You know you need to lose weight, but where do you start?

By Frank Lombardo, R.Ph.

As winter approaches, a time when most of us add a few pounds due to the holidays and less activity, you’re probably thinking: “Great! I haven’t lost the few pounds I put on last winter.”

And, as these “few” pounds make us a bit heavier every year, we find ourselves stuck in a rut. Some of us even try to shake it off with the thought that, “So, I carry a few extra pounds; what’s the big deal? I’m happy. So sue me and my muffin top.”

Let’s be honest here — no one feels “happy” when they can’t button their favorite jeans from last year, yelling, “Woohoo! I gained more weight!” while doing the happy dance.

In all seriousness, your excess weight not only makes you feel bad, it is bad — for your health.

If you’re overweight, you’ve already heard this multiple times from doctors, and maybe even from friends and family. And believe me, I’m not trying to make you feel worse; I really want to help.

Your weight may be affecting you more than you think. First, let’s look at the danger you are putting yourself into by being “happy” with the way you are:

* Heart disease and stroke are more apt to happen if you carry extra weight because you are more likely to have high blood pressure and high cholesterol. However, losing just 5 to 10 percent of your weight will lower your risk.

* Type 2 Diabetes is prevalent among those who are overweight or obese. You can lower your risk by losing weight, eating a balanced diet, and exercising more.

* Cancer of the colon, breast (after menopause), endometrium (the lining of the uterus), kidney and gallbladder are linked to obesity.

* Osteoarthritis is a common joint condition that often affects the knees, hip or back. Carrying extra weight places more pressure on these joints and wears away the cartilage that normally protects them.

* Gout is a disease that affects the joints and tissue. It occurs when you have too much uric acid in your blood, which can form crystals that deposit into the joints. Gout is more common in overweight people. And the more you weigh, the more likely you are to get it.

* Sleep apnea is a breathing condition linked to being overweight. This will cause you to snore heavily and briefly stop breathing during your sleep. Having sleep apnea may cause you to be more tired during the day and make heart disease and stroke more likely. The good news? Losing weight often improves sleep apnea.

Reaching and maintaining a healthy weight will not only help you lower your risk for developing problems, but it will improve your overall well-being. You’ll feel better and have more energy to enjoy life.

OK, we know losing weight is important, but we also know it isn’t easy. So what can you do about it?

I’m not going to get into the spiel about eating less, drinking more water, exercising more frequently and avoiding complex carbohydrates, because you’ve heard it a hundred times. And, fact is, if you know it and you could stick to it and actually do it, you already would have.

But it’s hard to break old habits. No two people are alike, so it’s incredibly important that you create a weight-loss plan that works for you.

However, there are a couple of simple things you can start doing:

1. Eat breakfast. People who eat a healthy breakfast that contains more protein and fewer carbohydrates tend to weigh less and have a greater ability to maintain their weight. It can be as simple as a slice of whole grain toast (healthy carbohydrate for energy) and a hard-boiled egg (protein helps you feel full). Nothing fancy, but breakfast supplies you with a good source of morning energy.

2. Eat fruits and vegetables. If you don’t like them, have a smoothie to get your daily intake. Add fruits and vegetables (if this sounds gross, it’s really not, because with the naturally sweet fruits, you won’t even taste vegetables such as carrots and spinach) in a blender with either milk, yogurt or fruit. Experiment. Try adding a little cocoa powder.

3. Get plenty of sleep. Sleep helps maintain a healthy balance of the hormones that make you feel hungry or full. When you don’t get enough sleep, your level of hunger goes up and your fullness goes down, making you feel hungrier when you aren’t well rested.

4. Last, but most importantly: Make small changes you can sustain. For example, if you currently drink only whole milk, switch to 2 percent; if you drink four glasses of soda a day, drink three. Once you’ve become accustomed to these simple changes, add more. If you don’t take lengthy walks, start by walking around the outside of your home once or twice a day, then around the block.

Everybody is different, and everyone’s weight is a result of many factors. Some we can control — such as our diet, our habits and our inactivity — while others we cannot, such as our metabolism, family history and genetics.

Weight-loss medicines may be an option if lifestyle changes aren’t enough. Fortunately, there are natural alternatives that don’t require a prescription and are less risky than prescription drugs. Be sure to speak to a doctor or pharmacist qualified in alternative therapies to find the approach that’s right for you.

And know that losing as little as 5 to 10 percent of your body weight will have a significantly positive effect on your health.

Frank Lombardo is a longtime pharmacist at Cook’s Pharmacy in Shavertown. For more information or questions on weight loss, call him at 570-675-1191.

By Frank Lombardo, R.Ph.