Weight loss often tops the list of our New Year’s resolutions. Taking a realistic approach, making healthier choices and eating less can help you achieve your goal. Here are a few tips to help you succeed this year and beyond:
1. Avoid quick weight loss schemes.
“I have a lot of respect for people who can follow highly restrictive diets,” says Adam Rhodes, MD, a family medicine physician at Scripps Clinic. “Those diets can lead to very significant and very rapid weight loss. But they don’t always include a good plan to keep the weight off.”
Jasmin Grewal, MD, also a Scripps Clinic family medicine physician, agrees. “Eating fewer than 800 calories a day drops pounds quickly, but when you return more normal eating patterns, your metabolism will have slowed, and weight will creep back. And those diets can be agonizing.” Both physicians point out extreme diets can cause irritability, light-headedness, and hunger the whole time you are dieting. For most people, they recommend starting with one small change and building healthy eating and activity habits from there. Cutting cooking oil and avoiding fried foods are a good start.
2. Check serving sizes.
Serving sizes for pasta, rice and other packaged foods are often smaller than you’d expect. It can be shocking to measure out a serving and realize we are often eating several servings at each meal or snack. Check the nutrition facts label for information about serving sizes and calories, and see if you really need more than one serving. Also, use the label to help you make healthier choices about fat, sugar and salt.
3. Know “fat-free” doesn’t mean low-calorie.
A low-fat or fat-free food may have fewer calories than its full-fat equivalent, but not always. In fact, added sugar or starches can raise the calorie count. “And actually,” says Dr. Rhodes, “small amounts of healthy fats like avocado or walnuts can help you feel full sooner, so you eat less overall.”
4. Try to slow down.
It takes your body about 20 minutes to send the “I’m full” signal to your brain. When you eat quickly, you tend to eat more. Eat mindfully, chewing every bite 15 to 20 times and enjoying the taste, smell and texture of your food. “We eat more when we eat in front of screens like computers, phones or television,” says Dr. Rhodes. Eating with others and talking with family or friends creates breaks that naturally slow you down.
5. Drink water before you eat.
Water can help curb your appetite. A study found that overweight individuals who drank two cups of water before every meal lost more weight than those who did not. Moreover, people often mistake thirst for hunger, and reach for a snack when a glass of water is really all they need. Add a small splash of fruit juice or squeeze of lemon to water if you want more flavor.
6. Build a healthier plate.
A restaurant-size serving of potatoes or a “gourmet” hamburger is far more than most people need to (or should) eat. Dr. Grewal recommends serving healthy choices on larger plates and less healthy foods on smaller plates, to trick the brain into feeling satisfied with less. When you eat at home, cover half of the plate with vegetables and fruit, a quarter with lean protein, and a quarter with whole grains.
7. Know what you are eating when dining out.
If you need a quick meal while you’re out, read calorie information that is now required on fast-food menus before you order. Look for places that offer fresh salads or build-your-own sandwiches. Skip mayonnaise and other calorie-laden condiments. Choose grilled or baked chicken or fish. Swap fries for fruit or yogurt and select water or a low-calorie beverage.
8. Don’t sabotage your efforts.
Drowning a salad in high-fat, high-calorie dressing or loading your baked potato with sour cream, cheese and bacon defeats the purpose of making healthy choices. Look for better alternatives such as vinaigrettes or yogurt. Go easy on heavy or creamy toppings, and your efforts will pay off sooner.
9. Get your family involved.
Your spouse and kids can also benefit. Get creative together; mix up healthier versions of grandma’s favorite sauce or dessert. Exercising with others is usually more fun too. Together, you can keep each other motivated and on track.
Making healthy changes can be challenging. Be patient. Results will not happen overnight. If you take in fewer calories while burning more, you will get results.