Healthy Weight Loss
In our eat-and-run, massive-portion-sized culture, maintaining a healthy weight can be tough—and losing weight, even tougher. Adding to the difficulty is the abundance of fad diets and “quick-fix” plans that tempt and confuse us, and ultimately fail. If you’ve tried and failed to lose weight before, you may believe that it’s just too difficult or that diets don’t work for you. And in one sense, you may be right: traditional diets don’t work—at least not in the long term.
There are plenty of small but powerful changes you can make that will help you to achieve lasting weight loss success. The key is to create a plan that provides plenty of enjoyable choices, avoid common dieting pitfalls, and learn how to develop a healthier, more satisfying relationship with food.
The key to successful, healthy weight loss:
1. Start with Small Steps, like eliminating sugar sweetened beverages.
2. Make Realistic Goals
3. Seek Support from those who can relate to your struggles.
4. Keep Portions Under Control
5. Track Your Caloric Intake
6. Always Make Physical Activity an important part of your life.
Your weight is a balancing act, but the equation is simple: If you eat more calories than you burn then you gain weight. If you eat fewer calories than you burn, you lose weight.
Since 3,500 calories equals about 1 pound of fat, if you cut 500 calories from your typical diet each day, you’ll lose approximately 1 pound a week (500 calories x 7 days = 3,500 calories). Simple, right? So why is weight loss so hard?
All too often, we make weight loss much more difficult than it needs to be with extreme diets that leave us cranky and starving, unhealthy lifestyle choices that undermine our dieting efforts, and emotional eating habits that stop us before we get started. But there’s a better way! You can lose weight without feeling miserable. By making smart choices every day, you can develop new eating habits and preferences that will leave you feeling satisfied—as well as winning the battle of the bulge.
Not all body fat is the same
Where you carry your fat matters. The health risks are greater if you tend to carry your weight around your abdomen, as opposed to your hips and thighs. A lot of belly fat is stored deep below the skin surrounding the abdominal organs and liver, and is closely linked to insulin resistance and diabetes.
Why Is Maintaining A Healthy Weight So Difficult ?
Getting started with healthy weight loss
While there is no “one size fits all” solution to permanent healthy weight loss, the following guidelines are a great place to start:
Think lifestyle change, not short-term diet. Permanent weight loss is not something that a “quick-fix” diet can achieve. Instead, think about weight loss as a permanent lifestyle change—a commitment to your health for life. Various popular diets can help to jumpstart your weight loss, but permanent changes in your lifestyle and food choices are what will work in the long run.
Find a cheering section. Social support means a lot. Programs like Jenny Craig and Weight Watchers use group support to impact weight loss and lifelong healthy eating. Seek out support—whether in the form of family, friends, or a support group—so that you can get the encouragement you need.
Slow and steady wins the race. Aim to lose 1 to 2 pounds a week to ensure healthy weight loss. Losing weight too fast can take a toll on your mind and body, making you feel sluggish, drained, and sick. When you drop a lot of weight quickly, you’re actually losing mostly water and muscle, rather than fat.
Set goals to keep you motivated. Short-term goals, like wanting to fit into a bikini for the summer, usually don’t work as well as goals like wanting to feel more confident or become healthier for your children’s sakes. When frustration and temptation strike, concentrate on the many benefits you will reap from being healthier and leaner.
Use tools that help you track your progress. Keep a food journal and weigh yourself regularly, keeping track of each pound you lose and inch of your waist lost. By keeping track of your weight loss efforts, you’ll see the results in black and white, which will help you stay motivated.
Tip #1: Avoid common pitfalls
Diets, especially fad diets or “quick-fix” pills and plans, often set you up for failure because:
You feel deprived. Diets that cut out entire groups of food, such as carbs or fat, are simply impractical, not to mention unhealthy. The key is moderation. Eliminating entire food groups doesn’t allow for a healthy, well-rounded diet and creates nutritional imbalances.
You lose weight, but can’t keep it off. Diets that severely cut calories, restrict certain foods, or rely on ready-made meals might work in the short term. However, once you meet your weight loss goal, you don’t have a plan for maintaining your weight and the pounds quickly come back.
After your diet, you seem to put on weight more quickly. When you drastically restrict your food intake, your metabolism will temporarily slow down. Once you start eating normally, you’ll gain weight until your metabolism bounces back—another reason why starvation or “fasting” diets are counterproductive.
