It’s that time of year again. People are rushing to buy gym memberships and cleaning out kitchen cabinets, swearing that this year will be the year they follow through on their resolution to lose weight.
But reaching that goal doesn’t require a complete lifestyle overhaul. Small steps can make a big difference in your body and health.
Here are eight ways to get started:
Break it down. No matter how much you have to lose, changing your lifestyle to lose weight can seem overwhelming. So, don’t look at it all at once, advises nutritionist Samantha Heller, from NYU Langone Medical Center in New York City.
“Look at it one plate at a time, or even one choice at a time, but start right now, and by this time next month, you’ll see good changes,” she said. Instead of thinking about how you need to lose 40 pounds, figure out what 5 percent of your body weight is. For a 180-pound person, it’s 9 pounds.
“If you lose 5 percent of your body weight, you can significantly decrease your risk of many diseases, like prediabetes, type 2 diabetes, certain cancers, heart disease. You lower your blood pressure, cholesterol and A1C [a long-term measurement of blood sugar levels], and it’s so much less overwhelming to think about,” Heller noted.
Strive for a negative calorie balance. For years, you’ve probably heard that to lose a pound, you need to eat 3,500 fewer calories (the number of calories in a pound), but research has shown that it’s not necessarily that simple.
Nutritionist Maudene Nelson, from Columbia University Health in New York City, said, “It works mathematically, but it doesn’t work physiologically. The body defends its weight,” she explained. But you do need a negative calorie balance to lose weight – that means you need to take in fewer calories than you use in activity and exercise to lose weight.
Both Nelson and Heller said very low-calorie diets don’t work in the long term because the body goes into starvation mode. “You don’t want to lose weight too quickly, because it scares the body into thinking there’s no food available,” Heller said.
Plate it. elson loves the simplicity of the plate method. Half of your plate should be vegetables, one quarter is protein and one quarter is starch. If you finish your plate, and you’re still hungry, she said be sure to refill your plate in the same way. “Don’t just refill on the mac n’ cheese,” she advised. In the morning, you can substitute fruit for the veggies.
Identify trouble times. Nelson asks her clients to think about the time of day they have the most trouble with food. Is it the time just before dinner when the kids are clamoring for food and you’re starving and so tired you don’t feel like cooking, so you stop at the fast-food drive-thru. Or is it at night when the house has quieted down and you can finally sit down, maybe with a glass of wine and late-night snack?
“In these times of day, it’s hard to think about how many calories you’re eating. These are times you don’t want to stop and think about self-denial. So plan for these times. Have healthy snacks ready. Make sure you have ingredients for a quick meal in the fridge so you don’t have to rely on fast-food,” Nelson suggested.
Add protein to every meal. Protein helps keep your blood sugar levels from spiking and then crashing. Without at least a little protein in your meal, you’ll be hungry soon after eating because of a fast rise and fall in your blood sugar.
And, Heller said, be sure to have protein at breakfast, too. “Having protein in the morning can really set the stage for a better day — whether it’s eggs or yogurt, nut butter on whole grain toast or apple slices, or even leftovers from the night before,” she explained.
Track it. Both Heller and Nelson said one of the most important things you can do for losing weight is keeping track of the food you eat.
“It’s not a sexy or exciting thing to do, but it can be informative and helpful,” Heller said, adding that many people are surprised when they write down every bite they take at how much they actually do eat in a day. A food diary can be done with paper and pencil, or you can put technology to work because there are lots of apps for the phone. Examples include myfitnesspal, fitday and seehowyoueat (an app that lets you use pictures to keep your diary).
“You can use your food tracker to see what happened when you did well, or on days you didn’t. If you over-eat one night, you can look back and see that maybe you skipped lunch and were starving. You can use it as a learning tool for the next time,” Heller said.
Don’t drink your calories.
Both experts said people often get empty calories from soda and juice. “It’s just not worth it to drink your calories,” Nelson said. What about adult beverages, such as wine and beer? Nelson said those can be considered part of the plate method. Each drink replaces a starch from your plate.
Nelson said to set yourself up for success by planning rewards. Whether it’s for walking a mile, or for tracking your meals for a week, give yourself more than a pat on the back. It doesn’t have to be a big treat – maybe you could buy that magazine you enjoy but usually don’t purchase, or a special body lotion because it’s pricier than what you normally spend.