Losing weight is one of the most common New Year resolutions. Follow these tips and report back on February 1 to see how you did.
Go flour-free. “I tell people who have a goal of losing weight to stop eating all processed and refined carbohydrates,” says Victoria Maizes, MD, executive director of the Program in Integrative Medicine at the University of Arizona in Tucson. “Anything with white flour—bread, rice, crackers, cereal, chips, pretzels—raises blood sugar, which, in turn, the body converts more readily to fat if you’re not active.” But Maizes doesn’t endorse a no-carb diet, which is often high in fat and low in fiber, vitamins, and minerals—not to mention that it’s difficult to sustain. She says the key is to stick to low-glycemic, unprocessed carbohydrates, such as steel-cut oatmeal, wheat berries, sweet potatoes, and legumes, all of which are rich in fiber and nutrients.
Commit to an exercise plan. Frequent exercisers know that the gym will inevitably become crowded every January only to empty considerably by February. This year, create a cardiovascular exercise plan into which you can ease slowly. “People start running, biking, or swimming aggressively with tons of enthusiasm, but within weeks they’ve simply burned themselves out,” says Matt Dixon, owner of PurplePatch Fitness in San Francisco. Dixon recommends newcomers begin with three 20-minute cardio sessions the first week, building up to four sessions per week, then adding minutes to each individual session, and so on. “At first, the focus should be on building the frequency of your sweat sessions, then increasing length, because adding time too quickly is what leads to injury,” he says. For extra motivation, recruit a friend or relative to be your gym buddy: People are less likely to skip a workout when they know someone is waiting for them at a cardio class or the track.
Learn To Count calories. When you want to lose weight, knowledge is power, though most people haven’t figured that out yet. “You’d be amazed that people have no idea how many calories are in typical food items,” says Maizes. If you’re one of them, write out a list of your favorite foods, and research them on calorieking.com or thecaloriecounter.com. You can also calculate your recommended daily caloric intake by visiting calorieking.com and clicking on “Interactive Tools” under “Resources.” Losing weight is a lifestyle change.
Find the calorie counts for your favorite restaurant items, too. Some “healthy” restaurants, such as Chipotle, serve humongous portions, so you could easily be eating more than 1,000 calories each time you stop in. Be mindful of portion size and extra calories in add-on ingredients, such as cheese and condiments. Another hidden calorie trap: healthy-seeming drinks. Beware of smoothies (a small Peanut Butter Moo’d smoothie at Jamba Juice clocks in at a whopping 624 calories and 16 grams of fat) and frozen coffee drinks.
Craft long, lean muscles. Contrary to popular belief, you don’t have to pound the pavement to look like you’ve lost weight. Practicing Pilates and yoga can help you look slimmer while you work to eradicate flab. “These disciplines improve posture, tone your abs in ways you could never achieve with sit-ups, and extend your range of motion, which makes you look slimmer even if you haven’t lost pounds,” says Elizabeth Larkam, Pilates and yoga director for The San Francisco Bay Club. Larkam recommends shooting for two hour-long classes per week or five 25-minute sessions per week. However, she and other experts caution against relying solely on these disciplines for weight loss. You still need to do aerobic exercise and eat less to drop pounds.
Say so long to sugar. While some sugar, such as the kind found in fruit, is fine, it’s the empty energy in cereals, soda, ice cream, candy, and processed foods that you should work to eliminate from your diet. When working on losing weight reduce the amount of sugar in your day, pick a breakfast cereal that contains at least 5 grams of fiber and less than 25 percent of its calories from sugar. Think of candy and processed foods as an every-so-often treat.
Consider acupuncture. If you watch what you eat, exercise four times a week, and still don’t see results, acupuncture could help get the scale moving in the right direction. According to traditional Chinese medicine, the spleen turns food into blood and qi, or energy, but if the organ is impaired, dampness accumulates, resulting in high blood sugar, high cholesterol, and excess body fat. “Optimizing the function of the spleen with acupuncture boosts metabolism and helps the body digest better, which can result in weight loss,” says Wally Doggett, LAc, owner of South Austin Community Acupuncture in Austin, Texas. “Using needles or taping tiny vaccaria seeds to points on the ear can reduce cravings and appetite.”.
Focus on your food.
Slowing down, focusing on your meals, and savoring the flavor of each bite are easy ways to curb overeating. Maizes recommends a simple technique to make eating more mindful. First, peel an orange slice, and simply look at it. Notice everything about it. Then, put it in your mouth, and taste the texture for a minute before chewing. “It’s amazing how much pleasure you can get from one orange if you really pay attention,” she says.
To further increase your eating enjoyment, turn off the TV, put down the tablet or smartphone, and add candles to your table to make each meal more special. I’ve noticed that if I take the time to prepare a real meal (even a simple one), I also take the time to really appreciate the experience of eating it. Challenge yourself to cook dinner a few nights a week, and get excited about eating healthy, enjoyable meals.