The Right (& Wrong) Ways to Lose Weight

Written by: on Wednesday, March 4th, 2015
woman strength training

Remember: cardio and strength training are both important parts of your exercise regimen.

Exercise is medicine, what you put into your mouth matters, and there are no quick fixes. These are the key messages worth a reminder as everyone is getting on the weight-loss bandwagon for the New Year. Given that two-thirds of Americans are either overweight or obese, and that healthcare costs (to say nothing of quality-of-life costs) are staggering, we need to figure out how to turn this ship around. Here are eight truths about diet and exercise that anyone trying to lose weight (or even maintain weight) and stay fit should know:

1) Miracle slim-down diets (aka “crash diets”) do not work. Is it true the less you eat, the more weight you will lose? No. A big slashing of calories poorly predicts how much weight you will lose because your body adapts to perceived “famine” conditions by conserving energy.

close up of broccoli

The secret to weight loss: a healthy diet rich in fruits and vegetables (like broccoli), whole grains, legumes, healthy fats (like olive oil), and lean meat and dairy (if you eat dairy).

In a three-month study, young, healthy women were given a diet to lose weight. One diet had a moderate (-400) calorie deficit; this group lost six pounds in 3 months. The other diet had a severe (-850) calorie deficit; that group lost only 8 pounds. This was far less than predicted and related to a drop in resting metabolic rate. The body’s ability to conserve energy is quite powerful! If you want to lose weight, plan to chip off just a few hundred calories at the end of the day, rather than starve yourself by under eating all day.

In fact, men who want to lose weight should not crash diet, either. They will lose not only muscle but also testosterone (a muscle-building hormone). In a three-week study, soldiers ate a high-protein diet (3 x the RDA; 2.4 g pro/kg/day) but under ate calories by 40% below the amount needed to maintain weight. While the very high-protein intake helped counter loss of muscle, it did not maintain testosterone levels. Remember: chipping off a few hundred calories is preferable to a chopping off a thousand. Two fewer cans of soda or beer a day can make a difference in weight!

2) It doesn’t matter how often you eat; what matters is calories. Are dieters better off eating three small meals plus three small snacks—or eating the same amount of calories but in just two meals? For two weeks, obese middle-age women ate calorie-controlled packets of food either two or six times a day. Either way, the subjects reported being hungry. Eating six smaller meals did not appear to improve appetite response. So take your choice how often you want to eat, being sure to keep the total calories within your daily calorie budget.

Cup of coffee

Coffee has many health benefits—thanks to its antioxidants—but weight loss is not one of them.

3) No, coffee can’t curb your appetite (sorry!). Many dieters drink coffee for breakfast, swearing it curbs their morning hunger pangs. Yet, a study with 12 subjects reported no differences in appetite (and subsequent food intake) when their breakfast and mid-morning beverages were 1) water, 2) water+caffeine, 3) decaffeinated coffee or 4) decaf+caffeine. At lunch (4.5 hours after breakfast), the subjects reported similar amounts of hunger and ate similar amount of calories, regardless of their caffeine intake. The coffee did not effectively curb their appetites.

4) Listen to your body. What happens to food intake when healthy college men who exercise regularly are told to sit for 10 additional hours a week for 8 weeks?  They naturally eat less! At baseline, the subjects ate about 2,600 calories a day (47% carb, 18% protein, 32% fat). When they were told to be more sedentary, they intuitively ate less than baseline. They chose the same foods, just smaller portions. Only 1 of the 8 subjects ate more than at baseline. The moral of the study: If you get injured and cannot exercise, your body can naturally desire fewer calories. The trick is to listen to your body’s cues.

5) Regular exercise does more than just keep you fit. Exercise can impact not only weight but also the kinds of microbes that grow in the gut. In mice, the kinds of microbes differ by 40% between sedentary lean and obese mice. Even mice made obese by a high-fat diet—but allowed to use an exercise wheel—had a lean phenotype compared to the sedentary obese mice with no access to the exercise wheel. The exercised mice had distinctly different gut microbes. We need more research to understand how exercise impacts gut microbes in humans and how those microbes impact metabolism and weight.

