By Eli Follick
Individuals trying to lose weight are not created equal. It is important to recognize before beginning a weight loss or wellness journey that everybody begins with a unique set of pre-existing challenges, conditions, mindsets, and body types. Keeping this in mind can help allay frustration that may arise as you proceed.
I know because I started my personal journey at 245 pounds and have now balanced out at between 137 and 141 pounds. To get to this point, I wrote down what I ate, what exercise I did, and tracked the progress along the way. Slowly but steadily, I lost pounds and sizes. I even gained recognition and certification from the New Mexico Department of Health to teach courses.
Many factors contribute to a person’s success or failure in achieving a weight goal, including time, patience, dedication, and a change in lifestyle.
Research has shown that most diets don’t last. A month or two on a harsh diet and we return to ingrained habits, including eating too much of the “wrong” foods. Any weight lost reappears very quickly.
Lifestyle changes that are motivated by a compelling reason are typically the most effective tools to losing weight. This is not doable in a short time, but it is doable if we know why we want to make changes and then commit to adopting those changes in a consistent, ongoing effort.
Medical concerns and health threats, for example, may be some of the most significant drivers to losing weight. Obesity has been proven to be associated with an increase in the occurrences of diabetes, heart disease, high blood pressure, arteriosclerosis, kidney and liver conditions, orthopedic issues, and even some psychological concerns. Many of these lead to other health issues and even death.
The most effective way to begin a weight loss regimen is to keep a daily log. Weigh yourself and write it down, and note what you eat every day. Did you gain a pound or lose one? If you gained, what small change can you make to reverse that?
Consistency in making small changes will teach you over time that you can look and feel better. Importantly, you will learn that controlling servings and portions, preparation techniques, and what you buy at the grocery store is not only possible but is not as difficult as you may think. There are a number of healthy food choice and lifestyle programs I would recommend and have used. Though called “diets,” they are more appropriately called eating plans. They include the Mediterranean diet, the DASH (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension) diet, and the MIND (Mediterranean-DASH Intervention for Neurodegenerative Delay) diet.
All involve consumption of whole grains, fruits, vegetables, beans, water, fiber, low-fat poultry, fish, some low-fat dairy, leafy greens, and nuts, while reducing the amount of red meat, processed foods, fried foods, and empty calorie-laden foods like cake, candy, sugary drinks and high-fat dairy and cheese products. You can still have some of these things, but rather than eating a double or triple cheese burger with French fries, try a baked fish single sandwich without too much sauce.
A digital kitchen scale can help with both portion control and calorie-counting. For example, a reasonable portion of a low-fat protein source will weigh about 3 to 4 ounces – a size that easily fits in the palm of your hand. Using that weight, go to your smart phone or computer and search for the number of calories contained in your weighed item. You’ll get an answer that you can record in your food log. At the end of the day, total the list and see if you’ve reduced the number of calories you’ve eaten versus previous days. A good set of measuring cups, measuring spoons, and some sealable storage containers will also assist with portion control.
Your doctor can help you determine the number of daily calories you should consume for your sex, activity level, and weight goal. For men, about 1,600 to 1,800 calories daily is often recommended; for women, 1,500 to 1,700. But each person is different, and it’s important to consult your primary care physician. In addition to fewer calories, you must make sure that you are eating foods that will give you all the essential nutrients you need to improve and maintain your health. These include the basic vitamins, minerals, proteins, essential fats (Omega 3), fiber, and hydration (water, unsweetened tea, etc.). The amount of these nutrients needed each day varies with each individual.
Some good sources for more information include the World Health Organization and the Centers for Disease Control. The federal government also publishes Dietary Guidelines for Americans, which is updated every five years. Go to health.gov, and click on “food and nutrition.”
I have also learned how to make substitutions which are healthful and don’t reduce the tastiness of a dish. Try using a sweet potato instead of a white potato, and keep the serving to about a third of a cup. Try using fat free or 1 percent milk. Use a nonstick pan rather than oil or butter to sauté foods. Add a leafy salad as a side instead of potato salad, and avoid using too much dressing, as they are often loaded with oils, fats, and salt. Steam or grill vegetables, and don’t soak them in butter.
A visual trick to eating less is to organize your plate by dividing it into three sections. On half of the plate, build a reasonable salad, including greens and vegetables with a very small amount of salad dressing. Fill one of the remaining quarters with a low-fat protein (e.g., 3-4 ounces of baked or broiled salmon). For the remaining quarter, include some whole grains – maybe brown rice or beans which provide additional protein and fiber.
Keep in mind that a lifestyle change cannot happen overnight. You’ve been brought up in a family with certain food offerings, in a culture saturated with unhealthy processed foods, and in an environment that bombards us with commercials featuring giant portions of foods that do nothing to help you on your journey to health.
It took me five years to get where I wanted to be. If you gain a pound now and then, don’t beat yourself up. Look at your logs and think about what you could have done differently. Remember: Nothing tastes as good as being healthy feels.