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Belly FatNo matter who you are or what sort of body you have, we all have to deal with belly fat sooner or later. Even slender people with clearly defined abs have abdominal fat. Yes, really! It’s a fact of life, and a certain amount of fat is completely normal. However, when your waistline starts to grow beyond its usual limits, it can indicate rising problems, so take note.

Maybe you’ve noticed you’re carrying more weight around the middle than you used to. You’re hardly alone. You may be dealing with deep visceral fat located around your organs, which complicates things. This fat is totally normal and typically used as cushioning by the body, but when it starts to build up, it can cause health conditions like diabetes, heart disease, and much more. Visceral fat is a whole different ballpark than what we typically think of as “fat,” and it’s caused less by fatty foods and sweets (though diet is definitely a factor) and more by genetics and activity level. Inactivity is a top contender in your likelihood of having excess visceral fat.

Here’s some advice for keeping yourself fit and making sure your organs aren’t building up too much padding.

  1. Get out and exercise.

    Increasing your activity level is the absolute best way to trim excess belly fat and ensure you’re staying healthy. A sedentary lifestyle makes it different to get into “exercise mode,” so it’s important to take it slow and start with reasonable goals that feel manageable to you. You don’t have to jump immediately into serious cardio to get active. Start with a few brisk walks. Even a 30-minute walk five days a week can help reduce fat!

  2. Keep an eye on your stress levels.

    Stress is a part of life for most of us, but when our stress levels start to peak, it can cause a whole host of mental and physical issues. Digestive trouble and weight gain is hardly uncommon when stress levels are high, particularly because we’re more likely to eat poorly or skip exercise when we feel overwhelmed. Exercise will actually help you unwind by releasing endorphins. Reward yourself for a job well done by letting yourself relax once in a while.

  3. Take a good look at your diet.

    There’s never been and there never will be a miracle diet that will specifically target your visceral and belly fat, no matter what all the fancy blogs and advertisements say. However, maintaining a balanced diet and increasing your fiber intake will help a great deal to increase your overall health and reduce fat. Studies show people with good fiber intake tend to have less belly fat, so make sure you get enough!

  4. Get a good night’s sleep.

    Getting a full night of rest doesn’t make you lazy — it makes you healthy! Your sleep habits can affect your weight, and multiple studies show that people who get 6-8 hours of sleep a night have less visceral fat than people who get more or less. Don’t fall into the trap of thinking less sleep is better — it’s not!

By following this advice, you’re already well on your way to decreasing your body’s excess fat, including that stubborn belly fat. Looking for more advice and guidance? Follow this blog or reach out to our team at St. Joseph Health Medical Group!

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Weight Maintenance Tips

You’ve likely heard just about every tip and trick under the sun for losing weight and keeping it off. Weigh yourself daily, count your calories, avoid fatty foods, reduce alcohol intake, and all of those things. However, there are some less obvious bits of advice that you probably haven’t heard! Here are our five favorite secret-but-not-secret tips that will help keep the weight off.

  1. Take it one step at a time.

    You have to put one foot in front of the other, as the saying goes. It’s really easy to get discouraged during your weight loss journey when you overexert yourself right out of the gate, or realize that the journey continues even after the weight comes off. Don’t dive headfirst into a brutal two-hour daily workout. Start with little things first: plan your meals for the week, cut the cream from your morning coffee, bike to the store instead of driving — whatever you can do that feels manageable. Build from there!

  2. Keep an eye on portion sizes.

    American culture is really lousy at dealing out appropriately sized portions of food. If you want to practice portion control, you’ve really got to learn to love reading labels and knowing how much a cup of food actually is. We’re raised in a “clean your plate” culture and it becomes second nature to polish off an entire plate of food without even stopping to think about exactly how much we’re eating. Take the time to learn what a “portion” actually is and keep track.

  3. Take stress into account and plan ahead.

    One of the major players when it comes to weight gain is stress. When everything’s spinning out of control and time is at a premium, it’s incredibly simple to seek out quick fixes and easy meals. You only have so many hours in the day, so why not skip a workout? Things at work are off the wall, so why not pick up fast food for the third time this week? If you take a moment when things are calmer to plan ahead for stressful events, if goes a long way toward maintaining healthy eating habits. Have some time on the weekend? Make healthy meals to freeze for those days when it just feels like too much to cook.

