For those of us living in the western hemisphere, we have either made our own New Year’s resolution or we have known others who have made New Year’s resolutions. The determination to change some aspect of our health through eating patterns or physical activity can lead many to make improved health choices or to unintentionally engage in less healthy choices. Technology has increased our access to inaccurate, missleading, and oftentimes harmful information.
While the basics of weight management involve the creation of a calorie deficite through combined decrease in caloric intake and increase of caloric expenditure through physical activity, the sources of our calories should be about finding a nutritional intake plan that we enjoy, can maintain, and that meets our individual needs for long term health. I was once told that the problem with my profession (as a registered dietitian) was that I was just providing too many choices. To this day, I disagree with that statement. I will allow that at times we need to keep things simple and scripted in order to avoide feeling overwhelmed with decisions but those who are able to maintain healthful eating long term are those that learn to make healthful food choices even when those choices are not scripted. So face the fact that a limited, rule based “diet”, might have some short term promise but long term healthful living is much more complicated. So move away from the hype of “diets” full of false promises and stop allowing the food industry to profit off of their marketing towards the failure of their consumers. Note the metabolic harm that many have experienced as a result of extreme diets.
The Good News –
The good news is that getting started takes a small bit of effort. Keeping up with lifestyle changes is the bigger challenge but we will face that over the next few months. To get started, you need to do three things – 1) be honest and reasonable with your expectations, 2) start self monitoring behaviors, and 3) make improvements each day in the right direction.
Be Honest and Resonable
While the idea of losing 21 pounds in three weeks would be amazing (not healthy but amazing), accept that if weight loss and weight loss maintenance was easy, over half of American’s wouldn’t struggle to manage their weight. Taking weight, body fat and waist measurements (just to name a few) are fine but they can’t be the focus of a healthful lifestyle. While you should have a long term weight loss, ie lose ~50 pounds in the next 6 months, focus on measurable steps that you need to make progress towards your long term goal. For example, stop emotional eating or start that 15 minute exercise video each day. As the weeks progress, your lifestyle behaviors should also progress in response to your improved physical health. Focusing on dialy behaviors gives you a daily opportunity to see success.
The science shows us that individuals who use self monitoring behaviors (such as food journals, activity trackers, weight measurements) are strongly associated with weight loss and with maintaining weight loss. While dietary management is essential for weight loss, inclusion of physical activity has many health benefits which include maintaining muscle during times of weight loss (no, eating higher protein or higher fat diets do not maintain muscle mass). For those who have successfully lost weight, self-monitoring aides in maintaining weight loss so that the pounds don’t creap up on you. Food and activity monitoring will help you prioritize the changes that would be most beneficial based on your individual routine.
Intensive medical nutrition therapy counseling and behavioral interventions are strongly associated with successful weight loss. Successful weight loss should include nutrient adequacy during weight loss, establishing informed and accurate calorie level reduction to promote weight loss while maintaining metabolic health. So if you are not in the care of a registered dietitian, use resources available through the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, or nutrient analysis software programs that will provide some general guideance. So if you know that you are not consuming healthful fruits and vegetables, or that fiber from unprocessed grains haven’t passed your lips since childhood, or that your rewarding yourself post workout with a creamy fatty sweet 600 kcalorie smoothie – make improvements in those noteworthy areas.