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Spring is almost here! And for many people, the New Year's resolution to "lose weight", has long been forgotten.

People strive to lose weight for myriad reasons, and many fall into the fad diet trap promising real results fast. While there are certainly ways to accelerate your weight loss efforts, it’s important to understand that shedding pounds too quickly can actually backfire.

Like so many parts of life, safe, successful and sustainable weight loss is more about the journey and less about a scale-based destination.

Tips for Safe and Sustainable Weight Loss

1. Implement Long-Term Lifestyle and Behavior Changes

When trying to lose weight, ban the word “diet". Think of weight loss as a part of getting healthier and concentrating on taking care of your body first. Weight loss is complicated, and you don’t have total control over the number on the scale, but you do have control over what you eat, how much you move and other factors that impact weight, such as stress and sleep. Set SMART goals specific, measurable, achievable, relevant and time-sensitive, and reward yourself when you hit them.

2. Focus on the First 5% to 10%

Instead of saying, “I need to lose 25 pounds,” and overwhelming yourself with what seems like an impossible goal, look toward the health benefits that can come from even modest weight loss. Set smaller, achievable targets. Losing only 5% to 10% of your total body weight (TBW) can greatly improve your health and lower your risk for illnesses, such as type 2 diabetes, stroke, cardiovascular disease and certain types of cancer.

3. Reduce Your Intake of Ultra-Processed Carbs and Sweets

A study in the Journal of the American Medical Association reveals what you eat is most important for weight loss. The pounds will come off more quickly if you improve the quality of the foods you ingest.

One of the healthiest ways to shed weight is to reduce your intake of sugar and rapidly metabolized carbohydrates. In particular, you want to cut out, or drastically curtail, your intake of high-glycemic-load foods, such as sugary snacks, processed carbs and soft drinks. When you avoid or cut back on French fries, chips, crackers and the like, you’ll speed up your weight loss.

4. Eat More Plants

Research shows a plant-based diet not only promotes weight loss but is also easier to stick to than a low-calorie diet. Plus, it’s nutrient dense and has numerous health benefits.

Produce supports weight loss because it’s rich in fiber and water, which are both calorie-free yet take up space in your stomach, so you feel full. In fact, a recent study found a direct correlation between increased fruit and vegetable consumption and enhanced weight loss.

Aim to consume five daily servings of produce to start and working up to seven to nine servings a day. Start your day with a green smoothie, have a salad or cut up vegetables with your lunch and eat fruit for snacks and desserts. For dinner, have more stir frys, incorporate veggies into your pasta dishes and stir them into soups.

5. Pump Up Your Protein

Increasing your protein consumption can help reduce appetite and help prevent the loss of muscle mass. Eating around 25 to 30 grams of protein (think 4 ounce of chicken breast) per meal can improve appetite control and manage your body weight. The best way to do it is to make sure you have one serving of high-quality protein per meal.

Women older than 50 need significantly more protein (1 to 1.5 grams per kilogram of body weight daily) than men and younger women (who require .8 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight daily). Women need more protein after 50, especially as they approach menopause, because decreases in the hormone estrogen result in a loss of skeletal muscle mass, strength and regenerative capacity.

6. Drink More Water

Research shows drinking more water is associated with weight loss independent of diet and exercise. Ample water intake can help increase satiety and combat sugar cravings. Water is also necessary for lipolysis, the body’s process of burning fat for energy.

Try drinking two cups of water before each meal. Studies have shown this simple move can increase weight loss.

7. Eat a Well-Rounded Breakfast

Breakfast skippers, listen up. If you’re trying to lose weight, skimping on morning fuel is not the way to go. In fact, studies consistently show skipping breakfast is associated with overweight and obesity.

Additionally, a study in the Proceedings of the Nutrition Society found people who don’t eat breakfast tend to have poorer quality diets overall, and they skimp on nutrients, such as vitamin D, calcium and iron. See my recent blog post.

To think more clearly, perform more efficiently and be in better moods, you want a well-rounded, blood-sugar-balanced first meal of the day with ample protein, healthy fats and quality carbs like fresh berries.

8. Stand Up and Move More

One of the easiest ways to shed weight is to up your non-exercise activity thermogenesis (NEAT)—the energy expended for everything you do outside of eating, sleeping or exercising. Little changes like carrying your groceries instead of pushing a cart, parking farther away from the entrance to the mall, taking the stairs instead of the elevator or even tapping your toe can lead to hundreds of extra calories burned.

