I don’t mean to be a downer, but if you committed to a diet to lose weight as part of your New Year’s resolution – chances are you’ll fail. The statistics support me – between 5 and 20 percent of people will successfully lose weight and keep it off – the rest give up or lose weight and proceed to gain it back in a few months, or at best, a few years. Losing weight takes constant practice, commitment and sacrifice. Anyone who tells you otherwise is trying to sell you something.
We all want to change overnight, but it doesn’t happen like that. You can’t make a temporary change and expect long-term results, you must commit to long-term changes. You have to break habits, ways of thinking and get a little uncomfortable. If you aren’t willing to make these changes, you aren’t going to succeed. Losing weight takes a radical approach – not radical like eating only bananas for 15 days straight, but radical in the sense that you shift away from foods that you commonly eat and replace them with ones that require more thought and preparation. You may not want to scrutinize every meal, say no at parties and restaurants or take more time to prepare food, but you must if you want to succeed at improving your health and appearance.
Yes it is hard and that’s why the numbers reflecting success are so grim.
The top six reasons your diet will fail:
You Eat More Than You Think: Portion sizes are one of the main reasons people gain weight. Although many factors play into weight loss, calories-in-calories-out is still a standard. You must consume fewer calories than you burn to lose weight. Even if you methodically count calories, you can still underestimate your calorie intake by 25 to 50 percent. Yes, 25 to 50 percent. For example, a three-ounce chicken breast is the size of a deck of cards. The ones you buy in most grocery stores are so pumped up with hormones that they are three to four times this weight: three ounces equals about 130 calories, but 12 ounces equals 520. It may seem over the top, but you should weigh and measure your food – especially when starting out on a new lifestyle to truly gage how much you are eating. Eye-balling is not effective. Also watch for “nibbles” – every bite you take when preparing dinner or when sampling in a store adds up. As a side note, you can’t create too drastic of a deficit, however, or your body will stall on weight loss. Generally, women should never eat less than 1,200 calories per day and men less than 1,500 – exceptions exist, but are not the norm.
You Say You Eat Healthfully: If you “generally” eat a healthy diet, be warned: It probably isn’t as healthy as you think. You may eat better than your co-workers, but if they are chowing down on fast food at lunch every day and you are bringing in a sandwich on white bread with processed lunch meat and an energy bar – you aren’t much better. Even a salad at lunch doused in cheese, bacon, avocado (a healthy fat in moderation), croutons, egg and dressing isn’t your best choice. You can’t just eat better than the average American diet – you need to blow it away. Make fresh vegetables 50 percent of every meal – even breakfast. Lean proteins are your only choice – this includes skinless chicken, fish and egg whites (I prefer tofu and beans, but you don’t have to go vegan to lose weight). Whole grains in absolute moderation (maybe ½ cup at each meal) – not processed whole wheat bread and breakfast cereals, but brown rice and quinoa. If you are hungry, have more vegetables. Also notice how often do you deviate from your healthfulness…did you have a bite of a cookie with your coffee, a bowl of ice cream as a treat (every night) or a big dinner out more than twice last week? Feeling like you are eating healthy and actually doing it are two different things. Get this straight: food is not entertainment. You can prepare delicious meals and have fun over a stupendous meal – but you don’t have to do an all-you-can-eat buffet or indulge in some ridiculous burger with bacon, egg and fried onions to enjoy.
Overestimating Your Burn: Maybe you attend an indoor cycling class or run three miles, five times per week. Awesome, keep it up, but don’t expect it to work miracles – especially if you spend the rest of your day on your seat. Each of these workouts burns between 200 and 500 calories – depending on your size and intensity level. A strength-training session gets major kudos — but it only burns about 150-200 calories. To burn 500 calories in an hour, you have to push it — don’t believe what the console on your elliptical says. If it seemed like an easy effort — it was. Even at higher burn rates, you are not now allowed to eat anything you want. You need at minimum 250 minutes of cardio exercise weekly to lose weight – that is 50 minutes per day, five days per week, WITHOUT eating more. Remember, that is a minimum – more is better.
Improper Meal Timing: Drowning your system with one big meal daily is not an effective way to live or lose weight. Optimally, you eat regularly throughout the day. The debate rages as to whether this means five or six mini-meals or three decent-sized meals – find what works for you but do not go longer than five hours without a healthy snack or meal. When your blood sugar drops, your body goes into fat storage mode. When you skip, you get hungry and have a lot less willpower to say no. Breakfast is essential – within an hour of waking optimally, but sometimes…if you work out first thing, within a couple hours of waking and it doubles as post-exercise fuel. Don’t skip lunch or dinner either…
You Don’t Sleep: Without sleep, your body cannot regulate hunger. You produce more ghrelin, an appetite-stimulating hormone, when your body is under-rested. When ghrelin rules, you don’t crave red pepper strips and carrots – you want comforting, fattening carbs and willpower has to go into overdrive, making you feel stressed which also sabotages weight loss. The stress of having to call out your willpower, or viewing yourself as a failure when you give into the calls of ghrelin contribute to a rise in cortisol levels, which are also higher due to your lack of sleep. Like the commercial says, cortisol does encourage fat storage, but you don’t need a magic pill to reduce it. You need a more reasonable schedule and expectations of yourself. If you don’t feel like you have enough time in your day – something has to give. Take a good, long look at your priorities. Eating and exercise are part of your weight loss picture, but it also comes down to lifestyle. If you aren’t willing to make significant changes that will support your efforts — I hate to say it — but you are likely doomed to failure.
You Won’t Give Up Convenience: Processed frozen foods, energy bars, canned veggies and white pasta are easy meals – but they aren’t going to cut it when you are trying to lose weight. Even if you are managing to keep your calories down, your body isn’t nourished. Go for whole foods 80 percent of the time. Whole foods do not come in a box, shrink wrap or carton. Choose fresh veggies (not frozen with sauce, FRESH) and fruits, get your whole grains from the bulk bin not instant ones that are pre-seasoned or sugared, raw nuts and seeds (not salted and roasted), make your own juice, make your own whole wheat bread (if you choose to eat it) etc. Skip the packaged taquitos, sweetened yogurt, coffee creamer, jars of applesauce….scrutinize how much processed food you are really eating. The average American diet is 60 to 80 percent processed, even if you feel you do well. Eating for weight loss doesn’t have to be hard, but you won’t be able to find food anywhere you go. All the things you are used to grabbing will change. For example, grab whole foods like raw nuts and dates before a workout rather than an energy bar, fresh fruit and cut up vegetables instead of a bottle of orange juice and snack crackers, or a roasted sweet potato instead of a bagel. These food items aren’t hard, but they are out of the norm and you won’t find all of them at a convenience store – so you have to pack and plan.
I don’t want this post to discourage you. But, you do need to snap into reality. For most of us, the standard way of eating and dieting doesn’t work. It isn’t you – it is the foods you are choosing and the notion that better is good enough. Changing the way you’ve thought about and prepared food for 10, 20, 30 or 40 years isn’t easy but look at is as an adventure. Your changes don’t have to happen overnight – it may take years for them all to sink in, but start. If you don’t start, you’ll never succeed.