One of the most common challenges that our society and our patients face is maintaining a healthy weight. Obesity is both a national epidemic and a personal struggle for many patients and for me. In my patient population and personal life, certain choices are consistently associated with success in weight loss and weight maintenance.
These are my top ten tips:
- Stop making excuses. We have heard it all (and said it all). ”I am too busy to exercise.” ”I must have a slow metabolism.” ”I have tried every diet.” ”I can’t afford a gym.” Until you realize it is in your power to be a healthy weight, you will not win this battle.
- Understand that exercise is only a tiny piece of the equation. Cardiovascular exercise is beneficial to your body in many ways and certainly can help you stay fit, but no amount of exercise can overcome a bad diet. So even if your cannot dedicate an hour a day to running or aerobics, you can still lose weight. Just try to maintain an active lifestyle with hobbies that involve movement.
- Account for everything you eat. Know exactly what passes your lips into your mouth every day while you are trying to lose weight. Patients who food journal (whether on paper or with cleverly-designed free apps like My Fitness Pal) are consistently more successful. You are less likely to eat half a stale chocolate chip cookie if you have to account for it and realize it was 110 extra calories. Many women recount to me at visits all the things they don’t consume. ”But doctor, I don’t eat fast food. I don’t eat ice cream.” Remember, it is not the foods you are not eating that are making you fat. Know what you do consume.
- Set a daily caloric goal. This is where talking to us is helpful. Based on your current weight, goals and activity level, we can help you pick a caloric intake that will help you lose approximately 1 pound per week.
- Minimize consumption of restaurant and prepared foods. Women who prepare food at home are consistently more effective at reaching their goals. Pack a lunch for work every day. Save the restaurant experience for special occasions. Choose restaurants wisely -those with healthy choices and available nutritional information. Look at online menus before you go and have an ordering game plan to stay within your daily allotments.
- Make going to the grocery store an event. Make grocery lists ahead of time with a plan for your meals. Stick to the perimeter of the store. Fruits, vegetables, meats, dairy, whole grains. Stay away from the enticing boxes, cartons, bags, jars and cans in the center of the store. And when you get home, take time to organize your food into usable quantities. Prep and cut fruits and veggies and put in individual portions in zip lock bags for quick access.
- Do not waste your calories on liquids. Drink all calorie-free beverages. Water is best. Drink lots of it. Minimize alcohol. Set limits. For many women, two drinks per week is a reasonable goal.
- As you lose weight, revel in your success. Go buy a few new outfits in your new size. And discard those baggy clothes that are now too big so you are not tempted to wear them if you relapse and find the new clothes a bit snug.
- For those of you with children and spouses, accept that you and the family will likely not be eating the same foods. Chicken fingers and mac’n’ cheese will not get you to your goal. Being a short order cook is no fun but controlling what you eat may mean preparing a different meal for the rest of the family.
- Allow yourself one splurge meal every week. Save it for special events- celebrations, birthday parties. And if you fall off the wagon, just get back on. We all spiral back towards bad health habits from time to time. Use it as motivation to get back to making smarter choices.
Over the years of caring for women, I have come to the conclusion that we as women make small choices every day. These choices determine our fate. If you struggle with being overweight, consider your daily choices. It may not be easy, but the formula for success actually is quite simple.
Reena Talreja-Pelaez, M.D. is a board certified obstetrician-gynecologist practicing with Virginia Beach Obstetrics & Gynecology, in Virginia Beach, VA