Like so many people, you have made a resolution to lose weight in the new year. Now what? Are you like the reader who sent this plea? “I can’t lose weight. I just don’t know where to start.”
So much conflicting advice is out there that it is no surprise if you are confused. Here are the basic steps to get started.
Are you ready?
Long-term weight management requires new eating and activity habits. Change takes effort. Failure is demoralizing. Before you start, first ask yourself why you want to lose weight. Your reasons need to be specific, for example, to improve your health, to increase your energy level, to look better. Are your reasons important to you? Important enough to sustain you when choosing between a cheeseburger with fries and a grilled chicken sandwich with a salad? Will your resolve keep you going against the reality of your everyday life? Ask yourself:
- Do you have a lot of stress in your life? If, for example, you are in the middle of a job change or a move, these may undermine your weight loss.
- Do you have the time to learn new eating habits and to fit physical activity into your day?
- Do you have the support of those around you?
If your motivation is high, and the support and timing are right, let’s get started. If you are not ready now, you can still strive to make some healthy changes.
What kind of loser are you?
Should you do it on your own? Many people who have successfully lost weight use books or the Internet. There are hundreds of choices, so you should be able to find advice that fits your needs.
If you don't think you can do it on your own, consider joining a commercial weight-loss program such as Jenny Craig, Weight Watchers or TOPS (Take off Pounds Sensibly). These are all balanced programs that will provide guidance and praise for your achievements.
Before you begin, talk to your doctor. This is important to ensure that you are healthy enough to change your diet and increase your activity. Most medical practices can give you advice about diet and exercise, and should be able to tell you if a book or a commercial program is sound. Keep in touch with your doctor as you lose weight. You are likely to see health improvements, and these may require changes in the medications you take for weight-related disorders such as high blood pressure and diabetes.
An excellent option is to work with a registered dietitian — nutrition experts with the letters R.D. behind their names. Registered dietitians are trained to help you make healthier choices and behavioral changes. Ask your doctor for a referral or contact the American Dietetic Association to find one in your area.
If you have weight-related health problems, check your health insurance to find out if weight-loss treatment is covered.
Know your weight and your body mass index (a ratio of your weight to height), and keep track by weighing yourself at least once a week. Your health professional or the book or Web site you have chosen will show you how your values compare with those for optimal health.
Your weight-loss goal should be realistic. A loss of 5 percent to 10 percent of your starting weight is known to bring health benefits and is thought by health professionals to be a realistic goal.
Aim to lose 1 to 2 pounds per week. Research shows that you are more likely to keep the weight off if you lose at a slow and steady rate than if you drop rapidly. A loss of a pound a week requires that you cut out 3,500 calories, or 500 calories a day. The only way to lose weight is to take in fewer calories than you burn. The best results come from a combination of a reduced-calorie diet and increased physical activity.
Eating right and moving more
If you have gone to a health professional or to a commercial weight-loss program, they will have helped you to define an eating and fitness plan that fits your needs and preferences. If have you decided to try on your own, your plan should do the following:
- Stress that when you are managing calories, it is more important than ever to eat nutritious foods.
- Focus on what you can eat, not on what you must give up.
- Teach you to make food choices that will help control hunger.
- Show how to fit your favorite foods into your diet.
- Reinforce eating and activity patterns that you can sustain for a lifetime of achieving your own healthy weight.
Barbara Rolls is the author of "The Volumetrics Eating Plan," which offers tips on how to lower the calorie density of recipes.