The overwhelming majority of the people residing in the U.S. will think about losing weight this year but only a small percentage will actually follow through and succeed in losing weight and keeping it off. What is the secret of the people who succeed in their weight loss journey? That would be nice if there was a one size fits all diet that worked for everyone but the facts are people process macronutrients (carbohydrates, fat, and protein) differently. Some people can efficiently metabolize carbohydrates and others tend to store carbohydrates as fat easier. The unfortunate answer is there is no one size shrinks all equally diet, and your success depends less on the food that encompasses your diet than you might think. I am going to make the assumption you are intelligent enough to know losing weight requires a healthier diet with fewer calories than you have been consuming. The diet plan is typically not the issue, it is executing the plan that causes the overwhelming majority of people to fail.
There are several components that make up a successful weight loss program, instead of listing them in order of importance to lose weight, I will list them in order of what’s important to succeed long term. The three biggest keys are mental approach, support, and the actual nutrition program, meal plan, or diet itself.
The mental approach in a weight loss program encompasses a lot. The first and most important part is acknowledging and accepting you will be making major wholesale changes to your diet. You have to be committed to change in the beginning because there will be more bumps in the beginning of your weight loss journey than there will be 6 months down the road if you have sustained success. Setting realistic goals is another important aspect of achieving long-term success. If you want to lose 50 lbs and haven’t been at your goal weight in 20 years, which happened to be the summer before your senior year in High School, you have set yourself up for failure. Not everyone can afford a medical or professionally supervised weight loss program that offers tools such as a detailed body composition analysis that could tell you exactly how many pounds of fat you have and help determine how much fat or weight you can lose. Set goals that are more realistic and while it is good to have a short-term goal, make your ultimate weight loss goal 6 months or longer down the road.
You have to find motivation outside of aesthetic aspects such as fitting in your skinny jeans or looking good on the beach for this summer’s trip to Cancun. If that is what you have previously used for motivation then you have experienced yo-yo dieting. Yo-yo dieting is when you have had success losing weight (perhaps for that trip) but gained back the weight you lost and probably a little more. Why does this happen? You likely read in a fitness magazine or internet article about a killer, new diet to lose weight fast which helped you achieve your short-term weight loss goal. The diet worked in the short term because it was incredibly strict and limiting, plus your motivation level was unsustainably high with a built-in deadline, or more accurately a failure start date. In this instance you didn’t fail the diet, the diet failed you.
The final key regarding mental approach can be very easy, but you have to pay attention as it happens. As you begin to eat the right foods to affect weight loss (vegetables, healthy fats, lean meats, nuts, and fruit) you will feel better, have more energy and your intelligence will increase. (The increase in intelligence is due to eliminating “brain fog” caused by eating processed and other junk foods). To achieve long-term success in your weight loss program, you will have to remember how eating good = feeling good and is better for your overall health. If you are not experiencing severe health problems, remembering how good you felt when you were eating healthy is what sustains your new, healthier diet and guides you back on track when you fall off the rails.
The second key to sustaining success is support, which also provides accountability. How important is support? As the owner of a weight loss clinic, support is important enough that I ask every prospective patient if their spouse will support them in their weight loss efforts or be an enabler (aka weight loss sabotage artist). If the spouse (or roommate) is going to be more of an enabler, I start asking who else they know that may be interested in a weight loss program. When you are making major changes in your life, you are going through a period of being uncomfortable and at some point will want to go back to your “old norm” of eating unhealthy foods and feeling lethargic. You need someone that will support you and help hold yourself accountable. If your best friend is on a weight loss plan at the same time as you, it provides 1 more reason not to cheat on your diet, it is one more person you care about that you don’t want to let down. People are creatures of habit, you are breaking bad eating habits by starting a weight loss program. If you had a spouse, son or daughter that was addicted to drugs would you support their rehabilitation or try to score them more drugs so they are not uncomfortable briefly as they go through withdrawals? As dumb as that question sounds, processed, sugary food are as addicting as many drugs (including alcohol and tobacco). The challenges of sustaining weight loss success are both physical and mental. Your mind is powerful and the right mental approach is what it takes to overcome the physical dependence your body has developed on processed, sugary foods that have actually changed your brain chemistry in a way that triggers cravings. It’s a vicious cycle that is difficult to break, support is a key component to overcoming this cycle. It takes 6 weeks to several months to overcome this cycle that induces these powerful cravings, depending on how strict your diet is. Or more specifically, the glycemic index levels of the food choices you make.
The actual nutritional or weight loss program is the 3rd most important aspect to succeed long term in your efforts to lose weight. Again, this is based partly on the assumption that you are intelligent enough to know you can’t eat the same things you have been eating and expect different results on the scale. You may have heard a very similar saying that applies here, doing the same thing and expecting different results is the definition of crazy. So, what should you be eating? If you don’t have poor diet-induced health problems severe enough that your primary care physician has said you are at serious risk for heart disease, diabetes, or potentially death, you should try what YOU consider a more sustainable diet plan first and work to improve upon that initial diet plan over the next few months. Taking this approach is like quitting smoking gradually or using the patch. The cold turkey approach is much better when it works but the chance of failure is a little higher.
I will write more another day about specifics and secrets but the initial plan for the macronutrient consumption (fat, carbohydrates, and proteins) is as follows. You should cut out high fructose corn syrup immediately and greatly reduce sugar intake, particularly added sugar. These 2 things store as fat immediately or typically quicker than you can burn the consumed sugar calories respectively. Eating sugar converts to fat quicker than eating fat. Look to replace a refined or processed carbohydrate (bread, white rice, or other manufactured food) with a vegetable every day. As for protein, you should begin eating a higher protein diet and limit or eliminate processed or cured meats. People on a high protein diet (8 – 10 oz lean meat per day) actually burn up to 120 more calories a day than those not on a high protein diet. You should begin reducing saturated fats and look to replace them with healthier fats such as olive oil, avocados, and nuts. If you can start with this approach of improving some in all 3 key macronutrient areas, you are on your way to where you need to go to succeed. When it comes to diet and weight loss, consistently good beats occasionally perfect, and as with anything else worth accomplishing, practice makes perfect.
So what is the best weight loss program? The best weight loss program is one you can sustain for the long term, and the first step is making conscious, smart food choice changes. Another key part, in the beginning, is constantly learning about nutrition and looking to make improvements drawn from this new knowledge you have gained. A few key terms I would recommend learning more about and understand are low glycemic index, whole foods (benefits), glucose, omega 3 fats, visceral fat, high fructose corn syrup, obesity costs, and intermittent fasting.