Dumbbells

Lifting weights boosts bone density and your resting metabolism (which is key to how many calories you burn a day).

6) You’ve got to lift weights. Female athletes commonly have low bone mineral density. Is this related to their being light in weight? Having low body fat? Less muscle? A study of 44 female D-1 athletes (from cross-country, tennis, basketball, and soccer teams) suggests that bone mineral density significantly relates to muscle mass. The more muscle, the better the bone density. Keep lifting those weights!

7) Any exercise is better than no exercise. Does very slow walking (1 mile/hour) on a treadmill desk offer any health benefits? Yes. In a study, 32 college students consumed 300 calories of glucose and then either 1) remained sedentary for two hours or 2) for two hours, alternated walking on a treadmill workstation for 30 minutes then sitting for 30 minutes. The results suggest even very slow walking helped with blood glucose control. Bottom line: being sedentary is deleterious to health.

8) Getting older? Make it a point to move more. Regular leisure-time exercise patterns drop from childhood to adolescence and become unacceptably low in adulthood. One reason may be that we spend many hours at our desks working—with little time for leisure or even vacation. This is why it’s even more important to make an effort to fit in exercise as often as possible. And try to get up from your desk at regular intervals….and walk (even around the office) if you can. Remember, every little bit helps!

How I Lost 90 Pounds & Became An Athlete!

Written by: on Monday, January 6th, 2014
Weight Loss Success Story

BEFORE: Rachel At 236 pounds, 11 weeks after giving birth.

Weight Loss Success Story

AFTER: Rachel at 144 pounds…happy, healthy, and slim.

It was eleven weeks after Rachel Shapiro Cooper, 33, had her daughter, Colbie, and she distinctly remembers the moment. “I was sitting on the couch next to my beautiful new baby and my mother in law—and all I could think about was how physically uncomfortable I was. It completely devastated me. I didn’t want to be sitting next to my beautiful family feeling this way.”

At 236 pounds, Rachel—a theatre teacher at a charter school in Newark, NJ—had reached her highest weight, ever. “When I look at that picture now, I looked enormous and sad,” she says. “My thighs are as big as the couch. It was at that moment that I said I was never ever going to feel this way ever again.”

“Changing My Mindset”

“No one sits there and says I want to be obese one day,” says Rachel, “but it happens. And it happened to me because I ignored how my body was feeling—for so long. And that’s not normal.”

Weight Loss Success Story

Rachel, after, with her husband Brandon.

“Everything about your health is a choice,” she says, adding that you have the power to change your health and your weight—for the better. “For so long, I was told I was overweight when I wasn’t overweight. That was a really damaging thing. People around me created this false reality for me. I wasn’t as thin as other kids, but I wasn’t the fat kid either.”

“But then I started to believe what every one else was saying about me—and I believed I’d always be the fat kid. Then I told myself that it was okay to be chubby and I started developing these habits where I felt like I could eat more. And when I got pregnant, it got worse: I had two breakfasts because I felt like I was entitled to it.”

“But I’m done with that part of my life: I’m not going to eat more just to eat more,” says Rachel, who is now pregnant with her second child and is thinner, happier, and has more energy during this pregnancy than she ever did during her first pregnancy. “I’m proud to say I ran a 10K already during this pregnancy—and I felt great while I was doing it.”

“Learning About My Body”

Right after she gave birth the first time, Rachel received bad news about her health. “I found out that I was pre-diabetic; my sugar was high,” she explains. “Plus, my total cholesterol level was over 300.”

Motivational Sayings

One of Rachel’s favorite motivational sayings.

“And I thought: ‘Who have I become? I knew when I saw this picture that I couldn’t walk through life this way anymore. Before I was overweight, now I was sick and I had to get well.”

“Between being a new mom and feeling totally out of my element, I felt like some obese imposter walking around in my world in this huge unhealthy body,” she says.

After Rachel started losing weight, running, and feeling great about her body, she found a lump in her breast. “I have very dense breast tissue, but because I had been overweight, I hadn’t really known my breasts—or my body. And I thought: ‘How is it possible that I’m healthy for first time in my life and this happens? Thankfully everything turned out fine [it was fibrocystic breasts], but it’s amazing how many women are not familiar with their body and miss things like this.”

