Millions of Americans struggle to shed extra pounds every year, yet only a small percentage are able to take the weight off – and even fewer are able to keep it off permanently. With all the fad diets and gimmicks available, it’s no wonder most dieters aren’t successful. According to Sumin Shah, MD, Primary Care Physician on staff at Adventist Bolingbrook Hospital, if you want to lose weight you have to make a real change to your lifestyle. That means changing the way you eat for good, not just a few weeks.
“To really be successful with weight loss, you need to eat a healthy diet for the rest of your life,” says Dr. Shah. “It’s not about deprivation; you just need to eat the right kinds of foods.” Eating healthy doesn’t just help the number on the scale. It gives your body vital nutrients and can help lower your risk for heart disease and type II diabetes.
Move it and lose it
If you’re overweight, losing just 10 percent of your body weight can lead to a healthy drop in blood pressure and cholesterol, and a reduced risk for diabetes and heart disease. “Just 20 minutes of moderate activity six days per week can help you lose weight,” says Dr. Shah. “If you’re working out more intensely – 30 to 90 minutes per day – then you need just three to five days per week.”
A routine that combines strength training and cardio activity will give you the best results. “I recommend circuit training, where you’re alternating muscle groups and doing it fairly quickly,” says Dr. Shah. Fitness boot camps often use this model to keep your heart rate up and your muscles working.
Strength training helps you become leaner, and that helps you reach your weight loss goals. “Having more muscle helps burn fat,” Dr. Shah explains. You don’t need to be a bodybuilder to see results. Simply becoming stronger and more toned is enough to help your body burn fat efficiently.
Spring-cleaning your fridge
If you’ve decided to make a change, take the time to set yourself up for success. That means cleaning out your pantry and fridge, and getting rid of foods that could derail your plans for healthy eating. “For most patients I recommend making a fairly significant change right away rather than changing eating habits gradually. If you’re serious about this, then give yourself a fresh start,” Dr. Shah says.
The quickest way to make a change is to immediately cut these from your diet:
• High-carb foods like white bread, pasta and rice.
• Sodas and juices, which are often high in carbohydrates and sugars.
• Saturated fats like those found in red meat, pork, fried foods and butter.
• Trans-fats, which are in most commercially prepared cookies, muffins and cakes.
Then replace them with:
• Whole grain bread and pasta and brown rice instead of the white, which is a sign of processing.
• Plenty of fruits and vegetables, especially the dark leafy greens and bright colorful ones.
• Plain old tap water – unless you’re an endurance athlete, skip the sports drinks.
Beware of hidden carbohydrates
“Berries and high fiber fruits like apples and pears are great for you,” says Dr. Shah. “Bananas, however, are high in carbohydrates and sugar so they aren’t the best choice for weight loss.” Make sure you’re eating at least one high fiber fruit a day.
Dr. Shah points out that even when you’re trying to drop a few pounds, you shouldn’t eliminate all fat from your diet. “Unsaturated fats are good for your body. They’re in foods like almonds, salmon, avocado and canola or olive oil,” he explains.
Finally, Dr. Shah emphasizes eating protein, ideally with every meal. “Protein from lean white meat, low-fat milk or yogurt, fish, eggs or beans helps you feel full faster and helps you keep that full feeling longer than a high-carb meal.” Because you feel full you’re less tempted to overeat at each meal, too.
A steady road to success
Weight loss won’t – and shouldn’t – happen overnight. “Adopting a healthy lifestyle is a marathon, not a race,” says Dr. Shah. Celebrate your successes, even if it’s just a pound or two a month. “Be proud of every milestone you reach and remember you’re doing something good for yourself,” Dr. Shah says.
Make reaching those milestones easier by having a strong support system in place. “Get your family on board. If you’re trying to eat healthy while everyone else is eating soda and chips, you’re going to have a tough time eating healthy,” Dr. Shah says.
Finally, use your doctor as a resource and additional support. “If you hit a plateau or if you aren’t getting any results, tell your doctor. We’ll take a detailed look at your medical history and diet, and recommend adjustments to your routine,” says Dr. Shah.