How to lose weight and gain health this holiday season: A simple recipe for success.

Would you like to lose weight and keep it off?

Posted Nov 23, 2010

Research indicates that 95% of people who lose a significant amount of weight will regain it, and often more, within one to five years. On the flip side, a fortunate few, the other 5%, will succeed with long-term weight loss. Here is the way to increase your chances of being in that happy minority instead of the overwhelming majority. The formula for success is very simple, but not easy.

First, forget everything you've learned about the importance of exercise for weight loss. Most overweight people will not lose a significant amount of weight simply by exercising more. Now that doesn't mean exercise is not helpful - indeed it is necessary for long-term success and a critical part of the "gaining health" component of this method. Rather, the latest studies suggest that exercise is most helpful for maintaining body weight; that is for keeping the weight off. (Obviously, the benefits of regular exercise go far beyond its contribution to successful weight management, such as improved emotional, physical and cognitive functioning, but that's a subject for another post.)

Okay, since the point of exercise will be to help keep the weight off instead of take it off, how does one lose it the first place? The simple answer is to eat fewer calories than you burn off. The realties of chemistry and physics dictate that all living beings (including people) have an energy balance. This means when the amount of energy (i.e., calories) taken in matches the amount burned off weight stays the same. When more energy is consumed than is burned off weight increases. And when less energy is eaten than is burned off weight is lost.

One of the best ways to eat substantially fewer calories - without going hungry - is to choose foods that are high in nutrients and low in calories. In fact, while it's a convenient simplification, many foods will fall into one of four categories based on their nutrient density (how nutritious they are) and their caloric content (how "fattening" they are).

There are high nutrient/ high calorie foods (like nuts, seeds, avocados, fatty fish, many fruits, and most dairy).

There are low nutrient/high calorie foods (like French fries, soda, donuts, ice cream, cookies, cake, pretzels, chips, gummy bears, most breads, pasta, rice, and pie).

There are also low nutrient/low calorie foods (like iceberg lettuce).

And then there are the "super foods" that hit the weight loss bull's-eye by being both packed with nutrients and low in calories (such as broccoli, Brussels sprouts, spinach, cabbage, cauliflower, kale, hearts of palm, beans, and lentils).

When well prepared, these super foods can be delicious and nutritious. If you make sure that at least ¾ of your dinner plate is packed with these menu selections, and make it a point to have a generous mixed salad as a starter, easy on the dressing, you might still have room for other tasty treats that you can enjoy virtually guilt free - even a small piece of pecan pie with a dollop of ice cream!

Naturally, I have noted just a few examples of a much longer list of various foods. For a far more in-depth look at the menu of choices check out http://nutritiondata.self.com/ for very helpful nutritional information on a huge selection of foods.

Of course, for the reasons stated above, "pre-game" with a bit of exercise (like a brisk 30 minute walk) and/or take a nice turn around the neighborhood after supper.

Finally, if you're serious about managing your weight, keep a food journal. Indeed, food diaries are good predictors of success for several reasons. (1) Heightened awareness of exactly what you're eating; (2) Accountability because you'll have a literal record of your choices; (3) Reactivity which is the phenomenon of something changing simply because it's being measured or observed; and I believe most importantly (4) Motivation because it's a gigantic pain in the butt to diligently write down every scrap, morsel, and crumb you eat and drink and having the dedication to do it consistently reflects one's discipline and willingness to persevere in the face of challenges and even set backs.

Keep in mind that there are no short cuts to healthy and lasting weight loss. In fact, one of the reasons that people regain weight is because they lose it too fast in the first place. Only with gradual and steady weight loss can the brain's body mass thermostat be durably reset at a lower level.

Consider this post a mere "peek through the keyhole" onto the territory of successful weight control. In the near future I'll provide more information, strategies, methods, and techniques so that you can enjoy the "five-percent solution" and not just lose weight and keep it off, but gain health in the process, too!

Remember: Think well, act well, feel well, be well!

Copyright by Clifford N. Lazarus, Ph.D.

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