Q&A With Holly Wyatt, M.D.

The skinny on getting, and staying, slim

Coloradans are a relatively healthy bunch, and although we’re starting to inch upward in terms of weight gain, our state still boasts the country’s lowest obesity rate. But why? To what do we owe our collective well-being, and can we share it with a nation facing an obesity crisis? Those are the questions James O. Hill, Ph.D., and Holly Wyatt, M.D., set out to answer in State of Slim, the title of their new book as well as a metaphor for our state and our way of life. Directors of the Anschutz Health and Wellness Center at the University of Colorado’s medical campus in Aurora and leading experts on diet and nutrition, Hill and Wyatt note that a combination of factors including climate, topography and social norms support our “slim” lifestyle, but people everywhere can tap into Coloradans’ strategies for achieving and maintaining an ideal weight and optimum wellness. We recently sat down with Wyatt at her Anschutz Center office to learn more.

“ We talk about developing a ‘Colorado mindset,’ and the first step is finding your motivation, not just your goal.“

 

In State of Slim, you talk about a Mile High Metabolism. What is that, and what does it have to do with staying slim?
State of Slim cover 2Colorado has a culture of activity. When you’re active, your metabolism automatically adjusts to your calorie and activity level, burning more of the calories you take in. In the book we describe it in terms of a bathtub: Your body is the tub, your calorie intake is the incoming water, and the calories you burn [your metabolism] are the drain. You want a flexible drain that gets bigger or smaller to let out all the water coming in. Exercise is the key to a flexible drain—to keeping the pounds from creeping back on. It’s the missing piece in most plans. And when the people around you are active, it’s easier to be active yourself.

Most people know they should exercise and eat well, but they simply don’t do it or believe they can’t. How can they develop the willpower to make good choices?
We talk about developing a “Colorado mindset,” and the first step is finding your motivation, not just your goal. Your goal might be to look good at your class reunion, but your true motivation has to go deeper than that. I call it “peeling the onion.” Why is it important to you to look good at your reunion? So you can feel confident? Why do you want to feel confident? Maybe because it will help you to accomplish your big career goal or be a better spouse. Being healthy and fit gives Coloradans the confidence and ability to do the things they really want to do. Being at a healthy weight is really about achieving your purpose in life—being able to live the life you want. Write your purpose down, and put it somewhere you’ll see it a lot.

Is having my ultimate purpose enough when I really don’t want to go to the gym or I’m craving chocolate chip cookies?
It’s just a start. You need to have a plan in place and identify your Achilles’ heels that keep you from following your plan. Then, develop routines that set you up for success. For example, maybe your routine is that you stop by the gym before you go home from work, so you don’t just end up on the couch. Or one of my clients puts Crest Whitestrips on her teeth while she cooks dinner, so she won’t snack. For me, potato chips are my weakness, so I have a routine that I don’t even go down the chip aisle at the grocery store. It doesn’t mean I’ll never eat chips, but I’m saving my willpower for  unforeseen circumstances when I really need it. Soon, healthy decisions become automatic.

What would you say to someone who doesn’t think they’re able to lose weight?
Part of the Colorado mindset is expecting success. In general, Coloradans have an upbeat attitude. Focus on how great life will be when you’re at a healthy weight rather than dreading all the things you might have to change or give up. Gratitude helps you develop a positive attitude. Start by just writing down one thing a day that you’re thankful for in your life.