In our eat-and-run, massive-portion-sized culture, maintaining a healthy weight can be tough—and losing weight, even tougher. If you’ve tried and failed to lose weight before, you may believe that diets don’t work for you. You’re probably right: some diets don’t work at all and none of them work for everyone—our bodies often respond differently to different foods. But while there’s no easy fix to losing weight, there are plenty of steps you can take to develop a healthier relationship with food, curb emotional triggers to overeating, and achieve lasting weight-loss success. Here are some popular weight loss strategies.
1. Cut calories:
Some experts believe that successfully managing your weight comes down to a simple equation: If you eat fewer calories than you burn, you lose weight. Sounds easy, right? Then why is losing weight so hard?
- Weight loss isn’t a linear event over time. When you cut calories, you may drop weight for the first few weeks, for example, and then something changes. You eat the same number of calories but you lose less weight or no weight at all. That’s because when you lose weight you’re losing water and lean tissue as well as fat, your metabolism slows, and your body changes in other ways. So, in order to continue dropping weight each week, you need to continue cutting calories.
- A calorie isn’t always a calorie. Eating 100 calories of high fructose corn syrup, for example, can have a different effect on your body than eating 100 calories of broccoli. The trick for sustained weight loss is to ditch the foods that are packed with calories but don’t make you feel full (like candy) and replace them with foods that fill you up without being loaded with calories (like vegetables).
- Many of us don’t always eat simply to satisfy hunger. We also turn to food for comfort or to relieve stress—which can quickly derail any weight loss plan.
2. Cut carbs
A different way of viewing weight loss identifies the problem as not one of consuming too many calories, but rather the way the body accumulates fat after consuming carbohydrates—in particular the role of the hormone insulin. When you eat a meal, carbohydrates from the food enter your bloodstream as glucose. In order to keep your blood sugar levels in check, your body always burns off this glucose before it burns off fat from a meal.
If you eat a carbohydrate-rich meal (lots of pasta, rice, bread, or French fries, for example), your body releases insulin to help with the influx of all this glucose into your blood. As well as regulating blood sugar levels, insulin does two things: It prevents your fat cells from releasing fat for the body to burn as fuel (because its priority is to burn off the glucose) and it creates more fat cells for storing everything that your body can’t burn off. The result is that you gain weight and your body now requires more fuel to burn, so you eat more. Since insulin only burns carbohydrates, you crave carbs and so begins a vicious cycle of consuming carbs and gaining weight. To lose weight, the reasoning goes, you need to break this cycle by reducing carbs.
Most low-carb diets advocate replacing carbs with protein and fat, which could have some negative long-term effects on your health. If you do try a low-carb diet, you can reduce your risks and limit your intake of saturated and trans fats by choosing lean meats, fish and vegetarian sources of protein, low-fat dairy products, and eating plenty of leafy green and non-starchy vegetables.
3. Follow the Mediterranean diet
The Mediterranean diet emphasizes eating good fats and good carbs along with large quantities of fresh fruits and vegetables, nuts, fish, and olive oil—and only modest amounts of meat and cheese. The Mediterranean diet is more than just about food, though. Regular physical activity and sharing meals with others are also major components.
4. Control emotional eating
We don’t always eat simply to satisfy hunger. All too often, we turn to food when we’re stressed or anxious, which can wreck any diet and pack on the pounds. Do you eat when you’re worried, bored, or lonely? Do you snack in front of the TV at the end of a stressful day? Recognizing your emotional eating triggers can make all the difference in your weight-loss efforts. If you eat when you’re:
Stressed – find healthier ways to calm yourself. Try yoga, meditation, or soaking in a hot bath.
Low on energy – find other mid-afternoon pick-me-ups. Try walking around the block, listening to energizing music, or taking a short nap.
Lonely or bored – reach out to others instead of reaching for the refrigerator. Call a friend who makes you laugh, take your dog for a walk, or go to the library, mall, or park—anywhere there’s people.
The degree to which exercise aids weight loss is open to debate, but the benefits go way beyond burning calories. Exercise can increase your metabolism and improve your outlook—and it’s something you can benefit from right now. Go for a walk, stretch, move around and you’ll have more energy and motivation to tackle the other steps in your weight-loss program.
Lack time for a long workout? Three 10-minute spurts of exercise per day can be just as good as one 30-minute workout.
Remember: anything is better than nothing. Start off slowly with small amounts of physical activity each day. Then, as you start to lose weight and have more energy, you’ll find it easier to become more physically active.
Find exercise you enjoy. Try walking with a friend, dancing, hiking, cycling, playing Frisbee with a dog, enjoying a pickup game of basketball, or playing activity-based video games with your kids.