Wellness Guide for Weight Loss and Weight Management

Wellness Guide for Weight Loss and Weight Management

You will learn about:
  • What Causes Excess Body Fat and How to Measure it
  • How Weight Can Affect Your Health
  • Healthy Ways to Lose and Manage Your Weight

123 min – Estimated reading time

Wellness Guide for Weight Loss and Weight Management

Wellness Guide for Weight Loss and Weight Management

Introduction

Losing weight takes commitment, dedication, and know-how. There are a variety of methods that can help you lose weight, from changing what foods you eat to increasing your activity level.

Factors like diet, lifestyle, age and health all affect the body’s functions and its ability to shed pounds. Conversely, these influences are often the reasons behind excess weight.  Knowing how your body drops weight is the first step on the path to weight loss. Calorie counting, portion control, and food substitutes can all help you start slimming down. 

Making small dietary changes and eating healthy foods and beverages is a fundamental technique for weight loss. Certain popular diets may make extraordinary claims but may not work for everyone. Learning about different weight loss options can help you select one that works for your needs and taste.

The same can be said for exercise.  Physical activity can lead to weight reduction as much as it can lead to positive weight gain in the form of muscle mass. While the number on the scale can indicate success, it does not present a whole picture of your progress.

For instance, muscle weighs more than fat. So, your scale may show a plateau or increase in how much you weigh, but your body fat percentage could be shrinking. Muscle mass also helps you lose fat by burning more calories.   Once you reach your desired weight, there are tools and support groups to maintain your hard work.

Ways of Measuring Excess Body Fat

Some body fat is necessary to stay healthy, however too much body fat (excess body fat) is a risk factor for a variety of medical conditions.  There are several different ways to estimate body fat. Body mass index (BMI) is the most common measure, but it can lead to misleading conclusions so other methods are sometimes combined with it to give a more complete picture.

Body Mass Index (BMI)

People become overweight, obese or morbidly obese when they have too much body fat.  The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention uses the adult Body Mass Index (BMI) as a measurement system that divides a person’s weight by height to get a ratio. The BMI is widely accepted, although it does not directly measure fat. 

The BMI divides scores into the following groups:

  • Less than 18.5 is in the underweight range
  • Between 18.5 and 25 is within the normal range
  • Between 25 and 30 is within the overweight range
  • Between 30 and 40 is within the obesity range. 
  • More than 40 is in the severe obesity/morbidly obese range

Someone’s BMI score is their weight in kilograms divided by their height in meters. This means that two people who are the same weight but dissimilar height will have different scores.

BMI can be a limiting measurement in some cases..  First, it does not take into consideration muscle mass. Muscle is heavier than fat, so a person who is fit and muscular will have a higher BMI than a person of the same height but less muscle and more fat. BMI also does not account for body type or shape. 

Calculating Your Waist to Hip Ratio

In particular, body fat around the abdomen is associated with a variety of health problems, since that is where the majority of the body’s vital organs are located. Visceral fat, or fat surrounding these organs, can cause health problems. Visceral fat is measured by calculating the waist to hip ratio (WHR):

  1. Stand up straight and measure the smallest part of your waist. It’s usually right above the belly button. This measurement is your waist circumference.
  2. Now measure the widest part of your hips or buttocks. This measurement is your hip circumference.
  3. Divide your waist circumference by your hip circumference. This is your WHR.

A WHR above .85 for women or above .90 for men indicates a concerning amount of visceral fat. 

How Weight Can Affect Your Health

Excess weight can affect nearly every part of your physical and emotional wellbeing.  Being overweight can put you at a higher risk for medical conditions and mental health issues. The body is required to work harder when it carries excess fat and weight, which causes it to experience more stress. Surplus weight can affect:

  •  The respiratory system. Overweight individuals can develop sleep apnea, which causes their breathing to stop temporarily throughout the night.
  • The digestive system. Overweight individuals are more prone to gallstones and gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD). Fat build-up can also cause scar tissue and lead to liver damage and eventual liver failure. 
  • The cardiovascular system. The heart pumps harder when the body is overweight, which leads to hypertension – high blood pressure. Being overweight is a risk factor for high cholesterol which can lead to heart attacks and strokes. 
  • The endocrine system. Too much blood sugar and fat can also cause the body to become more resistant to insulin, leading to type 2 diabetes. 
  • The reproductive system, including menstrual abnormalities, difficulties getting pregnant and complications during pregnancy. 
  • The skeletal and muscular system. Excess weight puts more pressure on joints and leads to stiffness and pain. It also increases the risk of developing osteoarthritis which increases the likelihood of fractures, insulin resistance and physical disability.
  • Skin.  Overweight people can develop intertriginous (between skin folds) rashes, discoloration, and thickening of tissue. Infections in these areas are common in the setting of poor hygiene.
  • Mental health.  These include an increased risk of depression, issues with body image, and poor self-esteem. 