  4. Make note of bad past behaviors.

    It’s good to know your own weaknesses. Write them down on a list and keep it somewhere you can see whenever you need to. Even if it seems frivolous, check the list often and make a mental note when you’re starting to slide into those “danger zone” behaviors again so you can curb them.

  5. Make tangible goals you can build upon.

    Create a “climbing list” of goals. That means starting with the goals that are easy to reach and steadily building up to tougher stuff, with mid-level goals in between. Try dedicating yourself to taking a 10-minute walk once a day, then build it up to 30 minutes, then make it jogging, then consider training for a half-marathon. Treat yourself to a nice reward to stay motivated.

Most importantly, stay positive! A good attitude works wonders. Weight loss is a constant journey, but with the right support system, you can definitely do it. Reach out to St. Joseph Health Medical Group anytime for help!

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Sleep HabitsIt’s not uncommon to believe that sleep is for the lazy and the undisciplined, or that keeping busy and running on as little sleep as possible is a point of pride. People who get lots of sleep are often considered lethargic and out of shape, while being fit is assumed to mean that you’re always full of energy, and therefore require less sleep. In reality, sleep is one of our body’s most essential needs, and forgoing it can cost you big.

Sleep isn’t only for recharging our figurative batteries.

When we sleep, our bodies are working overtime to release hormones into our system, digest food, repair tissue, and run system checks to make sure everything’s working. When we say our body is a machine, it’s very true, and that machine can overheat and break down if you don’t maintain in properly. Proper maintenance means proper rest. Sleep is a very passive activity, and as such, many people assume it’s doing nothing to help with weight loss and, in fact, may actually be a detriment to weight loss goals. This is completely untrue. When you sleep, two of the hormones your body releases — Leptin and Ghrelin — specifically affect your appetite. Without a proper amount of sleep, these hormone levels get thrown out of whack, which in turn can cause issues with your eating habits. In particular, Leptin is the hormone that lets you know when it’s time to stop eating. Without enough of it in your system, it’s incredibly easy to overeat.

Most of us get our best night’s rest when we hit about 6.5-8 hours of sleep every night. Numerous studies show that people getting a proper amount of sleep are more likely to have lower body fat than people who get too much or too little, and consistency is key. If you don’t have any sort of set sleep schedule, your irregular sleeping habits can throw your body off its game, according to a study from Brigham Young University.

Even if you think you’re bursting with energy and endorphins post-exercise, refusing to get enough sleep can leave you waking up groggy and tired, and you’re psychologically less likely to make good choices when you feel that way. When we’re tired, it’s so much easier to reach for pre-made and processed foods rather than tackling a healthy cooked meal. You may even decide it’s okay to skip your workout for the day to catch up on rest, and before you know it, it’s become a habit. This can lead to stress, which can impact our eating habits, and the cycle continues.

Pay close attention to what you eat before going to bed. You don’t have to go to bed on an empty stomach, despite what all the old myths say, but eating acidic or fatty foods could result in acid reflux or gallbladder pain that keeps you up in the middle of the night. Keep a food diary if it helps you figure out what’s affecting your sleep.

If you need help figuring out how to work within your schedule and maximize your weight loss, give the St. Joseph Health Medical Group a call!

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Exercise PlanOn the internet, absolutely no one can agree on the best exercise plans and methods for weight loss. There’s a reason for that, of course… there isn’t one answer. Every person’s body and weight loss journey is different, and you have to find the path that works best for you. However, there are a few bits of advice floating around out there that are definitely worth avoiding, such as the recommendation to “push through the pain” or any miracle exercise plan that claims to help you train to run a marathon in “only six weeks.”

Your Body Knows What You Need

If it’s causing you pain, there’s a reason, and there’s a distinct difference between slight soreness after a good workout and a sharp muscle pain during one. Your energy levels, metabolism, and personal needs will dictate the type of exercise plan that will work best for you. It’s important not to start out aiming too high so that you don’t get discouraged and quit. Always start slow — 30 minutes of exercise three days a week is an excellent place to begin. Avoid jumping directly into hardcore cardio or weight training. Pay attention to your current fitness level and ability and choose an appropriate exercise regimen. Visiting a trainer at a gym can help you create a good plan if you don’t know where to start, and even if you’re just lifting small weights for 30 minutes a few days a week, that’s perfect. We all have to start somewhere!

