With all of the knowledge we have today, we know that losing weight and being able to keep it off is actually a very complex field. There is no shortage as to the amount of factors involved. To lose weight and to sustain that weight loss involves multiple disciplines.
Just in nutrition alone, one needs to know about calories, portions, refined and unrefined foods. Are the macronutrients of carbohydrates, proteins, and fats balanced? How much processed foods are you eating? What effect is your microbiome (gut bacteria) having on your digestive system and overall health? How is your hydration? Are your portions too big?
And then you have to worry about metabolism. Are you eating in a way to keep it elevated? Are you doing the right kind of exercise to keep your basil metabolic rate from slowing down?
And of course, there is the behavioral aspect. Why are you eating—is it hunger or emotions? Perhaps you are eating out of boredom. Do you have good exercise habits and is your program balanced? Besides exercise, are you staying active? Are you losing weight by learning good, healthy habits or are you on another diet doomed to failure?
So you see, there is no shortage of factors that can influence weight in one direction or another. It is often best to leave the complexity of weight loss to those of us whose job it is to understand the science and apply it. Still, let’s see if we can make this an easier subject to deal with and to succeed at.
The urgency to lose weight has driven us to do some crazy and radical things. People go on weight loss diets (don’t forget the 96% failure rate long-term) that eliminate essential nutrients needed for good health. They may start feeling deprived or hungry, and they sure can get cranky when they don’t eat enough.
Katherine D. McManus, MS, RD, is Director of the Department of Nutrition and Director of the Dietetic Internship at the Brigham and Women’s Hospital. She recommends 10 concrete, doable steps for a simple weight loss journey with permanent results.
10 steps to help you succeed
- 1. Know where you are starting. Keep a food record for three days. Track all the food and drinks you eat along with the portions. Identify how often you are eating away from home, eating takeout, or buying food on the run.
- Identify your goal and make a plan. What is your goal? Do you want to lose weight to improve your health? Do you dream of fitting into an old suit or dress? How will you achieve your goal? Will you cook more meals at home? Will you eat smaller portions? Be specific and start small.
- Identify barriers to your goals — and ways to overcome them. Could a busy schedule get in the way of going to the gym? Wake up an hour earlier. Has an empty pantry prevented you from cooking at home? Look up some healthy recipes, then head to the grocery store armed with a list of ingredients you’ll need to prepare them.
- Identify current habits that lead to unhealthful eating. Do you relax and reward yourself by snacking in front of a screen such as the computer? Do you skip lunch only to feel starved by mid-afternoon, ready to eat anything in sight? Do you finish everything on your plate even after you start to feel full?
- Control your portions. Familiarize yourself with standard serving sizes. Did you know that one serving of poultry or meat is 4 ounces, or the size of a deck of playing cards? Or that one serving of pasta is only 1/2 cup? 20 years ago, a bagel was 7.6 cm in diameter and today’s bagel is 15 cm. This means it’s 210 calories more than the old version! Today’s fast food hamburger is about 200 calories more than its equivalent 20 years ago. So certainly, watch your portion sizes and only take seconds on vegetable dishes.
- Identify hunger and satiety cues. Be aware of physical versus emotional hunger. Do you eat when you feel something physical in your body that responds to food? Or do you eat when you are stressed, bored, tired, sad, or anxious? Try to stop eating BEFORE getting full (it takes about 20 minutes for your brain to register “stop eating” signals from your stomach). Foods that can help you feel fuller include high-fiber foods such as vegetables, whole grains, beans, and legumes; protein (fish, poultry, eggs); and water.
- Focus on the positive changes. Changing behavior takes time — at least three months. Don’t give up if you slip up along the way. Get support from others and take the time to acknowledge the changes you have made.
- Go with the 80/20 rule. Stay on track 80% of the time, but leave some room for a few indulgences. You don’t want to feel deprived or guilty!
- Focus on overall health. Walk, dance, bike, rake leaves, garden — find activities you enjoy and do them every day. Ditch the “diet” aisle and focus on seasonal, whole, high-quality foods.
- Eat slowly and mindfully. Enjoy the entire experience of eating. Take the time to appreciate the aromas, tastes, and textures of the meal in front of you. Practice eating slowly at all your meals by putting down your utensil between bites. Ideally, you should spend 15-20 minutes on each meal, but that may be more realistic during your midday or evening meal; choose one to get started. Set a timer to check yourself.
As Mrs. McManus states, changing behaviors and habits takes time. Don’t try to take on too much at once. Of this list, pick 2 things to get started with. I also suggest starting with one positive change in exercise and one in your eating habits. Research clearly shows that one of the best things we can do when trying to acquire good habits is to move slowly. Make sure you have conquered one behavior before moving on to the next. Have patience and stay focused on each small goal in order to achieve your overall goal of substantial weight loss.
Perhaps your goal is to be the same weight you were when you got married, but that would mean dropping more than 24 kilograms. Don’t go there yet. Set a more realistic goal of losing 5% to 10% of your weight, and give yourself plenty of time and some flexibility to reach that goal. Remember that people who need to lose substantial weight take at least six months to achieve that degree of healthy weight loss.
Each good change will bring another result. Keep your goals specific and not general. Set specific and short-term (daily or weekly) goals, such as these examples:
- I will choose a few dinner recipes and shop for the ingredients on Sunday.
- I will bring a healthy lunch from home instead of going out at least three times next week.
- I will call a friend to take a walk after work on Monday and Wednesday.
- I will decrease exposure to problematic food (“stimulus control”) to avoid temptation, such as keeping cookies, cakes and salty snacks away from sight in the kitchen.
One more easy habit to change—stay hydrated. Drink 8-10 cups of water throughout the day. It will decrease your appetite and ramp up your metabolism, too.
Don’t make it more complicated that it has to be! Losing weight in a healthy manner will bring about good health and keeping it simple will bring success and “add hours to your day, days to your year and years to your life.”