The decision to lose weight can be quite the dilemma. On one hand, I fully believe that losing weight is NOT the be all, end all of health. There are many factors that determine whether or not we are healthy. You can read about my thoughts on weight as it relates to health here. However, I do think that it is possible to lose weight in a healthy way.
For many people, I think some education about nutrition and healthy living is important before they commit the the goal of trying to lose weight. You may find that changing the foods you eat and the lifestyle choices you make will help you lose some weight naturally. But if you find that with healthy lifestyle changes you still have some weight to lose, you can learn how to lose weight the healthy way.
Below I have included all of my top tips for losing the weight in a healthy way. If you take nothing else away from this article, I hope that you will understand that the decision to lose weight is not a one-time goal. Any healthy changes that you make to lose weight should be seen as things you will continue in order to maintain a healthy weight. It's not like you can follow these principles to lose weight and then forget about them when you hit your goal. The principles in general must become part of your new healthy lifestyle in order to keep the weight off for the long run.
1. Focus on Nutrition First
Your top priority when trying to lose weight should always be nutrition. Don't fall into the typical diet trap of eating foods only because they are low calorie or low fat. Many low calorie and low fat foods are also devoid of nutrients. Your body needs nutrients and it also needs plenty of healthy fats!
Here are some tips to help you focus on nutrients:
Increase Your Intake of Fruits and Vegetables
I like to illustrate the importance of fruits and vegetables by highlighting the Weight Watchers program. It operates on a points system (instead of counting calories) to prioritize certain kinds of calories over others, and they count many fruits and vegetables as 0 points, meaning you can eat as many as you want without racking up your points for the day.
While I'm not advocating the Weight Watchers program per se, you can adopt a similar principle. Keep track of your intake of other foods, but allow yourself unlimited access to any of the fruits and vegetables on this list.
Focus on Healthy Fats and Proteins
You body needs healthy fats and proteins to maintain blood sugar, muscle mass (especially during weight loss), and more. Losing weight should never come at the cost of cutting out these vital nutrients. Fats do not make you fat! Think avocados, nuts, seeds, fatty fish, high quality meats, coconut products, and extra virgin olive oil. Check out this article to find out how much protein you should be aiming to eat each day.
Pay Attention to Carbs
You should limit what we call “empty calories” like sugar and simple carbs such as white flour. When eating grains and carbs, focus on whole grains like soaked whole oats, brown rice, and quinoa. A pretty good rule of thumb is to aim for no more than 1/2 cup of grains at each meal.
Grains and carbs can be a difficult food for us to keep track of because they are so prevalent in our society. Consider purchasing a portion size plate, or aim to fill about half of your plate with fruits and vegetables, 1/4 with healthy fats/protein, and 1/4 with whole grains.
The good news is that real foods usually give you the most bang for your buck when it comes to nutrients per calorie intake. Well balanced meals consisting of real foods should always be the goal.
2. Track Your Food Intake
In order to lose weight, you're going to need some way of tracking how much food you eat each day. The trick is to do it in a healthy way. You can do this in a number of ways, either by tracking calories, portion sizes, or just following a set meal plan without deviating from it.
I personally find it easiest to count calories. Whatever you choose, make sure that it allows you at least some flexibility in what you eat on a daily basis while helping you stay reasonably within your intake bounds.
3. Move to Improve How You Feel
We have some very bad habits in western culture when it comes to movement. Firstly, we tend to only think of movement in terms of losing weight or building muscle. Secondly, we tend to ignore our body's need for movement throughout the day and then expect to make up for that in one or two intense exercise sessions per week (if that).
But in order to achieve a whole-body approach to wellness we need to fundamentally change the way we think about movement. Check out this podcast from Every Breath I Take (owner of Stay At Home Yoga) to learn how you can move to improve how you feel.
Tips for Healthy Movement:
- Learn to incorporate healthy movement into your everyday life.
- Learn proper body mechanics and improve your alignment naturally. All the exercise in the world cannot undo the effects of bad body mechanics.
- Join a healthy movement program that will encourage you to improve yourself. I highly recommend the Mastermind and Body Program by Stay At Home Yoga. I bought the membership once and I will now be a member for life!
4. Plan Your Meals and Snacks
Once you decide how you are going to approach your weight loss, you will want to have a plan in place for what you are going to eat and when. It doesn't have to be a strict plan, but it should have a basic outline of meals and a subsequent shopping list. You can plan to eat better and eat less, but if you are not prepared to stock your fridge and pantry with healthy options, you are likely to make the same bad choices as before.
You have a couple of options when going about meal planning and shopping. Firstly, you can make a list of meal options and just buy a variety of foods. The other option is to have a set meal plan and only buy the foods that are required for your meals.
I find that it works better for me to have a variety of healthy options. That way, if I am not in the mood for a particular item that day I have something to fall back on. Having the options keeps me from making bad choices when it comes to meals. However, for some people having too many options can set them up for bad choices. You will have to decide what works best for you.
5. Set Reasonable Expectations
If you have an unhealthy relationship with food, or if you are prone to overeating (that is, eating more than your body requires to maintain your current weight), it can be tempting to go completely in the opposite direction and starve your body by severely undereating. I doubt I need to explain to you just how damaging this can be, not only to your health but to your relationship with food as well.
It's hard to face the reality that losing weight is going to take time and patience, but you must remember that this is not a race. There is no finish line. Your decision to lose weight should be a lifestyle change. If you want to drop the pounds and then never think about portion sizes ever again, you're almost guaranteed to fail. This process is about learning how to eat healthy for the rest of your life. Don't think of your these changes as an end goal. Think of it as your new normal.
You should aim to lose approximately 1 pound per week and adjust your food intake accordingly. Give yourself a few weeks to adjust to your new food intake levels. If you are losing more than 1 or 2 pounds a week on average, you should think about increasing your food intake. If you are not losing weight you may need to decrease your intake slightly.
Remember that for most people it does not take a dramatic change in calorie intake to see results. Most people need about a 500 calorie deficit from their baseline calorie needs in order to lose a pound a week. Your baseline is the amount of calories it takes to maintain your current weight. Try using this calorie calculator to find out how many calories you should eat to lose approximately 1 pound per week.
It can take 24-48 hours for your body to adjust to your new calorie intake. During this time you may feel very tired, irritable, and have cravings. Just know that if you can get through those 2 days the symptoms usually subside. After you get over the hump, keeping to your new plan will get easier.
I hope that these tips will help you to make healthy changes in your lifestyle for the long haul. Tell me in the comments below, what are your weight loss goals? How do you plan to reach your goal and how do you plan to maintain a healthy weight?