Almost-Instant Gratification

Starting a weight loss program helps you feel better right now

By Elaine Magee, MPH, RD
WebMD Weight Loss Clinic - Expert Column

We place our order at the drive-through intercom and within a few minutes, we're holding our lunch in our hungry hands. If we are interested in some topic, we "Google" it, and in less than a minute, our fingers are doing the walking through links that will tell us all about it. We live in a society where near-instant gratification is what we've come to expect!

Of course, healthy weight loss is anything but immediate. But when you start eating healthy and exercising regularly, you can just about count on seeing positive changes within weeks -- maybe even days.

We know from the National Weight Control Registry (where the average registrant has lost some 60 pounds and maintained the loss for five years) that successful "losers" are those who have made big changes in their eating and exercising habits.

You can also see all sorts of benefits in the short term due to eating healthier, exercising, and/or losing a few extra pounds.

When you start to exercise regularly (or more often), you may feel stronger, breathe easier, and have more energy. You may notice that you sleep better, and you might find your mood improving, too. "Early weight loss can change waist size and make people feel more comfortable and have more energy," notes George Bray, MD, an obesity expert from the Pennington Biomedical Research Center.

When you start eating a diet that minimizes junk food and emphasizes fruits, vegetables, whole grains, beans, low-fat dairy, and lean meats, you'll probably have more energy right after and in between your meals. You'll probably be more comfortable, intestinally speaking (all that fiber pays off in the potty department), and you may notice you aren't as prone to food cravings or making poor food choices.

And the better your food choices, the more likely you are to get all the nutrients your body needs, keeping your immunity and health status high.

One of the first things some of our wonderful Weight Loss Clinic members notice is having more energy, according to postings on our message boards. Some members have reported additional physical changes soon after they start the program. "2spooky" reported that her serum cholesterol and blood pressure levels came down right away. Within a few weeks, "Jo39814" noticed that she was able to use heavier weight levels on some of strength-training machines. She also felt stronger and had more stamina during her 30-minute ball workout.

Many medical complications are linked to obesity, so it stands to reason that as obesity lessens, so might some of these complications -- such as acid reflux, high blood pressure, sleep apnea, type 2 diabetes, high cholesterol, polycystic ovary syndrome, gout, and urinary stress incontinence.

It's possible that after a month or so of weight loss and healthy living, some of you might experience some relief from the above conditions. The greatest improvements in serum triglyceride, total cholesterol, and LDL cholesterol levels tend to come in the first four to eight weeks of weight loss, according to a couple of recent studies.

It's hard to know whether people are seeing positive changes (such as having more energy) within a couple of weeks of starting our program because they're eating better, because they're exercising regularly, or because they've lost a few pounds. The way I see it, positive changes are positive changes and it's all good! Chances are the three strategies together (eating healthily, exercising regularly, and slow weight loss), are a powerful combination -- greater than each alone.

SOURCES: Journal of the American Dietetic Association, 2001; vol 101. Advances in Renal Replacement Therapy, January 2004. Gastroenterology, September 2002. National Weight Control Registry Fast Facts (2004). George Bray, MD, Boyd Professor, Pennington Biomedical Research Center, Baton Rouge, La.

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