Many people still associate weight loss with the “eat less, exercise more” mantra. While it is valid to some extent, and often tried, with obesity rates rising, the mantra is not working that effectively across the board. Clearly, something else is needed.
Every person is different and what works for one, does not necessarily work for the other. However, there are some fundamental principles of weight loss that can be practiced by everyone who wants to successfully lose weight and keep it off.
While some of them are not ground-breaking and you might have heard them before, the question is: are you following through? Knowledge without application is just stored data in your mind, and so you need to put it into practice to transform your body and health.
I’d love to suggest trying at least two of the tips below, and start implementing them this week.
1. Preserve your willpower by building a sustainable routine.
Recent research suggests that willpower – the capacity to exert self-control – is a limited resource that is depleted after exertion. When we exhaust it, we’re more susceptible to giving in to temptation.
A lot of people who are trying to get in shape and be healthy, choose to decide on a daily basis what and when to eat, when, how much to exercise and when to wake up, etc.
These constant, daily decisions require willpower. You may do pretty well in the beginning, but after a while constantly having to choose the healthy option becomes tiresome and that’s why many people don’t stick with healthy choices.
Building a fixed daily and weekly routine as well as incorporating healthy habits, takes away the decision making process, giving you much more chance to stick to it and saves a lot of mental energy.
This means that you decide once that you’re going to follow the routine, and then don’t need to make those small daily decisions that rob you of your willpower. Basically, you decide not to decide.
Take some time, whether by yourself or with a coach, to design a routine that fits your schedule, fitness level and goals. Be realistic and keep in mind the potential obstacles that you might come against.
If you stick to your routine, you’ll be on weight loss autopilot.
2. Quit snacking.
Are you one of the people who love snacking two or three times a day? Or even worse – grazing all day long?
If you cannot get to a healthy weight, this could be the reason why.
When you eat too often, you increase your blood sugar and insulin levels, which makes your body store energy as fat.
Eating constantly doesn’t allow your body to properly digest the food, or rest and balance your hormones.
Contrary to a popular belief that you should eat every three hours, some studies show that such snacking patterns might in reality reflect unhealthy eating habits and impede weight-loss progress.
My own experience of working with many clients shows that switching to three meals a day can really help control cravings, balance blood sugar levels and lose excess weight.
Frequently, people crave a snack not because they’re truly hungry but because their blood sugar levels have dropped. True hunger is not the same as a blood sugar low caused by consuming processed sugar or carbs, or by caffeine intake.
If you are used to snacking or eating 5-6 meals a day, switching to only three meals may feel very liberating, as you’ll have more time, experience fewer cravings, and won’t need to be thinking about food all the time.
3. Forget calories and focus on nutrient-dense plant foods.
Our bodies require certain micronutrients (essential vitamins and minerals) to stimulate cellular growth, metabolism and proper functioning of the body. Deficiencies of these nutrients might lead to increased hunger and intense cravings, even though the calorific needs of an individual are met. This often happens to people who eat a highly processed diet that is rich in calories but low in nutrients.
My advice is to switch to a nutrient-dense whole-foods diet. Don’t count the calories, count colors! Eat as many colorful fruits and veggies as you can, with as much variety possible.
Focus on eating lots of leafy greens, fresh fruits, raw and lightly cooked vegetables, gluten-free grains (e.g. brown rice, quinoa or buckwheat), legumes, raw nuts and seeds.
These foods are nutrient dense and will nourish your body, providing it with the vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, fiber and other nutrients it needs.
For someone who’s trying to lose weight, fiber intake is especially important, as it helps you stay full, aids digestion and supports the elimination system. Currently, an average American eats about 15g of fiber per day, whereas the recommended daily amount is 25-30g. The studies show consumption of an additional 14g per day of fiber for more than 2 days is associated with a 10% decrease in energy intake, and a body weight loss of 4.2 lbs. over 3.8 months.
4. Avoid “HOPS” foods.
HOPS stands for Hormones, Oils, Processed foods and Sugar.
While avoiding sugar and processed foods is pretty self-explanatory, hormones and oils may need some explanation.
Animal products like meat and dairy are contaminated with hormones, which might disrupt your own endocrine system, pollute your body and prevent you from losing weight. If you’re not ready to go on a 100% plant-based diet, at least minimize meat, seafood and poultry intake and replace dairy with a vegan milk alternative (like a homemade almond milk).
While our bodies need healthy fats for proper functioning, it’s best to get your fats from whole foods: raw nuts and seeds, avocados, coconut meat, olives, etc. Oils are 100% fat, therefore they’re too concentrated. If you cook with oil and add oil to salads, you’re probably eating a high fat diet, which impairs blood sugar regulation.
The study shows that only a 20 gram increase in dietary fat (which is equivalent to 1.3 tablespoon of oil) is associated with a higher fasting insulin level. A high fasting insulin level is a sign of insulin resistance or pre-diabetes.
Many studies show the link between a high dietary fat intake and obesity or being overweight.
It’s important to note that the link between fat intake and being overweight is not limited to the high-calorie content of fatty foods; the ability to oxidize dietary fat is impaired in some individuals genetically predisposed to obesity.
Therefore, while in the last couple of years high fat diets have gained popularity, and seem to work for some people, many people (especially those genetically predisposed to obesity) don’t do well on these diets and can suffer serious long-term health implications.
If you avoid or at least reduce these four food groups: hormone-containing animal products, concentrated fats, sugar and processed foods, you’re already on a way to a healthier and lighter body!
5. Strategically prevent falling off the wagon.
Make a list of the situations in the past where you fell off the wagon. Draw a table on a piece of paper or create one on your computer. In the first column list the potentially tricky situation where you might have fallen off the wagon in the past, or where you predict you might fall off in the future.
In the second column write out your strategy for preventing this from happening again.
In the third column write what you would do if it has already happened – the quickest and the best way to get back on track as soon as possible. Getting back on track immediately is vital because sometimes people make only one little mistake, and then decide that they have already screwed up, and tell themselves “what the heck, since I’ve already failed, let’s have the whole pint of ice cream or a family size pizza all by myself”. A small mistake only matters if you fail to get back on track straight away.
List all the potential tricky situations, prevention strategies and solutions. Keep it handy and refer to it when you need it.
6. Focus on what you can control rather than temporary results.
People get discouraged after they’ve been exercising and/or dieting for a few weeks and don’t see the results they want. Taking early inventory, i.e. weighing and measuring yourself every day and expecting to get quick results, is a perfect recipe for self-sabotage.
You might feel that you were pushing yourself hard and maybe even sacrificing some things (like those cupcakes or chocolate bars!), but your body remains the same, so your weight loss plan is not working! If there are no results, it’s not worth doing it!
Huge mistake. Sometimes your body weight needs some time to “catch up” with your actions, therefore leave the scale and measuring tape behind, and focus on actions, not results.
You can only control your actions, like what and how much you put in your mouth, how often and how intensely you exercise, how much you sleep and rest, etc. You cannot control how your body will react to those actions.
Therefore, focus on exercising your body 3-5 times a week, eating a clean and healthy diet and trust that the results will follow. You can reevaluate your plan in 2 months. If it’s truly not working after 8 weeks, then maybe you can tweak and change things. But just a couple of weeks is not enough to really determine whether it’s working or not.
Let me know how you get on!