As the days get shorter and the temps get cooler, our activity levels drop, and we tend to eat more. A lot more. In fact, the average American gains 2+ lbs over the six weeks between Thanksgiving and New Years. And it’s not just the holidays that lead to weight gain. The CDC estimates that over 40% of Americans are overweight or obese. That statistic is alarming, but what is downright frightening is that the CDC also states that obesity is linked to our Nation’s top killers: diabetes, heart disease, stroke, and even some types of cancer. So, what do we do to avoid succumbing to statistics like this? If we need to lose weight, how do we do so successfully? (Hint: it DOESN’T involve trendy diets or repeatedly starving ourselves of calories.)
Over many years I’ve worked with countless clients on some aspect or another relating to weight loss- whether that be a primary goal, or a secondary one. During that time, I’ve found there are a handful of changes people make who are successful at losing weight and keeping it off. Here are my top six:
-Log your daily food intake.This is something I’ve said before in post because it works. When we are cognizant of a behavior, that behavior is more likely to be regulated and controlled by us. The act of simply paying attention to what we eat can help us be better informed of our dietary habits and steer us away from poor food choices..Being more conscious of how and what we eat helps us educate ourselves on how our bodies work when we eat certain foods. This does not have to be over complicated, one of my most successful weight loss clients simply used a post it note pad on her nightstand to record everything. She ate that day. When we met twice a week, she would bring in those posted notes and I would review them as she warmed up. Together we would look at what was going well, what trends I was seeing that may or may not be apparent to her, and together we would formulate a better plan for the following week. Some clients prefer to use one of the many apps out there to help us record daily food intake. There are several that I can recommend, but at the end of the day, we just have to get in the habit of paying attention to what we eat. Writing it down ingrains the habit.
-Be accountable to someone. An accountability partner is a great way to help us stay on track in many aspects of life, and especially with our nutrition goals. A coach, personal trainer, workout, partner, or even spouse, and be a great help in holding us accountable to our goals. By having a trusted ally working with us, we can be stronger together in our quest, to improve our self-control, and our dietary choices.
-Set a specific, time bound goal. The importance of having definitive goals cannot be overstated. Just saying “I want to get in shape”, or “I want to lose some weight “, does not cut it. We need to focus our energies towards a goal. It should be realistic, time bound, specific, measurable, and attainable (a SMART goal). It could be something like dropping a dress size, losing a certain amount of weight, being able to do a certain number of sit ups, or run a certain distance, etc. all by a certain time. This will help keep us motivated, and accountable to ourselves. High school reunions, weddings, vacations, etc. can all serve as motivators to help us in setting a time frame in which to achieve our goal. (A caveat to this is that we simply don’t want to hit our goal then revert back to our former lifestyle- this goals serves as a stepping stone leading us toward a healthier lifestyle going forward)
-Create an environment conducive to success. This is multi-faceted, in that we need to surround ourselves with people who are supportive of our goals. If a spouse is focused on losing weight, and the other one has no interest in changing his/her dietary intake to support the spouse,, it is VERY difficult for busy adults living under the same roof to eat two different ways. Ultimately, the easier route is taken, and that normally is the one not conducive to weight loss. Having a sit down with your spouse, partner, roommate is critical in sharing your goals, and getting by in from them. They will need to be supportive, and that means they may have to sacrifice to help you achieve your goal.. Having a conducive environment to weight loss also requires getting rid of junk food, “cheat days, " and other guilty pleasures that are not going to be helpful in our weight loss journey. At times, I’ve spent several hours with clients re-organizing their kitchen and pantries, so that the healthy items are most prevalent, and I walk out with a huge garbage bag full of food items that will not help them achieve their goals. Now, let me be clear, this doesn’t mean that you can never have indulgent food ever again- but we have to break the habit of doing so with consistency. For most, it means cutting it out cold-turkey for the first few months.
-Adhere to a structured exercise regimen. A specific time, a specific place, and a specific exercise program is critical for keeping us on track. While diet is the most important thing in weight loss, we can improve on metabolism, improve our health, and literally feel better by exercising on a regular basis. Figuring out where, what, and how we exercise effectively is critical it could be that busy parent decide that from 5:30 to 6 am is the best time for a spouse to do their work out, and may have a set aside a guest bedroom in which to exercise, or maybe the apartment, clubhouse, or even a full-size gym is the best place for them to train. YouTube videos, online training plans, personal trainers, coaches, gym classes, church fitness groups, etc.. all provide structure in terms of what to do each day. Everyone is different, and the key is finding what works for you.
-Adhere to an effective exercise regimen. Last but not least, the workout regiment needs to be effective. First of all, it needs to be something sustainable. If you hate to run, and your training plan has several runs each week, that is a recipe for failure. Find something that feels mildly enjoyable for you to start your program. A good start could be dance class, weight lifting in your garage, jumping rope in the backyard, power walking around the neighborhood with a friend. Secondly, overtime we want to incorporate the key fitness components that most effectively increase your metabolism, including steady state aerobic activity, high intensity activity, and resistance training to build muscle. All of these contribute to improving metabolism. As a guideline, the CDC recommends a MINIMUM of 150 min per week of moderate-high intensity exercise per week, with TWO resistance training sessions per week. This is a good starting guideline to aim for.
So, at the end of the day, it’s in everybody’s capability to lose weight, and improve our health and fitness. But we need to put the pieces in place so that we can achieve success in this regard. It’s not necessarily going to be easy. But it will be worth it in the long run- we can’t put a price tag our our health! So let’s start by recording our food intake, having an accountability partner, setting a realistic goal, and creating and sticking to a structured, effective plan. These keys will be paramount in maximizing our efforts to lose weight and become the healthiest versions of ourselves possible.