There are lots of ways to lose weight. But if you plan to lose more than 15 to 20 pounds, or if you take medication regularly, you should be evaluated by your doctor before beginning your plan. Your doctor or registered dietitian can help you arrive at a sensible weight loss goal. You may not need to lose as much weight for your health as you think. Sometimes the “cosmetic” desire to lose requires a great deal more loss than what is needed to lower your health risk.
Food Choices Are The Key
Any weight management program you consider should probably reduce your daily calorie intake anywhere from 500 to 1000 calories a day, depending on how many calories you are currently eating. Total fat should be 30 percent or less of your total calories. Reducing saturated fat is important especially if your cholesterol is high. However, eating less fat alone won’t give you the results you want unless your total calories are reduced, too. If cakes and cookies or breads and pastas are your favorites, you may need to reduce carbohydrates as well. You may want to seek the help of a registered dietitian to help you with dietary therapy or seek out a weight management program. A meal planning tool can also help monitor your daily calorie and nutrition intake.
Increase Physical Activity
Increasing your physical activity is an important part of losing weight. Moreover, it will be a lot harder to maintain your weight loss without increasing your exercise. By exercising, you can lower your risk for high blood pressure, heart disease and diabetes beyond that produced by weight loss alone. If you are at risk for heart disease, have a chronic illness such as high blood pressure, diabetes or you are obese, you should check with your doctor before adopting an exercise plan.
Change Your Behavior and See Results
Behavior therapy is a sort of a fancy way to talk about basic learning principles that can help you overcome barriers to changing your eating and exercise habits. For example it will be natural for you to set weight loss goals. But you need to look at your behavior when you set them:
- Are your goals specific?
- Are your goals attainable?
- Are your goals forgiving?
Here are some examples of goals that probably won’t help you:
“Exercise more.” This sounds good, but it isn’t specific.
“Walk five miles a day.” This is better because it’s specific, but it isn’t attainable if you’re just starting out.
“Walk 30 minutes every day.” This is better still, but what if something happens during your regular walking time, like a late meeting or a thunderstorm. This goal isn’t forgiving enough.
“Walk 30 minutes, five days a week.” This is a great goal because it’s specific, attainable and it’s forgiving.
Other techniques that change behavior include:
- Give yourself rewards that aren’t food. Everybody needs to be encouraged, but choose a new CD instead of a hot fudge sundae.
- Balance your food “checkbook.” This involves keeping track of your food intake by keeping a journal or by informally noting that if you had a high-fat breakfast, it would be best to keep lunch and dinner low-fat. Regular monitoring of your weight, especially if you can see it on a chart, can really help you see what you’re doing for yourself.
- Pay attention to social cues. Certain environmental or social situations may encourage unhealthy eating or other habits that you don’t want. For example the office coffee pot may be where the treats are displayed during the week. You might want to bring a thermos from home or try the local deli to avoid this situation where you have eaten too many goodies before. Or if you meet a friend at the doughnut shop every week, try meeting for a walk on a nature trail instead.
- Send the “fullness” signal. It takes 20 or more minutes for your brain to get the message that you’ve been fed. So slow the rate you eat so your brain catches up with your actual food intake. You can also drink a glass of water before eating or eat a low-calorie appetizer to help feel fuller. Another trick is to use smaller plates so you don’t feel deprived when you see a smaller portion.
Combined Therapy Works Best
A combined strategy of behavior therapy, more exercise and healthy eating geared to shaving extra calories away is actually the most successful therapy for weight loss and weight maintenance.
Pharmacotherapy Is For Some
There are some patients who may benefit from medications in order to lose weight. The National Heart Lung and Blood Institute (NHLBI) says these medications may be useful for people with a BMI of more than 30 with no other risk factors, or a BMI of more than 27 if there are other diseases or risk factors present. Some of these medications have side effects in people with hypertension, coronary heart disease, heart failure, arrhythmias or history of stroke. You’ll want to talk with your doctor about the benefits and risks of these medications.
Reduction Surgery Is For the Few
For people who are severely obese, weight reduction surgery may help. The NHLBI recommends these procedures for people as a last resort for profoundly obese people who have medical complications from their weight.