You break your diet and feel too discouraged to try again. Just because you gave in to temptation doesn’t mean all your hard work goes down the drain. Healthy eating is about the big picture. An occasional splurge won’t kill your efforts. Diets that are too restrictive are conducive to cheating—when you feel deprived, it’s easy to fall off the wagon.
You lose money faster than you lose weight. Special shakes, meals, and programs may be cost-prohibitive and less practical for long-term weight loss and healthy weight maintenance.
You feel isolated and unable to enjoy social situations revolving around food. Without some practical, healthy diet strategies, you may feel lost when dining out or attending events like cocktail parties or weddings. If the food served isn’t on your specific diet plan, what can you do?
The promises don’t hold up. The person on the commercial lost 30 lbs. in 2 months—and you haven’t. Diet companies make a lot of grandiose promises. Most are simply not realistic. Unfortunately, losing weight is not easy, and anyone who makes it seem that way is doing you a disservice. Don’t get discouraged by setting unrealistic goals!
Tip #2: Put a stop to emotional eating
We don’t always eat simply to satisfy hunger. If we did, no one would be overweight. All too often, we turn to food for comfort and stress relief. When this happens, we frequently pack on pounds.
Don’t underestimate the importance of putting a stop to emotional eating. Learning to recognize the emotional triggers that lead you to overeat and respond with healthier choices can make all the difference in your weight loss efforts.
To start, consider how and when you eat. Do you only eat when you are hungry, or do you reach for a snack while watching TV? Do you eat when you’re stressed or bored? When you’re lonely? To reward yourself?
Once you’ve identified your emotional eating tendencies, you can work towards gradually changing the habits and mental attitudes that have sabotaged your dieting efforts in the past.
Strategies to combat emotional eating
- If you turn to food at the end of a long day, find other soothing ways to reward yourself and de-stress. Relax with a book and a steaming cup of herbal tea, soak in a hot bath, or savor a beautiful view.
- If you eat when you’re feeling low on energy, find other mid-afternoon pick-me-ups. Try walking around the block, listening to energizing music, or doing some quick stretches or jumping jacks. Another alternative is taking a short nap—just keep it to 30 minutes or less.
- If you eat when you’re lonely or bored, reach out to others instead of reaching for the refrigerator. Call a friend who makes you laugh, take your dog for a walk, find a fun activity to do, or go out in public (to the library, the mall, or the grocery store—anywhere there’s people).
- If you eat when you’re stressed, find healthier ways to calm yourself. Try exercise, yoga, meditation, or breathing exercises. Better manage stressful situations by either changing the situation or changing your reaction. See related articles below to learn more about stress management.
Tip #3: Tune in when you eat
We live in a fast-paced world where eating has become mindless. We eat on the run, at our desk while we’re working, and in front of the TV screen. The result is that we consume much more than we need, often without realizing it or truly enjoying what we’re eating.
Counter this tendency by practicing “mindful” eating: pay attention to what you eat, savor each bite, and choose foods that are both nourishing and enjoyable. Mindful eating will help you lose weight and maintain your results.
Mindful eating weight loss tips
Pay attention while you’re eating. Be aware of your environment. Eat slowly, savoring the smells and textures of your food. If your mind wanders, gently return your attention to your food and how it tastes and feels in your mouth.
Avoid distractions while eating. Try not to eat while working, watching TV, reading, using a computer, or driving. It’s too easy to mindlessly overeat.
Chew your food thoroughly. Try chewing each bite 30 times before swallowing. You’ll prolong the experience and give yourself more time to enjoy each bite.
Try mixing things up to force yourself to focus on the experience of eating. Try using chopsticks rather than a fork, or use your utensils with your non-dominant hand.
Stop eating before you are full. It takes time for the signal to reach your brain that you’ve had enough. Avoid the temptation to clean your plate. Yes, there are children starving in Africa, but your weight gain won’t help them.
Tip #4: Fill up with fruit, veggies, and fiber
To lose weight, you have to eat fewer calories. But that doesn’t necessarily mean you have to eat less food. You can fill up while on a diet, as long as you choose your foods wisely. The key is to add the types of food that can keep you feeling satisfied and full, without packing on the pounds.
