Ready to embark on a new, healthy lifestyle? Good for you! But before you get started, there are a few things you should know.
If your doctor is encouraging you to lose weight, he or she will probably hone in on the many positive health benefits that slimming down can bring — like a decreased risk of diabetes, heart disease, and cancer. But what will losing weightreally be like? From unexpected perks to annoying side effects, here are 10 important truths about weight loss that your doctor probably won’t mention.
1. Diet alone — or exercise alone — won’t cut it. The best path to long-term, sustainable weight loss is a healthy diet and regular exercise. “Those who elect to try one without the other are making the whole process of weight loss much more difficult,” says Charles Pelitera, MD, director of health and wellness at Canisius College in Buffalo. “Good eating habits, exercise, and consistency are the keys.” Instead of trying to cut 500 calories a day from your diet, he says, it’s much simpler to cut just 200 or 300, and make up the rest of the calorie deficit by working out. “And don’t discount resistance training,” he says, adding that muscle tissue you’ll develop will let your body burn calories much more efficiently, even while at rest.
2. You don’t need to spend an hour at the gym. Including exercise in your plan doesn’t mean you need to sign up for a gym or alter your schedule to include an hour of sweat time. “Don’t try to do one-hour of nonstop exercise during the day; that can seem overwhelming, especially for beginners,” says John P. Higgins, MD, chief of cardiology at Lyndon B. Johnson General Hospital in Houston. Instead, split it up into short mini-workouts, like a brisk walk outdoors after lunch and again before bed. “It’s well-documented that the benefits of exercise have a volume effect,” says Higgins. “As long as you get the same total amount of exercise during the day, that’s just as effective.”
3. You may become seriously moody at first. “When you deprive people of something they are used to, like food, they tend to feel very irritable,” says Higgins. “People’s blood-sugar levels are lower than they’re used to, and that can cause them to have a very short fuse.” This drop in blood sugar can also make it difficult to concentrate. “Give yourself a little time, these issues are short lived,” he advises.
4. You may feel really lonely at times. One thing your doctor may not prepare you for is the intense loneliness that many people losing weight report experiencing. “Many social outings revolve around food or drinking alcohol, so most people will avoid the situations completely — especially early on — which leads to feelings of isolation,” says Higgins. Rebecca Blake, RD, director of clinical at Mount Sinai Beth Israel Hospital in New York, agrees. “If you have some food-centric friends or relationships, it might disappoint them that you are no longer interested in eating the way you used to,” she says. To avoid loneliness, look for support from like-minded people in similar situations.
5. The scale will seem like it’s stuck. For weight loss that lasts, slow and steady wins the race — and that’s a lot slower and steadier than you might think. “You’re not going to go from obese to a normal weight in a year. A number of studies point to a not-too-aggressive goal of about a 10 percent weight loss over a six to 12-month period,” says Higgins. Rather than obsessing over the numbers on the scale, says Higgins, try to notice a difference in your energy levels, mood, and overall feelings of wellness, which are other important indicators of improved health.
6. You can and can’t expect life-changing results. While losing weight will have a lasting, positive impact on your overall health, “Sometimes there can actually be quite a letdown after a large weight loss,” says Blake. “It may be that one feels that if they ‘just get to a size six’ then everything will be better — with their love life or relationships — but find that losing weight did not solve all of their problems. It can be disappointing.” That’s why it’s important to keep an open dialogue with friends, family, and your significant other about expectations and lifestyle, she says, and remember that weight loss is only physical. “We haven’t changed what’s inside. It’s important to keep expectations reasonable,” Blake adds.
7. Your tastes could change. If you’re planning to lose weight by undergoingbariatric surgery, be prepared for some of your favorite foods to be less appealing post-surgery. One Stanford University study found that 87 percent of patients reported a change in their sense of taste after bariatric surgery — a side effect that may help them shed more weight. While about half said their tastes got more intense, the other half said food tasted duller; those who reported lackluster taste lose 20 percent more weight over the three-month period.
8. Your relationship could suffer. Romantic relationships can take a hit when one partner loses a dramatic amount of weight. “There may in fact be a change in how your partner perceives you,” says Blake. “There’s jealously and resentment or the possibility of feeling ‘unworthy’ of a partner’s improved appearance,” she says, all of which can take a toll on a relationship. To safeguard your partnership, prioritize open communication and sensitivity to each other’s feelings.
9. Your sex drive might plummet — or skyrocket. In addition to causing emotional strife, the effects of weight loss can follow people right into the bedroom. “People may notice that their libido is down,” says Higgins, who says that the feelings of stress, irritability, and fatigue associated with starting a weight-loss plan may contribute to the initial dip in sex drive. “As people lose the weight, their sex drive will typically come back,” he says. One study even found that men who lost five to 10 percent of their body weight experienced a significant increase in libidopost-weight loss. Bottom line: Expect that your sex drive may change — and that it’s perfectly normal.
10. You may feel richer. You may be surprised to notice that as you get lighter, your wallet gets heavier. “In general, it’s more expensive to be overweight,” says Higgins, who points to expenses like travel or dining out as generally higher for obese people. After weight loss, he adds, “You’ll soon be spending less on medical expenses, because you’ll be less likely to have medical problems related to your weight. When you’re a healthy weight, your immune system is better, so you’re less likely to be ill or to be taking medications.” According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the medical costs for people who are obese were $1,429 higher than those of normal weight.