Or try to stand more than you sit. Studies show that simply replacing sitting with standing leads to a greater daily energy expenditure, which directly translates into more calories burned and ultimately pounds shed.

By substituting sitting with standing for 6 hours/day, a 65 kg person will expend an additional 54 kcal/day. Assuming no increase in energy intake, this difference in energy expenditure would be translated into the energy content of about 2.5 kg of body fat mass in 1 year. Putting it another way, if you weigh 160 pounds and alternate sitting and standing, you can burn approximately 35 additional calories an hour—an extra 280 calories a day, 1,400 calories a week and about 70,000 calories a year!

9. Hit the Weights

Muscle burns more calories than fat. So how do you build more muscle? Strength training. Adding resistance training to your weight loss plan is a smart idea not only because of the calories you’ll burn while working out, but also because of the afterburn effect.

Known as excess post-exercise oxygen consumption, EPOC reflects how long oxygen uptake remains elevated after exercise in order to help muscles recover. This elevation boosts metabolism both during and after strength training sessions. And the more muscle you add to your frame, the higher your resting metabolic rate (RMR). Your RMR determines how many calories your body needs to function at rest. The greater your RMR, the more you can eat and not gain weight. While cardiovascular exercise is often emphasized, strength training is key for dropping pounds and maintaining weight loss, especially after age 50 because muscle mass—which burns calories—declines at a rate of 1% to 2% per year.

10. Don’t Go Overboard

Cutting calories too drastically or working out 24/7 may actually backfire when it comes to weight loss. Most people think shedding pounds requires draconian measures to get results, but allowing yourself adequate recovery time is more productive.

11. Check in With an Accountability Partner - ie: The Fitness Doctor!

Sometimes losing weight can feel lonely, but you don’t have to do it all by yourself.

Research shows being accountable works. In one study, two-thirds of participants who joined a weight loss program with friends maintained their weight loss for six months after the meetings ended, compared to just a quarter of those who attended on their own.

12. Watch Less Television

Couch surfers wanting to lose weight should turn off the TV—in fact, the more television people watch, the more weight they gain. One study that collected data from more than 50,000 middle-aged women over six years found that for every two hours the participants spent watching television each day, they had a 23% higher risk of obesity and a 14% higher risk of developing diabetes. Excess television watching is correlated with extra pounds primarily because it’s a sedentary activity that often also leads to mindless eating. So, turn it off or maybe change the channel to an exercise program instead.

13. Reconnect with Your Satiety Cues

Speaking of mindless eating, you can reprogram your brain for weight loss by tuning back into your body’s natural “I’m hungry” and “I’m full” cues. Dieting combined with eating on the run or while multitasking (driving, watching TV, playing with your phone) can really disconnect you from your natural signals of hunger and satiety. Plus, as children, we also learned to clean our plates rather than eat until satisfied. Add the fact that portion sizes have grown significantly (as much as 60% for things like snack foods) and the result is consistent overeating.

14. Get More Sleep

Getting a good night’s sleep is one of the best things you can do to maintain a healthy weight and overall health. Studies show that poor sleep is associated with weight gain and other health disorders. When researchers analyzed 16 years’ worth of data on 68,183 middle-aged American women, they found those who slept no more than five hours per night were 15% more likely to have obesity compared to those who slept seven hours a night.

Insufficient sleep may also affect the production of appetite-regulating hormones ghrelin and leptin, which can lead people to feel hungrier throughout the day. Additionally, poor sleep increases cortisol and can result in harder-to-lose body and belly fat.

I encourage the 3-2-1 rule, which means stop working three hours before bed, stop eating two hours before bed and stop digital stimuli one hour before bed to improve your deep sleep and REM.

15. Find Non-Edible Substitutes for Self-Soothing

There’s a reason it’s called “comfort food.” However, emotional eating can quickly derail all weight loss efforts. When you feel stressed, which raises cortisol levels, rather than reaching for food to feel better (since eating triggers the release of the feel-good neurotransmitter dopamine) raise levels of oxytocin, the love hormone, by doing something soothing, like playing with a pet or walking in nature!

Why Losing Weight Fast Isn’t the Best Goal

Though the allure of the “lose 5 pounds in a week” diet myth is strong, there are many reasons why speedy shedding may actually work against your best weight loss efforts.

