Tuesday, December 16, 2014

10 Tips for Weight Loss

1.  Food counts more than exercise for weight loss.  

As much as I am an advocate for exercise, increased exercise usually = increased appetite which = no weight loss.  It is suprisingly easy to eat enough to counteract even the most rigorous of activities. For example, thirty minutes of running burns about 350 calories.  That's equal to about five Oreos or two bags of chips.  And most people who exercise don't run, which burns more calories per hour than most other exercises.  Thirty minutes of weight lifting burns just 100 calories, or 1.5 Oreos.  Walking might burn 116 calories.  Eat one small chocolate chip cookie and that calorie burn is gone.

With numbers like the above, you can see why I believe that the most important thing you can do to lose weight is to track and control your calories.  It's not fun and it's not glamorous, but it makes the biggest difference.  It's also why most of my tips for weight loss in this post will be about food, even though long-term health is more connected to exercise.  So yes, exercise your heart out.  Begin today and build stronger muscles and a healthier heart.  Gain more energy and feel better.  But don't expect to lose weight by exercising unless you pair it with a controlled diet.  
It's all about the food!

2.  Track your Calories.

There are a lot of great ways to do this and modern technology make it easy.  My favorite app for tracking is MyFitnessPal, though there's also Weight Watchers (for a fee) and Lose it (free). Weight watchers uses a formula that uses points instead of calories and their formula gives slightly more points for healthier foods, but basically, these all work the same.  

With MyFitnessPal, you enter in your personal information and then set your goal of how much you'd like to lose each week, from .5 to 2 lbs (more on why a few pounds a week is better and smarter later).  Once you've done that, it gives you a calorie target to stay within each day and then you start tracking.  The more you use the app, the easier it is to track because it keeps track of your recent foods and makes it easy to put them in again.  You can also save a group of items that you often eat together (like a PB&J sandwich) as a meal so you don't have to enter in individual items.  You can enter in your exercise and get the calories burned added to your calorie total for the day

One advantage to the Weight Watchers plan that the other trackers don't have is that Weight Watchers allocates a daily budget plan plus weekly flex points.  They are enough to allow you one meal's grand indulgence, or a small snack every day.  You choose how to use them.  I wish the other apps would incorporate something like this.  When I did weight  watchers, I loved to save up my weekly points for date night and then feel like I could eat anything I wanted.  It might mean I was a bit more hungry on other days, but knowing it was for a good cause (Cafe Rio, anyone?) made it work.  So if you're leaning towards paying for a program, Weight Watchers does have some advantages.  Weight Watchers also calculates points in a way that doesn't count fruits and vegetables (most are free!), which gives you a ton of incentive to eat healthier.  I've seen that backfire, however, as those who already eat a lot of vegetables and fruit find they don't lose weight on Weight Watchers because they are eating more calories than the plan estimates they will.

In any case, the trick with tracking is you have to do it.  Don't allow yourself to snack without writing it down.  In plenty of studies, they've shown that those that keep a food log lose more weight than those who just estimate.  And it's easy to see why.  Holding yourself accountable for what you eat is a powerful tool.

If this is the first time you've tracked your eating, it will be very eye-opening.  It can be hard at first to adapt your regular diet to one of restricted calories.  For me, to lose one pound a week, I get about 1500 calories a day.  To lose two pounds a week, I can only eat 1200 calories a day.   It's amazing how quickly calories can add up.  You might find yourself choosing what you think is the healthiest option on a menu only to find that the calories in it are outrageous.  That Caesar Salad at the Costco food court?  nearly 700 calories.  And those delicious Costco muffins?  also nearly 700 calories.  

3.  Learn to Make Smart Substitutions to Eat Less

As you track your calories, start making changes to what and how you eat.  Use that enlightening information on calories to cut back on calorie-dense foods (chocolate, peanut butter, oils) for things with lesser calories.

