Do you consider yourself overweight? I do—and I'm not alone. A recent survey showed that 42 percent of people think they aren't at a healthy weight. And statistics from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention paint an even grimmer picture for our health. More than 2 in 3 U.S. adults are overweight or obese and more than 1 in 3 is obese.
I've battled the number on the scales since I went to college roughly four decades ago. Sometimes I win, sometimes I lose. But one thing I know: It isn't getting easier with age.
There was a time when I could gain a few pounds over the weekend or on vacation and lose them as soon I got back into my routine. Now, I gain three pounds over a three-day weekend and spend three months trying to get rid of them.
Many of my women friends (and some men) echo the same complaint: It's so easy to gain weight and so hard to lose it. I try not to obsess over the number on the scale, but I can't ignore the snugness of my clothes.
As a health editor, I'm aware of the health risks of carrying too much weight. Obesity is linked to heart disease, stroke, type 2 diabetes and certain types of cancer—all of which can be fatal. Overweight isn't tied to as many specific illnesses, but it is linked to some diseases and can cause joint damage and fatigue, among other things. And a recent study found that each extra 11 pounds gained is linked to a 6 percent increased risk of an obesity-related cancer, a 5 percent higher risk of dying prematurely, and a 17 percent decrease in the odds of healthy aging.
Who wants to raise those risks for just being a few pounds overweight? I certainly don't. Cancer runs strong in my family. My dad and his parents and brother died of pancreatic cancer, and his dad also had colon cancer. My mom died in her 60s of breast cancer, and my sister, who is now in her 60s, has ovarian cancer. Family history can be a factor in many cancers, so I underwent genetic testing. Thankfully, it didn't reveal genetic links.
But the truth is, most cases of cancer aren't from inherited genes. More often they stem from genetic damage or mutations that occur in the individual—sometimes seemingly random and other times linked to environmental or lifestyle causes.
I checked the American Cancer Society's risk factors for my family's cancers, and obesity is a risk factor for pancreatic, colon, breast and ovarian cancers, and overweight is a risk factor for pancreatic cancer.
Similarly, poor diet is a risk factor for all four of those cancers. The precise description of dietary factors varies somewhat, but the overall message is that if I eat a healthy diet rich in fruits and veggies and limit my intake of red meats, processed meats and other high-fat or highly processed foods, then I stand a better chance of not getting those cancers.
Studies also link alcohol consumption and a sedentary lifestyle to pancreatic, colon and breast cancer.
Statistics and risk factors are all based on large pools of data, and I realize they may not apply directly to me. In fact, my relatives were not obese, drank little or no alcohol, stayed active and ate reasonably well.
Sometimes fate just isn't kind. But, I'll keep trying to improve my odds.
I am fighting to lose the six pounds that will get me out of the overweight category, based on my body mass index. I'm resolved to increase my daily activity, decrease my alcohol consumption, choose healthy foods and watch my portions and splurges. It's easy to eat plenty of fresh produce in the summer, but it's also easy to splurge on ice cream or overdo it at a cookout or eat out too often. These are pitfalls for me. But, I do want to live a long and healthy life and set a good example for my daughters, so I keep trying.
I'm eating fewer carbs and increasing and varying my exercise routines. I take work breaks to jog around my home office, take a short walk outside or lift a few weights. I'm doing some online boot camps, yoga classes and gym workouts—and I've even dusted off my 30-year-old bike and realized that you can, indeed, forget how to ride a bike!