“Breaking free of self-defeating dietary and lifestyle habits is one of the most difficult tasks a person may ever perform.”
– Douglas J. Lise and Alan Goldhamer
If you’ve ever had to lose a significant amount of weight, you know the truth of that statement. And as I can attest, it only gets more difficult with age. Based on expert advice from neuroscientists, nutritionists, and fitness consultants, here are ten proven strategies for pursuing weight loss successfully.
ONE: Get rid of as many big and little life stressors as possible. Will power is a finite resource that’s depleted by resisting food, restraining behavior, suppressing emotional responses, trying to impress someone, studying for exams, overcoming fatigue, etc. It’s really hard to stick with a diet if your reserves aren’t sufficient to stay the course. Moreover, stress boosts cortisol which lowers leptin sensitivity, the hormone that controls appetite.
TWO: Empty the cupboards and refrigerator of all forbidden foods. You’ll draw down your will power by having to listen to all those delectable treats whisper your name. (Ice cream and chips are my Achilles Heels – and YES – I really do hear them call out to me!) If you have a temporary lapse in will power, you’re far more likely to resist temptation if it requires a trip to the grocery store.
THREE: Take sugar off the menu. It lights up the same areas in our brains as addictive drugs, especially when combined with fat. Once we get a taste, we want more and more. It drains a lot of will power to stop. Meanwhile, our bodies spike in energy and then crash, causing us to crave food. Sugar substitutes aren’t the answer as they fire up the pleasure centers of our brains and stimulate a hunger response.
FOUR: Take processed foods off the menu. Food manufacturers make their offerings hyper palatable by adding sugar and fat to them. The list of ingredients often contains substances that convert to sugar rapidly in the bloodstream (e.g., processed flour). They load up their offerings with salt to improve taste and lengthen shelf life. Excess salt may lead to hypertension, a known risk factor for heart disease. And if you read the labels, you’ll discover a whole gaggle of added chemicals. Processed foods may taste good, but they’re not as good for you as whole foods.
FIVE: Eat at least 5-7 servings of fresh fruits and vegetables every day. You’ll reap the benefit of all those phytonutrients while filling your belly with relatively low cal offerings. Fresh fruit can satisfy your taste for sweets while providing sufficient fiber to dilute the impact of its sugars on your bloodstream. Moreover, grapes (purple, read, and blue), blueberries, and red berries are loaded with antioxidants that protect the body from harmful molecules called free radicals.
SIX: Don’t go on a starvation diet or skip meals. Our brains are designed to help the body maintain a set point. When we skimp on calories, the brain thinks: FAMINE! To preserve life, it will decrease our metabolic rate and make us feel hungry. Worse yet, if we get frustrated by our body’s lack of response to our reduced caloric intake and resume normal eating, our depressed metabolic rate may cause us to gain weight!
SEVEN: Find a way to boost your metabolic rate through exercise. Even a modest drop in caloric intake will trigger the body to dial down its metabolism. Exercise keeps the fires burning while elevating mood and lowering stress. It’s the single most useful thing you can do to preserve cognition as you age. Experts recommend elevating your heart rate 4 or more times per week for at least 30 minutes per workout. Three tips to increase your staying power:
- Find a few things that you really like to do and mix things up to prevent boredom.
- Schedule your workouts and treat that time with the same regard as your professional appointments.
- Make workout a social experience to increase the fun and decrease your sense of isolation (a known stressor).
EIGHT: Eat small meals and shift caloric intake earlier in the day. Big meals promote weight gain and fat storage. Small meals spaced 3-4 hours apart keep our blood sugar relatively steady, giving us energy and keeping our hunger pangs under control. Also, calories consumed early in the day have the greatest chance of burning off with activity. Be sure to stop eating 2-3 hours before bedtime.
NINE: Drink at least 8 glasses of water every day. Water helps transport nutrients to your cells while removing toxins from your body. It improves mental acuity and makes for healthier skin, teeth, bones, joints, and digestion. Drink at regular intervals throughout the day. By the time you are thirsty, you are already dehydrated.
TEN: Get plenty of sleep. When sleep deprived, you diminish your insulin sensitivity, lower your fat burning capacity, and impair cognitive function (including your capacity to exercise will power). Not sleeping shortchanges the benefits you’ll reap from a healthy diet combined with exercise. And who wants that?
It may take 30-90 days to become re-sensitized to natural foods after you jettison the processed fare. My husband and I have followed a predominantly whole food plant based diet for nearly a year. We really don’t miss the foods that we’ve eliminated from our diets, and we feel great! The key to our success has been exploring the vegan cuisine with gusto such that we’re eating delicious food and enjoying a variety of tastes.