Obesity and Asthma:12 Simple Ways for People with Asthma to Lost Weight

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When obesity and asthma occur together, your health can be significantly impacted. In fact, one of the best ways to improve your asthma control is to reach a healthy weight.

A healthy, balanced diet and regular exercise are two proven ways to drop excess weight and combat obesity. But there’s a catch (literally): asthma can make it very difficult to exercise. The expression “losing your breath” doesn’t even come close to describing the sensation of having an asthma attack while working out.

Worse still, if it is allergy season or very cold outside, exercise in the great outdoors can be out of the question. Fortunately, there is hope.  There are many ways that people with asthma can drop unhealthy weight, whether they are obese or just want to be healthier. Here are 12 tips to get started:

1. Weigh and Chart Progress Daily
When you get up every day, weigh yourself using a digital scale and write it down on a chart immediately. Your weight will naturally fluctuate day by day, but your sense of progress shouldn’t be determined by these daily weigh-ins. The purpose of this technique is to gather feedback to see what is working and keep you motivated.

2. Meal Planning
Calculating and writing out every meal is one of the best ways to lose weight when obesity and asthma occur together. Begin by using a calorie calculator online to determine how many calories you need to consume in order to maintain your current weight.

Next, to lose at least a pound a week, you’ll need to cut whatever your total calorie intake per day is by 500 calories per day. Those 500 calories less per day equals essentially one pound of fat. You can control your weight loss by cutting more or fewer calories depending on the rate you want to maintain.

Losing more than a pound per week can be unhealthy, though, so be careful about how much you restrict your diet and discuss your weight loss plan with your doctor.

Once you know your daily target, you need to divide it up throughout the day. That means if your target is 2,000 calories per day, you could consume about 400 calories per meal for four meals a day and have enough left over for a pair of 200 calorie snacks. How you divide up your daily number is your choice, so you may want to play around with those numbers to see what suits your schedule and lifestyle best.

Finally, you can make a plan for each meal according to the calorie limit you have set for that meal. There are numerous online resources and mobile apps to help you figure out the number of calories in what you eat, but once you plan some easy-to-prep regular meals, the meal planning is easy. Keep a list of your 400-calorie meals and 200-calorie snacks that you can swap around to allow you some variety in your diet. All that remains for you to do is stick to your meal plan.

No cheating, no deviation. You will adjust after a few short days, and seeing progress in your weight loss won’t be far behind.

3.   Snack Healthy
Like planning out your meals, you also need to plan your snacks. You already know how to calculate the number of calories you can eat for snacks from the previous entry, so I won’t go over that again. What is vitally important to remember is that you should not snack on whatever is handy at the time. This means the vending machine is not your friend. The convenience store is not your friend. What you have to do is plan ahead: keep healthy snacks with you during the day for those moments between meals when you need a pick-me-up. Your first choices should be fruit, vegetables, dried fruit, yogurt, or similar munchies that are low calorie and high in protein and fiber.

You can also plan a few unhealthy snacks twice a week. It isn’t wise to completely deprive yourself, so make snacks a fun thing in moderation. Have dark chocolate one day, and maybe some berries or fruit the next. The point of your diet is to lose unhealthy weight, not learn to hate food.

4. Look for Low-Fat Alternatives
You can still enjoy your favorite foods, you just need to find lower-fat versions to replace them with. For example, instead of having a burger made with 80% fat ground beef, use ground turkey or cook up a veggie burger pattie. If you love fries, cut your own and bake them with some sea salt. Roast or bake chicken instead of frying it. Switch to lower fat milk and yogurt instead of full-fat dairy. Most research shows that it is counterproductive to give up on fat altogether in your diet, as certain fats like those in nuts, olive oil, grapeseed oil, and avocados are actually beneficial for losing weight. Lower your saturated fats instead, and balance some unsaturated and polyunsaturated fat. Filling up on fruits and vegetables is another great way to reduce your fat intake, as they are higher in fiber and take up more space in your stomach without adding more calories from fat.

5. Eat Slow, Wait 20 Minutes
Wolfing down your food too fast generally causes overeating and is not good for obesity or asthma. We all have to slow ourselves down quite a bit when eating. Our brains are often slow to get the message that our stomach is full. When we eat quickly, we literally overstuff ourselves. Like the old Alka-Seltzer television ad, we “can’t believe we ate the whole thing.” You feel that way when you eat too fast. The solution? Teach yourself to eat slowly, and you will feel full after eating less food.

Portion control is also a major part of this method. Eating a reasonable serving of food without piling more on your plate, then waiting for seconds helps a lot. If you still feel hungry after finishing your portion, don’t eat again for at least 20 minutes. Drink a glass of water and wait. More often than not, you will find that you feel full just by waiting that little while.

