Many of my patients believe that if you are born heavy, then heavy you shall stay. The corollary, of course, is that thin people will always be thin, no matter what.While it is true that people born with the propensity to be large may never be thin, they can be thinner. More importantly, however, they can be healthy. The variety of diets we could explore is practically unlimited, but here we will simply discuss the principles of weight loss. This subject is complex and as I discovered in my years of practice, emotional. I do intend, however, to leave you with some tools you can use to start your new program today. Let's start by assuming that you have already seen your doctor and ruled out medical reasons for obesity, such as hypothyroidism, polycystic ovary syndrome, or weight gain due to drugs such as steroids or antidepressants. It's my experience that most of my patients know how to lose weight, but for one reason or another find the required lifestyle changes extremely difficult. Why has this stumped so many? Weight loss can be such a struggle that many are convinced that they have to do something drastic to see results - extreme diets, weight loss pills or exercise gadgets marketed on infomercials. Clearly it would be easier to take a few pills, drink acai shakes, and have the pounds just melt away. The massive weight loss industry makes a fortune selling these types of false promises. The facts show that you simply do not need to spend huge quantities of money on special equipment or weight loss products to succeed. In fact, eating out is costly and often extremely unhealthy. When we prepare our foods at home, we can control exactly what goes into our mouths. Losing weight isn't a mysterious process; it's a straightforward matter of burning more calories than we eat. There are really only three steps to successfully losing weight: 1) consume fewer calories 2) exercise more 3) repeat steps one and two. Studies have found that the true secret to weight loss is this: Make small changes each and every day and you'll slowly but surely lose those extra pounds. Don't step on the scale every day, but rather look at the big picture, down a long but safe road. Let's start with consuming fewer calories. • Drinking more water is simple and effective, and most of us should be drinking more anyway, in order to better hydrate our bodies. Drink one or two glasses of water before every meal, and you will feel more full before you start. • Make a list of foods you eat, and decide which ones to cut out, cut back on, or replace. I suggest to my patients that they select one major area of abuse first, before moving on to the next. This can be emotionally complicated, as some of these foods may be considered reward foods. Going after the "low hanging fruit" can give the most benefit, and it can do so quickly. A common example would be that morning latte, bearing up to 500 calories. Since a pound of weight (lost or gained) is roughly 3,500 calories, switching to black coffee can help you lose a pound a week. • Lifestyle changes are hard: instead of simply cutting out some of your worst food choices, try replacing them with healthier choices. Replace your soda with water. Replace chips, crackers and candy with vegetables or lower fat/lower sugar alternatives. Note that eating small meals and snacks throughout the day has been shown to aid weight loss by stimulating the metabolism. Graze on healthy snacks that are low in calories and fat, and high in fiber. Fiber slows the body's absorption of carbohydrates, keeping us feeling full longer. You can generally find high levels of fiber in nuts, rice cakes, fruits, and vegetables. (Note that fruit juice has no soluble fiber, and is high in sugar and thus calories.) • Eat slowly, and watch your portion size. Eating an entire bag of rice cakes, dried fruit or nuts will not help with weight loss. One effective but costly trick to reduce portion size is to buy the item in a single-serving packet. You may wish to make up your own single-serving packets. • Plan your meals. Look for healthy, tasty meals online or in a cookbook, and create a menu for the week. When meals are planned, you are more likely to consume a balanced diet and less likely to eat haphazardly or at fast food restaurants. You are less likely to consume on impulse. Set up an achievable plan - if it's not practical, you can easily get disheartened and stop following your regimen. • Choose lean meats like turkey, chicken or fish, as opposed to red meats or hot dogs. Salmon, sardines, and fresh tuna are excellent sources of antioxidants and omega-3 fatty acids. Replace high calorie side dishes with healthier alternatives. Side dishes like macaroni and cheese, French fries and potato salad can add a massive number of calories. Replace them with fresh vegetables and mixed green salads. Pre-made salads can help make this change effortless. • Write down everything you eat. Carry a small notebook and write down every snack, every drink, and the contents of every meal. In my opinion, it is not necessary to know precisely how many calories are in everything you eat, but the process of writing things down will help you become aware of the food you consume, and help to keep you honest as well. What about exercise? • For cardiovascular health, 30 minutes three to four times per week is sufficient. For weight loss, guidelines suggest about 50 minutes five days per week. Of course, if you are a beginner, start with less and build up gradually. Remember, you can lose weight either by decreasing your calorie intake or increasing the number of calories you burn. Any health strategy should include both, especially if you want to lose weight faster. • Make your aerobic activities low impact. Moderate exercise incorporates brisk walking, cycling, aerobic machines, or swimming, in order to burn calories and to keep your heart healthy as well. Swimming has the added advantage of putting less stress on your joints. Pumping iron helps you stay lean by building muscle and raising the metabolism. Remember that exercise can be fun; it doesn't have to be boring and it shouldn't be painful. For example, Nintendo's Wii Fit can be highly motivating, and includes running, yoga, aerobics, strength training, and balance. Be realistic. Don't expect miracles. Speak with your doctor about a correct and realistic weight target. Your goal is to have a healthy body, not a skinny one. Aim toward this healthy objective and remember that you are creating a sustainable healthy lifestyle. You may find that your first approach is not realistic or fun; be open to making adjustments in your exercise or caloric intake along the way. Be confident and believe in yourself. Remind yourself that your plan will make you feel better about yourself, physically and emotionally. Work to avoid the temptations of all those old reward foods. Be consistent, disciplined, and self-motivated. Surround yourself with systems and people who will keep you on track. My best advice: Start NOW! Now that you are finished reading this, get up and take a 20-minute walk. Do not wait one more day! I wish for you thoughtful and healthful eating and exercising.
********** Published: September 23, 2010 - Volume 9 - Issue 23