It seems as if everybody’s going on a diet! Well, not quite. But people call my office all the time asking about our “diet” program. I don’t have one. I have a weight loss program that is anything but a diet. There is some good news though. This past year we saw that only 20% of Americans are now on diets, down from 31% in 1991. This is really good news because it is indicating that people are finally getting the message. Diets just don’t work! “Well”, you say, “I lost 25 pounds on such and such a diet.” That may be true, and all diets will give you some initial weight lose because they all cut your calories. But, let’s look at the long term. How much do you weigh two years after your initial weight loss? And what happens 5 years later? At what nutritional cost is this diet that you are on?
Weight loss is very important. Being overweight is responsible for heart disease, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, fatty liver disease, type 2 diabetes, 12 different types of cancer and a host of emotional disorders. Dr. David Niemen a professor and director of the human performance lab at Appalachian State University states, “Some obese people may still be able to live active lives and move relatively well. Others may have heard in passing of the “latest” study that downplays the health problems that they’d been told would befall them. A third group, perhaps younger, has the natural sense of immortality. Regardless, their inertia will not help them in the long run. Next to smoking,” argues Nieman, “being obese because of bad diet and exercise habits carries the heaviest disease burden.”
Heather Mangieri, registered dietitian nutritionist and spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, agrees. “Next to smoking, excess weight due to poor eating habits and a sedentary lifestyle has a greater effect on everything from your major organs and body systems, to your hormones, bones, joints and even your sleep.” There have been countless studies on the deleterious effects of obesity on overall health. A definitive paper, “Education Initiative: Clinical Guidelines on the Identification, Evaluation, and Treatment of Overweight and Obesity in Adults,” conducted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s National Health and Education Examination Survey, has said it all. Being overweight and obese is dangerous to your health.
In order to lose weight, we must make changes in our daily habits—because there is no shortcut. But let’s address what is NOT true about being overweight, so we can maintain a realistic picture of what to concentrate on when approaching the problem.
Don’t talk yourself into the SLOW METABOLISM theory. Low metabolism has little to do with obesity. “On the contrary, as body weight goes up, so does your metabolism,” says Dr. Nieman, “Big people have high metabolisms, and small, thin people have low metabolisms.”
Sonya Angelone, M.S., R.D., a spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, affirms that low metabolism is not a significant factor in obesity.
Most diets have us doing crazy things like eliminating entire food groups which robs us of essential nutrients such as dietary fiber and carbohydrates as well as selected vitamins, minerals, and protective phytochemicals. We eat only protein, cut all sugar, eat fruit only in the morning, and stay in certain zones. We’ve seen grapefruit diets, three day diets, flat belly diets and cabbage soup diets, and none of them work in the long term. Unfortunately, some people are so obsessed with losing weight however they can, they can become eating disordered.
The statistics speak for themselves; about 95-97% of people that diet, gain it all back or more within a few years.
Americans are spending more than $65 billion per year on weight reduction without success. What can be done to reverse the trend and lose weight permanently? There is only one full-proof, responsible way to lose weight and keep it off—through balanced, sensible and healthy eating along with a well rounded exercise program.
First, have a dietician calculate how many calories you should be eating per day to lose weight in a slow and steady manner. Make sure you include vegetables and fruits in many varieties and try to stick to whole grains and leaner proteins. Watch out for portion distortion! Have your dietician teach you what a portion really is.
If you are thinking of using exercise as a means to lose weight, think again. Exercise is an important ingredient in weight loss and it certainly is a key to health whether you are overweight or not, but consider the following. “In the battle of the bulge you have two fists–diet and exercise. You jab with exercise, but the knockout blow comes through control of the diet,” Nieman says. And, while he supports exercise for its myriad health benefits, he feels that “adding 30 minutes of walking per day to your lifestyle, for example, typically results in very little weight loss for the average obese person.” He believes that the engine of weight loss is “eating less and keeping food intake low or moderate.”
And, while it is possible to burn more calories than you can eat, as Dr. Susan Jebb, head of nutrition and health research at the Medical Research Council in Great Britain, recently told The Observer, “you have to do an awful lot more exercise than most people realize. To burn off an extra 500 calories is typically an extra two hours of cycling–and that’s about two doughnuts.”
To reiterate, exercise is great for your health and it is essential no matter what you weigh—just don’t rely on it exclusively for weight loss.
The Other Side of the Picture
But let’s look at this from the other side. About 3-5% of people who engage in a weight loss program keep off the weight. Let’s take a look at the common denominator between this group of successful weight controllers to better understand their success. Ezra lost 60 pounds and has kept almost all of it off for the last 5 years. He has followed these 5 basic rules for long-term success in weight loss:
- Successful weight controllers look for “diet” and exercise buddies and they are verbal about what they are doing. They share their progress with their family and friends. This, along with setting specific, reasonable goals is a tremendous help. They are not afraid to announce their goals to others and to write them down.
- They pay attention to what they are doing. The one thing all weight loss experts agree on is that planning and tracking your food and exercise is an invaluable tool. It creates mindfulness and awareness. These 5% don’t rely on chance. They understand what a portion is, either though measuring or eyeballing, but they know. And those portions are kept under control and done so without feeling deprived.
- They make weight loss a positive experience. They view it as something good for you that will make them feel better about themselves. Being optimistic and having positive affirmations about their new way of life will only bring greater and better success. They enjoy what they are doing and reap the fantastic benefits of living a healthier and longer life.
- They make gradual changes. These 5% know that this is not an instant fix. They know that permanent change is gradual and it is a process. Too much, too soon is doomed to failure. Changing habits is an extremely difficult task in any realm of life. They make one change at a time knowing that slow and steady growth wins this race.
- They know that failure IS an option—as long as they can get back on track. We are human beings and we all make mistakes. Each failure should be another step to success. All or nothing won’t work.
There is nothing better than learning from those who are successful in any area of life. The 5% that do succeed create a new and better life for themselves. Learn from those who have sensibly and successfully lost weight and inches and maintained it. By following these 5 common denominators, you too can “add hours to your day, days to your year and years to your life.”