Common-Sense Strategies to Long-Term Weight Loss
Shed extra pounds for good with practical advice from UM experts.
The New Year is finally here. During the holidays you probably indulged in turkey, stuffing,
pumpkin pie and many other goodies. Now, you step on the scale and much
to your dismay, you've gained a few pounds in addition to the extra weight you
may have already accumulated throughout the year. How can you make this the year
to slim down and keep the weight off for good?
Researchers say losing just 5 to 10 percent of your excess body weight can
make a big difference in your health, including lowering cholesterol and reducing
the risk for diabetes. So where do you start? University of Maryland experts
offer the following common-sense strategies to lead you on the way to long-term
- Write it down. Writing down what you eat forces you to
be aware of just how much you're eating. Also, if you know you have
to write down that piece of candy or pizza, you may not be so quick to eat
it. Keeping a food journal may also cut down on mindless eating. With your
journal, you can also keep track of how much you exercise. If this doesn't seem to work, you can review your food diary with a dietitian.
- Know your risk factors. Check with your doctor to see if
you have high blood pressure or high cholesterol. Knowing where you are to
start can also help you set realistic goals. Calculate your
Body Mass Index
(BMI). This measurement can help you figure out how much you need to lose.
- Choose a diet low in fat, saturated fat and cholesterol and moderate
in sugars. In addition to helping you maintain a healthy weight, this
will also reduce your risk of heart attack and certain types of cancer.
- Eat smaller meals throughout the day rather than a few big ones.
"The human body needs food about every three hours," says Pamela
Peeke, M.D., M.P.H., assistant clinical professor of Medicine at the University
of Maryland School of Medicine and author of the national best-seller Fight
Fat After Forty. "So you should have a snack every two to three hours
to ward off hunger." She recommends snacks that include a high-quality
protein and carbohydrates, such as low-fat yogurt and fruit, a smoothie, or
soy cheese and a pear. Other suggestions for snacks include graham crackers,
low-fat popcorn, vegetables with low-fat dip, and whole-grain crackers.
- Count calories, then cut them. If you don't already know, determine
how many calories you eat in a typical day. Next, set your new reduced calorie
goal, keeping in mind that experts recommend you lose no more than a pound
or two a week. To lose about ½ pound per week, subtract
250 calories a day from your current calorie intake; to lose 1 pound, subtract
500. A reduction of 500-1,000 calories could result in weight loss of about
1-2 pounds per week. Total calories, though, should not dip below 1,200 per
day for women and 1,400 for men, which can put a person at risk
for nutrient deficiencies.
- Exercise regularly doing something you enjoy. In order to burn
more than you take in, you need to exercise. This will
increase your metabolism so even when you're at rest, you'll be burning more
calories. For exercise to help with weight loss, experts advise regular
aerobic physical activity (such as walking, biking or swimming) for at least
20-30 minutes a day, three to five times a week. If you're a beginner, you
can start slowly. Ideally, Peeke says you should try to exercise
30-45 minutes, five days a week.
In particular, walking may be a good choice. Buy a pedometer and keep track
of the number of steps you take each day. Once you see how much you walk,
try adding 1,000 steps each day, with an eventual goal of 10,000 steps or
- Get and enlist support. Peeke says finding a support system is critical
to long-term weight loss. Whether you join a group such as Weight Watchers,
work with a dietitian or do something else, it's helpful to share your highs
and lows with experts or others who can relate. These people can also be a
source of new ideas and strategies and let you know that you're not alone.
- Eat your favorite foods (in moderation). Peeke advises including
100-200 calories per day of your favorite foods, whatever they may be. This
will keep you from feeling deprived, which can lead to cravings. "Plan
your indulgences into your schedule," says Peeke. "Keep the portions
down, savor, taste and enjoy it."
- Watch your portion size. Look at nutrition brochures
and look at the fat and calories you're getting. If you are eating out and
the portion is big, cut it in half right away and put it in a doggie bag,
or split the meal with a friend.
- Lose weight slowly (1-2 pounds per week). Slow weight loss
is important. It will be easier to keep it off. Quick
weight loss is more apt to come back on, leading to yo-yo dieting that can have
a negative impact on your long-term health.
- Eat slowly. It takes 20 minutes before your brain realizes
it's full. That means the amount of calories consumed
before you begin to feel full can vary a great deal depending on how quickly
you eat. So be sure to eat slowly, savor your food, and enjoy it.
- Drink 8-10 glasses of water per day. There are several
advantages to drinking plenty of water. When the body is not receiving
adequate fluids, the kidneys compensate by conserving water. The result can be water retention --
water weight you really don't want. Drinking a lot of
fluids makes the stomach feel fuller, thus decreasing the tendency to overeat.
- Keep healthy foods on hand. Examples include fruits and vegetables,
whole grains, dried beans, nonfat dairy and fish or lean poultry. Healthy, low-fat, high-fiber frozen entrees that
are lower in sodium are good choices. Also, plan
meals in advance and make a shopping list so you're eating more meals at home.
It's helpful to limit dining out if you're trying to
- Keep things in perspective. Make health, not appearance, your weight
management priority. Make sure
your focus is in the right place -- not on the pounds, but on health.
Common Pitfalls to Avoid
Beware of these
common stumbling blocks to long-term weight loss:
Fad diets. Often, these diets promise to help you lose a lot of
weight quickly, or tell you to cut certain foods out of your diet to lose
A quick fix is not the answer. Instead, the best approach is to focus on making small lifestyle changes you can maintain.
Negative self-talk. Avoid negative thoughts and statements such
as "I'm fat. I'll never be able to lose weight." Be positive.
Affirm that you can change your lifestyle. Try not to feel
guilty about eating certain foods. There are no good and bad foods -- moderation is the key.
Emotional eating. Don't eat as a way to cope with stress or other
Food never solves the problem, and usually it just contributes to a cycle
of guilt, low self-esteem and overeating.
- By Michelle Murray
This page was last updated on:
December 8, 2011.
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