Happy New Year!
Did you ring in 2023 with a New Year’s resolution to shed some pounds? If so, you are not alone: public opinion surveys show that the top New Year’s resolution made by Americans is connected to losing weight and improving our health. That’s a good goal – many of us could stand to lose a few pounds, and maintaining a healthy weight is a great way to decrease the likelihood of developing a host of health problems. Heart disease, diabetes, hypertension, joint problems – these are just some of the negative health outcomes that can result from an unhealthy body weight.
Unfortunately, studies also show – despite our best intentions on January 1 – most of us abandon our resolutions pretty quickly. In fact, statistically, we don’t even make it to February before throwing in the towel! In light of this, we probably need to reconsider our strategy.
“For most people, the key to successful weight loss is to simplify it and make it sustainable,” says Dr. Jason Ledbetter, an internal medicine physician in Fort Worth. “A weight-loss program that is overly complicated means it is more likely to be abandoned quickly.”
Successful Weight-loss Planning
How can we create new, realistic goals that we will stick with? Here are a few tips:
- Identify your “why?” Why do you want to lose weight? What is the end goal? Defining your objectives helps maintain focus and motivation. Is it because your doctor told you to for health reasons? Is it to feel better and have more energy? Is it to wear the jeans you haven’t been able to fit into for three years?
Whatever the reasons, write them down and use them as your motivation to meet your goal.
- Be realistic! Don’t set a goal of losing 30 pounds in three months. Safe, sustainable weight loss means losing 1-2 pounds a week. It’s a journey, so accept that it will require some patience and tenacity but be well worth the effort. Plus, losing weight the right way makes it more likely the pounds will stay off for the long term.
- Be specific: You need to set a specific, actionable goal. Resolutions like “I’m going to eat healthier” or “I’m going to lose weight” are amorphous and unmeasurable. They set you up for failure.
With a little thought and planning, you can turn these vague – and easily-broken – resolutions into specific, goal-oriented measures that will help you be successful.
“I’m going to eat healthier” becomes:
- I will cook at home at least five nights a week and limit eating out to two nights a week.
- I will limit desserts to one a week.
- I will only order pizza or drive through a fast-food restaurant twice a month.
- In lieu of red meat, I will eat chicken or fish at least five times a week.
- I will eat five servings of fruits and vegetables each day.
“I’m going to lose weight” becomes:
- I will lose five pounds by March.
- I will drop one size in my clothing by May.
- Make it enjoyable: If your weight-loss plan is built around deprivation of the food you enjoy combined with an unforgiving diet and exercise routine, you are setting yourself up for failure. Allow yourself an occasional day to indulge a little and reward yourself for making progress.
- Build in accountability: You have to create some sort of accountability for yourself to keep you on track. Different techniques work for different people: maybe you have a partner who is setting a similar resolution and you work as a team. For those who like to share details about their lives on social media, you could post progress towards your goal with your network of friends and followers. The positive feedback you get may be affirming. Whatever approach you take, be sure to commit your goals to writing and refer back to them often.
- Focus on your progress: As long as you are moving in the right direction towards your weight loss goal, you are succeeding! Congratulate yourself for what you have accomplished, rather than beat yourself up for not yet reaching your goal. Remember, a weight loss of 5-10% of your total body weight produces tangible benefits for your health.
Healthy Eating: Back to Basics
It’s easy to over-complicate weight loss. There are so many diets out there, many of which entice you to subscribe to their product or program with promises of fast weight-loss. Perhaps one of those will be something you are interested in trying, but losing weight does not require a special service, subscription or product.
Let’s review the basics: one pound of weight is equivalent to 3,500 calories. In other words, if you eat 3,500 calories and didn’t burn any of them off, you would gain one pound. However, this does not happen in reality – our bodies naturally burn calories on their own throughout the day. Then we burn additional calories with typical activity, such as walking to the car, cleaning the house and cooking dinner.
“It’s pretty straightforward: to lose weight, you have to burn more calories than you consume,” explains Dr. Lynne Tilkin, a family practice physician in Fort Worth. “In other words, we achieve weight loss by eating less – and eating better – while exercising more.”
Tips for Losing Weight
Regardless of what type of weight loss program you pursue, there are several ways to start reducing your caloric intake:
- Cut out sugary drinks like sodas and fruit juice. Soft drinks have zero nutritional content and their high sugar content is bad for your health, waistline and teeth. And while fresh fruit is quite nutritious, fruit juice is less so – it lacks the healthy fiber contained in fruit and contains high amounts of sugar.