Long-term Effects of Carrying Excess Weight

Being overweight puts undue stress on all the organ systems as listed above. The lifespan of an obese individual is 10 to 15 years shorter than someone in a normal weight range. 

Those with excess weight may also experience a lower quality of life. Excess weight can decrease mobility, making it difficult to engage in certain activities. Consequently, inactivity can cause more weight gain. 

Individuals with obesity are more at risk for mental illnesses, such as clinical depression, anxiety, and other mental disorders. An unhealthy weight can also cause low self-esteem or body shame, which can result in social isolation and eating disorders, although it is important to note that not all people who have eating disorders actually have the excess weight they are trying to lose. 

The health issues associated with excess weight come at a monetary cost too. These conditions have direct medical costs for diagnostic services and treatment.  

That said, not every person who is considered overweight experiences health problems. See “Body Image and Eating Disorders” in this guide.

Causes of Excess Weight

In addition to natural body type and shape, several factors cause excess weight gain. The two factors that affect most people’s body weight are food and exercise. 

However, a poor diet and an inactive lifestyle are not the only reasons for being overweight. While these two elements play a significant role in typical circumstances, other factors affect the body’s ability to maintain a set weight and lose fat.

Biological Factors

Hundreds of genes in your DNA determine how your body forms. Having specific genes affect your:

  • Birth weight
  • Waist-to-hip circumference and ratio
  • Visceral adiposity, which is the fat around your abdominal organs
  • Feeling of hunger, which can lead to overeating 
  • How the body expends energy
  • How cholesterol and fatty acids are synthesized in the body
  • How fat tissue is developed
  • The regulation of insulin and other hormones

Having certain genes does not guarantee that a person will be overweight or obese, but it increases the chances. When people who have a predisposition to excess weight gain become or remain physically active, they reduce their risk of becoming overweight. See “Exercise” in this guide for more information on exercise to lose weight. 

Hormones

In addition to genetics, your hormones affect your weight by transmitting instructions to your body. These instructions can cause you to eat more or reduce your energy expenditure. 

Among other things, insulin regulates your energy storage by telling fat cells to hold and store fat. High insulin levels and insulin resistance have a role in excess weight gain. 

Leptin is a hormone that tells your body to stop eating by suppressing the appetite. When leptin resistance occurs, the brain does not recognize that the stomach is full. 

There are several hormonal imbalance conditions that lead to weight gain: 

  •  Hypothyroidism is a condition when the thyroid gland does not produce enough of the thyroid hormone. The thyroid hormone regulates metabolism, the way the body processes food and creates or stores energy, so too little of it can cause metabolism to slow. 
  • Cushing’s syndrome causes adrenal glands to produce too much cortisol – a steroid hormone – which can lead to excess fat in the individual’s face, back, and abdomen. 
  • Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS) is a common hormonal imbalance in obese women in which the level of male hormones is too high.  Among other symptoms such as infertility, irregular menstruation and excess hair growth.

Weight and Aging

According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, between the ages of 29 and 39 on average, women gain seven pounds and men gain fifteen pounds. Those in their 30’s and 40’s find it more difficult to lose weight than it was when they were younger. Women typically gain around fifteen pounds once they go through menopause, as the level of estrogen decreases.

One of the reasons for weight gain in middle age is that beginning at age 30, people lose muscle mass every decade. Since muscle burns more calories than fat, the loss of this muscle mass slows the metabolism and it is replaced with fat. This happens even when people continue to exercise regularly. Other factors might include being less physically active and making unhealthy food choices as we become busy parents and are working hard to advance our careers.

Race, Ethnicity and Gender

According to the U.S. National Institutes of Health (NIH), being of certain races and/or ethnicity is a risk factor for obesity. In the U.S., obesity is most prevalent among African Americans, followed by Hispanics, Caucasians and finally Asians. 

In addition, within the African American and Hispanic communities, women are more likely than men to be overweight or obese. Among people of all racial and ethnic backgrounds, more women are overweight or obese compared to men due to factors such as menopause (see “Weight and Aging” above) and weight gained during pregnancies.

