If losing weight were easy, then virtually everyone would be successful at it, and a $64-billion weight loss industry wouldn’t exist in the United States. The reality is that losing weight is challenging, because it requires breaking old habits and committing to new ones, which constitutes major lifestyle change.
To lose weight, you must eat less and exercise more – which sounds relatively simple, but actually can be difficult to faithfully practice, day-after-day, week-after-week, month-after-month. Many people in the U.S. have sedentary jobs, or spend too much of their free time seated or lounging, resulting in unhealthy levels of inactivity. Combine that with an abundance of inexpensive food and beverages available 24/7, and it’s understandable why people gain weight, and how this environment can hinder efforts to shed pounds.
The good news is that success is possible and lots of resources exist. When considering how to kick start a weight loss program, it’s important to understand the facts about healthy eating, effective exercise and lifestyle tips to keep you motivated. Read on for recommendations that will get you moving on the right path to slimming down.
Healthy Eating for Weight Loss
To lose one pound, you must create a 3500-calorie deficit, which is most successfully accomplished through diet and exercise, such as reducing food intake by 250 calories per day and burning 250 calories through exercise daily, for a total daily decrease of 500 calories. Over seven days, or one week, this daily 500-calorie decrease totals 3500 calories, or one pound.
Of course, the numbers may fluctuate a bit each day, with a bigger diet deficit or a longer workout leading to greater caloric expenditure. But by consistently taking in fewer calories than you burn, you will drop pounds. Experts recommend losing 1-2 pounds each week, because more than this tends to be water weight or be regained quickly. So steer clear of programs that promise you can shed 20 pounds in a month, as they aren’t healthy or sustainable.
Many diet plans exist, and some people prefer to be told exactly what to eat, while others like to mix and match on their own. Research which program seems most manageable to you, and ask a family member, friend or co-worker who has lost weight what worked for him/her. Seek plans that are balanced with a variety of foods and don’t force you to eat one food, like grapefruit, all the time.
Regardless of your diet selection, remember the following to ensure healthy eating:
- Variety is best – While it’s fine to eat the same breakfast everyday, it’s better to mix it up a bit to vary your nutrient intake and keep enjoying different options so you feel satisfied. With recipes all over the Internet, it’s easy to search for tasty low-calorie, low-fat options that don’t feel like you’re depriving yourself and are helpful at keeping you on track.
- Choose natural foods – This means fruits, vegetables, whole grain breads and pastas, legumes, low-fat dairy products, lean meats, eggs and lots of water. Minimize intake of processed foods, such as energy bars, crackers, lunchmeats, frozen meals, sodas, juices and alcohol.
- Don’t skip meals – You may think you will save calories this way, but foregoing regular meals leads to intense hunger, binges and a slower metabolism. To kick start a weight loss program, you must commit to eating regular meals at routine intervals to keep your metabolism humming along and your blood sugar stable. This will give you more energy and a greater ability to comply with your diet and exercise routine.
- Emphasize moderation – Although calorie restriction requires that you make smart choices, no food must be banished for the rest of your life. It’s difficult to commit to never eating chocolate again, for instance, so it’s acceptable to allow yourself a small treat sporadically so that you don’t suffer intense cravings and ultimately binge. It’s unrealistic to say that you’ll never eat pizza again, so swap veggie toppings for meats and thin crust for deep dish, and control portions. And eat slowly to enjoy your food, rather than mindlessly gobbling it down while surfing the Internet.
Consistent exercise is just as important to a successful weight loss program as proper nutrition. Following a diet only or simply exercising without changing your food choices isn’t likely to yield the long-term results you want.
- Embrace cardio – Cardiovascular exercise, where you raise your heart rate and keep it elevated for 20-60 minutes, is essential to burn calories and fat. Choose from brisk walking, jogging, running, cycling, the elliptical machine, stairclimber, rower, swimming, inline skating and more. You should work hard but not so hard that you can’t sustain this intensity for at least 20 minutes. The longer you go, the more calories burned.
For extra effectiveness, try interval training, which alternates intervals of moderate intensity with high intensity bursts where you increase your pace or resistance level from 30 seconds to 90 seconds. Interval training has been shown to boost caloric expenditure and metabolism.
Do cardio workouts 4-6 times per week for weight loss, aiming for 1-2 sessions of interval training.
- Strength train – Working your muscles against resistance, such as dumbbells, barbells, weight machines and elastic bands boosts strength and increases metabolism, so your body burns more calories even at rest. Plus, strength training creates a toned appearance and makes it easier to do activities from playing golf to carrying groceries.
Work the major muscle groups (glutes, quadriceps, hamstrings, abductors, adductors, core, upper and lower back, chest, shoulders, biceps and triceps) for 1-3 sets of 10-15 repetitions. Ask a trainer to show you the best exercises for these muscle groups, or check out workouts online or in fitness magazines.
- Move more – In addition to formal exercise, get your body moving more often to blast calories. That means standing and pacing when on the phone, doing calisthenics and stretching when watching TV, walking the dog after dinner, running errands on your bike, using a standing or treadmill desk, parking farther from your destination and choosing activities like bowling or golf versus going for coffee or to see a movie.
- Be patient – Weight loss is a process and takes time. Don’t get frustrated and quit early because the pounds aren’t coming off fast enough. Stay the course.
- Forgive yourself – Everyone slips up at some point on a weight loss plan. Don’t beat yourself up, but recognize the mistake, move past it and get right back on track.
- Enlist support – Find a workout buddy, share recipes with a friend, join a group like Weight Watchers or participate in an exercise class to help keep yourself making progress. Or hire a personal trainer for a few sessions to custom-design workouts that will help get you closer to your goal.
- Reward yourself along the way – When you reach a milestone or stick to your diet or workout regimen for a month, give yourself more incentive with a massage, a new workout outfit, a heart rate monitor or a mani-pedi.
Get enough sleep – Weight loss is work, and you’ll persevere better if you are well-rested. Plus, research shows that lack of sleep can cause weight gain.