Instead of ditching your diet and the pursuit of better health, it’s a good idea to ditch your idea of what healthy looks like. Lately, movements, like body positivity, health at every size and anti-dieting, have sparked a meaningful conversation about healthy bodies, and guess what? They come in all shapes and sizes. The number on the scale is just one indicator of health; your lab work (cholesterol and blood glucose levels, for instance), blood pressure levels, and measures of physical fitness are other factors. So is your emotional health.
I’m in favor of any program that promotes whole foods over hyper-processed fare, and this is one thing the popular diet plans can agree on. Overly processed foods have been linked to weight gain, perhaps because many unhealthy packaged foods (think: potato chips, ice cream, frozen pizza, cookies and the like) lack the fiber found in many whole foods, including vegetables. Fiber helps fill us up, and research suggests that by simply adding more fiber to your menu, you can lose weight nearly as well as a more complicated approach. Consistently choosing whole foods is one way to do this.
If you’re routinely skimping on the recommended seven to nine hours, or you have difficulty falling or staying asleep, it’s time to get serious about your bedtime rituals. Your better-sleep strategy includes: limiting caffeine past the early afternoon; sticking to alcohol caps of one drink for women, two for men (since alcohol can interfere with the quality of your sleep); and staying off the phone and iPad within an hour of bedtime.
And beyond that, weight-loss efforts can take an emotional toll. “It can destroy your relationship with food. It can lead you to feel obsessed and frustrated,” Albers explains. For some people, quitting dieting is better and healthier than continuing to try to lose weight. And whatever a person’s weight-loss goal, the priority should be first and foremost on health. “Eating for health frees you up emotionally and is based on improving your body rather than rejecting your body,” she says.
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.
Physical activity helps burn abdominal fat. “One of the biggest benefits of exercise is that you get a lot of bang for your buck on body composition,” Stewart says. Exercise seems to work off belly fat in particular because it reduces circulating levels of insulin —which would otherwise signal the body to hang on to fat—and causes the liver to use up fatty acids, especially those nearby visceral fat deposits, he says.
And that raises the most important point: Thinking about exercise as a way to work off food or simply allow you to eat sets up a host of unhealthy and unhelpful thought patterns and habits around food and exercise. For instance, one 2013 research review found that, not only did people generally overestimate how many calories exercise burned—when they did work out, they ramped up their food intake. And if you overeat following exercise, any caloric deficit created during your workout can become a wash. And related: thinking of food as a reward and exercise as a punishment is likely to sabotage your weight loss efforts anyway.
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:
A little garlic in your meals could mean a lot less weight around your middle. The results of a Korean study found that mice given a high-fat diet supplemented with garlic lost significantly more weight and abdominal fat than those who just ate fatty foods. Even better, they also improved their liver health, making it easier to stay healthy and burn off that excess fat in the long term. For more flavorful ways to make your food more enjoyable, turn to the metabolism-boosting spicy recipes and watch those pounds melt away.
There’s a reason everyone harps on about protein: Not only does it help keep you full, but it’s also responsible for repairing the tiny tears caused by strength training in your muscles. This helps them grow bigger and stronger, nudging out body fat in the process. As a general rule of thumb, aim to get at least 70 grams of protein throughout the day, says Dr. Cheskin. (These high-protein foods can help you reach that goal.)
"It’s easy to become impatient and frustrated when you’re trying to lose weight and haven’t seen the results yet. But be realistic – you won’t see the affect overnight. Your brain’s wiring plays a huge part in resisting changes in lifestyle, and it takes time to establish new habits – up to 12 weeks. Stick with it for at least eight weeks and you should notice a change."
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