Fiber: the secret to feeling satisfied while losing weight
If you want to lose weight without feeling hungry and deprived all the time, start eating foods high in fiber. High-fiber foods are higher in volume, which makes them filling. They also take longer to chew, which makes them more satisfying to eat. High-fiber foods also take a long time to digest, which means you’ll feel full longer. There’s nothing magic about it, but the weight-loss results may seem like it.
High-fiber heavyweights include:
- Fruits and vegetables – Enjoy whole fruits across the rainbow (strawberries, apples, oranges, berries, nectarines, plums), leafy salads, and green veggies of all kinds.
- Beans – Select beans of any kind (black beans, lentils, split peas, pinto beans, chickpeas). Add them to soups, salads, and entrees, or enjoy them as a hearty dish of their own.
- Whole grains – Try high-fiber cereal, oatmeal, brown rice, whole-wheat pasta, whole-wheat or multigrain bread, bran muffins, or air-popped popcorn.
Focus on fruits and veggies
Counting calories and measuring portion sizes can quickly become tedious. But you don’t need an accounting degree to enjoy produce. When it comes to fruit and vegetables, it’s generally safe to eat as much as you want, whenever you want. No measuring cups or calorie tables required.
The high water and fiber content in most fruits and vegetables makes them hard to overeat. You’ll feel full long before you’ve overdone it on the calories.
- Pour a little less cereal into your morning bowl to make room for some blueberries, strawberries, or sliced bananas. You’ll still enjoy a full bowl, but with a lower calorie count.
- Replace one of the eggs and some of the cheese in your omelet or scramble with vegetables. Try tomatoes, onions, mushrooms, spinach, or bell peppers.
- Swap out some of the meat and cheese in your sandwich with healthier veggie choices such as lettuce, tomatoes, sprouts, cucumbers, and avocado.
- Instead of a high-calorie snack, such as chips and dip, try baby carrots with hummus, a sliced apple, or the old-favorite: celery with peanut butter (just don’t overdo it on the peanut butter).
- Add more veggies to your favorite main courses to make your dish “go” further. Even dishes such as pasta and stir-fries can be diet-friendly if they’re less heavy on the noodles and more focused on vegetables.
- Try starting your meal with a low-density salad or soup (just watch the dressings and sodium) to help fill you up, so you eat less of your entrée.
Don’t love vegetables? You’re probably not preparing them right. Veggies can be delicious and full of flavor when you dress them with herbs and spices or a little olive oil or cheese.
Fruits and vegetables to eat in moderation
Fruits and vegetables of all colors, shapes, and sizes are major players in a healthy diet, but you still need to watch out for the following potential diet busters.
- Veggies that have been breaded or fried or doused in heavy sauces are no longer low-calorie, so tread with caution. Opt for healthier cooking methods, such as steaming, and use low-fat dressings and spices for flavor.
- Salads are guilt-free—unless you drench them in high-fat dressing and toppings. By all means, add some nuts or cheese, but don’t overdo it. As for dressing, a little fat is healthy (try a vinaigrette made with olive oil), but again, moderation is key.
- Dried Fruit. Be careful when it comes to dried fruit, which is high in calories and, often, in added sugar. You can eat a whole lot more fresh fruit for the same number of calories. If you do choose to snack on dried fruit, keep your serving size small.
- Fruit Juice. There’s nothing wrong with enjoying a glass of juice every now and again. But remember that the calories quickly add up, without doing much to make you feel full. Also make sure that your drink of choice is made from 100% fruit juice and contains no added sugar.
Tip #5: Indulge without overindulging
In order to successfully lose weight and keep it off, you need to learn how to enjoy the foods you love without going overboard. A diet that places all your favorite foods off limits won’t work in the long run. Eventually, you’ll feel deprived and will cave. And when you do, you probably won’t stop at a sensible-sized portion.
Tips for enjoying treats without overeating
Combine your treat with other healthy foods. You can still enjoy your favorite high-calorie treat, whether it’s ice cream, chips, cake, or chocolate. The key is to eat a smaller serving of it along with a lower-calorie option. For example, add strawberries to your ice cream or munch on carrot and celery sticks along with your chips and dip. By piling on the low-cal option, you can eat a diet-friendly portion of your favorite treat without feeling deprived.