Medical Factors

Excess fat and obesity may stem from a medical cause such as a disease or medical condition or from medication. 

Medical Conditions

The following are some health conditions that can lead to excess weight:

  • Mental health conditions like depression can cause people to overeat and refrain from physical activity
  • Insomnia can increase your insulin, cortisol and hunger hormones causing weight gain
  • Congestive heart failure can cause sudden weight gain of two to three pounds in a day or more than five pounds in a week.  This weight is usually related to fluid retention and should be closely monitored. 
  • Diabetes can make your body more likely to store, rather than use, energy, leading to weight gain

Medications 

Excess fat can also be a side effect of certain medications. Some medications change your body and brain, by lowering your metabolism or increasing your appetite. Medications that can cause increased body weight include:

  • Steroids
  • Antidepressants
  • Antipsychotics
  • High blood pressure drugs
  • Seizure medications
  • Birth control pills

You can speak to your medical provider about changing medication to avoid drug-induced weight gain. If you must take medicines that cause weight gain, you can change your diet and activity level to counterbalance the medication effect. 

Nutrition Factors

Processed foods typically have more fat and sugar than “whole foods” and are more accessible and readily available than whole foods in many areas. Processed food is food in which the raw food material has been altered from its natural state and includes most packaged foods such as store-bought bread, cookies, salad dressings and other condiments, cereals, crackers, deli meat and pre-made meals. Whole food includes meat, chicken, seafood, fruits, vegetables, uncooked legumes and uncooked whole grains. Minimally processed food includes bagged spinach, roasted nuts and packaged “old fashioned” oatmeal.

The more processed a food is, the more likely it is to have added sugar, fat preservatives and other additives. While they may taste good, they usually offer few nutrients and promote overeating. 

High-fat and -sugar foods stimulate your brain to release dopamine (a chemical that makes you feel good) like a reward. Since the processed food triggers a good feeling, it reinforces the action of eating more. Addiction to junk food is not dissimilar from other addictions, such as alcohol, nicotine, cannabis, and cocaine. 

Excess sugar changes the biochemistry of your body, like your hormones. A high intake of refined sugar can cause elevated insulin levels and insulin resistance, leading to weight gain and if left unchecked, possibly a diabetes diagnosis.

Since processed foods are inexpensive and have a longer shelf life, they are more widely available, especially in lower-income areas. Convenience stores carry processed food like soda and candy but are less likely to have fresh fruits and vegetables. In certain areas, it can be difficult or expensive to obtain healthy foods. A food desert occurs when residents have inadequate access to nutritious foods due to:

  • Distance to a grocery store
  • Economic barriers, such as affording healthy food or transportation to get groceries
  • Price of available food available nearby

Inaccurate or misleading marketing and labeling are other factors that lead to weight gain. Food manufacturers sometimes make misleading health claims to make consumers believe their products are healthy. For example, a product marketed as “low fat” may be filled with excess sugar.

They might also spin information, so the item appears like the healthiest option. For example, breads that use the word “enriched” have gone through a process where grains were stripped of nutrients and then added back. 

Portion sizes on labels can be confusing. In order to make it seem like a product has fewer calories, the company may reduce the serving size on the nutrition label. Someone buying a can of iced tea may assume that the serving size is the entire can, but a careful look at the nutrition label might reveal that there are actually two and a half servings in each can, more than doubling the calorie count. See “Portion Sizes vs. Serving Sizes” in this guide for more information.

Lifestyle Factors

Excess weight can also occur because of your everyday habits and living conditions. 

Eating Out

Eating at restaurants or ordering in increases your risk for weight gain since these meals are typically higher in calories and fat than home-cooked meals. From a restaurant’s point of view, the taste is paramount, so they do not usually come up with recipes with health in mind. In addition, portion sizes at restaurants have increased in the past 50 years by anywhere from double to almost five times the original size.

Larger Portion Sizes at Home

Although you have much greater control when eating in, portion sizes at home have increased as well. Since 1960, the size of the average home dinner plate has increased from between seven to nine inches to between eleven and twelve inches, an increase of 36%. Larger plates often translate into larger portion sizes since it is natural to fill up your plate. 

