With all the dieting and weight loss advice out there, it’s hard to differentiate fact and fiction. As an exercise physiologist and certified personal trainer I can say with confidence that the top goal I hear from clients, subjects, friends and family is weight loss. So I’m going to hit on the top five easy changes you can make to get yourself started on the right path towards a healthier you.
1. Drink water. No, I don’t just mean swap water for every juice, soda or nightcap you currently consume (though not drinking calories would help dramatically). I mean carry around a cup of water with you everywhere you go and constantly sip. You will quite literally have to train yourself to do this at first, but eventually it becomes a habit. The water not only keeps you well hydrated, but it can also help stave off hunger by filling your tummy. Please note- I am not suggesting water can substitute for a meal. What I am saying is that research has shown drinking water both throughout the day and immediately prior to meals has increased weight loss. (http://www.vtnews.vt.edu/articles/2010/08/082310-cals-davy.html)
2. Make one more “move” a day. One of the scariest up and coming causes of obesity, cardiac events, atherosclerosis and death is a sedentary lifestyle, and if you think you don’t fall into that category of deteriorating physical activity, think again. If you have any type of desk job, chances are that you are in a seated position for about 80% of your work day. Even if you are one of the few that follows work with an intense gym trip have to realize that that activity does not cancel out the other 15 hours of sitting that comprised your day. Aside from the obvious weight loss detriment of burning fewer calories while sitting, there are many, many other health risks associated with inactivity. http://apps.washingtonpost.com/g/page/national/the-health-hazards-of-sitting/750/ I’m not saying you need to change your whole lifestyle and start doing jumping jacks at your desk, but even just a couple minutes of moving every hour can lower your risks (not to mention increase your daily steps and calorie burn).
3. Practice food swap instead of solely calorie drop. Yoplait has it mostly right in their commercials about finding “Swapportunities,” but I’d argue that not every “bad” food needs to be swapped for yogurt. Instead of counting calories, try practicing calorie awareness. It is not necessary to have a food scale and measuring cups in order to be mindful of what and how much you are eating. Besides, scaling out your food daily is likely not the most sustainable lifestyle change, and let’s face it- the only way weight stays off is with life-style change, not crash dieting. This video was truly eye opening for me: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KMGUmcveQeg. I’ve taken nutrition courses and have learned the ins and outs of metabolism, but there is nothing quite comparable to visual representation of calories. It’s three minutes long, and WELL worth your time. The take home message for it? Find foods where you truly get the most bang for your buck. You can eat a plate of carrots, apples or zucchini for the same caloric content of one chocolate bar. This goes back to the drinking water before you eat concept—what you’re really doing is filling your stomach with less calorie dense foods. I even sometimes make up a bunch of veggies before I eat my real meal. I pack in all my nutrients and space hoarders first, so that I’m less likely to gorge on the more calorie dense foods.
4. Sneak protein into every meal/snack/etc. Research studies differ on the long-term benefits of high protein, low carb diets, but most suggest that in the short-term they are more effective than diets with high protein and medium carb intakes. (http://ajcn.nutrition.org/content/87/1/44.long). Ignoring all of the metabolic reasons for consuming more protein, the satiety factor alone makes it worth your while to add in more protein. In simplest terms, protein takes a long time to digest ( not quite as long as fat, but longer than carbs). Carbs are a great quick fix to hunger as we can eat them and feel satisfied almost immediately, but the feeling is fleeting and before long we are pantry cruising again for the next snack. Studies have shown that eating protein (even in small quantities) with each meal or snack helps you feel fuller (http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/8862476). Even though in this study the higher protein breakfasts didn’t lead to decreased eating habits throughout the day compared to high carb or high fat breakfasts, the high protein meal did lead to feeling more full and less hungry. If the protein does nothing else but keep your tummy from being rumbly, that’s a good enough reason to go for it.
5. Treat yourself in moderation, but do treat yourself. One of the worst things you can do during a diet change is to deprive yourself of all indulgences. More often than not this will lead to binging episodes that have greater calorie content than the treat you bypassed in the first place. Now, if your “treat” is a slice of cheesecake, you are going to need to find a similarly satisfying, less calorie dense “swap” as there is no such thing as a cheesecake diet (if only). But there is nothing wrong with having something small and sweet at the end of the day. (http://www.fitday.com/fitness-articles/nutrition/healthy-eating/3-reasons-its-important-to-treat-yourself-when-dieting.html)
So there you have it folks, my five best pieces of advice for a lifestyle change. I’m not and will never be a promoter of crash dieting and all of my tips are meant to be small stepping stone changes to a better, healthier lifestyle that, if you are carrying some extra pounds, should slowly help drop them off. As I’ve spoken to mostly the nutritional side of the changes though, please note, no lifestyle change is complete without EXERCISE. Minimum recommendations include 30 mins of moderate intensity exercise (meaning you are working hard enough that speaking is difficult) 5 days a week. Understand that for weight loss, that goal will be doubled, if not tripled. So if your goals are more immediate, you will have to seriously amp up your exercise. As delicious as those calories are to consume, each pound of fat on you is worth about 3500 calories. In simple terms this means to get rid of that 1 pound of fat you have to burn 3500 calories. Lucky you, you can negate those calories by a combination of diet and exercise, but it will still be work, and if you do it right, it will take time.
So put one foot in front of the other, grab a water bottle and some veggies and get going towards being your best you.