“When I was overweight, I didn’t want to know my body,” she says, explaining that so many people who are overweight feel the same way—and aren’t able to recognize bumps and lumps, aches and pains because they’re out of touch with themselves. “But I was killing myself by not wanting to know my body.”

“How I Lost the Weight”

Rachel shared the go-to strategies, below, that helped her to lose the 90 pounds (it took a year and a half)—and helped to make her a runner, too.

woman stepping on scale

You will lose pounds, says Rachel, if you address your food entitlement issues up front.

First and foremost, though, Rachel says you have to change your mindset about food. “We all have this absurd sense of entitlement about food: We tell ourselves that ‘We deserve to eat this or that’. It’s like a petulant child—and we need to remove the petulant child from weight loss,” explains Rachel. ‘This need for immediate gratification is why people are fat. We have no patience. We’re not willing to wait until another day to eat something.”

“But the truth is: If you didn’t get to eat it today, you can eat it another day,” she says. “That’s a huge part of what I had to master. There will other chances to eat that food, there will be other parties.”

The bottom line, Rachel says, is this: “If you don’t do anything to fix your weight issues, nothing will change. Taking charge of your life and your weight is completely in your hands.”

1. Make the decision to put yourself first. It’s so easy for people—particularly mothers—to put others first, says Rachel, but changing this is key to dropping pounds. “You have to retrain yourself. “I said ‘I’m going to lose weight’ and

Weight Loss Success Story after finishing a race.

Rachel—already pregnant with her second child—and Brandon after finishing her second half marathon.

‘I’m putting myself before everyone and everything’,” she says, explaining that by doing that it made her weight loss a priority. She made it a priority every week to attend Weight Watchers meetings, which were key to her success. She made it a priority to cook healthy foods and pack a healthy lunch—and snacks—for work every day. And she made it a priority to exercise.

“Now I get up at 5 am and run on the treadmill. On Saturdays and Sunday, my husband and I trade. I spend an hour and 10 minutes doing a long run and then he takes time to do it. And that’s part of my life now.”

“After making this decision to put myself first, my life completely opened up,” she says. “I was happy and completely present in my life—with my daughter, my husband, my friends, my job.”

2. Create do-able goals. “At first, I never thought I’d reach my goal,” says Rachel. “I kept trying to lose weight and would step on the scale after a week and had lost nothing. I was so depressed—which made me want to give up. I stopped caring, stopped believing. I had so much to go, I felt like it was impossible. I didn’t have faith in my body. I felt like it was broken, like it was not like other people’s. I was deeply ashamed.”

Calendar for Weight Loss

“I stopped looking at weight loss week by week—and instead looked at it over the course of 30 days,” says Rachel.

“Then my husband, my beautiful, wise, forgiving sweet husband brought me a proposal,” Rachel explains. “He thought my issues with weight loss had to do with the fear of not seeing results. I would stay on program and then not see a loss and then collapse and binge and then not see a loss and it was a vicious cycle. He knew the Weight Watchers plan was realistic and healthy (he is a doctor after all). He knew that if I could just take the pressure off of each week, I might see success and that might lead to momentum. Well, that it did! We embarked on the 30-day calendar.”

“Brandon helped me create a calendar with goals for my life on it and each day I simply stayed on program I crossed off a box and at the end of 30 days we would re-assess” she explains. “I kept going to my weekly meetings and by the end of the month I had lost 8 pounds after not losing any weight for the six months prior.”

“We kept using the calendar for 90 days and then I made it below 200 lbs. Then I noticed myself starting to feel like, ‘I may be able to do this’. “

3. Believe in everything YOU can accomplish. “I was never a runner and

Weight Loss Success Story

Rachel, and her friend Marianne, after successfully completing a race.

now I run countless 4 milers, four 10Ks, and even a half marathon. There are all these lies I was telling myself,” says Rachel, who says that believing in how you want to be—not how others see you or how you saw yourself—is key to turning your life around.

4. Keep track of everything you eat. Rachel credits her local Weight

Weight Watchers Mobile App

Rachel used the Weight Watchers Mobile App to keep track of what she ate. (Available free on the iTunes app store.)

