2265 North Clybourn Avenue    Chicago, IL 60614    P: 773.296.6700     F: 773.296.1131

Women and Weight: Don’t Shoot the Messenger

During a typical week in the office, sometimes I think the number of women who tell me “I’m trying to lose weight” is equal to the very number of women patients I see.

Statistics show that most Americans have good reason for concern. As of 2009, just 30% of us were of normal weight (BMI less than 25), while 35% were overweight (BMI 26 to 34), and 35% obese (BMI 35 and higher). To calculate your BMI and get depressed, but then courageously pass your chocolate scone to a co-worker or an innocent child, click here.

Virtually all Americans gain weight as they age. American women seem to exercise more than men with the objective of keeping their weight down. You can see this for yourself by taking an informal survey, as I’ve done: count joggers by gender or visit health clubs to see who’s actually doing something that could burn calories.

How much do you have to exercise to prevent the inevitable weight gain that occurs as we age? Preventing weight gain surely must be more effective than the dismal results from our attempts to lose it.

In a recent study, overweight and obese men and women were given intense nutritional counseling and their very own home treadmills. They lost an average of 19 pounds in six months … but every single one gained back the weight within two years.

Prevention couldn’t possibly score worse than this — could it? Quick answers to quick questions:
• “Can exercise alone prevent weight gain?” Rarely.
• “How much exercise?” Much more than you’d think.
• “Does it work for everybody?” Definitely not.

A report in this week’s Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) tracked 34,079 women over 15 years, with a fairly equal division of normal weight, overweight, and obese among them. Investigators monitored weight gain over the next 15 years, tracking it against the amount of daily moderate exercise the women were reporting. “Moderate” included jogging, treadmills/ellipticals, cycling, swimming, and so forth.

However, during the study (and this is important), none of the women in any of the following three groups changed their eating habits. This study tested the effects of exercise only.

Researchers divided the women into three groups based on the duration of their workouts and the number of weekly workouts they did. The three groups were: the non-exercisers; the regular exercisers averaging 30 to 45 minutes three or four times per week; and the serious exercisers, who did an hour per day seven days a week.

Conclusions? With or without regular exercise, everybody gained weight except for one group — the women who started the study with normal weight and exercised to the max, an hour daily or more. These women, and only these women, kept their weight stable over the full 15 years.

This means regular exercise — even 30 minutes a day — may be useful for preventing disease (such as heart disease and high blood pressure), but it doesn’t work for losing weight or preventing the weight gain that occurs with age.

To prevent inevitable age-related weight gain we have to permanently change the way we eat. “Diets” simply don’t work because we think we can reward ourselves by going “off” the diet some glorious day in our svelte futures. Nope. You’ll just gain weight again. What most of us need to do is eat less food and make better food choices, as a permanent lifestyle change.

A few tips:
• Rid yourselves of all eleven inch plates, using a 9” plate instead.
• Bring no bowls of food to the dinner table.
• Take home half of any restaurant meal (and strictly limit eating out).
• Reduce all grain-based foods by half. You don’t need white-flour bread, pasta, and pizza. Choose whole-grain versions instead.
• Avoid high fructose corn syrup (HFCS) like the poison it is.
• Learn to cook — it’s the best way to control nutrients and portion size.
• Load up on veggies and fruits each and every day.
• As for desserts: unless it’s fruit, dessert should be history.

To sum up, all Americans gain weight as they age. Very vigorous exercise (an hour daily) prevents weight gain only in women who are already at a normal weight. Everyone can benefit from exercise to prevent chronic illness and to feel their best. But to prevent weight gain … you need to change the way you eat.

Leave a Comment


  1. Ellen Hargis says:

    Dr. E, after your last article on weight control, we took your advice:

    We got Lose it! for our iPhones, a digital kitchen scale, and a digital personal scale. We bought smaller plates, and we already have a treadmill at home. So we used them all. Even with our crazy life of traveling several weeks each month, I’ve lost 10 lbs and David has lost 15.

    When people ask how we did it we say “oh, it’s very retro. We count calories!”

    I should add that we are major foodies. I love to cook, and we eat butter, steak, pasta, chocolate, vegetables, fruit, bread… just homemade and in careful portions. We also drink wine. We’re not into self-denial! Thanks for the advice!

    Ellen and David

  2. Amy Schuman says:

    Yes, David, I just keep nodding my head in recognition as I read this article. Thank you for the clarity, the wisdom and continued inspiration. I have recently cut meat almost completely out of my eating as a way to lighten the load and cut calories. It’s helped quite a bit.

Join our Newsletter

Get health recommendations, delicious and time-saving recipes, medical news, supplement reviews, birthday discounts, and more!

BIRTHDAY

Health Tips

Dr. Edelberg’s Health Tips contain concise bits of advice, medical news, nutritional supplement and pharmaceutical updates, and stress relief ideas. With every Health Tip, you’ll also receive an easy, delicious, and healthful recipe.

When you sign up to receive Health Tips, you can look forward to Dr. Edelberg’s smart and very current observations arriving in your in-box weekly. They’re packed with helpful information and are often slightly irreverent. One of the most common responses to the tips is “I wish my doctor talked to me like this!”

Quick Connect

Get One Click Access to our

patient-portal

The Knowledge Base

Patient education is an integral part of our practice. Here you will find a comprehensive collection of staff articles, descriptions of therapies and nutritional supplements, information addressing your health concerns, and the latest research on nutritional supplements and alternative therapies.

Join our Newsletter

Get health recommendations, recipes, medical news, supplement reviews, birthday discounts, and more!

Upcoming Workshops


**Winter Solstice Celebration: An evening of Acupuncture and Shamanic Healing
Tuesday, December 17, 5:45–7:30pm
Hosted by Katie Oberlin, HTCP and Mari Stecker, LAc

Course Fee: $75.00

Take a break from the hustle and bustle of the holiday season to enter the stillpoint of the Winter Solstice, reflect on the lessons of 2019, and set intentions for the new year. This will be an evening of individual and group healing, ceremony, and celebration. More →

Recent Health Tips

  • Infertility Issues? Start With The Guy

    I’ve lost track of the number of couples we treat at WholeHealth Chicago who are involved in one of the hormone injection/surgical procedure stops on the conveyor belt of infertility centers. Currently, it’s estimated that 15 to 20 percent of couples are struggling with infertility, half of them due to male factors. The infertility docs are nice enough and certainly well-meaning, but I note a Read More

  • Issues with Endocrinologists: Thyroid Approaches and Big Pharma

    My beefs with endocrinologists pretty much center on how they manage thyroid gland concerns, though they rarely win prizes for managing adrenal issues either. I don’t know any endocrinologists personally and rarely refer my patients to them. Occasionally, a patient with newly diagnosed hypothyroidism (low thyroid) will want to confirm the diagnosis with an endocrinologist. I suggest she prepare for a scolding if she’s taking Read More

  • Six Beefs With Rheumatologists

    If you find yourself in the waiting room of a rheumatologist, you’re likely there because your joints hurt and have been hurting, often for years. You’ve been getting by on aspirin or Advil for the pain, but with things worsening your primary care doctor suggests you should see a joint specialist, a rheumatologist. And because there’s a shortage of physicians in this specialty, your appointment Read More

Join our Discount Program!

Member benefits include 10% off all your purchases. Low, one-time membership fee of $25 ($35 for family).

MORE INFORMATION