Are you used to eating a piece of toast with a tablespoon of butter?  Well, now that you can see that the bread (80 calories per slice) is less calories than the butter on top (100 calories per Tbsp.), you can think about how much butter you really need.  Or you could substitute other spreads (jam is 56 calories per Tblsp), use less, or add something more filling instead, like an egg (80 calories per egg, or 17 calories for just the egg white).  My husband's favorite go-to right now is a 100 calorie omelette he makes with an egg and a lot of salsa (you can eat a whole cup of salsa for 70 calories!).  Other people like protein shakes.

My favorite breakfast food is homemade granola.  But when I started tracking and realized how many calories were in that, I realized I could easily cut my breakfast calories from 300ish down to 180 by switching to oatmeal instead.  I also have found that I enjoy the taste of almond milk more than regular milk, and it has almost half the calories.

Another change should be your snacks.  It is so easy to overeat when you snack all day.  My running partner suggests portioning out what you plan to eat for the day at the beginning of the day and then keeping it in a bowl on your counter so you can eat when you like but don't overeat.

I've found that there are certain 100 calorie snacks that fill me up more than others.  I love the frozen Greek yogurt I found at Costco, for example.  I can also eat a ton of popcorn cooked in the tiniest amount of oil for very few calories.  

The longer you try, the better you'll be at finding what works for you.

3.  Budget your calories to save plenty for the evening.    

This was the hardest for me to do at the beginning.  Back when I first started doing weight watchers, I went to bed slightly hungry a lot.  I figured that was just part of weight loss.

But over time, I've gotten really good at strategies for avoiding that hunger in the evening.  And I've found that psychologically, I feel so much better when I have a good amount of calories in the evening for dinner and a small snack.  I don't mind feeling a bit hungry in the day in exchange for knowing that come 8:00, I can use those last calories for a snack I love.

So for me, when I was doing the 1200 calorie plan, I'd budget about 200 calories for breakfast, 400 for lunch, 150 for an afternoon snack, leaving 550 for dinner and a snack in the evening.  

My other strategy is that even though I exercise in the morning, I don't enter in those calories until the afternoon.  I try to eat the same those days as on days I don't exercise, knowing that I will want to eat more later in the day.  Usually by early afternoon, I'm famished and really grateful to enter in those extra calories.

4.  Don't make any foods off-limits.  Instead, learn portion control.

It's easy to feel deprived if you never allow yourself any sweets or any of your favorite foods. Instead of saying, "no chocolate ever," try to see how little you can eat and still satisfy your craving.  A small 50-calorie square might just hit the spot.  And it can be really satisfying to eat one slice of your favorite pizza and really enjoy it.  Tell yourself, "I can have that, I just can't have as much as I used to have of it."

Or save your favorite snacks and foods for days when you've exercised a lot and have more calories.  It will feel so good to know that you've earned the right to that food, and it will help you to learn moderation.  I believe allowing yourself your favorite foods in moderation means that you'll stick to your plan long-term.

5.  Set short-term goals and work towards them rather than the bigger picture.

Especially when you have a lot of weight to lose, it can be very discouraging to think in terms of "if I only lose this much a week, it will take over a year to lose all of this."  You can't allow yourself to constantly focus on the eventual goal weight.  Instead, focus on the daily or weekly or even monthly tasks.  

In Weight Watchers, they start by having everyone set a goal to lose 5% of their body weight.  This is a more realistic goal at first, gets the ball going, so to speak, and allows you to feel like you've accomplished something even when you are far away from your eventual goal weight.

For me, I've found the most success in setting a time limit for my weight loss goals.  In the spring, I challenged my Facebook friends to join me in meeting a six-week challenge goal.  I knew I wouldn't lose everything in those six weeks, but having a deadline and the friends to report to kept me on track.  And on the days it was hard, it was a lot easier to know that "hey, it's only for six weeks . . ."

I've also found success in seven to ten week increments.  Last year, I worked hard for the seven weeks before my trip to Hawaii and lost ten pounds.  Knowing there was an end in sight, even if it was only for a short time, made it a lot more motivating and do-able.

More recently, I lost ten pounds in the ten weeks before my birthday.  I challenged my husband to also set a goal and though he blew me out of the water with his success, I still lost ten pounds.

