Weight Loss for Healthier Legs and Feet
A variety of health issues can lead to leg and foot problems, but one of the most common contributing factors, and one often overlooked by those suffering from such problems, is the effect of excess weight on leg and foot health.
Being overweight is, unfortunately, a much too common problem in this nation. Recent statistics indicate that as many as two-thirds of Americans are overweight, and about half of those, or one-third of all Americans, are medically obese (having a Body Mass Index - BMI - of 30 or higher).
The list of increased health risks associated with excessive weight is long — from higher risk for heart disease, stroke and some forms of cancer, to an increased likelihood of developing osteoarthritis, gall bladder disease and even depression. Being overweight also greatly increases one's risk for diabetes, a disease which often causes circulatory problems in the legs and feet.
In addition, simply being overweight can be a cause of leg and foot problems and pain, even when it doesn't lead to more serious illnesses. Carrying extra weight places more strain upon the joints and can lead to degeneration of the cartilage and bone that makes up those joints. Being overweight also can have a negative effect on the circulatory system of the legs, placing an extra strain on veins and valves, and leading to swelling in the feet and ankles as our tissues retain excess fluids.
Blame Your Ancestors
While the increased health risks of being overweight may be well documented, and while most of us who are overweight would prefer to shed those excess pounds, it still is a very difficult goal to achieve.
Part of the reason for the difficulty of losing weight is simply that most of us have bodies that are programmed to try and prevent us from losing weight. This body programming is the result of our being descended from ancestors who usually never had to worry about having too much food to eat.
It isn't hard to imagine our cavemen ancestors, the "hunter-gatherers," struggling to find enough to eat. When warm weather brought fruits and nuts on local plants, food was usually not a problem. But for long periods of the year, finding sufficient food was always a struggle. While a successful hunt might mean a short period of feasting, there might be several lean weeks before there was once again ample food available.
As a result, early man evolved to take the best advantage of such limited food circumstances. The fact that most of us enjoy foods that are sweet or high in fat and calories is the product of just such evolution. Sweet tastes indicated to early man that a food was ripe and ready to eat. Fatty foods became a preference because they provided the most nutrition in the least amount of food (fat provides almost twice the calories per serving as carbohydrates and protein, the other two components of the foods we eat). As importantly, the human body became very efficient at storing excess calories as body fat, ready to sustain the person during lean times.
Developing such tastes, food preferences and fat storing abilities meant survival for early man. And all of that has been passed on down to us. Changes in the food supply have meant that most of us have more than enough to eat all year long, yet our ancestor's genetic programming is still with us today and affecting both the foods we choose and how our bodies react to those foods.
Modern farming, food preservation and storage techniques, and the transportation of food from distant sources to hungry populations, are all developments that occurred mostly in the last century. Our very recent ancestors often had to face lean times when few desirable foods were available, or times when little or no food was available. In other words, the taste of high calorie foods and the body's ability to quickly and easily convert calories into stored body fat have been important to human survival, even in this nation of abundance, until quite recently.
The problem for most of us, therefore, is that we are now living in a time of almost unlimited choices food, and with a ready supply of an abundance of affordable food for all of us year-round. Add to that the pressure of modern advertising, working each day to sell us all these wonderful, but often high fat and high calorie foods to eat.
However, our bodies still believe that there is liable to be a famine coming any minute. We still have our ancestors' preferences and tastes for sugary and high-fat foods. We still convert calories into stored body fat as if it might be weeks before our next successful hunt or harvest, rather than merely hours before our next trip to a restaurant, the supermarket or our kitchen fridge.
Combine those genetic tendencies to overeat the highest calories foods with our current abundant supply of food, then toss in all our modern labor saving technology that has us being less physically active than at any time in human history, and you have a formula that very easily explains why so many of us weigh more than is really healthy for us.
Finding A Sensible Approach To Weight Loss
Of course, while it's important to know that being overweight is a real health issue, and it's informative to know why our bodies seem so intent on making us weigh more, none of that solves the problem of how to lose weight.
Losing weight is currently America's favorite activity. Each year, the number one New Year's resolution is to lose weight, and it's estimated that at any point in time about one out of every three Americans is on a weight loss diet. Indeed, Americans currently spend about $30 billion each year in support of the weight loss industry. And, unfortunately, the vast majority of that money is spent on pills, magic potions and gimmicky diets that simply don't work.
Today this nation is in the midst of a "low-carb" diet frenzy that does seem to have some people losing weight. The problem, according to most health experts, is that while weight loss usually happens with any approach to dieting (even the craziest grapefruit or seaweed diet), most people find it impossible to continue such dieting for a lifetime and thus rarely keep the weight off.
The sensible approach to weight loss? It's actually a relatively simple method that recognizes the cravings that our often-starving ancestors passed on to us, and that uses a common sense approach to eating and staying active:
- Eat a variety of foods — there are no "bad" foods. When you choose a variety of foods you are eating a balanced diet that provides maximum health benefits. You are also avoiding the "pigging out" that often comes when you diet and deprive yourself of favorite foods. In such cases, most people break down one day and overeat that particular food just because it's driving them crazy, wiping out most of their dieting success. Instead, don't deprive yourself, but do limit portion sizes.
- Avoid skipping meals — while skipping meals may seem a good way to cut calories, the truth is that it can leave you hungrier and more likely to overeat at your next meal. It's those old "caveman genes" kicking in, making you feel hungrier because you just faced a small "famine" through that missed meal.
- Eat plenty of fruits and vegetables — these foods provide essential vitamins and minerals necessary for good health. They also seem to cut our risk for heart disease, some forms of cancer and other health problems. Most importantly, for someone looking to lose weight, they provide a lot of bulk, to make you feel full, without providing a lot of calories.
- Increase your level of physical activity — when you are eating less your "caveman genes" once again kick in. Basically, your body tries to protect itself when your calorie intake is down by slowing down your metabolism so that you are also expending fewer calories. Unfortunately, that won't help you lose weight. Instead, simply being even a little more active will once again raise that metabolism, burn calories and help you shed those extra pounds. Even just adding a brisk 30-minute walk (or three 10-minute walks) to your daily routine can play a big role in helping lose weight.
- Monitor and keep a record of what you're eating and portion sizes. It may seem like a lot of extra work at first, but just writing down when, what and how much you're eating can be one of the most effective ways to lose weight. We often, unconsciously, grab a little snack or have a second serving, not even noticing the extra calories. Keeping a log of your eating, even if only for the first week or so, can make you much more conscious of how much food you really are consuming each day, and will help you think twice before reaching for something else to eat.
Unfortunately, there is no magic means for losing weight. It all comes down to a very simple formula. Burn more calories than you take in and your weight will go down. But, as noted above, that doesn't and shouldn't mean starving yourself. Any diet that leaves you feeling hungry irritated, deprived or weak is one that is doomed to fail.
Aim for sensible patterns of eating and physical activity that you can maintain for a lifetime. That's the only real way to lose weight, avoid health problems and feel really good about yourself.