So if you are starting your year off with a goal to lose weight you’ve come to the right place! As a nutritionist I love when people are motivated to change and the new year is a great place to start fresh. Weight loss can be beneficial to your health because is has been shown in research to improve health conditions like diabetes, hypertension, cholesterol, etc. However, losing weight is difficult and when starting out it is kind of like saying “I’m going to build a house but I’m not a carpenter”. That is why, I and other nutritionists, are here to help lay the plan out for you to make it easier and to help you achieve your health goals this year.
Before I get into any specifics I want to take a moment to talk about my own journey with weight and why I feel that is so important.
I can tell you from my own experience that I struggled with weight since I hit puberty. I went from being 105 pounds as a young elite athlete to quickly 120 pounds to then 135 pounds. Throughout high school I fluctuated weight and picked up eating disorder habits to lose weight which I brought with me to college. In college I was able to break that cycle but I stayed at my highest weight around 140 pounds. While I had broken the eating disorder habits I was still eating poorly overall and believed many food myths. I relied heavily on the idea of the superfood mentality and I would eat one healthy food over and over again with very little thought of diet as a whole. I also was a big binge eater because I exercised 3 hours a day and basically never ate a cookie until I ate a cookie but it wasn’t just a cookie, it was the whole box. Among many other bad habits like sleep deprivation, stress, neglecting my hunger and satiety, and of course drinking in college I look back and think well of course thats why you were overweight. However, that’s so much easier said than done. When I talk to people and as I am writing to you I hope you can also think about your eating habits over time. How have they changed? Have you made healthy steps already? Taking a look at where you are currently will help you understand how weight gain happened over time and what is holding you back from weight loss presently.
So how did I break the cycle. Well I learned a lot about nutrition and took those easy things that I learned and made lifestyle changes in my real life. Will I ever be 105 pounds again? No, but I’m happy with where I am now.
So why don’t diets work? Most are to restrictive and involve too many changes at one time. While many diets like low carb or high protein our popular and have significant weight loss results at 6 months the long term results are varied. Most find at 1-2 years out most people regain weight lost and no significant differences in weight loss between diets. If you are looking to follow any diet this year I would challenge you to go out of your comfort zone and try MyPlate.
So if diets don’t work, what does? There is a lot of research on lifestyle changes, as I mentioned above, that improve your chances at long term success at keeping the weight off. Lifestyle Changes are basically goals that cause a long term change in eating habits that then cause changes in overall health outcomes over time. Your goal should be to make one change at a time so you know what works for you and make your goals SMART.
Here are my top ten ideas that have been shown to help aid in weight loss and improve health.
- Add a vegetable at every meal. We know from the Dietary Guidelines for Americans that Americans eat less than 1 serving a day of vegetables when we should be eating 2-3 servings per day. We also know that vegetables are low in calories and sugar, and full of antioxidants that help us fight off cancer! Along with those properties they are also full of fiber which we also do not eat enough of according to Dietary Guidelines for Americans. Fiber helps us feel more full, keeps are bowel movements regular, prevents colon cancer, and keeps your gastrointestinal tract full of good bacteria which more research has come out to say may be influencing our weight too.
- While exercise hasn’t been shown to aid in weight loss it is one of the contributing factors for keeping weight off. Essentially those who are active are the most successful in long term weight loss. Even if exercise does not affect your weight it surely improves your cardiovascular system, lung capacity, muscular strength and improves bone health. Start out small! Remember you can’t help yourself if you’re injured and make sure to contact your doctor before exercising if you have an underlying medical condition.
- PACK YOUR LUNCH. Since I’ve started working in the workplace I can’t believe how often people eat out. Unless you have healthy options available packing your lunch can save you money and extra calories. When they’ve looked at diet quality of packed lunches versus lunches eaten out, packed lunches have a much higher diet quality overall. Therefore if you eat out often, this may be a good place to start.
- Drink more water. Sugar sweetened beverages are one of the biggest contributors of extra calories in our diets. Remember four grams of sugar equals 16 calories and 1 teaspoon of sugar. Added sugars will also soon be part of the nutrition facts label because it is a nutrient that we need to lower in our diets according to the Dietary Guidelines for Americans. Less than 10% of our calories per day (approximately 200 calories) should be from added sugar. If you drink soda, gatorade, lemonade, flavored water, energy drinks check out the sugar on the back and do some math. If you drink one gatorade four times a week thats 600 calories extra per week with an extra intake of 140 grams of sugar, approximately 35 teaspoons of added sugar total! In one month thats 2400 calories right there cut out by switching to water.
- Measure out your portions. I mentioned in my journey above that binge eating was a real issue for me and I believe there are also many other people struggling with this too. Start out small by measuring portions when you are at home and compare them between what the recommendations are for portion sizes. Be prepared to fin that some food groups might be too big, some might be much smaller than initially thought. Even nutritionists can not eyeball this! Cornell University has done extensive research on this concept but summed up in a nutshell – our plate sizes and glasses can have a big difference on how much we eat. Therefore, measuring out can help some people have a more objective view on how much they are actually eating. I bought tupperware containers that have the amounts on them and that has been a quick easy way to “measure” without actually measuring.
- Make healthy food easy to grab! Cornell University also says this is a huge contributor to what we eat. Putting fruit out on the table increases our fruit consumption. Hiding or putting not as healthy foods in an opaque container decreases our consumption. Basically the easier it is to grab the more likely we are to eat it! Check out Dr. Brian Wansink’s Website Slim By Design to makeover your kitchen.
- Start weight bearing exercise. Most people pick up cardio to lose weight but forget about weight bearing exercises. Your metabolism is based on muscle mass so if you increase muscle mass your calorie intake needs increase. That is why men have a much easier time losing weight because they have a much higher natural muscle mass. So split some of the cardio off and add in some weights to your exercise routine.
- Meal planning can not only help your weight but your budget too. Meal planning dinners can help balance meals and make cooking easier. It also makes it less tempting to eat out if you already have dinner prepared. It has similar benefits to packing your lunch in that diet quality is higher when preparing a meal at home.
- Don’t deprive yourself. Let yourself have a little. My biggest downfall growing up was this. There is so much research on mindful eating it’s benefits for overall health and increasing diet quality. We often forget how important it is to just ask our body – am I hungry and what do I want? I really encourage you if you have binge eating habits to read books like Eating Mindfully or Intuitive Eating. There are also so many other great books and authors in this field so you are bound to find other great reads along with these.
- Carbohydrates are not the enemy! I say this in a loving manner but I know so many people that believe this to their core due to the Gluten free, Paleo, and other diets out their that may mislead with their beliefs. Research however shows that contrary to belief there are healthy options to eat that will also help with your waist line. Low carbohydrate diets have also been found in research to be one the hardest to follow. Therefore, I see most people giving up with these diets within two weeks because it’s just too hard. My advice, is to stock up on whole grains – they are full of fiber and protein that help keep you full and have other vitamins that white breads are stripped of. Of course use portion control too. Refer to MyPlate! Great options are buckwheat, oatmeal, quinoa, whole grain pasta, whole grain bread, etc.
Hopefully, there is something here you can put into play this year. Feel free to share your experiences with lifestyle changes you have tried in the comments. I hope you have a very health filled 2018!