Most people believe that in order to lose weight they need to count and restrict calories, eat less fatty foods, and spend hours on the treadmill. Have you tried this approach? Often I find that these strategies don't work for my patients. They may lose weight for a short period of time, but eventually old habits return and they gain the weight back. If your New Years goal for 2012 is to lose weight, here are 6 tips for keeping the pounds off.
Tip #1: Get More Sleep
Sleep is the number one tip on my list because getting more sleep is cheapest, easiest way to balance your weight loss hormones and support long-term weight loss. If you're getting less than 8 hours of sleep each night, hormones such as Leptin, Ghrelin, and cortisol can be out-of-balance causing your appetite to increase and your metabolism to decrease. When you are low on sleep, you are more hungry, more tired during the day, you exercise less, and you burn less calories and fat. Plus, when you sleep less, you are more likely to do late-night snacking. Eight or more hours of sleep in a completely dark room is imperative for getting good rest and supporting your weight loss hormones.
Tip #2: Eat Real Food
Many people use pre-packaged meals like Weight Watchers, Amy's Organics, or other TV dinner meals to support their weight loss with portion control. Pre-packaged meals may be more convenient, but they often contain excess salt, preservatives, and many people are still hungry after the meal. A healthy metabolism runs best on real, whole foods, not processed foods. Although it takes some extra time and meal planning, training your body to love real foods like meats, fish, legumes, nuts, seeds, fruits, and veggies, will go a lot farther than living off of processed meals.
Tip #3: Never Skip Meals
Skipping meals makes it harder to lose weight because your body goes into survival mode. When you skip a meal, your body secretes more of a hormone called cortisol, which regulates blood sugar and stress in the body. When your cortisol levels are elevated, your body thinks that it is under stress, and it's almost impossible to lose weight. Eating regular meals at regular intervals will help maintain optimal cortisol levels, and make it easier to lose weight.
Tip #4: Cut the Carbs
From the Atkins diet, to the South Beach diet, to the Paleo diet, there is a ton of research that supports the idea that carbohydrate reduction helps with weight loss. My general dietary recommendation for patients is to cut out two highest carbohydrate foods in their diet--usually breads and pastas. Many people find that the wheat in breads and pastas makes them gain weight overnight and makes them more hungry for carb-rich meals. Depending on the person's weight loss goals, some carbohydrates in the form of legumes, lentils, brown rice, polenta, and small amounts of potatoes can still support healthy weight loss when balanced with adequate protein and vegetables.
Tip #5: Drink Only Water
Drinking water prevents dehydration, and it prevents you from eating excess amounts of food. The body has a hard time distinguishing between being hungry and being dehydrated. Mindless eating often happens when you are dehydrated. I recommend drinking at least half your body weight in ounces per day of water, plus more water if you exercise.
Tip #6: Enjoy Your Exercise
You don't have to spend hours at the gym to lose weight. Spending an hour running on the treadmill can often tax your adrenal glands and put excess strain on your joints. The best recommendation for exercise is to do something you love, that way you can incorporate it into your daily routine. Some sustained cardio exercise is necessary for any weight-loss plan, but if exercise becomes a chore, you're less likely to do it. Exercise needs to be a regular part of your day, like drinking water.
Don't get caught in the endless cycle of counting calories, avoiding fat, and exhausting yourself on the treadmill. It's a dead-end road and you'll be making the same New Years resolutions every year. Instead, try a more balanced approach that gives your body the routine, regularity and balance that it needs for long-term, sustainable weight loss.