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Does losing weight really lower your disease risk?

James writes:

“Everyone refers to weight as being a risk factor for various diseases. But is it true that losing weight actually lowers one’s risk?  Or could some other factor be responsible for both disease risk and a higher weight?”

If you’re overweight or obese, losing weight absolutely does reduce your risk of various complications and diseases. Because when you lose weight, it’s not just the the number on the scale that changes.  Losing weight can reduce your blood pressure as well as your fasting blood sugar, for example, and that in turn lowers your risk for stroke and diabetes.

[bctt tweet=” When you lose weight, it’s not just the the number on the scale that changes. ” username=”nutritiondiva”]

And, by the way, losing even a small amount–as little as 5% of your current weight–can significantly reduce your risk of various conditions, even if you are still overweight. For this reason, you’d be better off losing a modest amount of weight and keeping it off than losing a large amount of weight and gaining it back!

(And if you’ve had enough of yo-yo dieting, you may be interested in a new project I’m working on.) But keep in mind that having a risk factor for a disease does not mean that you are certain to develop the disease.  If you are a smoker, you are much more likely to develop lung cancer than  a non-smoker. But some smokers don’t get lung cancer–and some non-smokers do.

Which Risk Factors Should We Focus On?

Some disease risk factors are things we can’t change–such as our age, race, gender, or genetic heritage. I’m at higher risk of developing osteoporosis than James is, simply because I’m female.

Other risk factors, such as our body weight, eating habits, exercise, and other lifestyle habits, are within our control. I can lower my risk of developing osteoporosis, for example, by not smoking and getting regular exercise.

No Guarantees So Enjoy the Ride!

Despite what some people will tell you,  there is no way to completely disease-proof your body. All we can do is focus on our modifiable risk factors and hope for the best. And because there are no guarantees, I think it’s important to strike a balance between lowering risk and maintaining quality of life. Or, as my friend Yoni Freedhoff likes to say, “Live the healthiest life you can enjoy living.”

Given up on losing weight?

The number of overweight and obese Americans has climbed steadily in recent decades, from 53% of adults in 1988 to 65% in 2014. At the same time, fewer overweight Americans are trying to lose weight–just 47%, down from 55% back in 1988.

The authors of the study, which was published in JAMA this month, wondered whether we’ve simply made our peace with being fat.

“As more people around us are getting heavier, we simply believe we are fine, and no need to do anything with it,” lead author Liang Zhang told the AP News Service.

That may be part of it.

But I think another big reason that so many have given up is that they’re starting to doubt that permanent weight loss is really possible. And, really, who can blame them?

Who could blame you?

Most people with a substantial amount of weight to lose have tried repeatedly to lose it. Many have succeeded in dropping large amounts of weight only to gain it all back. Multiple times.

Not only is dieting an unpleasant way to spend your life, but research shows that losing weight alters your body chemistry in ways that stack the cards against maintaining a lower weight. Why bother?

Let’s try something different

I have been thinking hard about this problem. I think I know what we’re doing wrong and how to change the equation. It’s not about a special diet or distribution of nutrients or combination of foods, but something else entirely. A few months ago, my colleague Brock Armstrong and I launched a program designed to help people lose weight in a way that both their bodies and their brains can sustain for life. The results have been life-changing for those in the program.

We’re going to be opening enrollment for a new group soon. Click here to learn more about the Weighless Program.