Secrets of Natural Weight Loss
Without pills, fasts, weird foods or questionable chemicals
Is it really possible to lose weight without “crash” programs, chemical supplements, weird fasts, pills or faddish infomercial regimens? The answer to that question is one of the things I wanted to know as the holidays approach and the New Year looms. Like everyone else on the planet, or in the U.S. anyway, I’d like to drop 5 or 10 pounds before National Hangover Day on January 2. So what’s the secret to sensible weight loss, if there is a secret?
According to every top-level expert out there, there is an answer, but it’s shockingly boring: practice a handful of commonsense guidelines on a consistent basis, aiming for long-term changes in eating habits. That’s not exactly worthy of a “Lose 40 Pounds by New Year’s” headline, but it appears to work.
Figure 1: Five simple suggestions for healthy weight loss and simple living
Here’s the skinny on sensible weight loss:
The combined recommendations, by physicians who blog on the topic, boil down to three P’s and 2 E’s, for those who like their advice in easy-to-remember chunks. The P’s are Protein, Produce, and Portions. The E’s are Eat breakfast every day, and Exercise about 20 minutes or more per day. There are, of course, tweaks and add-ons for those who want to monkey with the basic 3 P’s+2E’s formula. And there are two or three actual, formal eating plans that include these five pieces of the puzzle. Let’s take a look at the individual suggestions, a few other ideas about sensible weight loss, and a couple of the formal eating plans that garner universal praise from the medical community.
The 3 Ps and the 2 Es:
Protein at every meal: Consuming at least some non-fat laden protein at every meal is a good way to never feel starved. The practice also helps modulate the body’s metabolism and avoid the ups and downs that can be caused by artificial chemicals and fattening foods. Protein, in moderate amounts, can be the cornerstone to a sensible food plan.
Produce to be consumed frequently: Fresh produce is sorely lacking in the diet of the average American adult. This is doubly unfortunate because fresh fruits and vegetables contain about 90 percent of what the human body requires for life. Experts suggest spending more time and money in the produce section of your local store, and making an effort to include fresh (either raw or cooked) vegetables and fruits in every meal.
Portion control: This is one of the biggest challenges for people who already eat a well-balanced diet but just can’t seem to rein in their appetites. Nutritionists suggest preparing your meal plates in the kitchen, to include everything you will consume for that session, and then sitting in a separate room while eating. No fair going back for seconds or snacking later on. This is a manageable way to learn how to measure food portions and make mini-commitments to yourself at each meal. Don’t expect to be successful all at once. It takes time to learn how to eat smart.
Exercise: There’s no need to go loco on this one. The primary suggestion involves brisk walking for 20 minutes or more per day. If you like to run or ride a bike, that’s fine too. Just make sure to get your heart rate up to the “brisk walk” level. Some experts define that point as the exertion level where you can still speak comfortably but are breathing faster than usual.
Eat breakfast every day: Getting off on the right foot is a big psychological boost for any weight loss plan, and that means starting each day with a balanced breakfast that includes some protein, whole grains, fruits and vegetables.
Other Suggestions for Slow, Sure Weight Loss
In addition to the basic 5 ways noted above, here are a few more tips for reaching and maintaining proper body weight:
Close down your kitchen in the evening: After your last meal of the day, “shut down the kitchen,” say the physicians at WebMD. Eating after dinner, and near bed time is a sure way to pad on the poundage. People are always surprised at how much they eat in the late evening while watching TV or just doing small household chores.
Keep a sharp eye on liquid calories: Fruit juices and some of those bottled coffee drinks are jammed with calories, most of them unnecessary sugars. Opt for vegetable juice with a “shot” of apple juice mixed in, or watered down orange juice as your beverage of choice while trying to drop pounds.
Choose whole grains: It’s pretty easy to substitute whole grains for the refined stuff that lurks in pretzels, cakes, white bread, and most cookies. Whole grains will fill your stomach up much faster and help you maintain a sense of fullness. To put whole grains in your diet, choose bran flake cereal, pastas, whole-rye breads and crackers, whole-wheat breads, brown rice and popcorn.
