With summer around the bend, you may be anxious about how you’ll look in more revealing clothing, especially a bathing suit. If your solution involves losing a few pounds, now is a good time to develop a road map for a successful weight loss plan.
Where do you start? Clearly, there’s no shortage of weight loss programs or books. Some of the more established ones include products like Slim Fast, Atkins, The Biggest Loser, Body for Life, Jenny Craig, Nutrisystem, Ornish, Skinny Bitch, South Beach, Weight Watchers and The Zone. The latest entrants include the 17 Day Diet, the Dukan Diet and the 4-Hour Body. Each plan has its merits and drawbacks. But, what’s important is picking the plan that helps you to safely lose weight and keeps you motivated.
Even though weight loss plans differ, most experts agree that weight loss is ultimately achieved through a calorie deficit. The problem is that for most of us, maintaining a reduced calorie diet is unsustainable. As a result, the vast majority of dieters regain the weight back. Why? In most cases, a shift toward a long-term health-promoting eating pattern and lifestyle is not made.
So, what’s the secret to losing weight and keeping it off? A place to find answers is the National Weight Control Registry (NWCR) which tracks individuals who have succeeded at long-term weight loss. The Registry’s research along with other evidence demonstrates that dieters who address the four following areas will be successful at achieving and maintaining weight loss: 1) setting goals & tracking progress, 2) managing caloric intake, 3) engaging in daily physical exercise and 4) relying on community support.
Below, I discuss each of these factors in greater detail. Eager to start losing weight now? Then you won’t want to miss our companion article,10 Best Weight Management Tools, where I review the most popular online comprehensive weight loss programs that incorporate these four success factors.
Set Goals & Track Progress
Just about any outcome worthy of achievement requires that goals be set and progress be tracked. Losing weight is no exception. The obvious first step is to take your weight and body measurements. In fact, self-monitoring of weight is a common theme among NWCR members.
Other benchmark measures include taking photographs (from all angles) and documenting your current fitness level (e.g., can walk a mile, lift a 2 pound weight).
Before starting a weight loss program, you’ll want to visit with your doctor. Your doctor will check your blood pressure and other vital signs before giving you the green light and may order a blood panel. A panel includes measures like fasting blood glucose, triglycerides, total cholesterol, HDL or “good” cholesterol, LDL or “bad” cholesterol. When you make changes to your diet and lifestyle, you should see positive changes in these numbers.
Manage & Track Caloric Intake
To lose weight you’ll need to cut calories. In fact, 98% of Registry participants report that they modified their food intake in some way to lose weight. Women in the registry reported eating a low-calorie, low-fat diet with an average of 1,306 calories a day and 24.3% of energy from fat. Those who were most successful maintained a consistent eating pattern across weekdays and weekends.
Even if you exercise, managing caloric intake is still a prime focus because exercise only addresses a third of the equation. For example, an average sized woman who safely wants to lose about a pound a week requires about 1,200 a day. While an hour of rigorous exercise will give her an additional 400-500 calories to play with, two-thirds of her effort (1,200 calories) must come from monitoring the foods she eats.
At our sister company, The Wellness Center, Dr. David Rahm requires that each patient complete a food journal to track everything he/she eats and drinks for four days. It’s amazing how this simple exercise opens up a patient’s eyes to the quantity and quality of foods they’re consuming. Importantly, it facilitates a frank discussion of what constitutes a healthy meal, portion size, etc. From there, changes in behavior can take place.
Tracking what you’re eating is important because most of us underestimate how many calories we’re consuming. Before the internet, tracking used to be a tedious process. Now, a number of internet based comprehensive weight management programs are available free of charge. These programs allow you to easily determine the caloric and nutritional content of just about any food. I review these programs in the article 10 Best Weight Management Tools and I strongly recommend that you use one if you’ve tried to lose weight and have not been successful.
As I found out, once you start tracking your food intake, you may be surprised by what you learn. Earlier this year, I started using MyFoodDiary. The simple act of having to enter in everything I put in my mouth has made me much more aware of what I eat and how often. Logging foods has also helped me to identify problem areas. I seem to do well at breakfast and lunch but have a more difficulty in the evening. I was pleased to know that I was getting more fiber than expected and consuming less sodium, simple sugars and fat. But, I also realized that my nightly glass of wine was adding 200 calories a day. Probably the most revealing is how few calories I really need. To safely lose 0.8 pounds a week, I require just 1,700 calories a day (if I exercise). That’s about 450 calories for lunch and breakfast, 100 calories for a snack and 700 for dinner and a treat.
From tracking the foods you consume, you’ll find that if you stick with fresh fruits and vegetables, lean meats and unsaturated fats and avoid simple sugars (sugary beverages, desserts), simple carbs (pasta, bread, cookies, crackers, muffins) and packaged foods, you will lose pounds and inches. Determine what treat you really love e.g., glass of wine, piece of chocolate and be sure to factor that into your daily equation so that you don’t feel deprived.
Exercise on a Regular Basis
Engaging in regular physical exercise will help you to not only lose pounds but maintain your weight. Ninety-four percent of NWCR members increased their physical activity, with the most frequently reported form of activity being walking. And, to maintain their weight loss, Registry members reported engaging in high levels of physical activity (approximately 1 hour per day).
Exercise has multiple benefits; the clear one is that gives you more wiggle room with calories. But, exercise also helps replace fat with muscle. Muscle burns more calories than fat which increases your metabolic rate. Exercise also helps relieve stress and uplifts your mood.
If you want to increase your odds of exercising, enlist the help of a friend, spouse or co-worker. If someone is relying on you to show up at the outdoor track, then you’ll be more inclined to stick to the routine. If you can afford it, hire a personal trainer. You’re far less likely to blow off the gym especially if the trainer charges for no shows. If you can, exercise in the morning. Research shows that morning exercisers have a better track record of staying with the regimen.
Participate in Group/Community Support
Relying on friends, family members or a spouse can provide you with the emotional support needed to help ride out the tough times and ensure your continued success. Group support is a key element of weight loss programs like Weight Watchers. Community support is also a central feature for numerous weight loss sites like SparkPeople which offer a plethora of resources such as:
– SparkTeams – Groups created by members based on goals and interests
– Challenge Central – Join a fun challenge to reach a new goal
– SparkPages – Meet SparkFriends via personal homepages with photos and more
– Success Stories – Amazing photos and strategies from our most successful members
– Message Boards – Interact with experts and members in our discussion forums
– Secrets of Success – The best tips from other members, voted on by you
– Member Blogs – Stories and updates written by our members
– Community Highlight – Read this week’s most inspiring member post
By incorporating these 4 elements as part of a healthy eating pattern and lifestyle, you will lose weight over time. Just keep in mind, that if it took years to gain the extra pounds you’re trying to lose, don’t expect the weight to come off quickly. Instead, slow and steady wins the race.
David H. Rahm, M.D. is the founder and medical director of The Wellness Center, a medical clinic located in Long Beach, CA. Dr. Rahm is also president and medical director of VitaMedica. Dr. Rahm is one of a select group of conventional medical doctors who have education and expertise in functional medicine and nutritional science. Over the past 20 years, Dr. Rahm has published articles in the plastic surgery literature and educated physicians about the importance of good peri-operative nutrition.