Weight-loss expert Dr. Jessica Bartfield: How you can be a ‘Biggest Loser’
If you’re one of the millions of Americans who made a New Year’s resolution to lose weight, chances are you’re struggling to stick to it. Dr. Jessica Bartfield, who specializes in nutrition and weight management at the Loyola Center for Metabolic Surgery & Bariatric Care in Illinois, wants you to know that you’re not alone.
In fact, Bartfield says such setbacks are all part of the process – a process without a “silver bullet” for weight loss. Still, Bartfield offers plenty of tips for those looking to shed a few pounds in 2013.
It’s actually the No. 1 resolution people make. About 45 percent of people are making resolutions to lose weight, and only about 8 percent are successful. So the numbers aren’t that encouraging, but weight loss is a great goal to have because of the connection to your health. What you weigh often has a tremendous effect on your quality of life.
There are a couple of ways to approach weight loss. But first, you definitely want to be getting help. I think a lot of people think it’s something they should be able to do on their own, but studies have shown that people are more successful when they have some instruction and support to help you reach your goals — whether it’s through their physician, nutritionist, friends or family.
Weight loss traditionally boils down to diet and exercise, but it’s more complex than that. Why?
Absolutely. It’s much more complex than that, and that’s the most fascinating part about this. A common phrase you’ll hear is, “Calories in and calories out determines you’re weight.” And that’s true. It’s all about energy balance. At the same time, there are so many factors that go into what we’re eating, why we’re eating, our appetite regulation and the influences that determine how much we lose throughout the day. Our home environment, our work environment, even the friends you spend time with play a role. Genetics plays a role, technology plays a role.
All these different factors influence those two crucial components of your weight: How much you’re moving and what you’re eating. Those are the biggest factors that influence your weight that you can control. But there are a lot of different influences that go into those that make it a complex issue.
What are some of the mistakes people make when it comes to trying to lose weight?
Some of the mistakes I see people make have to do with goal setting. Number one, I think their goals are often too vague. A lot of people make a resolution, saying, “I’m going to lose weight,” or “I’m going to eat better,” or “I’m going to exercise more.” All of these phrases are much too vague. Studies have shown that people are more successful with very specific goals that are small and attainable. Specifically, “I’m going to lose 5 pounds in a month” or “I’m going to eat more fruits and vegetables” or “I’m going to walk Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays every morning for 30 minutes.” Being as specific as possible is going to maximize your chance of being successful at that goal.
The second mistake people make is not realizing they will make mistakes in the process of trying to lose weight. Whenever you’re trying to do anything for the first time or learning something new, we’re much easier on ourselves and more forgiving when we make a mistake. It’s different with weight loss. People often hit one bump in the road and they give up. We should be planning for setbacks and mistakes, expecting them and using them to learn how to prevent new ones.
The third most common mistake is setting realistic goals. With a lot of people, when you ask them how much weight they want to lose, it will vary anywhere from 20 pounds to 100 pounds to half their body weight. While some people may need to lose that weight, I usually set the initial goal at 10 percent of your total body weight. Very modest weight loss can have a tremendous effect.
Why do so many of us make New Year’s resolutions about weight loss?
People see it as a fresh start. It’s a great time to change habits. The stress of the holidays is over. Maybe there’s a trigger — they saw a photo of themselves from past holidays or they saw a family member who expressed concern. A lot of people try to get in to see their physicians at the end of the year, and they recommended losing weight to improve health. Overall, it’s that idea of a fresh start and new beginning.
With so many diet books and plans on the market, how do you evaluate which one would be right for you?
It’s extremely difficult. I feel bad for patients because the weight-loss industry is a tremendous industry that has so all kinds of advertising — Internet, TV, magazines — you’re bombarded with the latest and greatest way to lose weight. A majority of these tactics have proven untrue and can set patients up for failure.
So what I try to tell my patients in navigating all these claims is that any diet that claims rapid weight loss without having to change what you’re eating or change your exercise is probably not going to be successful. Anything you do find, always run it by your physician to ask if they think it will be effective.
When is weight loss surgery a viable option?
Weight-loss surgery is an extremely useful tool. It’s an important one for people to consider if they meet the criteria. For the most part, weight loss surgery applies to people with a body mass index (BMI) — which measures your height and weight —of 35 or above and with other health problems like high blood pressure or diabetes or sleep apnea. Or (it applies to someone with a) BMI greater than 40. If patients I encounter meet those criteria, I always discuss weight-loss surgery as a possibility.