What You Don’t Want to Hear About Losing Weight

Disclaimer

Do you want the secret to losing weight?

The magic pill that can shed it all off without putting in any work?

If only.

Unfortunately, it hasn’t been made yet. Don’t fall prey to the powders, liquids, pills, etc., that claim it. Weight loss is a billion-dollar industry.

We have to do some old-fashioned diet and exercise.

It may not be easy, and you might not like it, but it’s possible.

You can do it and I’ll show you how.

What You Probably Already Know, But Still Needs to Be Said

Studies have shown a decreased quality of life, measured by bullying, self-image, bodily pain, screen time, physical activity, and quality of food, in children and adolescents who are overweight and obese compared to children of a healthy weight.

Even losing 5-10% body fat can significantly improve health.

Obesity can reduce life expectancy by 10-20 years. 

Obesity is associated with chronic conditions such as diabetes, cardiovascular disease, impaired immune function, gallbladder and kidney disease, erectile dysfunction, sleep and breathing disorders, arthritis, and more. There are increased complications in pregnancy and can cause psychological disorders and problems (depression, low self-esteem, body dissatisfaction).

Slow weight gain, even 1 or 2 pounds a year, is a major cause of overweight and obesity, so weight management is essential for everyone. 

Most behavior patterns form during our teens and early adulthood, so this is the ideal time to create healthy lifestyle choices. If we’re past that age, it also means we have to break those patterns.

Physical Activity and Exercise Is the Same Thing, Right?

First, let’s clear up some confusion and get the definitions out of the way.

Many of us hear “physical activity” and “exercise” interchangeably. This is not correct, though. They are two very different things.

Physical activity is any purposeful, repeated bodily movement, such as hiking, gardening, raking leaves, or cleaning the house.

Whereas exercise is planned, structured, repetitive bodily movements to maintain or improve one or more components of physical fitness (power, flexibility, cardiorespiratory, muscular, speed, coordination, balance, agility). 

Exercise produces a response in the body through stress to create a new or sustained adaptation (such as cardiorespiratory fitness being improved through running). It requires a defined frequency for sustainable change to occur. Walking once does not create changes or sustained adaptation. 

Exercise can be physical activity, but physical activity is not always exercise. Confusing, I know. All physical activity (less sedentary time) can improve overall health, but exercise consists of defined parameters that, when applied, can achieve specific outcomes.

Let’s make this a little easier to understand. A sedentary person taking a brisk walk to the park could be considered exercise because it applies new stress to the body. However, if someone else who runs one mile every day takes that same brisk walk, it would not be exercise because their body already tolerates stress levels higher than the walk. For them, it would be physical activity. 

But as said above, even though the walk for a sedentary person could be considered exercise, only walking once will not create change. They will need to walk routinely or for a defined frequency (such as 5 days a week).

How Much Exercise Is Enough Exercise?

150 minutes a week of moderate-intensity exercise (brisk walking as an example) or 75 minutes of vigorous exercise (jogging or running) is recommended to maintain general health. You can break up the 150 or 75 minutes in any way that best fits your schedule as long as it’s at least 10 minutes at a time. It could be an hour on Monday, 15 minutes Tuesday, 30 minutes Wednesday, and 45 minutes Friday.

Start slow! Work your body up to higher levels. If you’ve been inactive for a while and force your way through an advanced HIIT class, your body will not be happy. And you’ll most likely not want to exercise again. 

Start off one day a week or 10 minutes at a time. Begin with your body weight or light weights. Gradually work your way up. Your body will need continuous new stress applied to continue adapting and improving. Pretty soon, you’ll be at the point where that walk isn’t considered exercise for you anymore.

How Miserable Does Your Diet Have to Make You?

Have you ever been on a diet? It’s not easy to tell yourself you can’t have certain foods or you can’t eat as much as you want.

It can be helpful to change your frame of mind to one where you can eat for yourself to feel good rather than depriving yourself to lose weight.

Below are some general diet guidelines that we all should follow, whether we’re losing weight or not. You can, of course, follow these if it’s helpful to look at the broad picture and have flexibility. Or if you need the specific plan, the rigidness, there are plenty of specific diets out there you can follow.

  • Limit:
    • Sugary beverages, alcohol, refined grains and sweets, processed meat and solid fats (butter), and processed foods in general.
    • Stress. It puts you in fight or flight mode, and some people eat unwisely when they’re stressed.
  • Choose often:
    • Unprocessed whole grains
    • Variety of vegetables and fruits, beans, fish, nuts, seeds
    • Water
  • Diet factors associated with obesity and specific health risks, such as cardiovascular disease:
    • Excess caloric intake
    • High in sugar and processed carbs, saturated fats, sodium, alcohol
    • Low in potassium, fruits, vegetables, water
    • Excessive red or processed meat consumption

Most people who are trying to lose weight look at low-calorie diets. In general, a low-calorie diet should provide 1200-1500 calories a day.

