Everyone these days is talking about weight loss tips. They either want to lose weight and complain about it, have lost weight and want to tell you how to do it, or think they have the next ‘get skinny quick’ pill or diet that will work for you. I’m here to tell you that you don’t have to listen to any of them anymore.
As a fitness professional, I have seen it all. And after seeing and hearing it all, I know that there are some basic truths about weight loss. The first truth is that diets don’t work. Diets are only a temporary fix, a band-aid. If you don’t make a lifestyle change, the weight will not stay off. Fad diets, any of the programs out now for quick weight loss, things like ‘Low Carb’ or ‘Food Combinations’ or just eating very, very minimal numbers of calories will not get you where you want to go. This may be the fastest way to lose weight–it may get you into that dress or those jeans by next weekend, but you won’t keep the weight off, and you may even gain back more than you lost, and your self-esteem will be lower than it was when you started. Another truth about weight loss is that you will be hungry in the beginning. You’re losing weight; you’re supposed to be hungry! Not letting yourself be hungry is what got you to where you are in the first place. However, as your metabolism and your mind adjust, the body will accept that it can’t eat all the time, and will start to be hungry only when it actually needs fuel (i.e. when it should be hungry!).
One more essential truth about weight loss is that you can still build muscle and lose fat. Many people believe you can’t do both—you can either lose weight, (which, in their minds is body fat) or you can build muscle (again, in the minds of those who don’t know, means to put on weight and size). Not true. You can lose body fat, reduce inches in all the right places, and see smaller numbers in your clothing sizes while still toning up and creating lean muscle.
We are going to talk about several things you can do, changes you can make in your daily life that will lead you down the right path. These are lifestyle changes, not quick fixes. You will have to learn to live without junk food—yes, that’s right. No promises of eating whatever you want and still losing weight. Of course you can occasionally splurge and have dessert—decadent dessert. Of course you can still have a night here or there when you can eat too much pizza or have a couple of drinks –the secret is, now that you’ll be incorporating permanent lifestyle changes, and because you’ll actually be losing weight and looking and feeling better about yourself, these will only be occasional splurges. You won’t want to reverse all the good you’ll have done, and because you’ll be in better shape, an occasional splurge won’t throw you off track. Sounds good, right?
Everyone has heard of the benefits of green tea for weight loss. One of these benefits is an increased metabolism, which of course results in more fat and calorie burn. Green tea also helps fight heart disease, cancer, and helps reduce stress. The catechins in the green tea stimulate your body all day long, so you burn calories even while sitting still. Drinking four cups a day offers the best results, but even drinking one cup of green tea or taking green tea supplements offers these fat fighting benefits.One of the smallest things you can do is incorporate foods into your diet that actually fight fat. These are things like spices, green tea, garlic, and flax seed. For example, research has shown that for hours after eating spicy foods, your metabolism spikes—burning up extra calories. Cayenne pepper, jalapenos, Cajun spices, and curry powder (turmeric) are the spices most touted for this spike in metabolism. Curry actually impedes the formation of new blood vessels. New blood vessel formation is actually one of the causes of cellulite. Impeding these new blood vessels will head off that cottage cheese look, and in addition, it helps to strengthen the liver.
A very yummy addition to your daily diet that will help your body burn fat is cinnamon. Put it in your green tea, your coffee, your cereal, or your oatmeal. Bake it into breads, cookies or muffins. This tasty spice will help you metabolize sugar in foods 20 times better than eating sugary foods without cinnamon added.
If you are a garlic lover, take heart. Both garlic and onions work to break down fatty deposits in your body, and they lower cholesterol as well. And finally, flax seed is a powerhouse in the fight against fat. Flax seed and flax seed oil actually attract fat soluble toxins and remove them from your body. So, used flax seed oil to saute in, or add ground flax to pancakes, pizza crust, waffles, muffins, cookies or cakes. Flax seeds are actually great on top of salads, too, in place of or in addition to sunflower seeds (which are great for supplying good fats and protein!). Anywhere you can squeeze these foods in, do it! Your body will look better for it, and be healthier for it.
Now, we all know what I am going to recommend next. Exercise. Call it the weight loss for idiots guidebook, but no healthy lifestyle, no plan to lose weight, no healthy person for that matter, can really be ‘healthy’ without it. If you don’t already exercise, you need to incorporate it slowly, but steadily. Thirty minutes of cardio a day, with weight training mixed in at least three times a week. If you already exercise regularly but can’t lose weight or are not happy with your weight or body mass index, then you need to re-evaluate your current fitness regimen. It is very easy to plateau, and the secret to keeping yourself from that point is to change it up. Every four to six weeks a regular fitness program needs to be changed, even if it is in subtle ways.
An important thing to analyze is your cardio workout. Make sure you are working out effectively. Steady state cardio burns far less calories than an interval cardio program or workout involving plyometrics. Even swapping out your normal walk on the treadmill for a cycling class is enough to mix it up and keep you from that plateau. Just pick one day a week to swap out one of your more boring cardio workouts for a run, a cycle, or a even a cardio kickboxing class at your gym.
Another area you can, and should, change is your resistance routine. Lifting three or four times a week is great. Alternating upper body and lower body workouts is great for the muscles, as it lets them have recovery days. Abdominal can be worked on alternate days, and stretching and flexibility should be incorporated daily. Yoga and Pilates are excellent ways to increase flexibility. It has been shown that those who resistance trained and added flexibility into their weekly workouts three times a week showed twice the strength gains of those who only lifted, and did not add flexibility training. Just a short Yoga segment every day will do wonders for your body.
