By: Madeleine Ortiz
A stressful few months of work, a change in the family dynamic, a vacation or even more time than usual spent at home… just some of the many life events that can cause us to gain weight. Sometimes it happens quickly and sometimes it’s so sneaky we don’t realize what’s occurred until we try to button a pair of pants that we haven’t worn in awhile. Our immediate response is probably frustration or disappointment, then we usually shift into motivation mode – quickly brainstorming ways to send the extra pounds packing. But before investing in the latest diet or swearing off sweets for good… take a look at these tips from experts on the safest and most effective way to jumpstart weight loss (with an approach that will make it easier to keep it off for good).
1. Cut yourself some slack.
“The truth is that if you’ve fallen off the wagon, you are probably just being a normal human,” says Dr. Dayna Lee-Baggley, psychologist and author of Psychology of Weight Loss. While the instinct may be to beat yourself up after weight gain, it’s important to show yourself some compassion, according to Dr. Lee-Baggley. When our response is compassion instead of guilt or shame, it’s easier to learn from the experience. We can more easily identify triggers or something that’s consistently leading you to unhealthy choices. The sooner you can figure out what’s causing you to veer off course, the sooner you will be able to get back on track- and the more time you can minimize “off the wagon,” she says, the less weight you’ll gain.
2. Understand why having an eating plan might be a good thing.
The diet industry is a multi-billion dollar business and most people that go on strict diets and lose weight will often gain the weight back (and then some.) According to Dr. Michael Lyon, medical director at the Medical Weight Management Program in Canada, having an eating plan is different, and can make a big difference. “There are some really bad diets out there,” he cautions, “but generally speaking, most of the popular eating approaches that are used to help people lose weight have merit and may be very useful.” Losing weight has two parts, he explains. There’s the “big journey,” which is a lifetime of health and weight management – but there’s the starting line too. And when you’re trying to lose weight gained during a life event or starting the process of losing a large amount of weight, it can be helpful to focus on a specific eating approach. When you start seeing results, it can create a “success snowball effect.” You get excited because you’re losing weight and that motivates you to continue or even work harder. Never discount the power of positivity! Seeing success and being able to build on it is a great tool.
3. Keep a food journal.
Experts like Dr. Lee-Baggley and Dr. Lyon agree that probably the single most effective tool for helping people with weight loss and management is to keep some form of a food record. Whether you’re writing down when and what you’re eating in a notebook or tracking it using an app on your phone, recording your daily intake creates a new level of awareness around eating patterns. And when you start becoming more aware of your habits, says Dr. Lyon, it’s almost magical how seamlessly that can translate into realizing what changes need to be made. A lot of times when you gain weight without realizing it, it’s because you’ve been eating mindlessly, says Dr. Lyon. The 10 to 20 minutes each day it takes to keep a detailed food journal is something that he wants everyone to try at least once, and the most successful people will revisit their food journal with the ebbs and flows of life.
4. Consider meal replacements.
There is often a negative connotation surrounding meal replacements, but according to Dr. Judy Shiau, internist at the LEAF Weight Management Clinic in Canada, a good meal replacement is simply food that you don’t have to think too much about. When you find a good meal replacement, she says, you have a great package of good nutrients and caloric content that requires no time or prep. And patients who adhere to these well-designed meal replacement programs tend to successfully and safely lose as much as 10% of their body weight in as little as twelve weeks. If it’s something you can afford, Dr. Shiau recommends it as a great way to jump start weight loss. As always, just be sure to consult a healthcare professional prior to starting and ideally use meal replacements with the supervision of a healthcare professional.
5. Don’t be overly restrictive.
When the motivation to lose weight strikes, it can be tempting to put yourself on a super-restrictive diet. Unfortunately, Dr. Lyon sees this plan backfire virtually 100% of the time. It’s fine, and even recommended, to adhere to a structured eating plan to jumpstart weight loss, but doing things like eliminating all carbohydrates or eating less than 1200 calories a day will likely lead to binging and more weight gain long-term. Not to mention, says Dr. Lyon, that super low-calorie and restrictive diets can actually be dangerous. He suggests choosing a diet that encourages whole foods, lots of produce and limited processed foods. Most importantly, trust your gut. If something feels impossible or harmful, steer clear!
6. Explore the underlying issues.
Dropping pounds can feel good and help you feel more in control of whatever life is currently throwing your way, but remember there’s a reason you started eating more and gaining weight in the first place. “The fact is,” says Dr. Lyon, “if you’re not addressing the underlying reasons for weight gain and roadblocks that may come your way again in the future, your weight loss will eventually fail.” Long-term weight loss and good health requires you to look at every area of your life. It could be family issues, finances, or something else, but whatever it is, a diet will only be a bandaid. Dealing with the root issues will stop weight gain at the source and help create the foundation for lifelong success.
7. Plan out your transition.
If you’ve chosen a stricter eating plan and have successfully lost weight you may be tempted to completely end your diet and “get back to normal life.” This sudden stop to structure often leads to weight regain. Instead, Dr. Shiau recommends taking a methodical approach to transitioning. Instead of completely ditching the habits that helped you shed the weight, consider switching to an 80/20 approach- where you plan on sticking with your new, healthier eating approach 80 – 90% of the time and enjoying restaurants, social events or indulgences the other 10 – 20%. If you’ve completed a meal replacement program, she strongly urges reaching out to a dietitian for help. A dietitian will make it easier by providing meal planning tips, resources and support. Making the transition from weight loss to weight maintenance isn’t easy, Dr. Shiau admits, but if planned carefully, it can be done.
8. Seek support sooner than later.
The reality is that, in most cases, it’s much easier to gain weight than it is to lose it, says Dr. Lyon. Don’t put too much pressure on yourself, he cautions, and even if it feels like you should be able to do it on your own, don’t hesitate to get support. Having a support group, dietitian or healthcare provider that can help you find what works for you is a critical indicator of success when it comes to weight loss. It also gives you a network you can rely on if you find yourself struggling or falling back into old habits when life throws something new your way. Never trick yourself into thinking weight loss is a “DIY” activity or something you must do completely solo.
The society we live in is more or less designed to make us gain weight – the realities of everyday life make putting on a few extra pounds each year almost inevitable. Having a plan of action for getting weight off, and more importantly maintaining your new, healthy habits is the key to success- and for many people, diet and exercise alone will not be enough to reaching and maintaining a healthier weight. That means that seeking medical help from a physician who specializes in obesity / excess weight is fundamental for long-term success. You can find one near you here. Always talk to your family physician / nurse practitioner before starting any new diet or exercise plan.
Most importantly, health is more than just a number on the scale. It’s tempting to have a goal weight that is our definition of success, but the healthier habits we put in place to try to reach that weight is really what’s going to determine the quality of our lives. As Karen Tulloch registered kinesiologist and manager of program development at the Medical Weight Management Program in Canada says, focusing on the scale can actually undermine our efforts towards better health.
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