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Health and Wellness

Understanding Weight Management

Karen Cherinka, CRNP
Understanding Weight Management

Weight Management

Discover more about Weight Management, including locations and providers, at Mount Nittany Health

Are you frustrated with your weight management efforts despite countless diets and workouts?  The truth is, excess weight is complicated, making treatment challenging.  Factors such as your environment, genetics, medications, medical and behavioral conditions often work together resulting in overweight or obesity.


Communities with more high-calorie, fast food venues, or without access to fresh fruits and vegetables, or those lacking in safe areas to walk and be active puts that community at risk for obesity.  Our home environment can also work against us if highly addictive, ultra-processed foods are readily available.  Set yourself up for success by keeping a bowl of fresh fruit on the kitchen counter and planning and preparing healthy meals and snacks ahead of time.


Genes inherited from one or both parents can also set the stage for developing excess weight.  If one or both parents are affected there is an increased chance their offspring will be too.  Genetics can even determine if a person is more likely to eat when they are not hungry or snack in between meals. Fortunately, we have some control over our genes. They can be switched off or on, to our benefit, by eating healthy foods, by avoiding unhealthy foods, by avoiding weight adverse medications and by physical activity.


Certain medications used to treat common conditions like chronic pain, acid reflux, high blood pressure, mood disorders, and diabetes can contribute to weight gain or make weight loss difficult. Often, there is a more weight-friendly option, or an opportunity to lower a dose or stop a medication if no longer needed.  Communication with your healthcare provider is key.

Prolonged stress, insomnia, behavioral and other health conditions

Prolonged stress can result in increased cortisol levels. Poor sleep can lead to insulin resistance. Both of these hormone shifts can result in weight gain or make it difficult to lose weight.  Certain health conditions such as sleep apnea, polycystic ovarian syndrome, and Cushing’s disease can change metabolism and make the weight loss journey even more of an unfair fight.

Our feelings of hunger and fullness are controlled by hormones found in the gut, intestines, and even our fatty tissues.  Unhelpful shifts in these occur in response to losing weight. That is why it is so hard to keep pounds from returning when you do lose weight.  

We are learning more about the association between excess weight and the bacteria in our intestines, called the microbiome. There is good evidence that the imbalance between “good” and “bad” bacteria is linked to excess weight gain. We can improve this by eating fruits, vegetables, fermented foods, avoiding sugary foods, and increasing exercise.

Behavior or mental disorders such as anxiety or depression can result in using food for comfort instead of fuel (emotional eating).  Foods higher in fat, sugar, and salt activate cravings by the reward center of our brain that reinforces unhealthy eating. Regular check-ins with mental health and primary care providers can help with the underlying feelings associated with emotional eating. These are all reasons the advice of “just eat less and move more” may not work.

Here are some ways to build lifestyle habits that will improve your health while leading to weight loss.

Nutrition: Reduce calories (but increase how much you eat!) by having at least 5 cups of fruits and vegetables a day, whole grains, and lean protein. Use fats sparingly. Dairy does not have to be a part of your day, but if you enjoy it, stick with the low fat options.  Follow the My Plate recommendations by going to for a personalized plan. Use a free calorie counter app to track calories.  No foods are off limits. Instead ask yourself if it is really worth it to eat that particular food at that particular time. If so, how much do you really need to feel satisfied? Limit eating out. Eating out more than twice a week is a significant risk for weight gain.  Instead, eat meals prepared at home that are simple and tasty.  Don’t drink your calories. The best beverages are water, low fat milk, coffee and tea (if there are no additives).

Physical activity: Plan for 30 minute a day of purposeful physical activity. This can be 10 minutes 3 times a day if that works best for you. Anything that gets you a little short of breath counts. If you are sedentary, setting a daily step goal is a great way to get started.  While exercise doesn’t move the scale as much as we would like, the other benefits to our health are immeasurable.  Adding in strength training 2 times a week will build lean muscle and increase metabolism—very helpful in maintaining a healthy weight. There is an advantage to having muscle, but not as much as you might think. Muscle burns 5-6 calories at rest, while fat burns 2-4 calories.  The goal is to reduce fat mass.

Healthy behavior: Eat mindfully and without distractions. Make your mealtime intentional, using your senses to appreciate the colors, textures, smells, and taste of your food. Put your fork down in between bites, and take sips of water. It takes about 20 minutes for the brain to learn that the stomach is getting full!  Eat only out of physical hunger. If you are eating food, but not because you are physically hungry, pause, and ask yourself what it is that you really need. Maybe a glass of water, a walk outside, or deep breaths will do the trick.  Prioritize sleep. Incorporate stress reduction techniques like yoga, meditation or deep breathing. Maintain healthy social connections. Avoid risky substances and if you smoke, stop.  Call 1-800-QUIT-NOW for support.

Instead of the “all or none” thinking, try for “just good enough.”  Work closely with your health care provider to set up lifelong healthy habits.  Remember, your success can be measured in many ways, not just by the number on the scale.  You might be surprised to know that a huge amount of weight loss isn’t necessary to see benefit. As little as 3% of weight loss can make a meaningful difference in outcomes!  Even maintaining weight has health benefits!

Mount Nittany Health Weight Management is here to help, visit, or call 814.689.3156 for more information.