Weight loss is the number one reason people look me up. People struggle with weight at all ends of the economic, age, race, and gender spectrum. We all live in a poor food environment due to our food and agriculture policies and we pay for it with our health. We also, on average, work longer hours than people in other countries, leaving less time for exercise and healthy meal preparation. The most economically disadvantaged among us have it the hardest in part because it’s harder for them to find fresh, healthy food in their neighborhoods and find the time to cook it. I have the opportunity to work in a medical clinic as well as in my own private practice, so I get to see some diversity among patients, and what I’ve experienced has been well-documented in studies on obesity and chronic disease. While I am a proponent of health at every size, I also know and relate to the quest for answers around weight loss for the purpose of having a higher quality of life and better long-term health outcomes.
This post is meant to be a resource to individuals from all across the economic sphere – the ideas in here are ideas that anyone can implement. That said, there is no one-size-fits-all route to weight loss. Many of the best ideas will come from you experimenting and learning from your experiments. Working with a coach can help you to organize your thoughts and your actions and to reflect on what you know. We all know we need to eat better and eat less, but we don’t know how to follow through on our intentions in a sustainable way: the answer to this is more easily accessed when you engage in conversation with a coach!
In general, I’ve seen people succeed at weight loss when they do these things on a regular basis…
1. Correctly calibrating your idea of success to focus on slow weight loss and weight maintenance. This means 1-2 lbs a week, at the max. When you lose more than that, you are losing water and possibly muscle. When you see-saw back and forth between weight loss and weight gain, you are damaging your metabolism and your body’s ability to maintain homeostasis. When you see the next quick weight-loss diet, ask for the long-term studies. Ask if participants have kept the weight off for over 2 years.
2. Cooking at home. When you cook at home, you know what you are putting in your food. You can control the salt content and portion size, there are no hidden sugars, and you can choose your oil. You also tend to eat less of the food you have cooked yourself.
3. Hanging around with others who are also interested in taking care of their health. It turns out that the health status of your social network is highly correlated to your own health status. That means if your friends aren’t into healthy habits, it’s likely you aren’t either, and it’s harder to engage in these habits consistently. Alternatively, if you can convince one friend or partner to engage in healthy habits with you, your chances of success really increase.
4. Exercising regularly, doing a little something daily is best, and tracking it. The recommended weekly amount is 75 minutes of vigorous exercise or 150 minutes of moderate exercise. What’s vigorous? Exercising so that you have a hard time carrying on a conversation because you’re breathing heavily. Most of us prefer to exercise moderately. You can also aim for a combination of these two. It doesn’t matter what you do. Brisk walking works. Aim to get at least 10 minutes of heavy breathing and a little sweaty very day and you’ve boosted your metabolism. Track your exercise so you can be sure you’re staying true to your intentions.
5. Tracking your food. There are a lot of apps out there you can use to track your food, or you can use a notebook. This can be as simple as journaling at night: what you ate and how it felt. You don’t need to track calories. Focus on how you felt after you ate, i.e. digestion, fullness, and energy. Keeping a food log or food journaling is correlated with long-term weight loss because it helps individuals to bring more awareness to their habits around eating thereby decreasing mindless, stress, sad eating, etc.
6. Cutting back 100-200 calories a day. This is better for long-term sustainable weight loss than more extreme dieting. Once you are tracking your food intake, you will naturally begin to find extra (non-nutrient dense) calories that you can eliminate. It is very important to not go overboard on this because you want sustained weight loss, not a yo-yo effect. For some people, cutting back the carbohydrates is really beneficial, for others, it causes yo-yo dieting/weight fluctuations. If you are in the latter camp, focusing on cutting just 100-200 calories of non-nutrient dense carbohydrates a day will help to smooth out the yo-yo effect.
7. Eating a variety of nutrient dense foods. I.E. vegetables, nuts, seeds, whole grains, fruits. Vegetables especially are high in fiber, vitamins, and minerals. The fiber helps you feel full. The vitamins and minerals help your cells function better, they brighten your eyes, clear your skin, and improve your mood. In study after study, supplements have not been shown to improve health. Whereas in study after study diets high in vegetables equate to health and longevity. Aim to fill half your plate with vegetables at dinner. Include a vegetable and fruit in your lunch. For breakfast, add greens to your eggs, or a generous helping of nuts or seeds to your steel-cut oatmeal. Eat your veggies first.
8. Sleeping. Adults generally need 7-8 hours. You may be an outlier, needing less or more. Generally, when you get the sleep you need you don’t eat as much during the day.
9. Front-loading calories. Eating more earlier in the day and making lunch a bigger meal while dinner is a smaller meal will help jump start weight loss.
10. Including healthy fats. Fats are a necessary part of all of our cells. Omega-3 fatty acids and mono-unsaturated fat are protective against inflammation. Fat also helps your body to digest vegetables and it makes healthy food taste better, so you’ll eat more of it and have less room left over for sweets. Use olive oil or avocado oil for your cooking needs. Use smaller quantities of butter.
11. Eating more vegetarian meals and experimenting with making meat more of a condiment. The conventional meat in our food supply is high in Omega-6 inflammatory fatty acids and low in Omega-3 anti-inflammatory acids. The animals are kept in highly stressful environments and fed a poor diet. This is reflected in the meat that we eat and in the higher ratios of Omega 6-to-3 that we see in people. An inflamed system will hold on to excess weight and make it harder to lose weight.
12. Looking for pasture-raised meats. They are expensive so you eat them less frequently. If these don’t fit the budget, consider plant-based sources of protein like tofu or tempeh. Consider an Omega-3 cod-liver or fish oil supplement.
13. Cutting out (or limiting) processed foods, sugar, and refined grains. All of these items are inflammatory. Research shows that obese bodies are fighting abnormal amounts of inflammation. Inflammation occurs when the cells in your body spot something that is hard to use/assimilate into your system. They send out chemicals to tackle the foreign substance and this causes inflammation. If your system is low in anti-inflammatory fatty acids (and we all are) your body has a hard time healing the inflammation response and your body remains slightly inflamed all the time. The solution? Stop ingesting the foreign substances that are hard to assimilate.
14. Learning about mindful eating. This includes taking a moment before eating to feel gratitude for the food in front of you; putting down your fork sometimes between bites; chewing thoroughly; checking in before you start a meal and half-way through to gauge your hunger; stopping when you are three-quarters full; eating without distractions so that your full attention is on your meal and you really taste and savor every bite. When you do this, you naturally eat less.
15. Planning ahead. If you’ve read this far, congratulations. You’ve come to the number one reason I see people make progress. To eat healthy, you need to plan tomorrow’s meals today. Actually, you need to plan most of your week’s meals on the weekend, depending on your work schedule. Shop with a list. Plan who will cook and when. Make enough for left-overs.
Maybe some of these things stand out to you—focus on where your intuition tells you to focus. One healthy habit will start to build on another. There is also a lot more to unpack in each of the above suggestions. Many of these suggestions you may have heard before or have tried but they haven’t stuck and you feel like you need to do more. Many of us know what we need to do but we aren’t doing it. For those of you with food allergies, you’ll be looking to find ways to sustainably avoid those allergens. The role of a coach is to help you take new and prior knowledge and translate it into real and gratifying action. I have resources to support individuals with mindful eating, food tracking, meal planning, and sticking to your goals around living a healthy lifestyle overall. Because healthy weight loss tends to take a while, most of us aren’t very good at it and our motivation wanes. A coach can help with this by asking you the right questions, redirecting you towards success, and co-creating the right plan to help keep you on track.