The most important thing is sticking to a continued plan. No matter what you choose, you should be able to do it for half an hour without stopping or resting. Don’t ignore your body’s signals — if it’s telling you to slow down or stop, listen. If you ever have chest pain, nausea, dizziness, shortness of breath, or any other concerning issues, stop immediately and consult a medical professional. Pushing through could cause you serious injury or health problems.

The last piece of the puzzle is choosing to do something you really enjoy. Exercise shouldn’t be stressful and something you hate doing. Do you love to stretch and dance? Try Zumba! Prefer to be outside? Consider power walking or jogging. If you have trouble with your joints, swimming is excellent cardio exercise that doesn’t stress them. Pilates, yoga, strength training, cycling, jump rope, even pole dancing… do something that makes you feel good when you’re done!

Dedicated weight loss takes time and persistence. Don’t give up! It’s also important to take a good look at your diet — all the exercise in the world can’t make up for a poor diet. If you look closely at what you’re putting in your body and what you’re putting your body through, you’ll see results! For counseling or coaching, contact us here at St. Joseph Health Medical Group.

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Staying HydratedWe all know that staying hydrated is good for our health, but do you understand why? Surprisingly, many people don’t. In fact, most people are likely to be considered “mildly dehydrated” on a given day because they aren’t getting enough fluids, even though they think they are.

First things first: why is hydration important?

Our body is made up of mostly water because we need it to maintain proper cellular function. When we don’t regularly replenish our water levels by consuming fluids, our body’s ability to function on a cellular level can be seriously impaired. To combat this, adults should be consuming about 64-80 ounces of water every day — or 8-10 ten-ounce glasses.

Part of the problem comes in when people are trying to lose weight. Exercise and sweating causes us to lose more water in our system, of course, but even when you aren’t active, you should be drinking water. We lose moisture every day from urination and even breathing, so there’s never a day when you shouldn’t be consuming water regularly. People often hear the term “water weight” and assume it means weight that comes from the water in your system at a given time, so they choose to drink less. Unfortunately, this actually has the opposite effect on your weight — dehydration causes you to retain water, which increases your water weight gain. This is also why you may notice your weight fluctuates after eating salty foods. Salt dehydrates us, which causes water retention as our body tries to compensate.

What’s the solution?

Drink more water. The easiest way to determine whether or not you’re dehydrated is by checking your urine every time you use the toilet. It should never smell bad or be dark or cloudy, which are all indicators of dehydration. While some vitamins and supplements can change the color of your urine, for the most part it should be pale yellow or straw-colored if you’re getting enough fluids.

Keep a water bottle with you throughout the day, especially if you’re exercising or the weather is warm. Pregnancy and nursing also have an impact on your water levels because you’re producing more blood, amniotic fluid, or milk, so make sure you take that into account and consume more staying hydrated as necessary. There are many apps for smart devices to help you keep track of your water intake, so don’t be afraid to test them out!

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Holiday Weight GainWe all know the literal burden of holiday weight gain well. It seems like it sneaks up on us, and then suddenly we’re preparing to go back to work and notice that the scale is telling you that you’re ten pounds heavier than you were a month or two ago. Yikes! We generally offer plenty of tips to stay slim during the holiday season, before the weight gain becomes an issue, but we know that sometimes it gets away from you. Even with New Year’s Resolutions for weight loss, it’s very likely that the weight will come right back — 80% of people who lose weight end up gaining it back within a year. That’s not great to hear, but with the right focus on maintaining a healthy weight, you can figure out how to keep it off.

Holiday Weight Loss Tips

Staying active is the most important thing you can do to maintain your weight.

Crash diets and exercise “boot camps” that end after 30-60 days may give you immediate results and a sudden drop in weight, but it won’t last. In order to maintain a healthy weight, your activity level must remain consistent and can never be abandoned outright. Don’t fret — your routine doesn’t have to be a hardcore Crossfit-style regimen in order to keep your weight down. One study showed that people who walk about five miles a day are more likely to keep the weight off. That’s certainly doable.

Start a food and activity journal.

