Where’s the Harm?

“First do no harm” is a reminder to health care practitioners that every decision related to caring for a patient has the potential to do harm. How might this apply to what you eat and how you exercise?

People who want to control their weight often concentrate on adding healthy foods or intense exercise. Maybe more protein, the latest supplement/super food, or insane workout will miraculously improve their waistline.

Food wise it only makes sense that you can’t just add things to your diet and expect to control your weight.  Something has to come out. Why not focus first on substances that might actually be harmful? These examples come readily to my mind:

Sugar – Excessive sugar in our diet has been linked to obesity, tooth decay, and some cancers as well as chronic inflammation, which contributes to heart disease, arthritis, etc. Eliminating most of the added sugar from your diet will reduce calorie intake and is a good first step toward improving your weight and your health.

Fat – Saturated fats and trans fats contribute excess calories and also affect cholesterol levels.  Trans fats are especially troubling because they have been shown to both raise bad cholesterol levels and lower good cholesterol levels.  Eat less meat, poultry, and dairy (cheese is one of the largest sources of saturated fat in the American diet) to reduce your fat intake.  Read the labels on all packaged foods and look for the word(s) “hydrogenated” or “partially hydrogenated” to avoid foods that contain trans fats.

Salt – We need a tiny bit of salt to maintain our body’s fluid balance. Too much increases blood pressure and risk for kidney cancer, osteoporosis, and other problems. Preparing your own meals from fresh whole ingredients and eating out less can help to reduce the amount of sodium you consume.

As far as exercise is concerned, study after study shows that while it is important, it cannot be relied upon for weight loss. Furthermore, people who are not used to exercise often injure themselves by attempting to work longer or harder than they are able.

Being completely inactive is one of the most harmful things you can do for your health. In this case “first do no harm” means getting up out of your chair and moving more.  But don’t cause harm by overdoing it.  If you need to move more, gradually increase your activity so that you do not become injured or discouraged.

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