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How to Lose Weight and Keep It Off

Pick any diet book and it will claim to hold all the answers to successfully losing all of the weight you need –and keeping it off.  Some claim the important thing is to eat less and exercise more, others that low fat is the only way to go, while others prescribe cutting out carbs.  So, what should you think?

The truth is there is no”one size fits all” solution to permanent healthy weight loss.  What works for one person might not work for you, since our bodies react differently to different foods, based on genetics and other health factors.  To locate the system of weight loss that’s right for you will likely take time and require patience, commitment, and some experimentation with different foods and diets.

Being free to simply avoid fried foods or cut back on refined carbohydrates can set them up for success.  So, don’t get too discouraged if a diet that worked for someone else doesn’t work for you.  And don’t beat yourself up if a diet proves too restrictive for you to stay with.  In the end, a diet is simply right for you if it is one you can stick with over time.

Remember: while there’s no easy fix to losing weight, there are plenty of steps you can take to develop a healthy relationship with food, curb psychological triggers to overeating, and achieve a healthy weight.

Four popular weight loss strategies

1.  Sounds easy, right?  Why is losing weight so hard?

Losing weight isn’t a linear event with time.  When you cut calories, you may drop weight for the first couple of weeks, for example, and then something changes.  You eat the same number of calories but you lose weight or no weight in any way.  That’s because when you lose weight you’re losing water and lean tissue in addition to fat, your metabolism slows, and your body changes in other ways.  So, in order to keep on dropping weight each week, you want to continue cutting calories.

A calorie isn’t always a calorie.  Eating 100 calories of high fructose corn syrup, for instance, 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 (such as vegetables).

A lot folks don’t always eat simply to satisfy hunger.  In addition, we 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–specifically the use of the hormone insulin.  When you eat a meal, carbohydrates in the food enter your bloodstream as glucose.  So as to keep your glucose levels in check, your body burns off this sugar before it burns fat from a meal.

If you consume a carbohydrate-rich meal (lots of rice, pasta, bread, or French fries, for example), your body releases insulin to assist with the influx of this glucose in your blood.  In addition to regulating blood glucose levels, insulin does two things: It prevents your fat cells from releasing fat to the body to burn as fuel (since its priority is to burn the glucose) and it creates more fat cells for keeping everything that your body can not burn off.  Since insulin only burns carbohydrates, you crave carbohydrates and so begins a vicious cycle of consuming carbohydrates and gaining weight.  To lose weight, the reasoning goes, you will need to break this cycle by reducing carbohydrates.

Most low-carb diets advocate replacing carbs with fat and protein, which could have some negative long-term effects on your health.  Should you attempt a low-carb diet, you can reduce your risks and limit your consumption of saturated and trans fats by choosing lean meats, fish and vegetarian sources of protein, low-fat dairy products, and eating loads of leafy green and non-starchy vegetables.

3.  Cut fat  It is a mainstay of many diets: if you do not want to get fat, don’t eat fat.  Walk down any grocery store aisle and you will be bombarded with reduced-fat snacks, dairy, and packed meals.  But while our low-fat options have exploded, so have obesity rates. 

Not all fat is bad. Healthy or”good” fats can actually help to control your weight, in addition to manage your moods and combat fatigue.  Unsaturated fats found in avocados, nuts, seeds, soy milk, tofu, and fatty fish can help fill you up, while adding a little tasty olive oil into a plate of vegetables, for instance, can make it easier to eat healthy food and improve the overall quality of your diet.

We often make the wrong trade-offs. Many people make the mistake of swapping fat to the empty calories of sugar and refined carbohydrates.  Rather than eating whole-fat yoghurt, by way of instance, we consume low- or no-fat versions that are packed with sugar to compensate for the loss of taste.  We swap our fatty breakfast bacon for a muffin or donut that causes rapid spikes in blood glucose.