Right before the Moab Aventure 5K in November

You could also set a goal in conjunction with an exercise training program.  There are plenty of Couch to 5K programs or Half Marathon Training plans to follow and you could choose a race and set your diet and exercise goal to coincide with that.  

I also believe it is better to set behavior goals rather than outcome goals.  "Lose ten pounds" is bound to fail because sometimes, your body fights you even when you do everything by the book. It's much easier to say, "Exercise five days a week and stick to my calorie target every day for five weeks" because no matter what the scale does, you have control over your goal. 

6.  Allow yourself to take maintenance breaks.

Weight loss can be very difficult to do and especially when you work very hard and see very small changes on the scale, it can be so discouraging and overwhelming.  Instead of getting discouraged and falling off from tracking and perhaps cheating on your diet or exercise, give yourself license to take a break.  Give yourself a summer off and focus on just making sure you don't gain.  Then you can hit your goal again later with motivation and focus again.

7.  Find what motivates you and use that to your advantage.  

This will be different for different people.  For me, I can't stand to waste money, so I was highly motivated the first time I signed up for Weight Watchers to make it successful in my life.  I was paying what felt like a lot of money and I wanted to make sure I got my money's worth.  I would never sign up for a race and then not train for it; it's just not in my make-up.  If this is the way you are, find a way to use that to your advantage.  You may not even need to sign up for a program or a race.  Simply put a decent amount of money in an envelope and tell your husband that you get to keep the money if you meet your six week goals, but that he gets the money if you don't.  

If you're motivated by social pressure, find a way to use that to your advantage.  Create your own exercise and diet group through Facebook.  Join a weight loss forum or start following the diet and exercise blogs of others.  Find out which of your friends is on MyFitnessPal and follow each other. Promise yourself that no matter what, you will post a weekly update on your blog or social media account.  Then do it.  Being accountable to someone is a huge motivator for many people.  It may be as simple as having a good friend that you report to.

You may be motivated by small but simple, tangible rewards.   One book I read about a woman who lost over 100 lbs had a simple, weekly reward idea.  She said that on the weeks she lost weight, she would allow herself to stop on the way home for an ice cream cone.  On the weeks she didn't, she didn't get the cone.  Something like that might work for you. 

You might be the kind of person who never spends money on yourself.  Allow yourself a small amount of "fun money" to spend each week when you stay on target.  

8.  Find an exercise partner.

Nothing, and I mean nothing, helps you stay on track with your exercise goals more than having someone depend on you to meet them regularly for exercise.  If you're on your own all the time, it's easy to sleep in, skip a day, or give a half-hearted effort.  But if you have someone out there waiting for you in the cold so you can go running or someone driving over to pick you up for your exercise class, you'll get up and you'll do it.

9.  Weigh yourself regularly.

Whether that's daily or once a week is up to you.  I've found that I have better success with weighting myself just once a week when I'm actively trying to lose weight and daily when I'm maintaining.  The problem with daily weighing during the weight loss process is that it's too easy to get discouraged by a fluke gain that may just mean you had more salt to eat the day before.  A better picture of how you are doing is a once a week weigh in.

Even better than regularly weighing yourself is finding a way to report or be accountable for it.  Enter it into a calendar, post it on your blog, keep track of it on MyFitnessPal, or whatever motivates you the most. 

10.  Remember it's a process.  Your efforts and patience will be rewarded.

Don't be discouraged when you haven't met your goal yet.  Be sure to congratulate yourself on the progress you have made.  It took time to gain the extra weight you carry around; it will take time to develop the habits to lose and keep it off.

Enjoy the journey and the active lifestyle you create in the process.

July 24th Temple to Temple 5K with my kids.

And finally, for those motivated by such things, my before and after photos:
My heaviest, March 2011
December 2014
If I can do it, you can too!  Good luck!

What have you found that has motivated or helped you in weight loss?  Anything I missed?

1 comment:

bjahlstrom said...

This was a perfect complement to the last post! I was going to ask you about the food-side of your health program, but then you went and posted it. Thanks!


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