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Overweight and HIV Positive?

The Problem of Obesity Reaches the HIV Population

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Updated May 08, 2014

For years, HIV was often thought of as a disease that caused weight loss and AIDS wasting. But now experts report that HIV positive people are becoming overweight and obese -- just like the rest of the population. A recent study conducted by the United States Navy looked at 660 HIV positive patients treated at a Navy hospital. Not one of the study participants met the definition of wasting, once a hallmark sign of HIV and AIDS. In fact, the findings were quite the opposite: 63 percent met the criteria of obesity or for being overweight. That's just 3 percentage points less than the obesity rate among the general population -- meaning that people living with HIV are basically as obese as those who are HIV negative.

Early in the HIV epidemic, as people lived longer, weight loss and wasting was more of a problem. Today, because we have better control of opportunistic infections and are keeping HIV positive people healthy, the opposite is true -- the longer people are healthy, the more often obesity and weight becomes a problem. This trend signals a need for doctors to change their approach to caring for HIV positive people. It's time to shift the focus to the prevention of heart disease, high blood pressure and weight gain.

Losing Weight When You Are HIV Positive

HIV positive people who need to lose weight must follow general weight loss recommendations. You must eat a balanced meal that does not exceed your caloric needs, and you still need to exercise avoid junk food. If you are overweight and HIV positive, where should you start?

A Food Diary
The best place to start a weight loss plan is a food diary. Knowing what you are eating, how much you are eating, and when and where you are eating can help you adjust your diet and eating habits. Each time you eat, be it a snack or a full meal, write down what you have eaten, how much, and under what circumstances. For instance, if you eat a bowl of chili at a party, write down how much chili you have, what's in the chili, and the circumstances surrounding your eating the chili. Was it your dinner? Were you hungry? Or was a bowl offered to you and you ate it so not to insult your host? Enter your meal into the diary as soon as you can after eating. It is difficult to keep accurate records if you wait too long after eating. Not to mention we often underestimate the amounts we eat after too much time has past.

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Watch What You Eat
Like anyone who is overweight, adjusting what and how much you eat is the first step to weight loss. An all-too-common problem is that we try fad diets and quick loss diets that may work in the short term but do nothing to keep the weight off. The key to an effective diet is one that teaches you healthy eating habits that will serve you a lifetime. By learning healthy eating habits, you will take the weight off and keep it off for the long term.

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Exercise
Combining regular exercise with a healthy diet will not only help you lose weight but also improve your cardiac, respiratory, and muscular health as well. Experts say that as little as 30 minutes of exercise three times a week will improve your health and help you lose weight.

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Why Do We Eat?
People eat for many reasons besides just hunger. It's important to think about why you eat. Stress, socialization, depression, or habit are just a few. With the help of your food diary, figure out when and why you are eating and that can lead to controlling your impulses to eat for the sake of eating. And, of course, if you can eliminate eating at times other than when you are hungry, you will lose that extra weight.

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The bottom line: Watch your calories, your fat intake, and your portion sizes to maintain a healthy weight. If you find your are eating for reasons other than hunger, talk with your doctor or a dietitian. They can help you lose the extra weight and keep it off -- and in turn that will help you live a healthier live with HIV.

Sources
Kressy, J. et. al.; "Unintentional Weight Gain"; Tufts University School of Medicine; 24 Jun 2008.

Ladd, S. and Quinn, S.; "HIV-Positive People Now Overweight Like Everyone Else"; IDSA; 4 Oct 2007.

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