We’ve all heard the news that being overweight increases the risk of critical illness and, even death, from COVID. Here’s what you can do.

Why a Weight Loss Program Won’t Lower Your Risk From COVID

No time to read but still want to benefit?  Watch the video here.

Whether this is because of being overweight or because those who are overweight are likely to have conditions such as high blood pressure, diabetes, and heart disease is unclear. However, the connection seems clear based on current evidence.

There are now over 300 scientific articles (and counting) showing worse outcomes for those who are carrying excessive weight.

While understanding why overweight people are at higher risk from COVID is important, I think the more important question is, what can we do about it now?

This is a critically important question as the pandemic continues to grow exponentially combined with the fact that over 70% of Americans are overweight and over 40% are obese (body mass index or BMI > 30 kg/m2)   

The answer is NOT weight loss programs

Lasting weight loss is hard. But likely, you already know that. If you’ve struggled to lose weight and keep it off, you’re not alone. One research study found only 1 in 210 overweight men and 1 in 124 women per year could achieve a normal weight. In the same study, only 12% of men and 14% of women even reached a 5% weight loss.

The concept of losing weight to get healthy isn’t working. Even the most optimistic research shows more than 80% of those who lose weight regain the lost weight within a year or two on traditional weight loss programs.  Even the most evidence-based weight loss program, Weight Watchers, has shown only modest or no significant weight loss at one year compared to a control group.

We don’t need any more evidence that traditional weight loss programs are a failed experiment. However, it is not hopeless. In fact, there is a weight loss strategy that is proven to work.

The “secret” to lasting weight loss

I learned about the proven strategy when I was struggling with my own weight. I was looking for answers, so I asked all my patients who had lost weight and kept it off how they did it. 

Surprisingly, every person told me the same story.

Being a physician, I also looked at the science. And I found the National Weight Control Registry. Over 10,000 people who on average lost 66 pounds and kept it off for over five years. 

As it turned out, my patients and the registry people achieved lasting weight loss the same way. And it wasn’t by focusing on losing weight to get healthy. They achieved lasting weight loss by getting healthy to lose weight.

Getting healthier means:

  • Regular physical activity. This does not mean running marathons. Even 10 minutes a day of walking or similar activity has been shown to improve health. 
  • Eat nutritious food. In particular, avoid the highly processed foods associated with obesity and disease.
  • Eat the right amount for you. Calorie restriction doesn’t work for most – mindful eating or even time-restricted eating strategies are more likely to be successful.
  • Adequate sleep. Seven to nine hours a night for most people.
  • Manage stress. Physical activity and sleep are very effective stress management techniques, but if you need additional strategies, controlled breathing, meditation, yoga, and practicing gratitude are all evidence-based strategies to improve health.
  • Avoid excess alcohol. Less than one drink a day – and even no alcohol if you have a health condition such as atrial fibrillation – is associated with good health.

Getting healthy to achieve lasting weight loss is a proven strategy.

But don’t take my word for it. If you want more proof getting healthier works, do what I did. Ask every person you know who has lost weight and kept it off how they did it. 

I started this over ten years ago with my patients who lost weight and kept it off. I still do it today even though I know what they will say before they say it. 

If they didn’t have bariatric surgery, they won’t tell you about a magical new diet or extreme exercise routine. Each person will say in their own words, they got healthier. 

Getting healthier – particularly good advice during this pandemic.

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