Starting a weight loss program
Before you start any new diet or weight loss plan, you should talk with your doctor. He or she may recommend you to a registered dietitian (RD), an expert in nutrition who can offer education, counseling, and advice about how to develop a safe and effective weight loss diet.
Not all diets and exercise plans work for everyone. There are several reasons for this, beginning with differences in metabolic rate. Metabolic rate how many calories your body burns every day when you’re at rest. This rate varies from person to person, and many factors can affect it. Age, genetics, weight, percent of body fat, percent of muscle mass, medications, and health conditions can have an effect on your metabolism.
Because no one’s body works exactly like another person’s body, there is no one diet that guarantees success. However, there are general guidelines that every person can follow when designing a diet and weight loss plan.
Guidelines for designing your diet
When you’re developing a new diet, whether you’re doing it on your own or with a health professional, remember several keys to success.
Be honest with yourself – No diet will work in the long run if it doesn’t fit into your lifestyle (or you don’t change your lifestyle to fit your diet). Ask yourself what you can and can’t realistically do when it comes to dieting, and design a diet that is feasible.
Make a plan – If you plan, shop for, and prepare your meals ahead of time, you’ll have an easier time sticking to your diet.
Consider meal cycles that work for you – For many years, experts touted the benefits of eating three meals per day. Then in the past few decades, doctors started talking about eating five or six smaller meals per day for weight loss. While there are studies that show some benefits of both, the general rule seems to be that it doesn’t matter how many meals you eat. What matters is the number of calories you take in versus the number of calories you burn. If you eat six 300-calorie meals or three 600-calorie meals in one day made up of the same foods, you’ll still eat 1800 calories per day. If you burn more calories than you consume, regardless of how many meals you eat to get those calories in, you will have the same results.
So, when you’re planning your diet, think about what fits with your life. Do you have time to make and eat three big meals per day, or is it easier for you to have five or six smaller meals that you can prepare and eat quickly?
Know your cooking habits – Be realistic about how much time you can dedicate to preparing your food. The more time you can give to making your meals, the more elaborate they can be. But if you don’t like to cook or you don’t have time to spend hours in the kitchen every day, you will want to make food choices that minimize preparation time. For example, you may want to have a banana and some oatmeal for breakfast rather than a vegetable omelet, whole grain toast, and sliced fruit.
Think about support – How much external motivation do you need? Some people can dive right into a new diet and exercise plan just because they decide to do it, while other people do much better if they have diet/exercise buddies and people to help hold them accountable to their goals. If you need support, make sure you build that into your life. Recruit family members and friends to either diet with you or encourage you when you’re feeling like giving up on the diet. If you want to be part of something bigger, consider joining an online weight loss community or your local Weight Watchers group. You may even benefit from a therapist or a nutritionist who can give you some extra support.
Consider your dining habits – Do you go out to eat often? Eating at restaurants can be difficult when dieting. However, many restaurants now offer calories on their menus, and some even offer full nutrition information. You may have to ask for it, but you’d be surprised how many restaurants can provide the information upon request.
If you do eat out, remember that you’re likely to consume more calories and fewer fruits and vegetables than you would if you prepared your meal at home. This means you’ll have to make up for those extra calories by eating fewer calories at your other meals.
What about the junk food? – Can you skip treats most days, or do you need to have something you enjoy every day? If you don’t think you can reasonably cut sweet or salty snacks from your diet most days, seek out ways to get the junk food fix without lots of calories, sugar, or salt. There are many snack options that give you a taste of the foods you love without all the guilt. For example, many cookies and snack crackers come in 100 calorie packs. Graham crackers are good low sugar, lower calorie options, and some ice cream and fruit bars also give you a bit of sweet without going overboard. Of course, having a banana or a clementine may fulfill your craving too. If you can cut processed sugar more easily by eating fresh fruit, choose the fruit.
Set realistic exercise goals – You may want to train for a marathon by running five to ten miles every day, but is that realistic for you? While you should exercise for at least 30 minutes every day, you may have to start slow. If you’re currently not exercising at all or limit your exercise to walking the dog for five minutes a day, you may have more success if you build up to your ideal slowly. Start with small goals. Commit to 30 minutes of exercise two days per week for three weeks. Then go to three days per week for another three weeks. Continue increasing the number of days you exercise or the time you spend exercising until you’ve made a habit out of regular exercise.
You should also remember that you don’t have to do your exercise in full 30-minute increments. Three 10-minute sessions will have similar benefits to one 30-minute routine. The key is to keep moving.
Keeping track of what you eat every day has several benefits. First, it helps keep you honest. One mistake people make when dieting is underestimating how many calories they eat. If you write down everything you eat (and how much of each food you eat), you’ll have a solid grasp on your calorie intake, which will help you understand where your strengths and weaknesses are. You may begin to see patterns, like whether you eat more after exercise or eat less on days when you drink more water. Knowing your habits can help you make good eating habits more regular.
Food tracking apps make it easy for you to log how many minutes you exercise and what you eat and drink. Most apps have nutritional information for the majority of foods and beverages, so all you have to do is find the food, enter your portion, and add it to your daily food list. The app will track your calories, fat, fiber, sugar, sodium, and more and will give you an overview of how your diet stacks up to the recommended diet.
For example, if you have a serving of raisin bran cereal, half a medium banana, and half a cup of skim milk for breakfast, you enter those three items into the app, and the app will tell you how many calories those foods contained and how many grams of sugar and fiber your meal contained. Most apps include some sort of visual, like a pie chart that represents your recommended daily allowance of each category of food/drink versus how much you’ve consumed for that day.
Food tracking apps also allow you to enter your height, weight, age, and gender along with your weight loss goals so the app can recommend how many calories you should eat versus how many calories you burn. Entering how many minutes you exercise and what type of exercise you do will help the app calculate your calories burned and how many calories you can still eat during the day if you want to stay on track to meet your goal.
Food tracking is an excellent tool for anyone who wants to lose weight and change his or her lifestyle. If you don’t want to use an app, you can go the traditional route and just write down what you eat every day. But any type of food tracking is only as good as the data entered. If you aren’t honest with yourself or your food-tracking diary, you won’t get the full benefit of food tracking. No one has to see this but you, so be honest and thorough. You’ll be amazed at how helpful it can be in helping you reach your goals.
Getting extra help
If you’re struggling with your weight loss despite exercising and eating a balanced diet, you may want to talk with your doctor about medical weight loss. Experts at Beaumont can help you reach your goals through a medically supervised program designed to help you lose weight safely and quickly. Call 800-633-7377 to request an appointment.