How to Lose Weight the Right Way, the Healthy Way
By: Julie Mancuso, owner of JM Nutrition, nutritional counselling service by registered dietitians and nutritionists
In this post:
reasons for weight gain
weight loss: important considerations
healthy weight loss: practical tips on how to lose weight
protein and weight loss
carbs and weight loss
weight loss drinks
alcohol and weight loss
weight loss snacks and desserts
How to lose weight–and we’re referring to healthy weight loss here–is the most frequent question that people ask me, and by far the most common reason why clients seek my professional help. Bar none.
Although I help people with all types of health- and nutrition-related matters in my practice, I have come to specialize in healthy weight loss for the better part of 15 years in the field.
Through education, research, and of course, experience, I have learned a great deal about how to lose weight and how to do it the right way, the healthy way, without food deprivation which, while naturally assisting in weight loss, can contribute greatly to long-term nutrient-deprivation—a common occurrence in a number of fad diets.
Before I get into specific healthy ways to lose weight, a few important points must be made clear.
The reasons for weight gain are many and varied.
Here are just 12 reasons why people gain weight
Because your body type is largely determined by your genes, you can only change it so much. It’s important to recognize and accept this fact, and stop comparing yourself to others who have different genetic compositions.
Here’s Harvard Health’s take on weight gain and genetics.
2. Medical conditions
Hypothyroidism, for example, results in an under-active thyroid, and in turn, a slower metabolism which can lead to unsuspecting, gradual weight gain or difficulty in losing weight. I cannot stress this one enough: get your thyroid checked, if you lead a generally healthy lifestyle yet struggle with your weight.
3. Unhealthy eating habits developed as a child
The regular consumption of unhealthy foods (sugar, highly refined and processed food, high-sodium food, etc.) in childhood may not rear its ugly head until well into adulthood, when metabolism slows down and life leaves little time for exercise. As you age and change, so should your eating habits.
Related: Factors That Influence Food Choices
4. Anxiety and depression
Anxiety, depression and other mood disorders can certainly lead to using unhealthy food for its feel-good factor and as a way of coping with life’s daily stresses. It’s important to get to the root of the problem and seek treatment accordingly. While helpful and even crucial, a changed diet may not be a cure-all in and of itself.
Chronic stress has a huge impact on our health and eating habits. When stressed, your body releases cortisol which, according to Dr. Melanie Greenberg, Psychology Today, “starts signalling the body to replenish food supply”, often leading to unnecessary eating. For more on stress and weight gain, read Why We Gain Weight When We’re Stressed—And How Not To.
Medications such as ant-depressants have been shown to contribute to weight gain.
7. Too many calories and not enough exercise
Sometimes it’s as simple as that: you consume too many calories, especially from the wrong foods, which you do not burn off via daily activities, resulting in gained weight over time.
8. Incorrect food portions and proportions
Food portions that are too large can certainly lead to weight gain, as can incorrect proportions. Eating too many carbs and not enough protein and vegetables can also contribute to the problem. You need to find the balance between eating enough to feel sated on the one hand and overeating on the other.
9. Following fad diets
While some people swear by certain diets, such as the ketogenic diet, because these diets allow them to shed weight even in the long-term, such cases are rare. After the initial excitement of having lost significant weight, most people find most diets unsustainable.
Because we are made differently, we cannot simply apply one set of rules to every case. Each case needs to be personalized according to the individual conditions. This is precisely why our nutritional counselling place a great deal of focus on customized meal plans.
Besides, many diets can lead to long-term nutrient-deficiencies, which can lead to all sorts of ailments down the road. Let the dieter beware.
Lack of iron can result in fatigue, while a shortage of Vitamin D can contribute to depression. Not enough Vitamin C can leave the immune system compromised, and a diet devoid of magnesium can lead to all sorts of negative side effects including heightened anxiety.
In other words, when you’re tired, depressed, sick or anxious, you’re less likely to have an optimistic outlook on life and a desire to eat healthy and exercise. Such a negative state of mind can certainly precipitate weight gain.
According to WebMD, Polycystic Ovary Syndrome, a hormonal disorder, “makes it more difficult for the body to use the hormone insulin, which normally helps convert sugars and starches from foods into energy.” This can swiftly lead to glucose build up in the bloodstream, contributing to gained weight. For this reason many women today seek the help of nutritionists and dietitians who specialize in nutritional interventions for hormones.
12. Excessive alcohol consumption
Healthy weight loss: important considerations
Now that we’re clear on the many factors that contribute to weight gain, let’s consider some other key points.
Weight loss rate varies from person to person
Some people lose weight at a slow but steady pace, some drop a great deal fast at the onset, only for it to plateau shortly after, while others lose a little in the initial stages but more farther down the road in the weight loss journey. There is no cookie-cutter formula.
Work on short term weight loss goals
Goals are very important on a healthy weight loss program, particularly if you’re looking for healthy ways to lose weight.
Small goals are easier to reach than larger ones. Instead of trying to lose 40 pounds, work towards shedding 5. Doing so will build confidence and motivate to keep going.
For weight loss to be healthy and sustainable, it must be gradual.
Exercise is not a ticket to unhealthy eating
Some people feel that they earned the right to overeat or treat themselves to unhealthy foods because they ran 10k, spent 45 minutes lifting weights or took part in an hour-long spin class. This may be true when you have the metabolism of a 15-year-old, but for most of us this isn’t the case. Believing so can undermine your goal of maintaining a healthy weight. While the benefits of regular exercise cannot be glossed over, nutrition reigns supreme. Ask most experts, including our sports nutritionist and dietitian, and they’ll tell you the same.
Be mindful of what, when and how much you’re eating. Do you see any triggers?
Self-awareness can prove a useful tool when looking for healthy ways to lose weight, allowing you to make swift adjustments that can ultimately be the difference maker.
Emotional or stress eating
Mental health conditions and accompanying stress can certainly lead to unhealthy food choices as a way of coping.
When we are stressed, a hormone called cortisol is released to fight the given stress. In order to fight this stressor, whatever it is, we need energy in the form of food. Our appetite, therefore, is increased.
And why do we gravitate towards unhealthy, high-carb, high-sugar and/or high-fat foods?
We do so because these foods are energy-dense, rich and instantly satisfying. They provide an immediate but temporary release from the stress. A sense of comfort. A distraction.
Resorting to these crutch-foods is dangerous for many reasons, not the least of which is weight gain. It is important to recognize the root of the problem and find healthier ways to cope with life’s stressors.
At the same time, it is also prudent to learn to implement meal prepping strategies to avoid impulsive indulgences.
Here are some things you can do to help lose weight in a healthy way:
1. Get to the root of the problem by seeking the help of a mental health professional and an eating disorder dietitian, who can help you find more constructive ways to manage stress or help treat mental health conditions.
2. Introduce more frequent exercise to release tension, get fresh air and to help you stay more fit.
3. Relax. Meditate. Go for a swim. Read a book. Go for a walk with the dog. Find something that relaxes you and makes you feel good.
4. Socialize. Go out with friends and try to forget about stress, at least temporarily. Your body needs a break. Let it recharge and refuel. Perhaps you will get better perspective after you return.
5. Pre-plan healthy snacks that you enjoy eating to avoid impulse grabs when you are at your most vulnerable.
How to lose weight: practical weight loss tips
There are also many practical things you can do when trying to lose weight.
- Keep a log of the food you eat, for yourself and for your nutritionist. Having to take stock of what you’re eating can lead to self-reflection and desire for change.
- Prep meals, particularly meal staples, on the weekend to avoid buying take out food during the week.
- Cook at home as much as possible, so you can control the ingredients and portion sizes.
- Cut back instead of cutting out altogether: open-faced sandwich, lett-wich, cucumber slices instead of crackers et al.
- Use a smaller plate to eat less and, in turn, lose weight.
- When going for a second serving, fill up on vegetables and/or salads.
- During a meal, stop eating for 20 minutes to see if you’re full, before eating more. You will often feel sated. This can go a long way in helping you lose weight.
- Eat slowly and chew to help digestion and to eat less.
- Clear food off the table when you’re done eating to avoid post-meal picking.
- Plan your treat meal to avoid guilt.
- Beware, sugar lurks in many places: sauces, dressings, condiments, dried fruit, etc.
- Use extra-virgin olive oil & balsamic or apple cider vinegar over store-bought, bottled salad dressing.
- Eat a variety of foods for different nutrients.
- Eat low-density foods: foods with fewer calories in proportion to their weight and volume.
- Boxed or packaged food are often loaded with preservatives, additives, sugar, sodium and stripped of nutrients and fibre. Avoid as much as possible.
- Pass on fried food: high in calories and low in nutrients.
- Reduce refined carbohydrates.
- Alcohol and marijuana use can lead to less-than-healthy indulgences. Snack healthy.
- Establish a cut-off time for meals: avoid eating at least a couple of hours before sleep.
Protein and weight loss
- Eat protein with every meal, especially at breakfast. It’ll keep you full for longer.
- Pre-cut and portion out your meat to avoid overeating.
- Choose chicken: lean, high in protein, zero carbohydrates. Select white meat over dark.
- Eat eggs: low in calories, high-quality protein.
- Select fish over steak.
- Choose nitrate-free and low-sodium turkey or chicken slices over processed meats like pastrami, salami and prosciutto.
- Reduce dairy: highly caloric, high in saturated fat.
- Be careful when eating cheese. A 100-gram chunk of your average cheese can carry 370 calories.
- Limit pepperoni on a pizza and elsewhere: it’s a calorie bomb, with one thin slice hovering around 25-30 calories.
- Add protein to a smoothie. Make sure it’s low in sugar and doesn’t contain artificial sweeteners. Stevia is fine. One serving of protein powder should fall under 10 grams of net carbs.
- Protein bar: can be used as a treat to satisfy sugar cravings and provide a snack when on-the-go.
Carbs and weight loss
- If you overeat carbs one day, compensate by cutting back the next day.
- Steam or stir-fry vegetables and add them to your pasta dish. Effectively, you will eat less pasta, reducing your carbs. You can also blend vegetables into your tomato sauce.
- On occasion, replace pasta with zucchini noodles.
- Try spaghetti squash as a substitute for pasta as well.
- Use cauliflower rice in place of regular rice.
- Add more bean sprouts to stir-fries while reducing rice or noodles.
- Sweet potatoes are a great alternative to regular potatoes because they are lower in carbs and calories.
- Choose sprouted grain over white and whole wheat bread.
- Replace cereal with oatmeal (without added sugar) because most cereal contains too much sugar and can impede weight loss.
Good fats, healthy fats
Consume the following:
- nuts & seeds
- chia seeds
- flax seeds
- butter (if you must): choose grass-fed and keep to a minimum
- coconut oil, in moderation
- extra-virgin olive oil
- fish (Pacific salmon, sardines, anchovy, tuna, mackerel and herring)
Weight loss drinks
- Water: Sip throughout the day to help keep you full and stave off hunger. You can add lemon to your water to improve taste. Herbal tea counts too.
- Replace milk with unsweetened almond, cashew, oat or coconut milk.
- Avoid sports and energy drinks: the sugar content is much too high.
- Limit Iced-Cappuccinos or Frappuccinos. They are loaded with sugar, which can increase cravings for sweets.
- Replace sugar with stevia, in your coffee.
Alcohol and weight loss
- Refer to Healthiest Alcohol: Healthier Alcohol Selections For Weight Loss, for specific rules on alcohol consumption for weight loss or weight maintenance.
- Related: Wine & Weight Loss: How To Choose Wine & Drink It Without Gaining Weight
Weight loss snacks and desserts
- Portion out snacks beforehand to avoid overeating.
- Have healthier snacks visible, reachable and/or readily available while keeping unhealthy ones out of sight. Remember, out of sight, out of mind.
- If you must indulge in unhealthy snacks, share with someone. You will eat less that way.
- Choose hummus, mashed avocado or guacamole as a vegetable dip.
- Craving an unhealthy sugary snack? Try eating a date with a little almond butter or almond butter on an apple slice.
- Eat plain yogurt as many typical yogurts carry too much sugar. Add fruit, cinnamon and/or organic vanilla extract to sweeten. Read the label carefully though. Vanilla-flavoured yogurt is high in sugar too.
As you can see, healthy weight loss can be a complicated matter with many interconnected components that help determine the success rate.
It is vitally important to see the whole picture, which is rarely the case when people try to lose weight.
But if we do consider all these facets of weight loss, then the answer to the question of how to lose weight the right way, the healthy way becomes much more clear, and in turn, weight loss much more attainable and long-lasting.
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