I see a lot of patients in my practice each day who want to lose weight. Many of these people have substantial pounds to lose in order to achieve a healthy body weight so that their bodies are functioning optimally.
Weight loss can feel like an enormous mountain to climb, and for many people the struggle is in facing the reasons they gained the weight in the first place and, of course, in shedding the old habits that support them at a heavier weight.
Before slashing calories, counting calories or even making the healthy changes to portion sizes, food choices and activity levels, I have seven suggestions that will prepare your body and mind for the mountain ahead.
While it is tempting to rush into a weight-loss program, you will see far better results if you first start with these seven changes.
Know Why You Are In It
Why do you need or want to lose weight? It may seem like a simple or silly place to start, but it if you are going to see the finish line, you need to run there with purpose. Those who form strong, compelling and personally motivating "whys" at the start of their weight loss program see the best results.
This why should be what gets you out of bed each morning to work out and make healthy food choices. A strong why is the anecdote you need for a sugar craving. It will stop you from going up for seconds at dinner time.
Why do you want to lose weight? Make this answer as personal as possible, and make it resonate with what matters to you. It's personal, but try sharing this statement of drive and purpose with a friend or spouse. Articulating it aloud will help you see it as more powerful.
Drink Plenty of Water
Water literally fuels our body, and is beneficial in so many ways to our overall well-being, but so many of us do not consume enough of it. I can tell right from meeting someone when they are not hydrating themselves enough.
Ditch any caloric beverage and grab water instead. Offset the impact of coffee by always refuelling with water. And make sure to choose water to power you through a workout. It is important to hydrate before, during and after working out.
And what's more important: keep a glass or bottle of water with you at all times. By the time we feel the urge to drink, we are already on our way to dehydration. Adopt this habit because it will make other healthy living habits easier: water can curb cravings, because often times we mistake thirst for hunger.
Get a Health Check Up
Being seen by your doctor or naturopath should be a regular thing, but is especially important before starting a weight loss program. This is especially important if you have gained weight quickly, are often overcome with fatigue, feel a general lack of motivation when it comes to eating well and exercising or are experiencing changes like hair loss, skin concerns or digestion issues.
A regular check-up and perhaps blood and saliva testing for vitamin deficiencies, food sensitivities and hormone imbalances will help you and your doctor see if there are obstacles to your weight loss, and underlying conditions that need addressing.
Your doctor or naturopath should ideally be your partner in your weight loss journey. They can help you set your path, stick to your goals and problem-solve around what might be holding you back. Use them as a great resource.
Find an Activity
You need to get active and the best way to stay motivated to move is to find an activity you love, and that you can do at least 20 minutes, three to our times a week.
It might be dancing, swimming or fencing. Maybe you have always wanted to learn to row, or you just enjoy going for walks. You are more likely to stick with an activity when you really enjoy it, or find reward in it. Experiment with a few activities to find what fits for you. Just be sure to choose something that gets your heart pumping.
Get a Journal
It's time to grab a notebook! Studies show that keeping a food diary can help you in losing weight: participants in this study who kept a journal lost more weight than those who didn't.
I recommend using a journal to record more than just what you are eating; it is helpful to track moods, sleep and exercise as well. When you write things down, you start to make connections. What foods don't make you feel good? What habits and schedules make you feel great? You can also bring a journal to your appointments with a health care provider. I find them to be valuable tools in shaping a weight-loss program that works.
Learn Mindful Eating
Eating with the intent to nourish the body, and not fix emotions or boredom, can be a pivotal shift for many of my patients. It's not an easy journey but it starts with practicing mindfulness when you eat, really tuning in to how food is affecting you.
If there are foods that are negatively impacting your healthy journey, can you find the feeling they create for you? When you are eating these foods, try to tune in to these reactions in your body and mind.
Stress is quite damaging to our body, and too many of us are in a constant state of overwhelm. This can have a negative impact on our health, including causing weight gain as cortisol levels become heightened. Keeping stress under control is the key to continued health, and achieving that healthy weight you want.
Make a discussion about stress part of your health check-up, discuss strategies with your provider and make room in your schedule for self-care each day, no matter what else is going on for you. Find an activity that relaxes you and is enjoyable; do this daily, or most days. It could be exercise you love, a hot bath, sexual intercourse or reading a book.
Find those times when you can slow down, take a breath and re-charge. Sleep is an important component of stress management; make sure you are also sleeping enough, and deeply.
I recommend these seven steps before you even embark on a weight loss journey. It will line you up for the most successful outcome.
Follow HuffPost Canada Blogs on Facebook
MORE ON HUFFPOST:
Women who cut out carbs twice a week, eating normally the rest of the time, dropped about 9 pounds on average, compared to just 5 pounds among women who restricted overall calories to 1,500 a day, according to research from the University Hospital in South Manchester in England. To put the approach into practice, eat lean protein, healthy fats like olive oil, and non-starchy vegetables like kale, mushrooms, broccoli, and tomatoes on the low-carb days, skipping bread, pasta, and root vegetables like potatoes.
“Sleep-deprived people secrete more of the hormone that makes people hungry (called ghrelin), and less of the hormone that says, ‘I’m full’ (leptin), so they eat more,” says Craig Schwimmer, M.D., a sleep doctor in Dallas. “Sleepy people also tend to reach for simple carbohydrates like muffins and bagels for a burst of energy—the last thing they should eat if trying to lose weight.” When researchers at the University of Chicago restricted healthy volunteers to four hours of shut-eye for two nights, their changing leptin and ghrelin levels increased their appetite for calorie- and carb-dense fare by 45 percent.
According to the Activity Exchange, a start-up that examines data from personal fitness devices like FitBit, the single most effective strategy for losing weight is recording one’s food intake. “People who logged their meals three times a day lost on average 20 pounds over a year,” says spokesperson Jialu Chen of the company’s research. Reflecting on what you eat creates awareness that can help change unhealthy eating patterns. Just record every meal—in a journal, on a calendar, or even a smart phone.
Taking pride in how you look helps you keep your weight goals front and center, says Katie Rickel, Ph.D., a clinical psychologist specializing in weight management in Durham, N.C. “Wearing stylish clothing that makes you feel attractive—as opposed to comfy sweats and lounge wear that hide your body—will encourage you to eat in a way that shows you care about your appearance and your body,” she says.
When researchers at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health compared different strategies for losing weight (including cutting calories overall or all liquid calories) among a group of 810 people, only those who cut sugar-sweetened beverages experienced statistically significant weight loss. Those who cut a single sweet drink a day shed about a pound and a half over the course of the study. “I simply eliminated soft drinks and dropped two pounds in just one week,” confirms Eli Sapharti, a weight-loss coach in Ft. Lauderdale, FL. Try skipping one sweet drink a day to jumpstart weight loss.
A Cornell University study found that people consistently over-serve themselves when using larger dinnerware, thus consuming more calories. “The average plate in the 50s was 9 to 10 inches across,” says Kat Whitfield, a sports trainer in Raleigh, N.C. “Today most dinner plates are 11 inches across and bigger.” One tip: Buy vintage dinner plates at antique and second-hand shops. If you have larger plates, fill half of each with vegetables.
University of Toronto researchers recently calculated the average calorie count of meals at 19 sit-down restaurant chains at 1,128 calories—more than half of the recommended 2,000 calories a day for healthy adults. So just eating in could trim your waistline—while fattening your wallet!
Follow Dr. Allana Polo on Twitter: www.twitter.com/polohealth