The best way to lose weight and keep it off
We've all been there. We look into the mirror and we're not entirely happy with the image reflected back. Our upcoming beach holiday looms, and we're not entirely sure we'll still fit in our swimsuit. Our initial response? "That's it, I've got to get it together. No more carbs!" or "I'm skipping breakfast until I can fit into my old pair of jeans again." For a week or two, salad becomes our best friend, and we pat ourselves on the back as the number on the scale drops. It's working, and life is great.
But then, a coworker brings her signature shortbread cookies to work to share. Drinks are flowing at a friend's birthday party. Or, a stressful day at the office ends with a Chinese takeout order at 8pm. Before we know it, our restrictive diet crumbles, and those jeans start to feel snug again.
Here's the thing: dieting doesn't need to be a rollercoaster. In fact, it shouldn't be. If you want to lose weight and keep it off, you may have to put your preconceived notions aside and open your mind to a paradigm that honors your natural preferences and takes a much more gradual approach.
As a nutrition coach, I've been lucky to take part in many people's weight loss journeys. To me, these are the real qualities of a successful diet plan:
- It honors your food culture and preferences: Food is so much more than just fuel. Food is a tapestry of your childhood upbringing, cultural traditions, emotionally-charged memories, and social experiences. By choosing to restrict yourself to chicken breast and broccoli, you're giving up much more than
A sustainable diet allows you to savor the dishes you love, with a dash of mindfulness. It's about enjoying a slice of pie, but maybe not the whole thing. Or subbing a whole wheat pasta for white pasta in your beloved spaghetti bolognese.
- It makes room for all food groups: Carbohydrates, proteins, and fats all have unique, essential roles in our health. Demonizing any food groups may not only deprive us of essential nutrients but also the joy of diverse flavors. And we already discussed why no single food or ingredient is truly unhealthy, either. At the end of the day, it's all about context and balance. A croissant now and then won't sabotage your journey; it's daily indulgences that might tip the scale.
- It doesn't involve drastic calorie cuts: Dramatic calorie cuts can lead to equally dramatic metabolic slowdowns. When we starve ourselves, our bodies pump the brakes. They burn as few calories as possible, trying to preserve energy. This metabolic adaptation makes sustained weight loss difficult and can lead to weight gain once normal eating resumes. Moderate deficits, rather than extreme ones, ensure that the flame of our metabolism keeps burning bright as long as possible.
- It keeps whole foods front and center: When we diet, we're not taking in as much food in total, so we need to pay extra attention to getting enough nutrients in. In particular, protein from lean meats, fish, poultry, eggs, soy, or legumes preserves our lean mass to give us the shape and strength we desire. Fresh fruits and vegetables are packed to the brim with vitamins and minerals that keeps our bodies functioning at their best.
- It doesn't last too long: Think of diets as a sprint, not a marathon. Spending too much time in a caloric deficit can lead to physical issues like hormonal imbalances and mental challenges like increased stress and food obsession. Targeting 2-3 months for a weight loss phase, followed by maintenance or even slight caloric surpluses, can rejuvenate us mentally and physically, preparing us for the next phase of our journey.
Contrary to what your Instagram ads try to tell you, the best results aren't achieved by taking the steepest, most challenging path. That's often a recipe for failure. You'll get so much farther in the long run by choosing an approach that is both balanced and sustainable.
When we honor our individual tastes, tune into our body's signals, and have more patience for the process, we set ourselves up for a journey that's less painful in the short run and successful in the long haul. In the world of health and fitness, it's the slow and steady way that leads to lasting transformation.