By Ken Fujioka, MD, Scripps Health
Year after year, losing weight tops the list of New Year’s resolutions across the country. The vow is made with the best of intentions — gym memberships skyrocket, and houses are purged of sweets, soda and junk food. Unfortunately, for many these valiant efforts prove too difficult to maintain. Nearly 80 percent of dieters fail to drop pounds, and a third gain additional weight.
Losing weight can be challenging regardless of the time of year, but with the right tools and strategies, it can be done. Here are a few tips to get you started on the right track.
Steer clear of fad diets and complicated weight loss schemes.
According to a 2009 study published in the journal Appetite, many diet plans are so complex that people simply give up. The study reported that participants were more likely to abandon their diets if they could not remember all the rules or keep track of the plan. Look for a program that you can understand and sustain. If you don’t have time to make fresh fruit or vegetable juices every day, a diet that includes them is likely not going to work for you. Also, don’t believe the hype of “instant” weight loss products. You may see amazing results at first, but be sure to research how well people maintain the loss in the long run.
No matter what, calories count.
The specific number of calories you need every day to lose weight depends on your individual body type, metabolism, exercise level and daily activities. In general, though, women 45-55 years old need about 1,200-1,300 calories, while men of the same age range may need more and are often closer to 1,800. Keep a journal of everything you eat or drink during the day, including that cappuccino or handful of peanuts, and use it to calculate your daily calorie intake. There are a number of websites and apps that provide calorie counts for nearly all kinds of foods and drinks; just enter the item, and the site does the rest. Some even keep a running total for you. A great resource for how many calories you need and how to eat the right amount are Registered Dietitians. These professionals are highly trained and usually have much more schooling than a typical “nutritionist”.
Exercise matters, too.
To lose weight, you have burn more calories than you take in — and that can be difficult to do without exercise. Of course, the more active you are, the more calories you burn. Effective weight loss usually requires at least three to five hours of exercise a week, and the type of exercise can make a significant difference. While cardiovascular exercise such as walking, jogging or riding a bicycle is important, adding some resistance training can help maintain the amount of muscle tissue you have. Because your body uses more calories to support muscle tissue than fat, your body will burn calories more quickly. You don’t have to “bulk up” and get big muscles. Simply toning your muscles through resistance training with light weights or even your own body weight can make a difference. Aim for 45 minutes of cardiovascular exercise and 15 minutes of resistance training most days of the week. Choose activities you enjoy, and you will be more likely to stick with them.
Keep track of your weight.
If you don’t have one, invest in a scale and weigh yourself every day. Remember that your weight will fluctuate by 2 to 4 pounds during the day, and that hormonal changes and some medications may affect weight as well. Weighing yourself regularly will help you identify these trends and get a more accurate idea of how well your efforts are working. Most importantly it will help you recognize weight gain. The scale does not lie.
Take control of your environment.
Remove tempting foods from your house and workplace. If you snack, replace cookies, crackers and junk food with healthier alternatives such as vegetable sticks or non-fat Greek yogurt. Try to identify and avoid situations that will challenge you, such as pizza parties or birthday cakes. Let your family, friends and co-workers know that you are trying to lose weight, and enlist their support. They will be more supportive if you explain that you need them to help you resist temptation and meet your goals. Instead of going out for a big lunch, maybe you can go for a walk instead. If you do find yourself stuck in a situation you cannot control, have just a few bites and stick to your resolve.
Ken Fujioka, MD, is director of nutrition and metabolic research with Scripps Health. For more information on staying healthy or for a physician referral, please call 1-800-SCRIPPS (1-800-727-4777).