive for five hours of moderate activity (like walking) a week. At least two days a week of strengthening exercises will also help to burn more calories, reduce injury and maintain bone-strength.
Whether making dietary changes or increasing physical activity, start with changes that are manageable. Any diet or exercise program that is unsustainable for the long-term will ultimately prove ineffective. For some, it’s equally important to examine the mental or emotional aspects that may lead to being overweight or obese. Speaking with a counselor or healthcare professional about the emotional triggers that may lead to over-eating, or participating in stress-relieving exercises like yoga or meditation are extremely successful in helping people to manage and control their weight.
Finally, in cases where a physician deems it appropriate, there are medical treatments that can assist with weight-loss. This includes medication and bariatric procedures for extreme cases. While many of these methods have proven results, it is still recommended to start with lifestyle changes tied to diet and exercise.
So, before this holiday season gets the better of your waistline, start to examine these lifestyle choices today. There’s no reason to wait until the New Year to make changes that will improve your health and help to ensure that you and your family will enjoy more holidays to come.
Kevin Woods, MD, M.P.H, is Chief of Interventional Endoscopy, Gastroenterology & Nutrition at Cancer Treatment Centers of America at Southeastern Regional Medical Center in Newnan, Ga.