Want to Transform Your Health? Start with 10%

Losing 10% of your body weight can significantly improve your health.

By Birdie Varnedore, M.D., SparkPeople.com Resident Medical Expert and Member

It's now the second week of February, so let's check in: How are you doing with your weight loss or maintenance goals?

Many of you are just starting on the road to a new lifestyle. Welcome! I'm sure you have an abundance of motivation and willpower, and I hope that you use this powerful force to learn and integrate the SparkPeople principles early and successfully!

Many of you are like me, and you're recommitting to your goals. You might be struggling to find your way back to consistency and balance. Kudos to you for never giving up and accepting that we are in it to win it!

Whether you're new to healthy living or are a veteran, some of us are feeling burned out and are thinking about giving up. We are looking for a "spark" that will start a fire. I hope that you will decide not to take a break (learn the consequences of taking even a short break) and will keep working on it until you find success.

Rather than delve into motivation or secrets of success, let's back up a bit, and ask another question: Why lose weight?

While your reason(s) for losing weight and maintaining that weight loss are as unique as you are, there are a few reasons that many of us share. Among them: to improve one's health. I know it was on my "reasons to lose weight" list.

If you already carry the diagnosis of an obesity-related medical condition, such as high cholesterol, hypertension or diabetes, that knowledge alone can be a great source of motivation and willpower. But, what about the relatively healthy overweight person who wants to lose weight for "health reasons," but doesn't really know yet what "better health" means? Losing weight for the sake of your health (as compared with aesthetic motivations) is a socially acceptable reason to lose weight, but other than doing the right thing, do you know why you added it to the list? Do you know will your health improve when you lose weight? Do you know how much weight you need to lose to start to improve your health?

When I was 140 pounds heavier, I was faced with the health consequences of uncontrolled yet modifiable risk factors like obesity on an almost daily basis. What did I say to myself then? Did I fully understand that I was putting myself at risk? I absolutely did know that I was risking my life by being obese, but like many, I willfully chose to ignore the risks and continued my unhealthy relationship with food.

The very same relationship that caused my morbid obesity caused me to remain obese for more than a decade. Occasionally, a young obese female who reflected my demographics would come to see me after a stroke or other obesity-related health crisis. I would get shaken up pretty badly for a few days (and I would make promises to myself that I was going to change), but I would slip right back into my carb-induced coma and continue to try to bury my thoughts. I knew I was killing myself by carrying around more than 100 pounds of excess fat. Even though I was aware of this internal conflict at that time, I used it consistently as fuel for overeating and NOT changing my lifestyle.

Eventually, being surrounded by so much obesity-related illness, disability and death, in conjunction with the burning desire to become a better role model for my children (much less be there for them), I finally used my experience as a physician as fuel to change. I was no longer willing to live a life that was so incongruent in thought and in action. As I think back to the earlier stages of my weight-loss journey, this realization was perhaps one of the most important changes that enabled me to finally lose the weight.

This is just a little insight into how the concept of losing weight for my health shaped my own journey. But how do you incorporate wanting to be healthier into your own journey?

Learning some of the known health benefits of weight loss are a start. The benefits are MANY and the good news is that significant benefits can be achieved with only a 10 percent weight loss. For a 200-pound person, that's only 20 pounds! (I'm trying to be positive here--I know that losing 20 pounds is no small feat.)

What can 10 percent weight loss do for you? A lot, especially if you suffer from lifestyle diseases such as Type 2 diabetes or hypertension.

  1. Are you diabetic? You could see some stabilization and improvement of your blood glucose levels.
  2. Do you have hypertension? You could see your blood pressure start to lower.
  3. Is your cholesterol abnormal? You could see an improvement in your blood lipid levels.
  4. Regardless of your other health conditions, losing 10 percent of your body weight puts you at a decreased risk of developing heart disease.

Statistics prove that losing and maintaining weight loss is not an easy pursuit, so if you lose 10 percent of your body weight, you should be proud of your achievement because you have improved your health. As you continue to lose, you should continue to see improvement in those areas of your health--and more!

But, remember that maintaining that 10 percent weight loss is only achieved by a permanent lifestyle change. If you eat and exercise like you did before losing that weight, you will gain every pound back and probably more.

Congratulations on your continued pursuit of weight loss and your soon-to-be permanent lifestyle change! I want to emphasize that even if you have not yet achieved a normal body weight, know that you are improving your health and that your efforts are worth it. Just losing 10 percent of your body weight will result in a significant improvement in your health! If you achieved your weight loss by working on the fundamentals of a true lifestyle modification (and not through fad diets), then you are well on your way to breaking free from the negative behaviors that lead us to and keep us in poor health.

Today I've shared just a few of the proven medical benefits of losing 10 percent of your body weight, but don't stop there. Remember that getting to a normal body weight should be your goal and together we can do it.

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Dr. Birdie Varnedore, M.D.

Birdie Varnedore, M.D., joined SparkPeople as a member in 2007 and lost 140 pounds the healthy way while balancing her demanding roles as a full-time neurologist, wife, and mother of five young children. Because of her amazing success, she has appeared in People magazine's annual "Half Their Size" issue, and on "Good Morning America" and "Oprah's Ultimate Weight Loss Finale."

A graduate of the University of Miami, Birdie has been practicing medicine since 2004. Board certified by the American Board of Psychiatry and Neurology in neurology and vascular neurology, she is a full-time neurologist at a hospital in Florida, and a member of her hospital's telemedicine stroke team.