First, when people lose weight rapidly, especially via fad or crash diets, they are typically unable to maintain it because the weight they lose is often more muscle mass and water and less fat mass compared to people who lose weight gradually.

Maintaining lean muscle is important in weight loss because it plays a key role in metabolism. Muscle helps you burn more calories. But when you lose weight too quickly, you lose muscle, and your body slows down calorie burning. Fast weight loss can even cause permanent slowing of metabolism.

Rapid weight loss often leads to the dreaded yo-yo weight cycling many chronic dieters experience. In fact, a study of former contestants on NBC’s weight loss television show “The Biggest Loser” found the more pounds dropped quickly, the more the participant’s metabolism slowed. The study also found that the contestants regained a substantial amount of their lost weight in the six years following the competition.

Another Australian study of 200 participants in The Lancet found that while dieters in the study lost the same amount of weight, the group that lost weight slowly lost 10% more body fat and 50% less lean muscle than the rapid weight loss group. Further compounding the issue, when people lose weight rapidly, appetite often increases as metabolism decreases, making it almost impossible to keep the pounds off. A study in Obesity reports our bodies prompt us to eat 100 calories more per day for every pound lost.

Popular fad diets also very often result in nutrient deficiencies. And rapid weight loss (especially when you cut carbs) is often largely water. What’s more, if daily calories are low, the body may also use muscle mass as fuel, further reducing metabolism, as muscle mass is metabolically active.

The bottom line: Shedding weight sensibly is the way to go. Experts usually say a safe rate is losing around half a pound to 2 pounds a week.

How Long Does It Take to Lose Weight?

How quickly you’re able to lose weight depends on factors like your age, health history, medications you’re taking, how much sleep you get and your genetics. Generally, you’ll need to cut about 500 calories per day through diet or exercise to lose one pound per week.

The Benefits of Losing Weight Safely (as opposed to the "Ozempic" way)

Losing weight through healthy lifestyle changes like improved diet and increased physical activity offers a host of benefits, from reductions in body fat to improved joint pain and more. Consider the following advantages of losing weight safely.

Maintain weight loss. People who lose weight gradually (1 to 2 pounds per week) through lifestyle changes like healthy eating, getting regular exercise and stress management are more likely to keep their weight off than those who lose weight quickly, according to the CDC.

Improve blood pressure, blood sugar and cholesterol. Losing weight through lifestyle changes like getting regular physical activity and eating healthy foods can help reduce the risk of high blood pressure, cholesterol, heart attacks and strokes, according to the American Heart Association (AHA). Additionally, losing weight by implementing healthy habits may reduce the progression of prediabetes and type 2 diabetes or control type 1 diabetes. Meanwhile, losing as little as 5% to 10% of an individual’s body weight can help improve their blood pressure and cholesterol levels.

Lose more body fat. One small 2017 study published in the International Journal of Endocrinology and Metabolism examined 42 individuals with excess weight or experiencing obesity found that those who participated in slow weight loss experienced greater reduction in body fat compared to those who participated in rapid weight loss, as well as greater decreases in waist and hip circumference. Those who participated in rapid weight loss, on the other hand, experienced greater losses in fat-free body mass, lean body mass and total body water.

Improvements in joint pain. Losing weight can reduce the amount of pressure on joints as well as inflammation associated with weight gain. Losing just 10 to 15 pounds may significantly reduce the risk of developing osteoarthritis later in life and may improve the severity of arthritis symptoms.

Potential Side Effects of Rapid Weight Loss

Losing more than 1 to 2 pounds per week may cause side effects including loss of muscle, body water and bone density, and is generally not recommended. Other side effects of rapid weight loss may include:

  • Fatigue

  • Diarrhea

  • Constipation

  • Nausea

  • Gallstones

  • Gout

Additionally, those who lose weight rapidly are more likely to regain weight quickly.

Final Thoughts on Losing Weight

The best way to achieve sustainable weight loss includes implementing healthy lifestyle changes like eating a balanced and nutritious diet, getting regular exercise and managing stress. Individuals who lose weight gradually are more likely to keep the weight off and reap benefits like reduced body fat, improved heart health and more.

Meanwhile, people who lose weight quickly are more likely to lose muscle mass and water weight and risk experiencing side effects like loss of bone density or weight regain.



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