When it comes to our health, we should be like Janet Jackson and take control. That means prioritizing healthy dietary and lifestyle habits and making sure we schedule important and potentially lifesaving health screenings. Need a little incentive? Weight loss experts often recommend that we identify our “why” to help us reach a weight goal. A doctor’s encouragement, which is a form of extrinsic motivation, can give you the short-term boost you need to move past a plateau, for instance. Treating certain conditions or having a prescription adjusted may make it easier to lose weight. And understanding how to manage a condition you are diagnosed with can encourage you to make lifestyle changes that can help you shed pounds and keep them off. Those are a few ways that putting the following health screenings on your calendar may also support your weight loss goals. You got this, sis!
Did you know that many prescription medications can lead to weight gain, and that your health care provider may be able to suggest an alternative? Be sure to mention weight changes during your checkup. This annual physical exam gives you and your primary care physician a baseline on your overall health. Your provider will often get readings on your blood pressure and other vitals, and do a preliminary breast exam and comprehensive blood work, including a screening lipid panel for cholesterol. If needed, your doc can provide a referral to see a specialist. You can make an appointment for COVID-19 boosters and the shingles vaccine (for adults 50 and over). Your annual exam is also where you will be sure to get an accurate scale reading. Don’t let concerns about being judged or fat-shamed be the reason to skip this important calendar date; as an alternative, weigh yourself at home and give the physician’s assistant that number or politely decline to be weighed (yes, it’s your prerogative).
Did you know that many prescription medications can lead to weight gain, and that your health care provider may be able to suggest an alternative?
Ask your doctor about your thyroid health during your exam, especially if you’ve put on a few pounds and your cholesterol levels have crept up without significant changes to your diet and exercise regimen. A low thyroid level, or hypothyroidism, may be the culprit. The tiny thyroid gland regulates the body’s metabolism, and the body slows down when thyroid hormone levels dip. Research shows that women of all ages are prone to hypothyroidism, and a sluggish thyroid is also linked to an increased risk of heart disease. To check your thyroid, your primary care physician or an endocrinologist will collect an additional sample during your blood draw or refer you to a lab for bloodwork.
Annual Pelvic Exam (a.k.a. Gyn Exam)
Although it’s probably not your favorite checkup, your annual pelvic exam is important because it may detect sexually transmitted diseases as well as gynecological cancers at an early stage. During your annual exam, your gynecologist will usually do a Pap test (and if you are between ages 21 and 65, your doctor may advise that you can wait three years until your next test), which is used to detect cervical cancer. And since hormone-related reproductive issues like perimenopause, polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) and menopause can affect your weight, also use this time to talk to your gynecologist about weight management.
Studies also show that being overweight is linked to a greater risk of gum disease and tooth loss, so don’t skip those X-rays and cleanings. And did you know that practicing good oral hygiene may help improve your overall health? For example, research suggests that heart disease might be linked to inflammation and infection that oral bacteria can cause; gum disease (periodontitis) has been linked to premature birth and low birth weight; and oral bacteria can affect the lungs and cause pneumonia and other respiratory diseases. Your dentist will also encourage you to limit sugar, which can pay off when you’re working on shedding pounds.
Your eyes are the windows to your soul, and they also give a clear view of your overall health. Both an optometrist and an ophthalmologist can do a comprehensive eye exam and prescribe eyeglasses. But the latter is a medical doctor who can perform eye surgery and help manage chronic conditions like diabetes, lupus, hypertension, high cholesterol and eye diseases like glaucoma and macular degeneration. Studies show that being overweight can impact your eye health and is linked to elevated eye pressure, which could increase your risk of developing glaucoma. To schedule your comprehensive eye exam, check your insurance plan to see what’s covered, or look for low-cost eye exam options in your area.
The current recommendation is that people at average risk of colorectal cancer begin regular screening at age 45. However, as Chadwick Boseman’s untimely death from the disease at age 43 showed us, African Americans may need screenings even sooner. So don’t shy away from scheduling an appointment with a gastroenterologist if you experience symptoms including:
• a change in bowel habits such as constipation, diarrhea and narrowing of your stool
• rectal bleeding
• black stool
• cramping or pain in the abdomen
• feeling tired or weak
• unintentional weight loss
Being overweight increases your risk of getting and succumbing to colon and rectal cancer. When you take steps to improve your colon health by eating a high-fiber diet loaded with fresh fruits and veggies and whole grains, quitting smoking, limiting alcohol consumption, and staying physically active, you’ll also support weight loss.
For African American women, research suggests that waiting until age 50 to get a mammogram to detect early signs of breast cancer may put us at a disadvantaged risk. Although our incidence rate of breast cancer is slightly lower than that of white women, we are prone to more aggressive types, like triple-negative breast cancer, and more likely to experience delays in treatment and to be diagnosed with advanced-stage disease. So our mortality rate is much higher. Thus, it’s recommended that we get our first screening at age 40. The hard truth is that being overweight after menopause increases the risk of breast cancer. But you’ve got the power. To lower your risk, set a goal to drop half a pound per week for six months and walk briskly for 75 to 150 minutes per week.