Schedule your treats. We are creatures are habit, and you can use this to your advantage when trying to lose weight. Establish regular times when you get to indulge in your favorite food. For example, maybe you enjoy a small square of chocolate every night after dinner, or a slice of cheesecake every Friday night. Once you’re conditioned to eat your treat at those times—and those times only—you’ll stop obsessing about them at other times.
Make your indulgence less indulgent. Find ways to reduce fat, sugar, or calories in your favorite treats and snacks. If you do your own baking, swap out half the butter or oil in the recipe with applesauce, and cut back on the sugar, making up for it with extra cinnamon or vanilla extract. You can also eliminate or reduce high-calorie toppings and sides, like whipped cream, cheese, dip, and frosting.
Engage all your senses—not just your taste sense. Instead of chowing down mindlessly, savor and prolong the experience. You can make snack time more special by setting an attractive table, lighting candles, playing soothing music, or enjoying your treat outdoors in a beautiful setting. Get the most pleasure—and the most relaxation—out of your treat by cutting it into small pieces, taking time to smell what you are eating, and by chewing slowly and thoroughly.
Tip #6: Take charge of your food environment
Your weight loss efforts will succeed or fail based largely on your food environment. Set yourself up for success by taking charge of your food environment: when you eat, how much you eat, and what foods are available.
Start the day with breakfast. People who eat breakfast tend to be thinner than those who don’t. Starting your day with a healthy breakfast will jumpstart your metabolism, plus, it will help keep you from binge eating later in the day.
Serve yourself smaller portions. One easy way to control portion size is by using small plates, bowls, and cups. This will make your portions appear larger. Don’t eat out of large bowls or directly from the food container or package, which makes it difficult to assess how much you’ve eaten.
Plan your meals and snacks ahead of time. You will be more inclined to eat in moderation if you have thought out healthy meals and snacks in advance. You can buy or create your own small portion snacks in plastic bags or containers. Eating on a schedule will also help you avoid eating when you aren’t truly hungry.
Cook your own meals. Cooking meals at home allows you to control both portion size and what goes in to the food. Restaurant and packaged foods generally contain a lot more sodium, fat, and calories than food cooked at home—plus the portions sizes tend to be larger.
Don’t shop for groceries when you’re hungry. Create a shopping list and stick to it. Be especially careful to avoid foods at the ends of the aisles and along the perimeter, where grocers tend to sell high-calorie snack and convenience foods.
Out of sight, out of mind. Limit the amount of tempting foods you have at home. If you share a kitchen with non-dieters, store snack foods and other high-calorie indulgences in cabinets or drawers out of your sight.
Soda: The Secret Diet Saboteur
Soft drinks are a huge source of calories in many people’s diets. One can of soda contains between 10-12 teaspoons of sugar and around 150 calories, so a few soft drinks can quickly add up to a good portion of your daily calorie intake. See our Rethink Your Drink page for more information.
Switching to diet soda isn’t the answer either, as studies suggest that it triggers sugar cravings and contributes to weight gain. Instead, try switching to water with lemon, unsweetened iced tea, or carbonated water with a splash of juice.
Tip #7: Make healthy lifestyle changes
In addition to your food and eating-related choices, you can also support your weight loss and dieting efforts by making healthy lifestyle choices.
Get plenty of sleep. Lack of sleep has been shown to have a direct link to hunger, overeating, and weight gain. Exhaustion also impairs your judgment, which can lead to poor food choices. Aim for around 8 hours of quality sleep a night.
Turn off the TV. You actually burn less calories watching television than you do sleeping! If you simply can’t miss your favorite shows, get a little workout in while watching. Do easy exercises like squats, sit-ups, jogging in place, or using resistance bands or hand weights.
Get plenty of exercise. Exercise is a dieter’s best friend. It not only burns calories, but can actually improve your resting metabolism. No time for a long workout? Research shows that three 10-minute spurts of exercise per day are just as good as one 30-minute workout. Take the stairs instead of the elevator or park in the back of the parking lot. Every bit helps.
Drink more water. You can easily reduce your daily calorie intake by replacing soda, alcohol, or coffee with water. Thirst can also be confused with hunger, so by drinking water, you may avoid consuming extra calories, plus it will help you break down food more easily.
Source: Helpguide.org in collaboration with Harvard Health Publications
Authors: Melinda Smith, M.A., Maya W. Paul, and Suzanne Barston