- Eat less fatty and processed meats.
- Cut back on sugar and foods with white flour and white rice
- Eat more fruits and vegetables. Not only are fruits and vegetables packed with nutrients and vitamins, but they are also loaded with fiber. Fiber is good for your digestive system and helps you feel fuller. Avoid canned fruits and vegetables – they tend to contain a lot of unhealthy sodium and sugar.
- Center your diet around healthy foods: whole grains, legumes, nuts, fresh fruit and vegetables, lean meat and fish.
- Keep in mind portion control: it’s not just what you eat, but how much. Control your portions by eating slowly, not eating in front of the TV and not feeling like you must clean your plate every time
- If you drink alcohol, drink in moderation. This is important for a multitude of health reasons. In terms of weight loss, alcoholic drinks are high in calories, so cutting back will also help your weight loss goals.
- Don’t eat right before bedtime.
- Healthy snacks can help curb hunger and prevent overeating at lunch and dinner. Items like fresh fruits, raw nuts and lightly buttered popcorn are good choices.
- Don’t skip breakfast! Eating a good breakfast helps give you energy for the day and helps you avoid over-eating later.
Quick Reference Guide: Eat This, Not That
|Eat More:||Eat Less or none:|
|Lean meats and fish||Processed meats like hot dogs; fatty meats|
|Whole wheat pasta and bread, brown or whole-grain rice||White rice, white flour products|
|Water||Fruit juice and soft drinks|
|Fresh or frozen vegetables||Canned vegetables|
|Unsalted raw nuts, lightly buttered popcorn||Sugary snacks or chips|
|Low- or non-fat Greek yogurt with fresh fruit||Sugary cereal|
|Fresh fruit||Cookies, candy and other sweets|
It’s not just what you eat but how much. Ordering grilled salmon instead of a hamburger is a great choice for dinner! But if your salmon serving is 12 ounces, you’re getting three times the amount you should be eating.
Generally, your meat or fish portion of the meal should be 4 ounces – about the size of the palm of your hand.
Are you making some whole-wheat pasta for dinner? That’s a great decision as well, but keep in mind that a serving size of pasta is 1 cup, dry.
“Two of the most useful kitchen tools you can own are a measuring cup and a kitchen scale,” explains Dr. Melissa McFadden, a family practice physician in Fort Worth. “Weighing and measuring your foods before you prepare them is the most sure-fire way to prevent over-eating and consuming too many calories. You’ll also waste less food and save money in the long run.”
Keep in mind that when you eat out at a restaurant, serving sizes are generally way larger than what is considered healthy or normal. Share your dinner with someone or take home the leftovers.
You may find it helpful to track how much and what types of food you are eating. There are dozens of phone apps available to help you eat better. You can use them to track meals, help count the number of calories you’ve consumed, get meal suggestions and create your own meals. Most basic apps are free, with more advanced versions available for a price.
The top nutrition apps have vast databases of food items that allow you to easily log what you ate and automatically generate calorie counts, as well as measurements of fat, carbohydrates, sodium, sugar, vitamins and minerals. With some apps, you can even use your phone’s camera to scan the barcode on the food item, sparing you the hassle of having to type it in.
These apps are a good tool to keep track of what you eat and can help you identify possible culprits if you find your weight creeping up. For patients with a health condition such as hypertension, high cholesterol or diabetes, food-tracking apps can be extremely beneficial tools by helping you track and manage your sodium, sugar and fat intake.
Take it Slow and Steady
When we gain extra pounds, it doesn’t happen overnight – it happens over time as we get older. And just like we don’t gain it all overnight, we can’t lose it all at once either. Effective weight loss – when the pounds come off and stay off – happens gradually over time. No matter what approach you choose, healthy weight loss is based on healthier eating, portion control and regular exercise. Focusing on those fundamentals and avoiding fad diets or ones that are built around depriving you of everything you like to eat, are the keys to long-term success.
Many people can’t – and should not be expected to – do it alone. Talk with your health care provider about your weight loss goals and get his or her advice on what might work best for you. Remember, it’s a journey – but one well worth taking to boost both your health and self-confidence.
This article has been reviewed and approved by a panel of Privia Medical Group North Texas physicians.
This article contains information sourced from:
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention