Losing 100 Pounds – Learning What Works

Now that the holidays are over, it’s time to get back to my story about how I lost and have kept off 100 pounds. In the previous post in this series, On the Path to Weight Loss, I talked about how I started out my weight loss program. I made some fairly simple changes to begin with. Over time, I added other techniques.

This post discusses the fourth of the five phases I went through. As a quick recap, here are the 5 phases I’ve identified:

  1. Gain the weight.
  2. Understand the impacts.
  3. Get on the path to weight loss.
  4. Learn what works in losing weight.
  5. Find a new way of living.

Conflicting Advice

How do we learn what works? Unfortunately, when it comes to losing weight and getting fit, there must be a million or more suggestions. You need to sort through it and figure out what works for you.

Have you ever thought, “Why can’t the scientists ever make up their minds? Why are there so many diet plans out there? How can I know what will work for me?”

It can be very tough to know. You often see advice on diets, fitness, and health that is completely contradictory. You can read one article that says one thing. Five minutes later, you read another article that says the complete opposite. This is true whether it comes from the popular media or from so-called “diet experts.”

For example, I’ve seen some articles that say what you eat is the most important for weight loss, and exercise doesn’t really matter. Others say exercise is more important. How do you choose between the two? Personally, I believe in a third choice, you need both nutrition and exercise together.

The Harvard School of Public Health has some great tips for cutting through the confusion about various studies reported in the news. In Nutrition Research and Mass Media: An Introduction, they describe how and why researchers often come up with different conclusions when studying a particular issue. The media often makes matters worse by reporting on a single study, usually one that runs counter to current recommendations. Controversy sells, and the media knows it. They give advice to help you decide how important an article is for you. For example, are they reporting on only a single study? How does it fit into the bigger picture of recommendations about the topic?

Weight loss science is very complicated, and researchers discover new information every day. They have looked at questions about how genetics, medications, types of food eaten, blood types, and even viruses can impact your ability to lose weight. I caution you not to get too bogged down in all of this confusing information, especially when you’re just starting out. You’ll make yourself crazy. Keep it simple.

Try Different Things

My best advice is to keep trying different things out until you find what works for you. Just be sure you’re trying out reasonable ideas, not crazy off-the-wall ones. For example, decreasing the amount of sugar you eat is a good idea; eating only cabbage soup is not.

There are hundreds, maybe thousands, of diet plans out there. The same with exercise plans. Each one has probably worked for somebody, and now some self-proclaimed expert thinks they can make money by selling it to you.

It may not matter what the diet plan is. You could pick one of several that would work. In fact, it could work for reasons that have nothing to do with what it claims. Have you seen how many expensive machines, pills, and powders you can buy that promise amazing results with little or no effort? Have you looked at the fine print that says “when combined with a good diet and exercise plan”?

Why don’t you just eat better and exercise more, and save your money for new clothes in a smaller size instead?

Some Common Recommendations

Even though you can find people who will argue about anything, a lot of sources do agree on some common recommendations:

  1. Combine changes in eating habits with exercise. Exercise, including both cardio and strength training, is critical when trying to lose weight. Cardio helps burn calories and improve your blood circulation. Adding muscle raises your metabolism and reduces “jiggle.”
  2. Reduce the number of calories you eat, but not by too much. (see below)
  3. Choose a diet you can live with. Most people who lose weight will gain it back, especially if they lose it by following a diet they can’t live with in the long run. Eventually, they will break down and slip back into old habits. Can you imagine living the rest of your life without any ice cream or chocolate at all? Learn to allow some in moderation, so you don’t go on a binge someday.
  4. Avoid crash diets. The recommended rate of weight loss is 1 to 2 pounds per week. This rate is the most likely to result in sustained weight loss. If you lose more than this, chances are you aren’t making sustainable lifestyle changes. Don’t get too anxious.
  5. Work on your mindset. Thoughts and emotions surrounding food have a huge impact on your weight loss efforts. For example:
    • get support from other people who understand
    • identify “food triggers” and emotional eating situations
    • focus on the positive aspects of improving your health, not on the restrictions and deprivations

Your Calorie Deficit

To lose weight, you should reduce the number of calories you eat and increase the calories you burn. The total is called your “calorie deficit.” If your deficit is 500 calories per day, you should lose approximately 1 pound per week. A pound of body fat equates to 3500 calories. Don’t attempt to lose more than 2 pounds per week (a 1000 calorie-per-day deficit).

The American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) recommends that you never drop below 1200 calories per day for women or 1800 calories per day for men. In fact, these could be too low based upon how active you are. Therefore, cutting down to 1000 calories per day is probably counter-productive. Reducing calories by 15 to 20% below your daily calorie maintenance needs is a useful starting point. Use these as very general guidelines. You will need to experiment to determine what calorie level works best for you. Also, realize that they will change over time as you lose weight and get stronger.

Determine how many calories you are eating now, by checking your intake on a few typical days. You can get information about the calories in your food from nutrition labels (watch the serving size!) and several websites. You can also get information about calories burned based on the amount and type of exercise you plan to do from websites.

To Summarize

The bottom line is use some common sense. Don’t get caught up in the latest fad, figure out what works for you as an individual, and make a series of small changes in your lifestyle that you can sustain over time. You should do fine.

Please remember that I am not a doctor and not a source for medical advice. Check with your own doctor before starting or changing any diet or exercise plan.

Creative Commons License photo credit: alancleaver_2000

Articles in the Series:
Losing 100 Pounds – The 5 Phases
Losing 100 Pounds – Gain It First
Losing 100 Pounds – Waking Up to Weight Gain
Losing 100 Pounds – On the Path to Weight Loss
Losing 100 Pounds – Learning What Works
Losing 100 Pounds – Finding a New Way of Living

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