Watchers meetings, which she attended regularly, with helping her learn how much she should be eating every day— and staying motivated. “I never used to write down what I ate. Who wants to write down that you ate a quart of lo mein?” she says, explaining a key weight-loss strategy of Weight Watchers. “Now I write down everything I eat every single day. I have a Weight Watchers tracker app on my phone that I write my food in. It takes two minutes—and it keeps me accountable.”

5. Be honest about what (and how much) you’re eating. While the food tracker app helps, Rachel also relies on friends to keep her accountable. “I have a friend, Marianne, and we e-mail our food to each other every day,” says Rachel, crediting Marianne with being “instrumental” to her success.

“We follow up with each other. We send the good, the bad, and the ugly to each other. There’s no greater gift you can give yourself than absolute dead honesty. The act of being accountable and honest transforms how I relate to food now. It’s not a secret anymore. Your secrets make you sick, and I was no longer willing to stay sick.”

“Having people around you, like Marianne, who know your goals and remind you of them, even when you’ve forgotten is key,” says Rachel. “Real friends don’t tell you it’s okay when you make a poor food choice. Real friends aren’t afraid to be your ‘mirror up to nature’.”

6. Take it one meal at a time. “Don’t think about how much weight you have to lose, focus on one meal at a time. Once you get through breakfast, that’s an accomplishment. Then you can move on to the next meal,” says Rachel. “What matters is how you manage your food in each moment.”

7. Prepare for ups and downs. Know that—despite everything you’re doing—you may not lose weight some weeks, says Rachel. “Weight loss is not one of those things that accidentally happens. The scale doesn’t lie. It will take a

Weight Loss Success Story

Rachel, with her friend Marianne, outside Weight Watchers, which guided her and helped her reach her goal.

while. There were weeks that I worked my butt off and I lost not one single pound. But again, I had to take the power away from immediate gratification and that feeling that ‘If I do everything I’m supposed to do, I should lose weight.’ Sometimes that just doesn’t happen. But you have to stick with it over the long haul to see the results—and you will see results.”

The Weight Watchers meetings helped Rachel with this aspect of her weight loss—as well as her entire journey. (After having reached her goal, she’s now a lifetime member.) “The Weight Watchers meetings were a place I went each week, on good weeks and bad,” she says. “It was the place where, for 30 minutes, I could brainstorm a challenge and get support. My leader, Kelly, (now my friend) and my fellow members shared in my victories and built me up when I felt like I could not keep going.”

8. Plan what you’re going to eat—before you go out. “I make a plan about food—and what I’m going to eat in social situations—and I stick to it,” says Rachel. “I determine beforehand if I’m going to have one glass of wine at a cocktail party. I write before I bite. Food is not a relationship I should be having. I want to put my emotions back into my relationships.”

“I always look at restaurant menu before going out to eat so I know what I’m going to have,” explains Rachel. “I always commit to a lean protein like seafood and sushi. And the best part: I eat it and can still leave the restaurant feeling great.”

“I mostly stay away from Mexican and Indian though because these cuisines are harder to portion out,” she says, “but nothing is off limits anymore. Generally, though, I try to stick to cuisines that are satisfying and healthy. I also have a two-drink minimum. My rule is: if I drink I’m never having dessert, and if I’m having dessert, I don’t drink.”

9. Add extra vegetables to everything. “I bulk up on veggies,” says Rachel.

Roasted Carrots and Zucchini

Every Sunday, Rachel roasts a big batch of vegetables to add to lunches, dinners, and snacks during the week.

“On Sundays, I roast a bunch of vegetables so I can chop them up and add them to meals all week long. I make sure to have lots of vegetables with every meal.”

10.  Steer clear of packaged foods. “It’s so much easier to cook things for yourself,” says Rachel. “Cooking really doesn’t take that much time—just a little bit of prep work.” For example, Rachel makes frozen white fillets of fish with puttanesca sauce. “It takes 20 minutes to cook,” she explains. Another favorite: Chicken sausage with diced veggies, sautéed with beets and mushrooms on bed of polenta. Turkey meatloaf is another go-to dish: Rachel makes a big batch on the weekends so she has enough for lunch during the week.