Another small lifestyle change that you can make is a simple, no-brainer. Eat fewer calories! I know, I know. There is nothing fun about that, nothing glamorous…it is not a secret. If you take in fewer calories in than you burn, you lose weight. (And of course, that is another place exercise comes in to play. Burn more calories than you eat, lose weight…exercise burns calories…see how that works?) However, you do not have to starve yourself. If you are trying to tone up—lose the fat, but build muscle, you only need to cut back your calorie intake two to three times a week. Now, that being said, the calories you do take into your body need to be from healthy sources.
How do you decide which days to cut calories? It is important to remember that the days you cut your calories should not be the days you lift weights. The days you extend that extra effort are the days you need all your energy. We’re not talking about cutting many calories, either–you really only need to cut back your calorie intake by two to three hundred calories on these days. On the other days of the week, eat a normal day’s calories (now, that is a normal, healthy day’s calories!). By cutting your calories a few days a week, you incorporate the ‘Zig Zag Effect.’ This means that on days with lower calories, you are burning fat, but your body does not burn muscle, because by the time you go into calorie deficit, you are back to your normal calorie days. On these days, you feed your muscles. You continue in this way, burning fat and building muscle. Women will NOT bulk up. Without the same testosterone as men, the huge bulky muscles will not be something you will even have to worry about. And men, because you DO have testosterone, your muscles will eat up those calories on your normal days, and you will begin to really see your muscles grow as the fat is burned off your body.
So, what should you be eating? The body needs protein, carbohydrates and fat. You cannot cut fat or carbohydrates and expect your body to function correctly. Each and every one of these building blocks has a function, just make sure you are eating the correct fats and carbs. Whole grains, brown rice, whole wheat, oatmeal, fruit and vegetables are all healthy carbohydrates. Lean proteins, like white meat chicken, turkey and fish are instrumental in making muscle. When going for good fats, go for Omega 3’s, the healthy fats that are found in flax seed oil, olive oil, nuts, peanut butter and fatty fish like salmon and tuna.
Cut back (or out!) sugar, saturated fats, trans fats, and refined white flour (unhealthy carbs). Processed foods should be on the out list as well. Try to shop the perimeter of the grocery store, where the vegetables and meats can be found. Cook your own foods, make your own snacks. When you know what goes into your food, you will find yourself eating better all the time. When your food is fresh, there are no preservatives, making your diet so much healthier.
Another thing that helps with weight loss and will keep you from being hungry is eating five small meals a day. Yes, I know you have heard that snacking makes you gain weight, but it is not the snacking. It is what and how much you snack on. If you eat small meals throughout the day, every three hours or so, for a total of five or six small meals, your body won’t be hungry. Feeding the muscles is the key to building them. Each of your snacks should include a protein, a carbohydrate and some fat. This might be something you can eat in the form of a protein or energy bar, or a piece of fresh fruit and peanut butter. Just watch the calories—the dangers of snacking come with eating too much. If it is truly a snack, it should be around 200 to 300 calories. After a workout, however, a tough workout, where you sweat, lift or otherwise work your tail off, it is important to refuel within 30 minutes. Take in some good protein, or have a full meal. You have to allow your body to recover, and refuel, if you want it to perform for you again and again, and if you want it to give you the results you desire.
Also, a very important tip is writing things down. Write down your calories in, your calories out. Write down your goals. What do you want? Do you want to lose five pounds, lose five percent body weight, or be able to run a mile in seven minutes? Whatever it is, write it down. People who write down their goals and share them with others have a higher rate of success than those who internalize them. If you keep track of what you eat, at the end of the week look back and analyze what you could do differently.
One final thing to consider is sleep. Are you getting enough? If not, the weight can creep on for no other reason than you are just not getting enough shut eye. Studies have shown that lack of sleep causes you to eat more the next day. Sounds crazy, right? But it is true. When you sleep, the body literally recharges. Cells turnover. Hormones are produced and regulated. And when you do not sleep, these processes do not occur. One very important hormone, leptin, does not get produced. Leptin is the signal in fat cells that tells the brain you are full. If it is not produced at night, there is nothing to signal the brain, so you will continue to eat, never feeling full. And of course, sometimes when you are sleepy the next day at work, you continue to grab junk food, thinking the caffeine or sugar in chocolate or sodas will wake you up, when the exact opposite is the case. The sugar in these foods will just make you crash later, zapping your energy and probably giving you the excuse to skip the gym after work. So, get your beauty sleep. Really!
So, the plain truth is that there are no easy answers. There are no shortcuts. No infomercial, no crash diet, no starvation plan is going to help you live healthier and leaner long term. Losing weight is all about lifestyle changes. You must incorporate a variety of new concepts into your life—healthy meals go hand in hand with exercise. The truth about losing weight is that you have to work at it. Didn’t someone once say that anything worth having would not come easy? Well, that little saying is one you can embroider onto a pillow and look at every day, because it is true. Besides, if you work at it, once you attain your goal it feels even better. Of course, with weight loss, when you achieve your goal, you then have to work every day to sustain it. But you can do it. It is worth it. When you can look in the mirror every day and say, “Wow, that’s me?!” you will know it is worth it. Shopping becomes more fun when you can fit into that size you have always wanted to. Going out with friends becomes even more fun when your friends ask you, “How did you do it?” and tell you repeatedly, “You look great!” and envy you! Going to work even becomes a little more fun when your coworkers begin to ask you for exercise and weight loss tips.
One step in the right direction will lead to the next, and the next. These weight loss solutions are all about will power and perseverance. You can make exercise a habit. In general, it takes about 30 to 40 repetitions of something to make it a habit, so if you exercise three to four times a week, that’s ten weeks before you are conditioned to keep it up. So, do not beat yourself up if you slip up, you will get there! Good luck!