New Year’s is often accompanied by weight loss resolutions, but don’t be fooled by the myriad of miracle weight loss products and advertisements this year. You’ve probably heard or have seen weight loss advertisements claiming quick results, such as ‘lose 30 pounds in 30 days’, or ‘rub this cream on twice each day to lose five pounds each week’. Unfortunately, these advertisements are too good to be true, so don’t buy into them because most likely you’ll end up wasting your time and hard-earned money. Healthy and sustainable weight loss requires a change in lifestyle habits such as your diet and physical activity. How about setting a realistic and healthy new year’s resolution this year?
Set SMART Weight Loss Goals
Often, we set ourselves up for failure even before we get started! We want to make sure that the weight loss goals we are setting are SMART (Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant, and Timebound). Specifically focus on one thing you want to change; instead of implementing a new workout program, restricting calories, and totally flipping your diet all at the same time. How about choosing one thing to focus on and once you feel comfortable with that change you can add another? When you change too many things at once, it makes your goals hard to sustain long term because it’s so overwhelming. Make sure your weight loss goal is measurable, so that you can keep track of the changes you’re making. A healthy weight loss goal is 1-2 pounds per week for the first six months and to achieve an initial weight loss goal of up to 10% of your starting weight. Not only is this goal measurable, but it’s also attainable and sustainable. A plateau in weight loss can occur somewhere around six months; in which case, if you still want to lose more, a different regimen will have to be implemented. Make sure your weight loss goal is relevant, as in it’s something that you could use change in. If you already feel like you eat a well-balanced diet, how about working on physical activity, or vice versa. And finally, make sure your goal is time bound, meaning that you have an end-date so you can re-evaluate and set a new goal if needed. For example, maybe you’re not meeting your initial goal after the first week and you need to adapt it to fit your needs to be more successful in the future.
Lose Weight Slowly
It’s common to see weight loss while following a certain fad diet, but often once this diet is no longer followed the weight just comes right back, or maybe even more so. This is called “yo-yo dieting” and it can become a vicious cycle which can leave you with more weight than what you started with. By losing weight slowly (1-2 pounds per week) and implementing lifestyle changes that are sustainable, you can help prevent muscle loss which can occur when restricting calories. This will also prevent a change in your metabolic rate, which is how fast you burn energy (calories). When you severely restrict calories for long periods of time, your body gets more efficient at working off less calories/energy, so when you do eat normally, your body stores more energy as fat.
Be Physically Active
This will help you maintain your muscle mass as you lose adipose tissue (aka fat). Exercise will also increase your resting metabolic rate which will help you burn more calories throughout the day. Muscle tissue is metabolically more active than adipose tissue, helping you burn more calories, so don’t be afraid to add strength training a couple days each week if you’re not already doing so. Not only will regular physical activity help with weight loss, but it also helps reduce your risk for a variety of chronic diseases. If you dread a certain type of physical activity, don’t make yourself do it, pick something that you look forward to doing, so you can maintain an active lifestyle for years to come.
Include a Variety of Foods
Cutting out certain food groups or nutrients can lead to nutrient deficiencies and is not sustainable long term.A common diet that you hear about is the keto diet,whichlimits carbohydrates. In order to reach ketogenesis, which is when our body starts to break down fat into energy, you must cut out all carbohydrates which include fruits, vegetables and whole grains. Carbohydrates are the bodies preferred fuel source so when we cut these out, we are not functioning optimally. By eliminating carbohydrates, you’re also eliminating fiber, antioxidants, phytonutrients, and other important nutrients that our bodies need. It is also common for those following the keto diet to have an increase in total cholesterol, LDL cholesterol, irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), and gastrointestinal discomfort. Instead try making at least half of your grain’s whole grains, and decrease your consumption of simple carbohydrates such as white bread, pastries, sugar sweetened beverages, etc.
Certain fad diets also cut out dietary fat, but dietary fat is necessary for absorbing fat-soluble nutrients and the production of important hormones. Dietary fats such as omega-3’s and omega-6’s are essential for energy production and supports cell growth. Our bodies need some fat to help protect our organs and to help keep our bodies warm, which we definitely need living in Wyoming! Instead of cutting out fats, try increasing your intake of healthy fats such as mono and polyunsaturated fats found in fish, nuts, seeds, oils, avocado, etc. Healthy fats have been shown to lower your LDL cholesterol and reduce your risk for heart disease and stroke.
Gluten has also been a hot topic, but don’t worry unless you have Celiac Disease, you don’t have to cut it out of your diet. It has become more common to see a package of food claiming that it’s “gluten free”, often times this is just a marketing scheme. Gluten is a protein found in wheat products such as rye, wheat, barley, malt, brewer’s yeast and various others. Gluten is made up of a mixture of glutenin and gliadin proteins which help maintain the shape of food by acting like glue. Instead of avoiding gluten try to increase your consumption of whole grains. Whole grains contain fiber which will help make you full faster and keep you full for longer aiding in your weight loss efforts. Fiber can also help maintain healthy blood sugar levels and decrease blood cholesterol levels.
You’ve probably heard of those so called “cheat days”. If you’re craving something, go ahead and eat that food and if possible, try to fill up on vegetables first so you feel completely satisfied once finished. If you restrict yourself from eating a certain food, over time the craving intensifies and when you finally do eat it, it’s often done so in excess. This overconsumption or gorging can cause guilt, which only makes matters worse when you’re trying to become healthier.
Become an Intuitive Eater
Skipping meals or starving yourself is not necessary in order to lose weight. In today’s world it seems we rely too much on the clock to tell us when to eat. It may take some practice and time but by eating intuitively you can start eating when you’re hungry and stop when you’re getting full. Eating later at night will not make you gain weight, unless you’ve already exceeded the calories you burned throughout the day. So, if you’re feeling hungry at 8 or 9 pm, grab a small snack to eat and make it a healthy snack if you can! By repeatedly starving yourself or skipping meals you program your body to become more efficient with the calories you do eat, which can lower your metabolic rate, and your body starts storing more energy as fat. Skipping meals can also make you ravenous by the time your next meal comes, which can promote overconsumption. Take time to appreciate the taste of your food and enjoy it!
Health Is Not Determined by Weight
Often we get so caught up on the number showing on the scale. Weight does not determine your health. For example, if you’re losing inches around your waist, but you’re not seeing a huge difference on the scale, this could mean you’re becoming leaner. Muscle tissue weighs more than fat tissue, which is why you may not see a huge change on the scale, but you’re probably noticing other healthy changes in yourself. Maybe you fit into smaller pants, or your endurance has improved. Take for example someone who is at a normal weight, they are not physically active, nor do they eat a well-balanced diet, compared to someone who is overweight, lives an active lifestyle, and eats a well-balanced diet. The latter is making the steps to prevent chronic disease, whereas the former is promoting chronic disease. Everyone is unique in their health and nutritional needs. So, the diet that’s working so well for one person, may not work at all for others. Reaching and maintaining a healthy weight is a lifelong journey, so remember each of your small steps can turn into big progress overtime.
Written By: Shelley Balls, University of Wyoming Extension- Nutrition and Food Safety Educator