Health 2007: 7 steps to a stable weight
AN APPLE A DAY - AN APPLE A DAY By Tyrone M. Reyes, M.D. () - January 23, 2007 - 12:00am
Keeping a constant weight gets trickier with age. That’s because the body’s metabolism, or the rate at which it burns calories, begins to slow down generally at about the fourth decade of life, mainly because of age-related reductions in muscle mass. Many people also cut back on physical activity as they get older, which can further slow metabolism. For women, hormonal changes in the years surrounding and following menopause also encourage both weight gain and a redistribution of fat to the midsection, the more dangerous area. Even for younger adults, a stable weight can prove elusive. "Most people know how to gain or lose weight; few know how to maintain it," notes Cathy Nonas, RD, director of the obesity program at New York’s North General Hospital.

If you’ve ever weighed yourself frequently, you know that number on the scale is seldom the same from day to day. So what exactly is a stable weight? F. Xavier Pi-Sunyer, MD, chief of the division of endocrinology, diabetes, and nutrition at St. Luke’s-Roosevelt Medical Center in New York City, says that a stable weight for most people includes weekly fluctuations that stay within about four pounds. A gain could result from eating salty food (which causes water retention), a larger- or later-than-usual meal, or extra carbohydrates (such as a birthday cake or candies at the movies); constipation could also produce a gain. Menstruating women may lose as much as four pounds at certain times during the cycle. If one of those factors is the cause, the weight should drop back off by the following week. As a general rule, people of normal weight should try to stay in the same three- to five-pound range at all times, depending on their size (larger bodies may experience larger fluctuations).

Here are steps that can help you maintain a stable, healthy weight, as well as lose some pounds if needed.

1. Fight Denial

Some way of monitoring your weight is critical to keeping your weight stable – perhaps even more so than actually losing weight, which tends to involve more rules and fewer choices. Self-monitoring can take various forms:

Weigh in your way. Some people can weigh themselves every morning without getting neurotic, while others find once a week is quite enough. Or monitor your size by trying on the same pair of form-fitting pants once a week and checking the fit.

Keep a food journal. It can seem daunting, but it’s a proven monitoring tool. Record the foods, portions, times, and places that you eat. Look for patterns that lead to overeating.

Track your activity. The easiest method is to wear a pedometer, which tracks your steps. Compute your average after a week; then try to add 2,000 steps a day.

2. Eat Consciously

Combining eating with activities such as watching TV, opening the mail, or driving is a recipe for mindless overconsumption. Instead, bring awareness back to food.

Have a seat. The trouble with eating on the run is that your mind may not "register" food and gain the satisfaction needed to feel well-fed. If you’re standing and cooking, munch on raw vegetables or chew a piece of sugarless gum until the meal is ready, rather than tasting as you go.

Make every meal an event. Whether it’s a takeout burger or a special feast, adorn the table, turn off the television set, and focus on your food. You may find you eat less and enjoy it more, and are willing to stop when you’re feeling full.

3. Save Calories

Small changes or substitutions in your diet can have major results over time. Cutting just 100 calories a day, for example, saves enough calories over a year to prevent a two-pound weight gain in the average person. A few ideas:

Reduce liquid calories. If you drink soda, cut a can a day or switch to diet drinks. Dilute fruit juice with water or club soda, or cut it out altogether. At the coffee shop, avoid fancy lattes and mochaccino in favor of iced coffee with skim milk. Sprinkle chocolate powder or cinnamon on it to make it a treat. And monitor your intake of alcohol, a major calorie source and established appetite stimulant. Opt for light beer or wine over mixed drinks, especially those with fruit juices.

Adjust your toppings. Put mustard on a sandwich instead of mayonnaise. Get salad dressings on the side and swear off croutons unless you really love them. Instead of cheese, put extra vegetables on your sandwich.

Watch portions. The larger the quantity of food people are given, the more they eat before feeling full. At a restaurant, consider asking for half-order or appetizer size, share an entrée with a friend, or take half your meal home. At home, try using smaller dishes.

4. Plan Ahead

With so many Filipinos now eating outside of their homes, it’s wise to plan well what food to eat to avoid the extra pounds.

Evade temptation. Create a list of a few "safe" dishes for your favorite type of restaurants. Then don’t look at the menu, and order first so you’re not tempted by what others do.

Don’t go out starving. Before you leave the house or office, eat a small snack or take it along. The best ones combine foods from different groups, such as nonfat yogurt with whole grain cereal and berries, or an apple with peanut butter or cheese, to balance digestion.

Supermarket savvy. Use a list to avoid high-calorie impulse buys, and concentrate on the outer aisles where most of the fresh food and produce are stocked; the inner aisles house less-healthful processed fare.

5. Move

Exercise plays an important role in weight loss, but it’s critical in maintenance. Studies show that successful maintainers bump up physical activity to counteract decreases in metabolism or unexpected extra calories.

Count steps rather than calories, fat grams, or carbs. Preventing weight gain requires that you achieve energy balance, meaning that you burn as many calories as you consume. So focus on adjusting your steps (or some other activity) to match your food intake.

Become a fidgeter. Several studies, including one published in the January 2005 issue of the journal Science, have shown that people who move around a lot – ambling about, tapping their feet, gesturing, swinging a leg while sitting – burn more calories and tend to be leaner overall than those who stay motionless.

Get sufficient exercise. The new dietary guidelines recommend a total of 60 minutes of moderate to vigorous activity (it doesn’t have to be all at once) most days of the week to prevent weight gain.

6. Love Your Food

Deprivation is the mother of dietary derailment. So work to identify moderate-calorie foods you love – then keep them on hand at all times. Making those foods your go-to snacks gives you the leeway to enjoy an occasional decadent treat.

Choose foods that make you full. That includes those with a lot of water (soup, yogurt, most fruits, and vegetables), and those high in fiber (beans, whole grains, fruits, and vegetables). Both keep you fuller longer. And foods with fiber are digested more slowly and don’t cause the blood-sugar spike and subsequent hunger that simple starches can.

Tickle your senses. Research indicates that smell, taste, and other sensory factors may influence your sense of fullness more than the actual quantity of food you consume. Smell your food; chew it slowly to appreciate the flavor and texture; and eat food while they’re hot to maximize the odorous vapors.

7. Get Support

Having someone to cheer you on – but also to whom you’re accountable – can be a crucial element in sticking to your eating and exercising goals.

Ask friends and family to help. Keep very tempting foods out of the house or at least out of sight. Or enlist a trustworthy friend or relative to be your healthy-lifestyle partner.

Find a program. Look for a center that offers regular meetings, weigh-ins and, if needed, lifestyle psychological support. Some hospitals also offer lectures or nutritional consultations and follow-ups. There are also numerous commercial websites that are oriented toward diet and exercise, and offer message boards, chat rooms, reminders, tips, and newsletters by e-mail (such as and

This year 2007, resolve to maintain a stable weight!

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