6. Think Big Picture
Weight loss does not happen overnight. There is no fat-fairy that is going to come by while you sleep and take all the excess weight away. You may drop weight quickly, but that isn’t always ideal since rapid weight loss can reverse itself just as quickly. Gradual weight loss that stays off is what you want to occur.

Shoot for one pound per week. You can usually safely drop 50 pounds per year that way. These are achievable, sustainable goals. Adjustments are normal, especially if you find you are eating too little or too much in terms of calories, but your primary focus is not to try for the fast weight loss, but the slow and steady drop. Don’t be concerned about the ups and downs of every day: look instead at the weekly and monthly trends. Stick to your plan, do everything in moderation, and you can make this happen.

7. Five Minutes a Day
When you do the math, consuming fewer calories is far more effective than trying to shed weight through exercise. You can burn hundreds of calories with a 30-minute intense workout, but as an asthmatic, that exercise can make a sustained 30 minutes of exercise hard, and one bowl of cereal can put those calories right back on again. If you want to lose weight, food needs to be your first focus.

This is not to say that all exercise is futile. Even a 200-calorie burn per day can help knock off extra pounds every month, and burning 200 calories doesn’t require much time or effort. Then there is the added benefit of all those endorphins that are pumped through your body even after a short period of moderate exercise. Not only will you feel good, but you will feel like you are getting into shape, and you will be getting healthier and toned, too.

Most experts recommend starting with just a five-minute workout every day. It won’t burn 200 calories, but it will get you started. Begin with five minutes a day, seven days a week. Any kind of exercise will work, and if you are asthmatic, try to limit your cardio at first. Experiment with crunches, push-ups, some jumping jacks, or maybe some running in place. As long as you don’t stop for five minutes, you are fine. The following week, increase your workout time by five minutes. Keep increasing every week by two minutes, and soon you will be working out for 30 minutes a day with no problem. It’s that simple, and working your way up slowly will help ease symptoms of asthma as your heart and lungs grow stronger with regular exercise.

10. Best Exercises for Asthmatics
Focus on activities that have short, intermittent periods of exertion, like volleyball, gymnastics, baseball, or wrestling. When you participate in exercise that involves sustained long periods of exertion, like soccer, running, or basketball, your body is less likely to handle them as well, and it may trigger symptoms or an attack. Cold weather sports like ice hockey, cross-country skiing, and ice-skating may also be activities to avoid at first until you get your heart and lungs in the best shape possible. Choosing a sport like swimming, a strong endurance sport, is a good first choice for people with asthma since is usually performed while breathing warm, humid air indoors. Swimming is also very beneficial to improving cardiovascular health and lung capacity. Other exercises that are well tolerated by asthmatics include outdoor and indoor biking, aerobics, walking, and running on a treadmill. Whatever you choose, make sure you start slowly with a few minutes a day and ramp it up from there. Combined with a healthy diet, you will find it much easier to reach your weight loss goals.

11. Controlling Asthma During Exercise
Always talk to your doctor before starting any exercise regimen. Your physician will be able to help you decide on an activity that is the right fit for you and your asthma, and what to do before you start a workout. This is called your asthma action plan. For example, always use your pre-exercise asthma meds (inhaled bronchodilators or cromolyn) before you start your workout, especially when it has been made a part of your action plan. Warming up is also highly recommended to help prevent symptoms, and be sure to allow yourself a cool-down period after you finish your workout. If it’s cold outside, workout indoors or wear a mask or scarf over your nose and mouth to keep the air going into your lungs warm and moist. Do not exercise if you have a viral infection such as a cold or the flu. Finally, exercise at a level that is appropriate for your overall health, and always do less than you think you can do as a precaution.

12. The First Three
Reducing your calorie intake is hard. You are going to feel hungry, crave junk food, and have a strong desire to pig out at mealtime. You will want to give in. That’s okay. Everyone feels that way. Fight those temptations by telling yourself that it’s only for three days. If you can get through those first 72 hours on a reduced calorie intake, it starts to become much easier. You will adapt to the reduced calories and soon enough it won’t even feel like you are depriving yourself anymore.

These 12 tips are just the very beginning to losing weight and leading a healthier lifestyle. Asthmatics do not have to be constrained or limited by their condition. With careful planning and preparation, you can get healthy and lose excess weight, both of which will help you manage your condition more effectively with less need for inhalers and medication. Take this advice to heart, make a plan, and stick to it. Get started on living a fuller, and rich life in spite of your asthma. Don’t let doubts and negativity win.


American Academy of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology.  Tips to Remember: Asthma and Exercise

Barros P, Moreira, Fonseca A et. al. Adherence to the Mediterranean diet and fresh fruit intake are associated with improved asthma control. Allergy 63:917-923, 2008

McKeever TM, Britton J. Diet and Asthma. Am J Respir Crit Care Med Vol 170. pp 725-729, 2004.

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