Nearly 40 percent of Americans — about 100 million people — are obese, according to a new study published in Journal of the American Medical Association. That’s alarming because obesity (defined as a body mass index, or BMI, of 30 or higher) greatly increases risk for cardiovascular disease (CVD), type 2 diabetes, several forms of cancer and many other chronic or life-threatening illnesses.

Another new study of nearly 300,000 people debunks the “obesity paradox” — the claim that people who are “fat but fit” don’t have to worry about heart attacks and strokes. The researchers found risk for developing CVD rises steadily as BMI increases — and also escalates in tandem with the amount of belly fat people have. Although “healthy obesity” is a myth, the good news is that even modest weight loss can boost your overall and arterial wellness. Use these 7 science-based tips from the BaleDoneen Method to shed surplus pounds.

  1. Keep a food diary. In a study of nearly 1,700 people, those who wrote down what they ate lost twice as much weight as those who didn’t keep a food diary. The researchers say that the simple act of recording what you eat encourages you to consume fewer calories and hold yourself accountable. We call it a “BLT journal” — write down every bite, lick and taste. Many people are surprised to discover how many hidden calories they take in (even while preparing meals)! There are several free apps that make it make it easy to keep a food diary even when you’re on the go. Some apps provide calorie counts for many brands of food and even menu items at popular restaurants.
  1. Watch out for liquid calories. Fancy drinks, including coffees, alcoholic beverages, energy drinks and smoothies, are often calorie dense and high in concentrated carb/sugar content. Be aware! As we reported recently, consuming even one or two sugar-sweetened beverages daily raises risk for a heart attack or dying from CVD by 35 percent, diabetes risk by 26 percent and stroke risk by 16 percent. To satisfy your sweet tooth, we suggest reaching for fresh fruit, such as our rainbow-fruit kebabs with lemon-lime dip.
  1. There is no panacea diet that works for everyone. A study comparing four popular low-carb or low-fat diets reported widely varying results, with some people losing 30 or more pounds on these diets over a 12-month period — and others gaining 10 pounds. What the researchers inadvertently proved was that the one-size-fits-all approach doesn’t work for weight loss. Similarly, studies of dietary approaches intended to lower heart attack and stroke risk, such as the well-known Mediterranean diet, also reveal striking individual differences in response. That’s why the BaleDoneen Method recommends a diet based on your DNA, particularly your Apo E and Haptoglobin genotypes, which can be determined with simple blood or saliva testing. To learn more about our genetically guided diet-and-exercise plan and our approach to heart attack and stroke prevention, check out the BaleDoneen book, Beat the Heart Attack Geneavailable in hard cover, paperback, Kindle and audio editions at Amazon and other booksellers.
  1. Move more!  Taking a walk before or after dinner is always a good idea. In a 12-week study, previously sedentary people who walked briskly for 30 minutes a day, five days a week, whittled their waistlines by about an inch, enjoyed a 6-point drop in systolic blood pressure (the top number) and reduced their hip measurement by about an inch. Another study found that brisk walking lowers total and LDL (bad) cholesterol by about 5%. Other research shows that walking briskly for three or more hours a week cuts risk for CVD by up to 50 percent. You’ll also get more exercise if you clip on a pedometer every morning: doing so motivated overweight people to walk an extra mile daily, a recent study found. They also lowered their blood pressure and lost more weight than a control group who didn’t count their steps. We advise getting at least 30 minutes of aerobic exercise daily, such as brisk walking, jogging or biking.
  1. Stay hydrated. If you feel hungry – first grab a nice tall glass of water and drink it to see if that helps curb your appetite. We also recommend trying our fruit-and-herb-infused water recipes for calorie-free refreshment. In a six-year study of more than 20,000 people, those who drank five or more glasses of water daily had half the risk for developing fatal heart disease than those who swigged two or fewer glasses daily, even when other risk factors were taken into account. In a study of overweight women, those who drank 34 ounces of water a day lost five pounds over a 12-month period — even though they didn’t make any other lifestyle or dietary changes!
  1. It is possible to overeat even the best exercise plan. Even a marathon runner needs to be respectful of quantity and quality of food intake. One of the best ways to get the heart-healthy nutrients you need without excessive calories is to fill at least half of your plate with fresh fruit and vegetables. Research shows that people whose diets are highest in fresh produce have the lowest risk for stroke. A large study of older adults also linked eating fiber-rich foods, such as produce, to longer life. As an alternative to takeout or restaurant meals at work, which can be high in fat and calories, consider bringing a healthy lunch to the office, such as our Must-Have Kale Salad to Go.
  1. Team up with a friend or group. Several studies show that people who are trying to slim down enjoy greater success when they have social support. Consider enlisting a few friends to be your “goal buddies” or joining a weight-loss support group as you strive to improve your diet and exercise more. Making lifestyle changes that lead to a healthier weight can be challenging, but with a support team to share tips and cheer each other on, it’s easier to stay motivated and even inspired during your journey toward an optimal weight — and optimal health.