4.  Adhere to the Mediterranean diet  The Mediterranean diet emphasizes eating good fats and good carbs together with large amounts of fresh fruits and vegetables, fish, nuts, and olive oil–and only modest amounts of meat and cheese.  Regular physical activity and sharing meals with others will also be important components.

Whatever weight loss plan you try, it is important to remain motivated and avoid common dieting drawbacks, such as emotional eating.

Control emotional eating

We do not always eat only to satisfy hunger.  Frequently, we turn to food when we’re anxious or stressed, which can wreck any diet and pack on the pounds.  Do you eat when you’re worried, bored, or lonely?  Do you bite in front of the TV at the end of a stressful day? Recognizing your emotional eating triggers can make a big difference in your weight-loss efforts.  If you eat when you are:

Low on energy — find other mid-afternoon pick-me-ups.  Consider walking around the block, listening to energizing music, or taking a brief nap.

Lonely or bored — reach out to others rather than 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.

Practice mindful eating instead

Avoid distractions while eating. Try not to eat while working, watching TV, or driving. It’s too easy to mindlessly overeat.

Pay attention.  Eat slowly, savoring the smells and textures of your food. 

Mix things up to focus on the experience of eating.  Try using chopsticks as opposed to a fork, or use your utensils with your non-dominant hand.

Stop eating before you are full.  It takes time for the signal to achieve your brain that you’ve had enough.  Don’t feel obligated to always clean your plate.

Stay motivated

Permanent weight loss requires making healthy changes to your lifestyle and food choices.

Find a cheering section. Apps such as Jenny Craig and Weight Watchers use group support to affect weight loss and lifelong healthy eating.  Look for support–whether in the form of family, friends, or a support group–to find the encouragement you need.

Slow and steady wins the race. Losing weight too quickly can take a toll on your body and mind, making you feel lethargic, drained, and sick.  Aim to lose one or two pounds a week so that you’re losing fat rather than water and muscle.

Set goals to keep you motivated. Short-term objectives, like needing to fit into a bikini for the summer, usually don’t work in addition to needing to feel more confident or become healthier for your children’s sakes.  When temptation strikes, concentrate on the benefits you will reap from being fitter.

Use tools to track your progress.  Smartphone programs, fitness trackers, or simply keeping a journal can help you keep an eye on the food you consume, the calories you burn, and the weight you lose.  Seeing the results in black and white will help you stay motivated.

Get a lot of sleep.  Deficiency of sleep stimulates your appetite so you would like more food than normal; at the same time, it stops you feeling satisfied, making you want to keep eating.  Sleep deprivation may also affect your motivation, so aim for eight hours of quality sleep per night.

Keeping the weight off

You may have heard the widely quoted statistic that 95% of people who lose weight on a diet will regain it within a few years–or even months.  Even though there isn’t much hard evidence to support that claim, it is a fact that lots of weight-loss programs fail in the long term.  Often that’s simply because diets that are too restrictive are very tough to maintain over time.  However, that doesn’t mean your weight loss attempts are doomed to failure.  Far from it.

Since it was established in 1994, The National Weight Control Registry (NWCR) in the United States, has tracked over 10,000 people who have lost significant amounts of weight and kept it off for extended periods of time.  The study has found that participants who’ve been successful in maintaining their weight loss share some common strategies.  Whatever diet you use to lose weight in the first place, adopting these habits may help you to keep it off:

Stay physically active. Successful dieters in the NWCR study exercise for around 60 minutes, typically walking.

Recording what you eat every day will help to keep you accountable and motivated.

Eat breakfast every day.  Most commonly in the study, it’s cereal and fruit.  Eating breakfast boosts metabolism and staves off hunger later in the day.

Eat more fiber and less unhealthy fat compared to the typical American diet.

Regularly check the scale.  Weighing yourself weekly may help you to detect any small gains in weight, enabling you to promptly take corrective action before the problem escalates.

Cutting back on the time spent sitting in front of a screen can be a key part of adopting a more active lifestyle and preventing weight gain.