The simple action of paying more attention to your calorie intake and output will help keep you accountable and give you a better grasp on how, when, and what you’re eating. Once you’ve reached a weight loss goal, it’s very easy to stop keeping track of calories and skip exercise, but doing so will almost certainly lead to your weight creeping back up. When you keep a regular diary, you can see the patterns in your daily life and learn what helps you — and what hinders you.

Always eat all your meals, especially breakfast.

Numerous studies have shown that skipping meals, particularly the first meal of the day, impacts your eating habits and can actually lead to weight gain. By having regular meals, especially earlier in the day, you have more opportunity to burn off the calories and maintain a functional metabolism. Hunger from missed meals can also cause you to overeat, so be careful.

Maintain a healthy balanced diet.

You’ve been hearing this one since grade school, but it’s still true! Getting the proper nutrients every day and maintaining a proper balance from a variety of foods will keep your body fine-tuned and feeling good. Fruits, veggies, lean protein, whole grains… they all help you function. Make sure you’re eating the proper portions!

Weigh yourself regularly, but don’t obsess.

Regular weigh-ins shouldn’t be used to guilt yourself or stress out when the number fluctuates. They’re a way to prevent surprises and make sure you’re on track, as well as showing you just how much your weight can fluctuate given the time of day, your water and salt intake, your exercise level, monthly hormonal changes, and more. In combination with a food and exercise diary, it lets you notice the patterns and not freak out when your weight fluctuates a tiny bit on a given week. It’s normal! The most important thing is maintaining a healthy weight.

These are the most effective tricks used by people who keep the weight off for two or more years. If you’d like additional guidance, reach out to the team at St. Joseph Health Medical Group anytime!

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Keeping Slim Through the Holiday SeasonAs soon as those holiday decorations start going up, we’re all hit with a deluge of memories and sentiment. It reminds us of family, togetherness, love, warmth… and food. Lots and lots of holiday food. There’s a reason so many New Year’s Resolutions involve diet and exercise – when it comes to the winter holidays, we tend to indulge. However, the onslaught of colder weather doesn’t have to mean packing on the pounds.

There are many ways to keep your figure safe and sound during the busiest and most fattening time of the year. Here are a few tips that will keep your willpower strong and your waist trim.

Don’t come to the party hungry. It’s not uncommon for people to skip the meal before a big holiday dinner so that they can “pack it in” later. Don’t do this — it only lends to the psychology of overindulging. Instead, have a healthy snack and a glass of water before you leave so there’s something in your stomach to temper the temptation to eat everything in sight. Continue to drink water throughout the event, and pace yourself! Listen to your body.

Avoid getting into Grazing Mode. November and December are packed full of events, company dinners, potlucks, parties, and a million other get togethers that involve copious amounts of finger food and buffet-style eating. When you’re at a party with ample holiday food constantly available, it’s incredibly easy to take a nibble here and a bite there for hours on end. It may not feel like much at the time, but it all adds up. Be mindful of everything you’re eating and give yourself a cutoff, or gravitate toward the healthier fare, like the fruit and veggie platter. If you don’t know what’s in it, don’t eat too much.

Stay active, even when you don’t feel like it. It’s incredibly tempting to go into exercise hibernation during the coldest months of the year, especially if you’re a jogger or someone who gets your activity outdoors. It may be cozier under a blanket with a mug of hot cocoa, but your body will notice the change in activity level and put on weight accordingly. Either maintain your current regimen or find alternate exercise outlets indoors.

Mind your portion sizes. The holidays are all about excess, so it’s important to be mindful of how much is going on your plate. It’s not uncommon to pile your servings high or go back for a second helping, but you can’t ignore the skyrocketing calorie count. Don’t eat to stuff yourself. Consume your food slowly, and when you’re full, stop. Don’t let Grandma guilt you into licking your plate clean!

Watch out for alcohol. Drinking certainly lowers your inhibitions and makes you more likely to throw caution to the wind when it comes to food, but beverages also contain calories of their own. We often forget that a glass of wine or beer contains a lot of sugar and calories. Have one or two drinks if you must, then switch to water. Be especially mindful of eggnog!

You don’t have to completely avoid all of the yummiest foods the holidays have to offer, you just have to be smart about how you consume them. For more information and advice, or even holiday food plans, contact us here at St. Joseph Health Medical Group! Happy Holidays!