Communicating with your partner about your goals is so important, too, particularly when it comes to meals. Rachel credits her husband with helping her stay on track. “Brandon would find my Weight Watchers Point allowance for the day and make us romantic dinners that were delicious and good for me, too,” she explains.

“Putting it All Together”

Reaching Weight Watchers Goal

Rachel is now a lifetime member of Weight Watchers after having reached her goal.

When asked how it feels to be a Weight-Loss Success Story, Rachel had this to say: “I feel very blessed to be able to tell my story. The more you isolate yourself and tell yourself you have it all together, the worse you do. When you surrender to the fact that you need help, the more successful you are.”

“It’s okay to not be able to do it all by yourself. I was paralyzed because I never wanted to do the hard work, the soul searching.”

Weight Loss Success Story

“One of the reasons I love this picture is I’m completely in the moment with my daughter, Colbie Laia, and not worried about having it captured in a photo—which was always the case before I lost the weight,” says Rachel.

“I make no claims to be a master of this or a perfectionist. I just need to eat the right food every day. I need to drink 6 to 8 cups of water every day. And I need to work out 4 to 5 days a week.”

But the results are so worth it: “Now I get up in the morning and go to my job without worrying about what to wear or what’s going to fit. That’s so damaging to your confidence,” says Rachel, who admits to never having worn pants with zippers before. “I would always wear dresses and stockings because that’s what felt comfortable. I didn’t own a pair of jeans or black pants. In fact, I couldn’t stand buying clothes. Now I buy 6s and 8s—and they fit perfectly. I don’t have to worry about buying clothes any more.”

“Suddenly I’m the person who can manage my live and thrive and not feel like I’m drowning,” explains Rachel. “Now I don’t look at things that are hard and feel like I can’t do them. I look at things and think about how I can achieve them. That’s an amazing gift.”

Weight Loss Success Story

Rachel at her sister’s wedding—radiating happiness and confidence.

“I was at the mercy of food for 30 years,” she says. “Enough is enough. The way I look at it: Food is either going to nurture and sustain me or it’s going to bring me back to a place where I never want to go again. It’s my choice. And I’ve decided I’m not going back to that place ever again.”

“But weight is just the beginning. What I learned about myself and my potential and the resilience of the human spirit has honestly transformed my entire perspective,” says Rachel. “I am an athlete. Together with my husband, we race through 5ks and 10ks and a half marathon. I’ve crossed the finish line in my healthy, strong body that birthed my daughter, that danced at my wedding, that crumbled in sadness and hopelessness, and that healed itself from a lifetime of pain. I am so incredibly grateful and I can’t wait to see what’s next.”

 

How to Lose Weight—So it Stays Off for Good

Written by: on Saturday, August 6th, 2011
Woman weighing herself on scale

Go easy on yourself! Your frustrating lack of weight loss may have nothing to do with lack of willpower!

How to lose weight is the number one reason people choose to make a nutrition appointment with me. They express frustration they “cannot do something as simple as lose a few pounds.” While few of my clients are obese, their frustrations match those of dieters in the general population.

At a conference presented by Harvard School of Public Health, Harvard Medical School, and the Boston Nutrition Obesity Research Center (July 13-14, 2011), researchers addressed some of the issues that contribute to difficulty losing weight. Perhaps the following highlights might offer insights if you are among the many [people] who struggle with shedding some unwanted body fat.

Why gaining weight is so easy
• To the detriment of our health, we are living in a food carnival. No wonder today’s kids enter adulthood 20 pounds heavier than in 1960! By the time kids are 4 to 5 years old, 60 percent of them have lost the ability to self-regulate food intake.

• Most people believe that obesity is a matter of will power, but it’s not that simple. For example, in obese people, the brain’s response to food odors and flavors is often blunted. Compared to lean people, they need more of a food to experience a positive brain response.

French fries

Some people may be more predisposed to eating junk food than others.

 

• When stressed, obese people (more so than their lean counterparts) seek high fat foods. Chips, ice cream, fries…

• Impulsivity, a genetic trait, is a risk factor for obesity. That is, obese people (more than their lean counterparts) tend to impulsively eat, let’s say, the whole plate of cookies.

