by Barbara Berkeley
It's well known that our country's top New Year's resolution is weight loss. Diet programs, gyms, personal trainers, and fitness equipment companies all bank on it. But they also know that the boom is short lived. The vast majority of those who toast the New Year with a vow to finally take care of those pounds will have forgotten all about it in a few weeks. In fact, the weight that is put on over the holidays often stays with us, forming a new base from which to gain. Those few extra pounds a year can quickly add up to the 30 extra pounds we find ourselves carrying.
So, if you have gained over the holidays, messed up your maintenance or are simply wanting to lose weight for the first time, here are my suggestions. I base these on decades of experience in helping patients with weight loss and maintenance. My job is to tell the truth about what works and to be honest about what doesn't. Here goes:
Dr. B's Tips for Weight Loss In the New Year
- Decide If You Are Serious
- Gather Your Tools
- Clean Out Your Environment
- Make Exercise a Side Dish
- Work, Work, Work
- Replace Your Lost Weight with Something New
1. Decide If You Are Serious
Here is a common scenario in my practice: Mrs. M is failing at weight loss after several months of trying. I suggest that she take a break and start again at another time. She protests! "But I really want to lose 30 pounds", she moans. I have to explain that there are two kinds of 'wanting'. Of course she 'wants' to lose 30 pounds. But does she 'want' to do the very hard work that is involved? In other words, she may really want to, but is she willing to?
This is a question to ask yourself right now. I know you want to lose weight. But do you know what a difficult task it is? Weight loss does not happen with simple strategies that involve eating less and exercising more. If it did, we wouldn't have a country in which the majority of us are overweight. What most diet programs don't tell you is that weight loss comes only when dieters are willing to create some degree of starvation consistently, day after day. The truth: weight loss occurs only when the body is forced to burn itself. It would prefer not to. To avoid burning stored fat, the body can adjust to smaller amounts of food or intermittent eating in order to prevent going into those stores. Only continual, consistent dietary practice will be successful in overcoming this response.
So, are you willing?
2. Gather Your Tools
Ready to go? Here's what you'll need:
- The Right Diet: This is your most crucial tool. You will need to follow your diet every single day to goal. There are many different types of weight loss plans ranging from prepared meals to Points to the Atkins diet. Look them over and see which one dovetails best with your eating style. I personally suggest you avoid plain old calorie counting as it is very hard to get right. I vastly prefer lower carb eating plans for reasons that I've documented here endlessly in the past. If you decide on Weight Watchers, for example, don't give in to the temptation to use your points on carbs. Stick with proteins, veggies and fruits.
- A Goal: Start with a short term goal, then set others if you succeed. DO NOT base goals on BMI charts of "healthy weights". In my opinion, these cut points do not correlate with health, are not realistic, and are often unattainable for those who have been overweight. In our clinic, we shoot for a weight loss of 15-20% of your body weight, as long as this does not take you too low. So, if you weigh 200 pounds, a 40 pound weight loss would be a good goal. Remember, you can always go further if you want to.
- A Reward System: Many people like to diet silently. They don't want to tell anyone they are trying to lose weight and that gets them in trouble. Think of your weight loss effort more like training for a marathon. It's tough and you will need support and encouragement. You should also be proud of what you are attempting. So set up some reward points (caution:not food rewards!!). Reward yourself by charting your weight loss on an app. I like "Target Weight" at the moment. It's free and it's pretty to look at. Set a goal and a goal date. Enter your daily weight and watch a nice downward line appear on your graph. You can also reward yourself by weighing in at a supportive site. Weight Watchers will do this weekly or you can join another program or have your physician's office record your progress. It's highly rewarding to have someone else validate your progress. Don't underestimate it. Many dieters log onto sites like Spark People and post about their weight loss progress. Others start blogs and write about their journey posting weights as they go. You can even post your progress, perhaps with photos, on Facebook. Allow people to congratulate you.
3. Clean Out Your Environment
Most of us believe that food is inert and that we are weak because we give in to it. Nothing could be further from the truth. Food (especially the sugar, starch and grain based foods that make us fat) provokes primal responses in our body. Just seeing food makes it hard to resist. So stop believing that you can walk past those chips and cookies without eventually eating them. One of the most important rules of dieting is to stay out of the way of food and to control the food that is in your environment. To do this, clean out your house and get rid of absolutely anything that is not on your diet plan. Explain to family members that they cannot eat these foods in front of you. Ideally, they should eat them when outside of the home, but if they absolutely cannot live without cookies and junk food, have them hide it from you! In a similar vein, be proactive about keeping food at bay when you are at work. If someone brings in a cake, ask them to put it in the break room rather than leave it on the desk next to yours. Keep your visual surroundings clean.
4. Make Exercise a Side Dish
Exercise is secondary to diet for weight loss. It is not primary. I believe that our focus on exercise for weight loss comes from one thing: not wanting to believe that the only way to lose weight is to consistently eat less than we want to (and specifically a lot fewer carbs than we'd like to). There is much debate about whether exercise causes weight loss and many studies that suggest it does not. I'm willing to bet that there are many who are reading this right now who have exercised a ton and never lost significant weight. It's common. My practice is full of runners, bikers, tennis players and weekend warriors who still fall in the obese category. And of course there is my favorite example: LeBron James, who despite expending more calories a week than any other human being still needed to lose significant weight a couple of summers ago. You are not LeBron, and spinning alone will not make you thin. Make a vow to follow your diet strictly and to add exercise ONLY to the degree that it does not make you hungry or encourage you to feel entitled to eat off plan.
5. Work, Work, Work
How do you get to Carnegie Hall? Practice, practice, practice. How do you lose weight? Two words sum it up: Consistent and Continual. Consistent means that you follow the same plan every day and that you don't give in to exceptions. Continual means that you don't take breaks for birthdays, weddings, cruises or just because it's Saturday. One of the biggest lessons I've learned in 25 years of practice is that a single day of deviation---sometimes a single meal--- can reverse weight loss for an entire week. Work. Get it done!
6. Replace Your Lost Weight with Something New
People who lose weight are often disappointed in the result. It's as if the loss of pounds was expected to change everything about their lives. The first thing that they discover is that the weight loss isn't perfect. They still have cellulite. Their stomach is not flat. They did not become a size 4. The second discovery is that weight loss didn't change anything else either. So I believe that it is vitally important to "expand while contracting". What if, as you lose this weight, you train to run your first 5K? What if you dye your hair red like you've always wanted to? What if you completely change your personal style by letting your daughter "redo" your look? What if you finally try out for a part in that community musical? Then and only then does your weight loss become something that is part of larger change, a change worth protecting.
I wish a happy and healthy New Year to each and every one of you.