Most low-calorie dieters see a large amount of weight lost during the start, and then the weight loss seems to decline or stop. This initial weight loss is mostly fluid and water. If the diet continues, fat will be lost, but at a much slower rate than water. This can be discouraging and may look like the diet has stopped working.

Your diet should contain high-quality, nutrient-dense food. To maintain and keep weight off, you need to have a reduced calorie intake or high energy expenditure in physical activity.

Think of this as an energy balance scale. Most Americans have a positive energy balance where they take in more than what they expend, which leads to weight gain.

Look at the energy you put into your body (food calories) versus the energy you’re putting out (physical activity, food digestion, resting metabolism).

One pound of body fat represents 3500 calories. Something to keep in mind when thinking about diet, exercise, and how much you are expecting to lose.

Maintaining a healthy weight is a lifelong project, not a 3-month diet.

Baby Steps

  • You can start making small changes by:
    • Making more meals at home.
    • Substituting or incorporating more nutrient-dense food into your meal.
    • Eating whole fruits with breakfast or dessert.
    • Reduce empty calories from sugary beverages.
    • Add extra vegetables to soups, sandwiches, stir-fries, pizza.
    • Include a green salad or fruit salad before a meal
    • Snack on fresh fruits and vegetables instead of processed snack foods
    • Limit portions of foods high in calories and low in nutrition, such as mayonnaise, cheese, butter, fatty meats, and croissants.
    • Pay attention to your drink choices. Many are what we hear as empty calories. They may be high in added sugars but provide no nutritional value.
    • Eat breakfast. Skipping meals makes you calorie deficient and more susceptible to binge eating. 
    • Wait 10-15 minutes before going back for seconds and see if you really need it.
    • Pay attention to your total calories, especially sugars, portion sizes, energy, nutrient density, and eating habits. 
    • Limit processed foods, especially those high in added sugars and refined carbohydrates. These are typically high on the glycemic index, which may actually increase your appetite.
      • Be wary of processed food labels that say “fat-free” or “reduced fat.” There may be sugar and fat substitutes that could be worse and higher in calories.

Key Things to Look For in a Program

TOPS (Take Off Pounds Sensibly) and OA (Overeaters Anonymous) offer group support that is not commercialized.

There are commercial weight loss programs that are online and app-based. There are also clinical weight loss programs.

  • Safe and effective weight loss programs should include:
    • Healthy eating plans that reduce calories but do not exclude specific foods or food groups.
    • Tips on ways to increase moderate-intensity physical activity.
    • Tips on healthy habits that also keep your cultural needs in mind.
    • Slow and steady weight loss. Experts recommend losing weight at a rate of 0.5-2 pounds per week, depending on your starting weight.
    • According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, people who lose weight gradually are more successful at keeping it off.
    • Recommending medical evaluation and care if you have health problems, are on medication, or plan to follow a particular formula diet that requires monitoring by a doctor.
    • A plan to keep the weight off after you have lost it. 

Let Go of the Numbers and Ideals

Gradual weight gain has convinced your body that your current weight is normal. Once you lose some weight, there will be a plateau or weight maintenance phase where your body adapts to the new weight. It’s trying to protect and conserve. This is a necessary reset for your body. It’s not what you mentally want, but it’s normal. Yes, it can be very discouraging, but keep with it! Give yourself time and patience for your body to adapt.

It can be helpful for some to focus on adopting a healthy lifestyle instead of focusing on a particular weight. This includes a healthy diet pattern, plenty of exercise, thinking positively, and coping with stress. 

Falling back to old patterns and habits will put you in the same spot you’re trying to get out of. But you also don’t have to strive for perfection.

Adopting this healthy lifestyle could lead to weight loss that’s close to the recommended range, anyway. It may be higher than social standards, but it could be the right weight for you. 

Managing weight this way, letting your healthy lifestyle determine your weight, can avoid stress, developing unhealthy eating patterns, and a negative body image.

Imagine…

You know what you need to do. Start by changing one little thing at a time. You can do this. 

Set your goal. No, not your weight or clothes size, but what you want your life to look like. What does it look like when you daydream?

Do you want to feel comfortable in your body?

Have more energy?

Do you want to be healthier and have less risk for disease?

Keep that goal in mind as you go through this journey. Find support with friends or support groups. Make your plan of action and do this!

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