Successful Weight Management Can Help Reduce Back Pain

Weight management is an important part of overall health, particularly for persons who live with chronic back pain. Being overweight changes your body’s center of gravity and can exacerbate muscular imbalances that add stress to the spine and supporting musculature. Severe caloric restriction can negatively impact mood and energy. When results don’t come quickly, it is disheartening. Don’t give up. Some simple strategies can help you move towards your goals.

Begin by learning how to read food labels and make it a habit of doing so when you shop for groceries. The purpose of food labeling is to give consumers accurate information about the nutritional content of packaged foods. Food labeling is done according to serving size as opposed to portion. A portion is the amount of food you consumer during a meal, whereas a serving is the amount used to calculate the food’s nutritional content. Therefore, if a serving of soup has 150 calories but the can contains two servings, you are consuming 300 calories.

Total fat is the amount of both saturated and unsaturated fats in the serving. Ideally, you want to try and choose products that are relatively low in saturated fats and higher in unsaturated fats. Try to avoid trans fats. These are products created during food manufacturing to prevent the oils from becoming rancid, but they have been linked to increased heart disease and cancer risk.

Cholesterol includes different types of lipoproteins derived from animal products; these are not differentiated in the food label. The most recent Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommends keeping the amount of cholesterol in your diet as low as possible. Also, watch sodium content, which shouldn’t exceed 1500 mg./day. Sodium is surprisingly high in certain processed and fast foods. Added sugars is a new category on the label and should be no more than 10% of your daily calories (American Heart Association).

Protein should account for about a third of daily calories. Dietary fiber– parts of plants the body doesn’t digest- can help to decrease the risk of heart disease and cancer (American Heart Association). Finally, percent (%) daily values describes the percentage of each nutrient included in a serving compared to the recommended amount.

The term, energy density, refers to the amount of energy (calories) in a given food. By choosing foods that are less energy dense, you can feel satiated without consuming excess calories. The easiest way to do this is to eat unprocessed foods, such as fresh fruits and vegetables. Additional bonuses include no sodium in these foods and lots of dietary fiber. Aim to make half of each meal fruits, vegetables, and whole grains. This can be a big shift for folks who grew up eating the traditional western diet which is heavy on meat and potatoes.

Think baby steps. Pick up a few extra pieces of fruit to take to work as mid-morning and mid-afternoon snacks. Preparation time using fresh vegetables can be another barrier, for families in which both parents work. Most grocery stores now have prepared raw vegetables that have been washed, peeled, and diced for less time in the kitchen. These products cost a little more, but they can add up to big time savings. Another strategy is to use the weekends as a time to prepare more complicated dishes to be used during the week.

Intermittent fasting is a topic that continues to generate controversy. While there is no consensus, a recent literature survey using peer reviewed studies concluded that intermittent fasting could promote weight loss and improve metabolic health (Patterson & Sears, 2017). The science behind this is that the human body did not evolve to be in a fed state 24 hours per day. Rather, your body should cycle between a fed and fasted state.

One approach to wait at least 12 hours between the last food taken in at night and the first food in the morning. Eliminating evening snacking can be an effective weight loss or weight maintenance strategy for some individuals. Another approach, known as the 5:2 diet, is to restrict your eating on two non-consecutive days of each week to 25% of normal caloric intake. Both approaches have shown some success for weight loss in clinical trials.

The most important take-away is that there is no one-size-fits all strategy for weight management. When considering various types of diets, think about how well a given diet is going to fit into your personal lifestyle, which includes the food budget, time for meal preparation, and whether you are doing the cooking for other members of the family. Just as with starting an exercise program, losing weight is a lifestyle change. For long-term success, changing your eating habits needs to be something you can live with.

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