So you’ve decided to lose weight. Congratulations on making one of the most important and meaningful health decisions possible! Weight loss is a long road, and can be difficult but it is ultimately a very rewarding process. The hardest part is getting started, and for someone just dipping their toe in the ocean of diet information it can seem overwhelming. Fortunately, weight loss is not as complicated as it seems on the surface and fundamentally it’s all about making some simple adjustments to your life to ensure you can become and remain a healthy, fit individual.
Magazine stands, television and the internet abound in wild fad diets that make extraordinary weight loss claims. They promise big results fast, often with minimal effort on the part of the dieter. Its normal to be attracted to these ideas, as its normal to want change in the present and none of us like to think about long-term progress, but beware of fad diets. Many of these diets simply will not work. Others may work as advertised but be detrimental to your health. In all cases, fad diets are unsustainable. It’s easy to forget that once we’ve dropped the pounds, we need a way to maintain our new shape. The only way to remain healthy, lose weight and keep it off for good is with a long-term overhaul of your diet and lifestyle.
The popular “name brand” diets are not all bad. Some, like the Mediterranean diet, can be sustained long term and are beneficial to good health. The key is to do your research if you’re going to choose to follow one diet in particular, and consider speaking with your health care professional about its long-term viability. That being said, there are some basic adjustments we can all make to reach and maintain a healthy weight.
The first thing to understand about weight loss is that consuming less calories than we burn is the only real tried-and-true method that will not fail. Everyone burns calories throughout the day through basic bodily functions and movement. The rate at which calories are burned vary by individual and depend on height, weight, age, gender, and level of activity. This can be found by using an online calculator to find your Basal Metabolic Rate (BMR), or the number of calories burned simply by being awake. Then refer to the Harris Benedict Equation, which multiplies your BMR by a number specific to your general activity level (this varies from x1.2 for little to no exercise to x1.9 for very hard exercise/sports and a physical job) to get the calories you burn every day. Once you have determined this number, it’s simply a matter of consuming less calories per day and maintaining or increasing your physical activity. Keep in mind one pound lost is approximately equivalent to 3500 calories burned.
The majority of weight loss is diet. Along with eating at a caloric deficit, there are some important guidelines that should be followed to ensure good health and easy weight loss.
Perhaps most importantly, avoiding sugar should be the first step of developing a healthy diet. This includes sugar in the form of beverages like fruit juices. Eating sugary fruits is okay, as the fiber content contained in fruit lessens the damage caused by sugar, but fruit should not be a dietary staple. Refined grains, such as white flour or white rice should be avoided. Refined grains are stripped of nutrients and fiber and are essentially empty calories of sugar. Opt for whole grain options instead of white, but as with fruits, grains should not necessarily make up the majority of a healthy diet.
Trans fats are another important substance to avoid. They’re found in some small quantity in fatty red meats, and in large quantities in hydrogenated vegetable oils and things like candy bars. Avoid foods that have been preserved, like fast foods or frozen dinners unless they are specifically labeled as trans fat free. Simply cutting sugar, refined grains and trans fats from the diet will make a world of difference in terms of your overall health and wellness.
Eat real, unprocessed foods. Fresh, varied servings of vegetables with every meal eaten both cooked and raw. Lean meats and good fats such as those found in fish, nuts and olive oil are important but saturated fats don’t have to be entirely removed from the diet. Moderate amounts of red meat, eggs and dairy products certainly have their place in a proper diet. Try to eat food as close to nature as possible, in which you know the ingredients have either been grown or raised. Buying items at the store of which you can’t pronounce half the ingredients is a bad sign. Try to shop along the perimeter of the grocery store where vegetables, fruits, meats, seafood and dairy are on display and avoid the aisles.
Another way of removing calories and sugar is to opt for spices, salt and pepper instead of condiments like barbeque sauce or ketchup while cooking. Salad dressing can be replaced with olive oil or balsamic vinegar.
Whatever diet you end up with should be one that is comfortable, varied and delicious. One of the main keys to losing weight is choosing a diet you can maintain for a lifetime. Eating healthy is a big lifestyle change, and does take some getting used to, but after a while your taste buds will adjust and you will wonder how you ever managed to stomach junk food.