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Trim Pounds With Your Pet

By: Denise Foley

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Freelance writer Peggy Frezon spends most of her waking hours sitting in front of her computer. And so does her dog, Kelly. While working long hours on deadline, Frezon used to take breaks to eat snacks. “And since Kelly was my little shadow, my lifestyle became her lifestyle,” she says about her 10-year-old daschund-spaniel rescue.

The wakeup call came at a regular checkup at the vet’s. “My vet mentioned that Kelly was a little bit overweight, and she listed all the possible health risks that could occur: diabetes, heart problems, joint problems,” says Frezon. “Suddenly, I made the connection in my head: These are all the same problems my doctor told me I’d be facing at my last visit if I didn’t lose weight. My lifestyle was heading me to all these health issues, and now I was leading Kelly too.”

Today, Frezon is 41 pounds lighter, has lowered her cholesterol and no longer needs to take blood pressure pills. Her secret: a furry diet buddy.

Your Pet: An Exercise Machine on a Leash
Physician and obesity expert Dr. Robert Kushner confirms what Frezon realized: That overweight people with overweight dogs lose weight when they are encouraged to buddy up. His study included a group of overweight owners of obese dogs and a group of overweight people without pets. Turns out that the dog owners walked more frequently than non-owners.

“We found that dogs are even more compelling than a human buddy,” says Kushner, co-author of Fitness Unleashed: A Dog and Owners’ Guide to Losing Weight and Gaining Health Together. “A human buddy will call and say, ‘I can’t make it.’ A dog will never say that. A dog is an exercise machine on a leash.”

So it went with Frezon and Kelly too: Over the course of a year, they practiced portion control together, ate only healthy treats and stepped up their exercise. Kelly was even better than a personal coach, says Frezon. “When I wanted to cheat, I just had to look at her, and she would look back at me as if to say, ‘If I have to eat those carrots, you’d better eat them.’”

Today, Kelly is lighter by 6 pounds, which represents 15 percent of her weight. “Losing weight was something we had to do together,” says Frezon, who chronicled their weight loss journey in her book, Dieting With My Dog: One Busy Life, Two Full Figures … And Unconditional Love.

How to Lose Weight With Your Pet
If you and your pet both need to pare some pounds, here are four strategies the experts recommend you do together:

1.    Practice portion control. Almost everyone underestimates the amount they’re eating. And like us, our pets often belong to the “clean your plate” club. Stop eyeballing your servings and your pet’s. Invest in a good set of measuring cups and spoons. If your pet is only supposed to have 1 cup of dry food and 1 tablespoon of wet food, measure it out.

“I was giving Kelly two scoops of food a day and never measured the scoop,” says Frezon. “She was supposed to get 1/2-3/4 cups twice a day, but the scoop held 1 1/2 cups. I was doing the same thing myself with breakfast cereal. I was pouring cereal to the tippy top of the biggest bowl I had, which wasn’t the 3/4 cup serving on the package.”

2.    Add fruits and veggies to your diets.
Most dogs, like most people, enjoy some kind of fruits and vegetables (besides grass). “Our treats were things like baby carrots, bananas and apples,” says Frezon. “I got them for the dog, and then I started eating them myself.”

3.    Express love with activity.
“Reimagine treats as pleasant experiences,” suggests veterinary nutrition expert C.A. Tony Buffington, veterinarian and head of the Indoor Pet Initiative at the Ohio State University School of Veterinary Medicine. “You can give your dog a treat without giving it a snack. Interact with your dog in whatever way you both enjoy that doesn’t involve food: Teach it a trick, brush it, take it for a walk or throw a ball up the stairs.”

4.    Use the leash.
If both you and your pet have been couch companions for a while, start your exercise regime slowly, suggests Kushner. Using a pedometer, clock your total steps for three days in a row, add them all together and divide them by three. The average of the three is your baseline step count. Then, as you and your dog begin to walk together, add 10 percent to that step count the first week and continue adding 10 percent each week until you’re walking at least 40 minutes a day, five days a week. Experiment with intensity; vary brisk walking with strolling, even with jogging if you and your dog are up to it. And don’t stop once you both lose the weight!


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Denise Foley is Completely You’s News You Can Use” blogger. She is a veteran health writer, the former deputy editor and editor at large of Prevention, and co-author of four books on women’s health and parenting.

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