New Year’s Day is creeping up and the most popular resolution is … you guessed it: Losing weight via diet and exercise. Splendid, it’s about time!
There’s just one problem: Diets suck, and they don’t work. Sure, the initial results are impressive and intoxifying.
Most of us opt for a fast weight loss program, quickly dropping five, 10, even 20 pounds, never mind that the loss is predominantly water and muscle. Who cares, so long as the number on the scale is moving south? We are thrilled and empowered by our seeming success, filled with energy and enthusiasm. By golly, we even join the gym.
Fast-forward a few months (or in my case, a few days) and it’s a different story altogether. Our weight loss inexplicably stalls. Intense cravings set in, leaving us feeling hungry, deprived and downright cranky — oh, I’ve been there a few dozen doleful times.
We lose control of our eating, regain the weight and feel a sense of shame and failure. At this point, forget the gym. Really, what’s the use when we can’t even manage a simple diet? Why are we so darn weak?
We’re not weak. The diet we forced upon our bodies is weak. For decades, I’ve trumpeted how we have dieted ourselves into obesity. It took 10 years of yo-yo dieting before I realized I was fighting a war against my body that I could not win unless I drastically changed my behavior. I did just that, and I lost the weight for good.
I now offer you a brief outline of my “get lean” plan so you can make this year’s weight loss resolution your final one.
First, you must understand why low-cal diets fail, otherwise, you will continue to be seduced by them. Making a long, complicated process short, your metabolism (the rate at which you burn calories) tanks when you deprive yourself of adequate nutrition via dieting. Your body clings to fat and instead burns muscle as its main source of energy — the opposite of what you want. Blood sugar levels go haywire as you deny yourself food for hours at a time. Your brain sends urgent signals to chow down, and cravings become undeniable.
It’s simply a matter of time before you surrender to a half-gallon of butter pecan. Once you’ve blown it, you make a half-baked commitment to start over tomorrow.
How to break the cycle?
Start by writing down every failed diet you have attempted. If you felt hungry and deprived, the diet stank. If you lost 20 pounds only to gain back 25, it was a dud. Look over the list carefully. These are diets you will never go on again. Repeating past failures is not a part of your new program.
Start with the fundamentals of my plan:
Eat every three to four hours to keep your blood sugar stable.
Make lean protein the central focus of each meal (check with your doctor first if you have gout or kidney disease) and most snacks. Aim for a split of 35 percent protein, 35 percent unrefined carbs and 30 percent healthy fats. Do your best to limit added sugars to 30 grams per day.
Do not force yourself to go hungry and do not eat past the point of feeling comfortably full.
Build muscle and increase metabolism through strength training.
Sounds easy enough. Now you set a goal and create a plan of action.
A goal of losing one big chunk of weight is overwhelming and far too easy to lose sight of. Figure out how much body fat you want to lose. Be realistic, please. If you are 58-year-old woman, don’t shoot for the 110 -pound figure you sported in your teens. Choose a healthy body fat percentage that is appropriate for your age, gender, frame and build.
Next, take the number of pounds you plan to lose and divide it by 10. The result is your first weight loss goal. Aim to lose a maximum of one pound per week if you have less than 50 pounds to lose; 1.5 pounds per week if you have more to lose. Once you reach your first goal, repeat the formula above to calculate your next goal.
Weigh yourself no more than once a week, please. Better yet, ditch the scale and simply track your progress by how your clothes fit.
Whoever squawked, “But this weight loss is too slow!” I hear you, I commiserate and I firmly deny your request for fast results. Slow and steady wins the fat-loss race.
From here, move to your master plan:
Hold yourself accountable by recording your eating and exercise program with an online app such as MyFitnessPal or Lose It!. These are simple to use. You will keep track of your protein, carb and fat intake, making adjustments to match my prescribed ratios. I suggest tracking your intake for at least three weeks.
Notice I did not say to count calories. Counting calories takes the joy out of eating and quickly leads to obsessing over each bite you take. If you follow the advice I’m giving, counting calories should not be necessary. Can you give me a hallelujah, please?
During the first two weeks, measure your portions to ensure your recording is correct. Use measuring spoons for sauces, dressings and dips, cups for dry items and liquids, and a food scale for meat. After two weeks, you should be able to eyeball your portion sizes with accuracy.
Prep food in advance. Eating will undoubtedly go astray if you aren’t prepared. Every Sunday evening, my husband and I spend a solid hour prepping food for the week. We pack three to four days worth of sliced veggies and dip, sandwiches, cottage cheese, smoothies, almonds, eggs and more into Tupperware containers. Each morning, we just grab and go.
Wherever you go, pack snacks and/or meals with you. I don’t leave the house without my portable cooler. Purchase one for yourself and load it with wholesome options. (Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org for my “happy weight loss” grocery list.)
Have breakfast within one hour of getting up and eat every three to four hours. Set an alarm on your phone if you need a reminder to eat. Starting your day fueled and eating consistently throughout the day reduces cravings and stabilizes blood sugar levels.
Limit refined carbs. This a big one. As much as you can, choose whole food over processed.
Eat vegetables with wild abandon. I love snacking on raw veggies with dip. Make sure dips or dressings are under 50 calories per 2 tablespoon serving. If you eat salad or soup, pile on the veggies. I regularly eat broth-based soup for lunch and load it with broccoli, cauliflower, mushrooms and a little extra protein (chicken, ham or turkey). Delicious, and remarkably filling.
Once a week, enjoy a meal of anything your heart desires, on one condition: Stop eating when you are comfortably full.
Schedule your workouts, and make sure they include strength training. I recommend lifting weights at least three times per week, supplementing with cardio and stretching an additional two to three days per week. Your workouts must be non-negotiable, just like grocery shopping or meeting with a business client. Get them on your calendar, repeating weekly.
Use this outline to build a healthy, enjoyable eating program. Stick with my plan, and the word diet will never again be included in your yearly resolutions.
Now pour me some champagne so I can toast to your success.