Summer is here. You’ve booked your beach resort vacation and started shopping for suitable swimwear. Problem is, the skimpy little things you envisioned yourself in don’t fit just yet, despite your best efforts to rise to the occasion.
So what do you do about those pesky pounds that just won’t go away? Here are a few suggestions, albeit following them may not be as pleasant or convenient as your off-the-mill weight loss program. However, they might do the trick if you can manage to stick to them.
One of the most misleading messages given by many commercial weight loss plans is that you don’t have to make serious changes to your existing eating and lifestyle patterns. No need to starve yourself, or even feel a little bit hungry. No need to forego your favorite dishes, not even pizza or sugary desserts. No need to exercise if you don’t want to.
All of this, of course, is absolute nonsense. The truth is that if you intend to lose weight, you have to reduce your calorie intake and burn more off through physical activity. The ideal pace would be one to two pounds a week, for which you need a calorie deficit of about 500 per day. So, how do you achieve that?
Rule No. 1: Cut out all alcohol
Yes, I know, it’s a party pooper. But calories from alcohol are widely underestimated. In fact, alcoholic beverages are among the greatest contributors to weight problems. Because they don’t make you feel as full as solid food, many people think they don’t count as much — but they do. For example, just one 12-ounce glass of beer contains 100-150 calories. Wine, both red and white, has only slightly less, but hard liquor cocktails can send those numbers through the roof.
Another often overlooked effect is that alcohol tends to make you more relaxed and less controlled about your eating behavior, thereby potentially sabotaging your best intentions to keep within limits.
For these reasons, cutting back or taking a break altogether from drinking, at least for some time, can be vital to achieving your weight loss goals. There is one drink, however, most people don’t get enough of, and that is water.
Rule No. 2: No processed foods
This can be very hard. Most food items you find at the supermarket are processed to some degree. Many contain high amounts of salt, fat and sugar, as well as chemicals to preserve color and extend shelf life. The sole exception is the produce department. This is where you should do the bulk of your shopping. Fresh, whole and unaltered, preferably organically grown fruits and vegetables ought to be at the center of your truly effective weight loss diet.
One caveat, though: While plant-based or plant food-dominated diets are ideal for weight management (and overall nutritional health), you also want to include enough “complete protein” sources to avoid loss of lean muscle mass as you are trying to lose fat.
Rule No. 3: Reduce your portions
One of the biggest problems dieters face is judging portion sizes. Over the years we have become accustomed to ever-growing amounts of food on our plates, especially in restaurants where it is advertised as “added value.” For instance, the “all-you-can-eat” fad some of them lure their customers in with is dangerously unhealthy and the results are plain to see.
The best way to determine appropriate servings (remember, you want to lose weight fast and also keep it down afterwards) is to memorize a few guidelines. For instance, a medium-size potato should be no larger than a computer mouse. A steak should be about as big (or small) as a deck of cards. Grilled fish should not exceed the size of a checkbook. Your pasta dish should fit inside a tennis ball. And cheese should be limited to the equivalent of two dice.
Sounds terrifyingly small? Well, that goes to show how far we have veered from what was once considered “normal.”
Rule No. 4: Exercise, exercise, exercise
What can I say? You’ve probably heard all there is to know about the importance of regular exercise. I myself have written ad nauseam about this tired subject, but unfortunately, there is just no way around it, least of all if you want to shed pounds in a hurry or long-term.
The most important part of any exercise routine is not how much you work yourself into a sweat, but that you do it, and continue doing it, religiously. Also, pick an activity you can enjoy. You will more likely stick it out if you derive some pleasure from it rather than just pain.
Rule No. 5: Choose a mantra
This may sound a little weird, but it’s something I have personally found quite helpful. A mantra is a word or a set of words you can tell yourself when you start wavering, make excuses and wish the whole dieting project to hell. Whenever I find myself in this position (yes, it happens to me too), I take a deep breath and mumble my mantra: “Nothing can taste as good as being skinny feels.”
I didn’t invent this clever line, of course. Kate Moss, the famous photo model, did. But it works for me, too. If nothing else, it reminds me that I always have to be on guard against temptations, no matter how far I would like to think I’ve come. It’s not a sure thing and may not do the trick for you, but perhaps it’s worth a try.
Rule # 6: Don’t do it alone
No one is an island. Your environment — whether it’s your family, colleagues or friends or even your neighborhood — makes a difference for your chances to succeed. If you want to make significant improvements to your eating and lifestyle habits, you must choose your company carefully.
Find a buddy to go to the gym with. Explain to your loved ones what your needs are and how they can support you in your struggle. If you meet resistance, deal with it constructively. Avoid dysfunctional and counterproductive behavior. Instead, join up with people who understand you and share your goals. And be patient with those who may feel insecure or jealous of your success — but don’t let them get in your way.
Rule No. 7: Reward yourself in other ways
Food and drink often play a role in our need for gratification. You deserve a treat once in a while, a little voice inside whispers. Unfortunately those “special occasions” tend to become ever more frequent as time goes by, and soon things go off track entirely.
So, to avoid failure of this kind, you need to find something else that fills the void, something that does not involve eating or partying and still gives you pleasure. That can be anything that takes your mind off your cravings and occupies you otherwise.
Go fast or slow?
The most popular approaches to weight loss are the so-called “crash diets” that promise quick results through intensive fasting and fitness training. If you’re merely concerned with losing a few pounds, that’s fine. The risk here is that you are likely going to regain that weight not long thereafter. The last thing you want to get caught up in is what is known as “yo-yo-dieting,” where your weight fluctuates within short periods of time, with potentially dire consequences.
By contrast, a slower pace allows your metabolism to adjust and stabilize as it responds to the changes you’re gradually making. As I mentioned before, shedding about one to two pounds per week in the process is considered appropriate for most dieters.
Needless to say, lasting success is never guaranteed, regardless which way you go. In any case, a lifetime commitment to your health and well-being should be the ultimate objective and the most important thing to think about.
Timi Gustafson R.D. is a registered dietitian, newspaper columnist, blogger and author of the book “The Healthy Diner – How to Eat Right and Still Have Fun.”