By Janet Mann, MS, RD, LD, dietitian with certificates of training in adult and pediatric weight management, Providence Nutrition Services
Let's get to work on that New Year's resolution, shall we? According to Time magazine, losing weight tops the list of resolutions made – and broken – each year. We're not going to talk about the broken part, though. I'm here to help you succeed.
It's no secret that eating more vegetables and cutting back on sugary sodas, fatty meats and bakery sweets will help you chip away at those extra pounds. You should do these things – by all means – but you don't need a dietitian to tell you that. Instead, I'll share some strategies that you may not have heard about – or perhaps you have heard about, but haven't tried. The latest research points to these seven strategies as the meat and potatoes – or, perhaps, the chicken breast and greens – of successful weight loss. Give them a try, along with the other things you know you should be doing, and this very well could be the year that you achieve some real change.
- Weigh yourself regularly.
For decades, everyone warned us not to focus on the scale. But a wealth of new research now makes it pretty clear that this was bad advice. Monitoring your weight regularly, we now know, can make a big difference.
The National Weight Control Registry studies the habits of more than 10,000 people who have lost 30 pounds or more and maintained their weight loss for more than a year. Among their success strategies: 75 percent weigh themselves at least once a week. Follow their lead, and take it a step further: write it down.
Keeping a written record keeps your goal top of mind. It also makes it easier to track your true progress. Daily fluctuations can make your ups and downs look more dramatic than they really are – to get the true story, dietitians recommend looking at your average weight loss over a three- to four-week period. That's easier to do if you have the numbers written down. And for the record, a healthy rate of weight loss is an average of one to two pounds per week.
- Write down what you eat.
Keeping a food journal is a proven success strategy for weight loss. Knowing that you have to write down everything you eat and drink will make you a little bit more conscious of – and discerning with – your food choices. There are plenty of tools that make this as easy as possible, from old-school pencil-and-paper journals to sophisticated phone apps and websites. The amount of detail you get into is up to you – some people write down only what they eat and drink, without the amounts, and still see results. The important thing is just to start doing it.
- Calories do count – but you don't have to count them.
We all know that exercise is a good thing. But it's hard to lose a lot of weight through exercise alone. On the other hand, a lot of people succeed at losing weight through calorie control alone. If you've been ignoring the calories-in side of the equation, you'll get a lot more bang for your buck if you start paying attention.
There are several ways to control calories without actually having to count them. One way is to put together a meal pattern that aims at a targeted calorie level, and then eat according to that pattern. Another way is to determine how many servings per day you can eat from each food group to stay within your calorie budget. A dietitian can help you set up either of these types of plans, based on a realistic calorie target that you can establish together. A third option is to get some tech support – there are multiple websites and phone apps that can track calories for you. Some can help with the journaling, as well. You'll find a few here.
- Move more.
While it is true that many people can lose weight without exercising, it's not true for everyone. For people who are extremely inactive and burn very few calories through their activities of daily living, it may not be possible to cut calories far enough to lose weight. An overweight woman who is disabled, for example, or who sits for most of the day, may burn as few as 1,200 calories a day. Even if she strictly limits what she eats to 1,200 calories (and I wouldn't recommend going below that), she would probably remain overweight. Finding a way to work in some safe movement could make the critical difference.
And of course, even if it is possible for you to lose weight without exercising, that doesn't mean it's advisable. You'll lose it faster, maintain your weight loss longer and be better off in a multitude of ways if you make activity a bigger part of your life.
- Eat three meals a day, even if you're not hungry.
Some programs recommend eating only when you're hungry, which can cause problems ranging from slower metabolism to ravenous, throw-caution-to-the-wind-and-eat-everything-in-sight hunger. Other programs suggest eating every two hours, which is a meal-planning nightmare that leaves people thinking about food all day long. The balanced approach, and the one that works best for weight loss, is the tried and true: eat three square meals a day, at regular times each day. Space them four or five hours apart. If you find that there's another time each day when you always get hungry, add a low-calorie, satisfying snack. If you're not hungry when mealtime rolls around, eat anyway. That may sound counterintuitive, but eating on a regular schedule keeps your metabolism and energy high and staves off hunger and binges later.
- Start every day with breakfast.
About those three meals: eat the first one within an hour of getting up in the morning. The longer you wait to eat your first meal of the day, the more you prolong your metabolism's calorie-conserving sleep mode. Breakfast stokes the furnace and gets your metabolism roaring to life. Studies show that people who eat breakfast every day are more successful at losing weight, as well as keeping it off.
- Spread out your protein.
The typical American eating pattern is to eat most of the day's protein at dinner. But new research suggests that spreading your protein evenly throughout the day is better for weight loss. Here's why: as we get older, we start to lose lean body mass – the metabolically active muscle tissue that burns calories throughout the day. Eating protein helps restore this muscle mass. If you eat all of your day's protein at dinner, you only get this rebuilding effect once a day. But when you spread your protein across all your meals, the research suggests, you can achieve this benefit three times a day.
I'm not suggesting that you go on a high-protein diet. Eating just 20 to 30 grams per meal appears to be the magic number (more is not better). You can get that amount from just three ounces of cooked chicken breast (21 grams of protein), or six ounces of fat-free Greek yogurt (14 grams) and an egg (7 grams). As a weight-loss bonus: protein leaves you more satisfied, so you'll be less likely to overeat.
And that's it. These seven strategies are pretty uncomplicated. They don't involve crazy eating patterns, expensive supplements or mega-workouts – on the contrary, they're pretty easy to fit into a normal life. So why isn't everyone doing this? Good question. Once your friends and family members start commenting on your weight loss and asking what your secret is, go ahead and let them in on it. And be sure to pat yourself on the back for every pound you lose, because every pound that is kept off is a success. Happy New Year!
Providence Nutrition Services offers individual nutritional counseling to help people set realistic calorie targets, develop eating plans and stay accountable.
Want more resources to help you set and meet your goals? Let us help you achieve and maintain a healthy weight.