How to Lose Weight: 5 Top-Level Tips to Help You Hit Your Goals

Healthy Lifestyle
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Recent coverage of the challenge in maintaining weight loss, notably the news that even winners on The Biggest Loser tend to gain back their weight when the spotlights dim, might have you ready to throw in the gym towel. Not so fast, I say. Lasting weight loss may not be easy, but it certainly is possible.

Weight control really is about calories in and calories out, and the balance between the two.

That’s a little more complicated than it might seem, however. For one thing, it’s absolutely true that two people can eat the same and exercise the same, and one gets fat while the other stays slim. Yes, I agree: That isn’t fair! No one ever promised that life would be.

The reason is simply that our bodies vary in fuel efficiency, just as cars do. Some cars can go far on a gallon of gas, some can’t. We understand some reasons for this, such as variations in genes, pretty well; others we are just beginning to understand, such as variations in our microbiomes. Some other reasons are still mostly in the realm of theory, such as exposure to germs and environmental contaminants. People vary widely in fuel efficiency—some of us simply need fewer calories to maintain our weight, and so we need fewer to gain weight, too. 

We can’t control our genes or metabolic rate directly, but we have considerable control over the calories we burn just the same.

For one thing, physical activity burns calories, and we all have the option of doing more. For another, muscle helps burn calories, and by being active, we can build up a bit more of that—and actually burn a few more calories in our sleep every night as a result. And by taking good care of ourselves in general, we help nurture a healthy microbiome, which in turn helps us handle calories in a manner that converts fewer of them to body fat.

But, of course, the most potent control we have over our weight is to control the calories we take in. That’s hard, especially when the food supply has been intentionally manipulated to maximize how much we eat. But, as stated at the start, it is certainly possible.

Here are my five top-level tips to help you get there from here.

1. Be the Boss

I know very few people who would spot some random article of clothing left lying around and put it on.  People like the clothes they like and tend to choose them carefully.

Amazingly, people routinely see food on display, and simply eat it with no thought about what it is, why it’s there, who put it there, whether or not it’s something they really want to eat, or even if they are at all hungry. We joke about this and call it the “See Food Diet”—I see food, and I eat it.

Approach food at least as thoughtfully as clothes, jewelry, or antiperspirant. Choose what’s right for you, and try not to let other people’s random choices influence you. To exert greater control over your choices, do what I do and load up an insulated snack pack with some wholesome snack choices—fresh fruit, nuts, yogurt, hummus, etc.—you keep handy all the time.

Actively control the foods you choose to put in your body.

2. Simplify

There are a lot of competing claims about the best foods to eat for health or weight control, but the truth is simple and your choices should be, too.

Whenever possible, eat minimally processed plant foods. One good rule of thumb is that the very best foods of all have an ingredient list just one word long: blueberries or carrots, for example. The more of your diet you construct out of simple, wholesome choices, the better your weight and health will be.

3. Trade Up Your Choices

This relates closely to the previous point, but extends the approach to all packaged foods. In general, the shorter the ingredient list the better. There are better options in almost every food category, from bread to breakfast cereal, salad dressing to pasta sauce.

One of the many established virtues of better food is that it helps us fill up on fewer calories. If you need help making better choices, I recommend checking out information from NuVal (a resource that scores food based on nutritional value) and Turn the Tide Foundation, an organization I founded to empower people to achieve sustainable weight control and live healthier lives.

4. Call in the Cavalry

I think one of the mistakes The Biggest Loser participants make is losing weight in front of a national audience, rather than on their own. We all know that in unity, there is strength—but the strongest unity comes from the people we love.

Involve your whole family in an effort to eat better—not just to lose weight, but to find health. There isn’t a better gift we can give the people we care about, or that they can give us, than better odds at a long, vital life. You can help one another get there by making the journey together.

5. Move It to Lose It, and Gain Even More

Exercise is rarely the best way to lose weight, but it is an important element in weight maintenance and crucial to good health. Besides, by giving your body the motion for which it is adapted, you simply start feeling better—and that provides energy and motivation you can translate into better food choices. It’s a virtuous circle you can set in motion by setting yourself in motion every chance you get.

Remember the Effect of the World Around Us

The places around the world where people most consistently enjoy longevity, vitality, and a healthy, stable weight over a lifetime are the places where cultural norms help make it so. It’s much easier to be active when everybody walks everywhere. It’s easier to eat well when your “native” diet is an optimal diet. But no one of us has the power to snap our fingers and change our whole culture.

But we can, however, change ourselves. We can help our families change, and they can help us. And of course, when enough of us change, that adds up to culture change. As we say in public health, we can think globally, but act locally. When enough of us do that, we end up changing the world.

For now, changing our own waistlines will do, and yes—we can do it!

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