Thrive by IU Health

December 17, 2020

What Characteristics are the Most Important Part of a Safe & Effective Weight Loss Program?

What Characteristics are the Most Important Part of a Safe & Effective Weight Loss Program?

In today’s digital age, you can find weight loss plans everywhere. From diet pills that promise quick results to expensive, yet restrictive meal plans, it can be difficult to know what is accurate and healthy.

Dr. Theresa M. Rohr-Kirchgraber, an internal medicine and adolescent medicine physician with IU Health, offers her knowledge and experience on creating a healthy lifestyle.

Why is it important to maintain a healthy weight?

Maintaining a healthy weight not only allows you to look your best, but more importantly, feel your best. The human body is a powerful and resilient thing, but when you are overweight, your body must work harder to keep functioning properly.

“The physical component of obesity can cause increased pressure on the joints and other supporting structures,” said Rohr-Kirchgraber.

“Another physical component is the increased functionality of your organs. Your heart stays the same size regardless of your weight. The heart has to pump out a greater volume so you can function which puts stress on your heart,” said Rohr-Kirchgraber. “Similarly, your lungs have to give out an increased amount of oxygenated blood to the rest of your body, which is an increased threat on your lungs.”

Outside of avoiding serious health conditions and diseases, maintaining a healthy weight gives you more energy to do the things you love.

What are signs I may need to lose weight?

Maybe your pants have felt a little snugger or maybe the number on the scale is a little higher than usual. While these may be an indication your weight has fluctuated, there are other more telling signs weight gain is becoming a problem.

First, it’s important to know your body mass index (BMI) – the measure of body fat based upon height and weight. Your BMI is a guide to understanding if you are in a healthy range for your body type.

Rohr-Kirchgraber offered some additional signs to look out for that may indicate you need to seek medical help:

  • Abnormal heartbeat
  • Decrease in activity levels due to feeling tired or short of breath
  • Snoring
  • Frequent urination in the middle of the night
  • Not feeling well rested in the morning
  • Pain in joints that carry stress (hips, shoulders and lower back)
  • Family history of diabetes or obesity

If you have experienced any of these symptoms, it is important to speak with your doctor and formalize a plan.

“You want to have a team to guide you and that should include a physician, therapist and dietician,” said Rohr-Kirchgraber. “These three individuals can help you understand why you may be overweight and how to get to a healthy weight.”

How do I get started?

It can be difficult to know where to start when you decide you’re ready to make changes. People often find a weight loss program and get quickly overwhelmed or discouraged.

“The biggest step people have to understand is their relationship with food and what motivates them to eat,” said Rohr-Kirchgraber. “No program will be successful if your relationship with food is not healthy.”

“Before you even pick a weight loss plan, start with a food log,” said Rohr-Kirchgraber “For a week, jot down what you’re eating and why you’re eating it. This helps you recognize eating patterns you might have.”

Once you have a better understanding of your habits, you can look for programs that help combat your unique challenges.

What should I look for in a weight loss program?

As you research what works best for you and your needs, it is important to keep in mind that this change is long term. Rohr-Kirchgraber avoids “diet programs” as the duration fluctuates whereas a lifestyle change is a commitment to maintaining healthy habits.

“Studies have shown that those who were able to lose weight and keep it off were those that had major changes in their lifestyle,” said Rohr-Kirchgraber. “They read about nutrition, changed their lifestyle, incorporated activity into their daily routine, cleared out their pantry and found a new way of eating.”

Find a weight loss program that is realistic and that you enjoy so you stick with it. Rohr-Kirchgraber recommends keeping it simple. You don’t need to make strict rules for yourself that are unattainable but have some basic guidelines.

Everyone has different needs and preferences, but some general resources Rohr-Kirchgraber recommends for those starting out include:

  • is a great way to visually see what your plate should look like. The free meal plan is a simple way to get all your nutrients in, keeping you healthy and strong.
  • Mindful eating programs are beneficial for those who may struggle with emotional or mindless eating. These programs help you slow down so you can really appreciate your meals, keeping you full.
  • Cooking Light and Eating Well offer healthy recipes and nutrition tips to help kick-start your journey.
  • Have a network of people that support you and hold you accountable to your goals.

It is important to remember that in order to lose weight and feel your best, the program you choose should have a nutrition and exercise component. Staying active is just as important as the foods you fuel your body with.

What are signs a weight loss program may not be safe?

As you explore different options, be sure to evaluate if it may be too good to be true. Rohr-Kirchgraber suggests avoiding the program if the following components are present:

  • You purchase a lot of products in order to see results.
  • The program suggests significant weight loss with little effort required.
  • The promise of losing multiple pounds in one week.
  • There is no medical backing or research supporting the program.

If you are unsure if a weight loss program is right for you, discuss it with your doctor or dietician before you make the leap.

Remember, a successful weight loss journey takes time and patience. The right program for you should leave you feeling encouraged, not deprived. The best program is one that can be incorporated into your lifestyle long term.

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