Pledging to a weight-loss plan isn’t the easiest thing to do — but it’s made even harder when the plan doesn’t work.
Trendy diets promoted by celebrities may seem like a good solution, but experts warn that those diets are difficult to sustain (not to mention we’re not privy to all the extra training and meal planning that their charmed lives afford).
“You have to start with a mind shift that eating healthy and daily motion is non-negotiable,” says Kathleen Trotter, Toronto-based fitness expert and author of Finding Your Fit.
Part of that shift also involves having the correct information about weight loss and fitness.
“For starters, weight loss is 90 per cent diet and 10 per cent activity,” says Calgary-based registered dietitian Jessica Tong. “You can’t outrun your plate. What you put into your body is what counts.”
The experts share some of their top tips for weight loss that will produce actual results and are actually sustainable.
1. Be mindful
Mindful eating is half the battle, Trotter says. And not just because you could be unaware of how much junk food you’re eating in a day — it applies to healthy foods too.
“Almonds are healthy, but if you’re eating 10 handfuls every day, that’s going to lead to weight gain,” she says. That’s why she advises against noshing while you’re cooking or keeping a jar of snacks on your desk.
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But the real first line of defence is keeping a food journal.
“Until you know what you’re doing wrong and what you’re eating, you can’t fix it. But when you do know, you can make tweaks that will give you results.”
2. Eat breakfast
It’s a cliché as old as time: breakfast is the most important meal of the day. But it’s true.
“Breakfast sets the foundation for the rest of the day. It helps to control your hunger hormones and curbs cravings,” Tong says.
“People who skip breakfast will set themselves up for hunger that will build throughout the day and culminate in making poor food decisions later on. Then you fall into a cycle of saying, ‘Well, there’s no point in eating healthy today, I’ll just start tomorrow.'”
3. Eat more protein — wisely
Adequate amounts of protein are important, but so are the right types.
“Cheese and almonds contain protein, but the percentage isn’t that high and you’re getting other things like fats and lots of calories,” Tong says.
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Egg whites, lean meats and fish are protein-dense foods that aren’t high in fat.
While Tong recognizes the importance of natural sources of fat in your diet, she says that consuming a lot of it (like on plans like the Paleo diet) can lead to negative repercussions like high cholesterol levels.
4. Don’t cut out carbs
Ever since the Atkins diet swept North America, we’ve been vilifying carbohydrates, and now it has extended to all foods containing gluten.
“It’s not carbs or gluten that are the problem, it’s the excess consumption of them,” Tong says.
She says that disrupts the macronutrient balance we should be striving for — that balance differs for everyone, but if you’re striving for weight loss, aim for 40 per cent carbs, and 30 per cent of both protein and fat — and leads to weight gain. It’s not the carbs themselves.
Look for healthy sources like fruits and vegetables, nuts and seeds, and beans and legumes.
5. Speaking of vegetables…
“Eat more of them,” Trotter says. And drink more water.
“These are obvious things that when you say them to people, they always respond, ‘Oh, I know,’ but they don’t do it. Drink more water and eat more vegetables at every single meal.”
It doesn’t have to be a kale salad, either. Tong says if you’re drawn to the starchier vegetables, like butternut squash, carrots or peas, incorporate them in your diet.
This will create a habit around eating vegetables on a regular basis. Even if you never graduate to eating kale, you’ll be inclined to branch out and incorporate a wider variety of vegetables.
6. Reduce your alcohol intake
It’s no secret that booze is loaded with sugar and calories, which is probably why it tastes so good, but that’s also why it leads to weight gain.
Since it gets digested and absorbed very quickly while not providing any satiety, it’s easy to overdo it.
“Even if you go from two glasses of wine per day to just one and you don’t change anything else in your diet or fitness routine, it will equate to a 10-pound weight loss in one year,” Tong says.
The good thing is, you’ll still get a drink every day.
7. Don’t ignore calories completely
Although nutrition experts have been telling us for years that calorie-counting isn’t the golden rule of weight management, that doesn’t mean you should ignore them altogether.
Exceeding your caloric intake by 150 calories one or two days isn’t going to derail your weight-loss efforts, but consistently consuming an excess of 150 calories per day will amount to a 15-pound weight gain in one year, Tong says.
Those extra calories can look like a three-quarter cup of rice, one-and-a-half glasses of wine or a heaping tablespoon of peanut butter.
8. Use the “power of the pause”
The next time you find yourself craving a piece of cake or some potato chips, pause, Trotter says.
“Make yourself do something else for 15 minutes, because if you’re occupied, you won’t mindlessly eat,” she says. “If you’re at a party, go talk to someone or drink a glass of water. You want to disconnect from your food trigger.”
Then if you’ve waited the 15 minutes and still want that cake, go ahead and have a small portion. At that point, you’ve considered the pros and cons of eating it, and you’ll likely make a wise decision about how much you need to satisfy your craving.
9. Commit to movement
“Motivation is created, it’s not found. Once you’ve shifted your perspective and you know you want to get fit, commit to moving every day,” Trotter says.
And when it comes to working out, the biggest obstacle is often just starting.
Trotter tells her clients to force themselves to do the activity, whether it’s running or riding a bike or doing yoga, and tell yourself you’ll just do 10 minutes. After 10 minutes, it’s highly unlikely that you’ll stop, because you’re already doing it and you probably feel good about it.
She also advises getting a fitness buddy to work out with you at the gym or even just to walk with you after dinner.
“You’re way more likely to do something if someone is waiting for you, and it’ll make it much more fun.”