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Center on Psychiatric Disability & Co-Occurring Medical Conditions

Strategies for Intentional Weight Management - Catana Brown

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Hello. I’m Tana Brown. No doubt you’ve heard that people in the United States (and around the world for that matter) are getting heavier. People don’t choose to be overweight, but unfortunately complicated changes in the way we live means that most people eat a diet that is high in sugar and calories and spend much of their day sitting at work, in front of the TV, or on the computer, resulting in weight gain. There are many negative consequences associated with overweight and obesity. Physical conditions and diseases associated with obesity include high blood pressure, heart disease, stroke, diabetes, and problems sleeping. In addition, there are psychological effects. People who are overweight experience stigma and discrimination in a society that values thinness. Poor body image and low self-esteem is associated with obesity, and often contribute to depression and anxiety. On the other hand, there are steps you can take to lose weight, and even small amounts of weight loss (for example, 5% of your body weight) can result in significant improvements in your physical and mental health.

Working towards establishing a healthy weight may be even more important for people in recovery. Recent studies indicate that people in recovery have a shorter life expectancy than the general population, and are more likely to develop diabetes. By managing your weight, you can increase your life span and reduce the risk of developing diabetes or make it easier to control your diabetes if you already have it. In addition, physical health affects mental health so when you are feeling better physically you are more likely to be in a better mood and experience fewer psychiatric symptoms.

For many people, the idea of trying to lose weight seems overwhelming. One way to approach the process is to be more intentional about small things in your daily life. People tend to put on weight fairly gradually. It sneaks up on you. This is partially due to the way most of us tend to live – eating on the go, not really thinking about what we are putting in our mouths, spending a lot of time watching television or using computers. However, if you start thinking about what you are doing, make plans instead of operating on auto-pilot, and become more intentional about those habits that are associated with weight loss, you can make a difference!

Here are some suggestions for making your day more intentional. First, wake up at a reasonable time and go through your morning routine. Now you are already on the right track for a productive and healthy day. Next, plan to do something meaningful. It doesn’t have to be anything big, maybe read a newspaper, play with your dog, make an appointment you’ve been avoiding, clean a closet, attend a religious service, or go to the movies with a friend. Having a plan can provide you with a sense of purpose. When you feel better about yourself you are more likely to take care of yourself.

Most of us can be much more intentional when it comes to eating. One suggestion is to plan what you are going to eat for the day – either the night before or that morning. You don’t have to plan every single item, but for example if you know you are going out to lunch with friends, you can decide ahead of time what you will order so that you don’t get tempted by unhealthy foods. When eating at home, decide on the main course for your meals and think about ways to add more fruits, vegetables and high fiber foods to the main course, as side dishes and as snacks. If planning out the whole day seems daunting, take it one meal at a time. Stop yourself before you reach for a sugary drink or place your order for lunch at a fast food restaurant. Be intentional and make choices that will leave you feeling satisfied and healthy. Afterwards, congratulate yourself for the good choices you have made.

Moving our bodies is another important component of a healthy life. Physical activity can contribute to weight loss and is especially helpful for maintaining weight loss. So be intentional about being in motion. Sitting is better than lying down, standing is better than sitting and walking is better than standing. So think of ways that you can walk, step, push, pull, lift, dance, turn, or skip. You don’t have to go on a four mile hike. Small amounts of physical activity several times a day can be very beneficial. Try to reduce the amount of time you spend sitting or doing other sedentary activities. Or think about how you can take a break from being inactive. Maybe walk around the house during commercials. Make your bed. Stand up and stretch while working on the computer. Play outside with your pet. Take the stairs instead of the elevator. Wash and put away your dishes. Dance or just tap your feet when you hear a song you like. Anything that gets you moving is good for you.

Social support is important. Surround yourself with people that will cheer you on in your weight loss goals. Be sure and tell others about your desire to lose weight and be healthier and ask for their support. Each day make a plan to call or meet up with someone that can offer you the encouragement you need. You may even find someone with similar goals who also wants to lose weight and live healthier. A health buddy can have many benefits such as someone to exercise with or the person who reminds you that you really can do this!

Finally, part of being intentional is not striving for perfection but moving forward. Sometimes you will have a bad day and only follow through with part of your plan or maybe the whole day was difficult. That’s life – there are going to be bad days and difficult times. But that’s no reason to give up. After a difficult day take a deep breath. Think about what interfered with your plan and see if you can do something about it. Tomorrow is a new day full of opportunities for being intentional.

Being intentional -- in other words, thinking before acting -- is one way that you can create a lifestyle that supports weight loss. If you’d like more information, the Nutrition and Exercise for Wellness and Recovery curriculum (also known as NEW-R) can provide you with additional tools for being intentional and adopting behaviors and habits that promote weight loss. This eight-week class can be provided in a group format or used by an individual. Participant and leader manuals for the NEW-R curriculum and 8 exercise videos to use with the program are available at the website:

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