Over the past year, I have patients who gained some weight, the so-called “pandemic pounds,” and those who have embraced being locked down at home and lost weight by changing their eating habits and exercising regularly.
If you have gained a few pounds or need to keep it off, this is the simplest piece of advice: Eat less. A big portion of weight loss is really eating less. Here are some other ways to do that and to make it easier to lose weight:
1. Cut out sugary drinks or caloric beverages such as soda, juice, iced tea, milk tea, energy drinks and flavored coffee. These are unwanted calories and don’t keep you full anyway. Even diet soda can increase your appetite and should be taken in moderation.
2. Portion control. If you get take-out or have food delivered, set aside half of the portion for a later meal, or share with other members of your household.
3. Quantity, not just quality, matters. For example, even if you switch from white rice to brown rice but eat a much larger serving of brown rice (meaning more calories), then you won’t lose weight. Or, if you decide to eat bread instead of rice, know that two to three slices of bread have about the same amount of calories as a cup of rice.
4. Pay attention to “calories per serving.” You may look at the package of something low-calorie like rice crackers that says 30 calories and end up eating all the crackers in the package, thinking it was only 30 calories for the whole bag when it actually says 30 calories per serving and there were 10 servings in the bag. That’s 300 calories!
5. Watch the condiments. Mayonnaise and ketchup can have up to 20 to 30 calories per tablespoon, and this can quickly add up if you’re not careful.
6. Self-monitoring. Weigh yourself regularly so you can keep track of your weight loss, or if your weight might be creeping up. Keep a record of your food intake. It might surprise you once you start writing everything down that you actually eat more than you think.
7. Be mindful. Turn the TV off and put away the cellphone. Watching TV or using your phone while eating leads to mindless eating where the next thing you know your plate is empty and you do not realize it, leaving you unsatisfied and possibly leading you to eat some more. Take the time to chew and savor your food.
8. Move. Being sedentary is what most people blame as the reason for weight gain. The truth is that exercise and physical activity are ways to keep the weight off once you’ve already lost it.
Exercise alone cannot make you shed pounds. Did you know that running on a treadmill for 30 minutes only burns about 200 calories or the equivalent of a cup of rice? And there is no such thing as a “post-exercise burn” where you keep burning calories at a faster rate after you exercise, meaning you can’t eat a larger meal or snack after exercise. If you did that, you would lose all the benefits of your previous workout and possibly even gain more weight.
9. Ask for help. If you are unsure if you are losing weight the proper way or if what you are doing to lose weight is not working, talk to your doctor. Some health conditions may be the reason why you don’t seem to be losing weight. Dietitians and nutritionists can also assist you in understanding portion control and how to make better food choices.
10. Give yourself a break and don’t give up. If you gain a pound or two instead of losing them, pick yourself up and get back on track.
When you start losing weight, you should also realize that everyone is different and your rate of weight loss may be different from your friend or co-worker. You should also manage your expectations. You can’t lose 10 pounds overnight, and you shouldn’t either. Losing weight slowly, at the rate of half a pound to two pounds a week, is safer and is also weight that you are likely to keep off. Weight that is lost too quickly will likely be regained just as fast.
And don’t be disheartened when people tell you that you are starting to look sick or haggard, or even discourage you from losing weight (These people will most likely be heavier than you). If you are feeling well and losing weight at an acceptable rate with healthier food choices and being more active, then you are on the right track. Remember that if you are overweight or obese, achieving a healthy weight is best for you.