• Food advertisements are designed to encourage impulsive consumption. Food advertisers know that marketing “works”—and kids who watch TV are a prime target. The average child sees an average of 13 food ads a day on TV; most of these foods are high in sugar, salt, and saturated fat.

In fact, research with children who watched TV with four ads for food ate 45 percent more Goldfish Crackers (100 calories more) when exposed to the ads for food as compared to when they watched four ads for games. The kids who liked the taste of Goldfish ate even more calories!

Plus, foods marketed with a character (such as Scooby-Doo) sell better. Fifty-two percent of pre-schoolers said the character-food tasted better (as opposed to 38 percent who said it tasted the same, and 10 percent who said food without the character tasted better).

• When the calories are listed near a food, as is happening in many fast food restaurants, some people choose the foods with higher calories, believing it will be yummier. That response certainly negates the intention of the calorie campaign!

• People make an average of 200 food choices in a day; all these decisions can deplete our limited mental “resources” that govern self-regulation. That’s one reason why, at the end of a hectic day, you can more easily overeat. You lack the mental resources to say “no” to that tempting cookie…

bags of chips at the supermarket

So many choices...so little nutrition!

 

• The standard supermarket diet is rich in sugar, saturated fat, and sodium. It causes obesity in rats. That is, rats fed standard rat chow maintained a normal weight. But rats fed a standard supermarket diet ended up overweight—until researchers took away that food. The rats then lost weight when they returned to eating rat chow. There’s little doubt that fats, sugar, and salt stimulate us to eat more than we need!

The food industry’s bottom line is always profits. When Pepsi started marketing more of its healthy products, sales of the unhealthy products dropped. The stockholders complained—and that puts the food industry in a bind.

How to lose weight—so it stays off for good

Drugs are not the answer. For the past 20 years, no successful weight-loss drugs have been developed and none are in sight in the near future. Drugs that regulate appetite also impact many other regulatory centers and create undesired side effects. Hence, we need to learn how to manage the obesity problem at its roots—and that means prevent excessive fat gain in the first place, starting in childhood. Here are a few tips on how to do that.

• Reduce your food intake by using your imagination. That is, if you imagine eating a food, let’s say, ice cream, you can eat less of it.

• Technology offers a glimmer of hope in the battle of the bulge. A free application for iPhones called Lose It! has created a thriving weight loss community, as measured by 7.5 million free app downloads since October 2010. The web version, www.LoseIt.com, is just as popular. LoseIt! members can conveniently and easily track their food and calorie intake.

Lose It! includes a social network. Dieters seem to prefer online support from people they do not know, as opposed to involving their family and friends with their dieting progress (or lack there of). LoseIt!’s social groups are created according to goals. Dieters can easily (and anonymously) connect with and get support from others with similar goals. In fact, the best predictor of weight loss success with LoseIt! is having three or more Lose It! buddies.

baby carrots

If an ad campaign can increase sales of baby carrots, imagine what one could do for other fruits and veggies!

 

• Food advertisements are designed to trigger certain pleasure centers. (For example, McDonald’s is associated with happiness.) We now need to learn how to advertise healthy foods. The baby carrot campaign to “eat ‘em like junk food” has boosted sales 10 percent—including a new demand for baby carrots in school vending machines.

• We can change our brain circuits by substituting food with another stimuli, such as exercise. Exercise does more than burn calories to control weight; exercise changes the reward systems in the brain.

Exercise also supports self-control. That is, people who exercise have greater control over what they eat. They also have more control over sticking with their exercise program. Successful exercisers are able to make exercise a habit, and not a choice. Having one less decision to make bolsters their mental resources so they can cope better overall.

A final thought: Somehow we need to change the perception that eating supermarket foods loaded with sugar, salt, and saturated fats gives us satisfaction. A few years ago, we changed the perception that smoking is satisfying. Parents stopped smoking when kids came home and said “Mom, Dad, please don’t smoke.” Today, we need kids to start saying “Mom, Dad, please don’t take me to McDonald’s.” Will that day ever come…?

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Copyright: Nancy Clark MS RD CSSD August 2011