Trim all fat off meat portions: Cutting portions by 15 percent (that’s not much!) will lead to weight loss, even if you change nothing else about the way you eat. But when it comes to meat, always make sure to trim off as much fat as possible, and then only eat 3 to 5 ounces with a full meal. It’s okay to “chew the fat” during a meal, if that refers to talking with your tablemates.
Buy a pedometer (and use it): Wear a pedometer for a few days (it’s not a wedding ring, so you can ditch it after you’ve got the routine down) to see how many steps you take in an average day. Strive to add 10 percent to that number by taking an extra walk, using stairs instead of elevators, or marching in place while watching TV. Some people try to reach 10,000 paces per day, but the point is to increase your own average by at least 10 percent. There’s no reason to become a walking machine in order to lose weight. Save the exercise obsessions for after your reach your goal weight and are looking for a new hobby.
Go “light”: When choosing “light” alternatives for common foods, make sure you’re not just paying a lot more for chemical sweeteners. There is actually a smart way to “go light,” and it means using low-fat mayo, salad dressings, and dairy products. Hummus makes a wonderful dip, as does salsa. Standard salad dressings are loaded with calories. Replace mayo with your favorite brand of mustard, and opt for plain or lightly salted/peppered potatoes rather than buttered spuds. Coffee tastes alright with skim instead of cream, and a sandwich is still a sandwich without cheese added to it. Ditch the creamy dressing and go with vinaigrette instead.
Weight Watchers, DASH, and the Mediterranean Plans
Common sense eating is about changing your own everyday habits in order to get to a goal weight and staying there. So-called “diets” can sometimes achieve this goal, and can be an effective approach to weight loss for people who like structure and a “guidebook” method for achieving goals.
Three well-known plans that get universally positive reviews from the medical community are the Weight Watchers program, the DASH diet, and the Mediterranean diets. DASH stands for dietary approaches to stop hypertension, while the Mediterranean diet is based on pre-WWII eating habits in Italy, Greece and Spain. The Weight Watchers program, one of the most successful commercial weigh loss systems in history, has a core method based on group support, healthy foods, and sensible exercise. For more information about DASH, WW, and the Mediterranean diet, visit:
WeightWatchers.com, DASHdiet.org, and Mediterraneandiet.com
Books are Calorie-Free
There must be a thousand weight-loss books clogging the arteries of every major retailer at any given moment. A good one, that cogently treats the topic of sensible weight loss, is The Diet Dropout’s Guide to Natural Weight Loss: Find Your Easiest Path to Naturally Thin, by Stan Spencer. Stan is a PhD biologist with a specialty in biochemistry, botany, and genetics. He has a blog called Fat Loss Science, at fatlossscience.org.
The Diet Dropout’s Guide is one of the few weight loss books that relies on a no-frills, no fluff approach, with common sense as the core principle. Dr. Stan points out that the main reason modern people tend to gain weight is a “fattening food environment,” and less active lifestyles.
Dr. Spencer proposes increasing social interaction and daily physical activity, avoiding temptation, eating three meals per day with very little snacking, consuming little to no junk food, avoiding eating out, maintaining a regular sleep schedule, and watching less TV.
There are no groundbreaking revelations or shocking discoveries in his advice, but the way he delivers and packages everything is ingenious. For people who want to learn about their bodies, their “food psychology,” and the best way to begin building a healthy eating program, Dr. Stan’s book is one of the best of the bunch.
There’s no substitute for common sense. That applies to just about everything but especially so to eating and weight control. Doctors love to emphasize that eating is about weight “control,” rather than weight loss. Losing the extra pounds should only be the first step of a healthy lifestyle. After that, keep an eye on your weight, eat right, exercise frequently, and get regular checkups. Sure, it’s boring, boring, boring advice. But it works, as opposed to those screaming headlines in the tabloids about dropping 50 pounds before summer.
Keep in mind that the above discussion is just that, a discussion. It should not be a substitute for medical advice from your own doctor. No one should begin a weight-loss program before getting a green light from their health care provider.
What have been your experiences with losing weight? Let us know in the comment section below, or head over to our Facebook page and leave some feedback there. It’s always informative to see what others are doing, and what their successes and challenges are.