Other Lifestyle Factors That Can Cause Weight Gain

Things that you do can sneakily cause you to gain weight, including: 

  • Drinking alcohol – Heavy drinkers have a higher risk of obesity. Alcoholic beverages increase appetite, contain empty calories, and can negatively affect how your body functions.
  • Not getting enough sleep – Adequate sleep affects your brain and body. Sleep deprivation increases your appetite as your body looks for sources of fuel. 
  • Sitting too much – Sitting for a long time can also affect your metabolism. Long periods of inactivity, such as sitting at a desk all day for work, slow your metabolism since your body burns fewer calories. Medical professionals recommend standing and moving every 30 minutes. 
  • Not being physically active – Similarly, exercise is a necessity for weight maintenance. Exercise helps you burn calories and fat as well as gain muscle.
  • Having too much stress – Stress affects your body in several ways. High-stress levels release the fat-storing hormone cortisol and cause food cravings for sugary and fatty foods.

Body Positivity

There are growing movements that view weight and body size in a different way. One such movement is the body positivity movement. This is a social movement with the following goals: 

  • Challenging society’s views of the beautiful or ideal body 
  • Promoting society’s acceptance of all body sizes and shapes
  • Helping individuals accept and appreciate their own bodies
  • Addressing unrealistic body standards

The body positivity movement is active throughout social media, with a number of body-positive accounts on platforms like Instagram, Tik Tok and Facebook. It has also caught on with some media companies and advertisers, who are including larger models and have stopped altering photos to conform to societal beauty standards. 

The body positivity movement is not without its critics, who claim that by urging overweight and obese people to love their bodies, it discourages them from taking action to lose weight, become healthier and reduce their risk of serious health issues in the future.

A twist on body positivity is the body neutrality movement, which counsels people to appreciate the body for what it can do for us rather than its appearance. For example, you might appreciate your legs for allowing you to walk and dance, taking the emphasis off your own body image and how your body is perceived by others.

The View of Weight Loss Doctors

While weight loss doctors (bariatric physicians or bariatricians) fully acknowledge the health dangers of carrying too much body fat, they also emphasize that it is difficult for some people with a BMI over 30 to lose a significant amount of weight and keep it off long-term on their own. 

See “Medical Interventions” in this guide for more information about what weight loss doctors do and how to find them. 

Since the causes of excess weight are complex, there is no one-size-fits-all plan to lose weight. However, doctors agree that eating a nutritious and healthy diet and getting enough physical activity are important strategies to help you lose weight and be healthy in general. Within those guidelines, different types of diets can be effective for different types of people. You can try different food and exercise strategies to find one that works best for you, or you can get a customized nutrition plan by consulting with a dietician.

Nutrition

The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) introduced the food pyramid in 1992 to help Americans visualize a healthy diet. It illustrated the proportions of different food types that make up the ideal daily diet.

Since its initial debut, the government has altered the food pyramid based on updated dietary guidelines. As if 2011, the USDA changed the pyramid to “MyPlate,” which recommends the following ideal food group percentages on a plate:

  • Fruits – 20 percent of your meal
  • Vegetables – 30 percent of your meal
  • Protein – 20 percent of your meal
  • Grains – 30 percent of your meal 

The USDA also illustrates the dairy food group as an accompanying glass of milk since the amount of dairy you can consume depends on several factors, such as age, gender, height, weight, and level of activity.

Those with lactose intolerance and other dairy-related health conditions can consume the nutrients in dairy – calcium, vitamin D, potassium, and protein – through other food groups. Some of these foods include leafy greens, canned fish, tahini, and calcium-fortified beverages.  

The food model shows that the consumption of fats, oils, sugars and sodium should be sparing. Whereas the original food pyramid included a section for this group, the new MyPlate model does not. 

Instead of using “servings,” the USDA now uses measurable amounts for its daily recommendations, such as cups and ounces. The recommended volume of food you can eat varies by age and gender. 

Nutrition Terms

Nutrition is complex and can be confusing. Here are some commonly used terms that it is helpful to understand.

Metabolism

Metabolism is the process in which your body converts food into energy. This energy is used to power the body’s processes, from supporting your brain, heart and other organs to generating body heat, powering your muscles, cell repair and more. If there is extra energy that is not needed immediately, the body stores it as fat in case of a food shortage in the future.

Even when you are resting or sleeping, there is some minimum amount of energy your body needs to stay alive and maintain its size. This is called the basal metabolic rate. The basal metabolic rate varies with sex and age.

The more physically active you are, the more energy your body burns. Your activity level is the part of the metabolism you exert the most control over.

Calorie

Scientists call a unit of energy a calorie. Carbohydrates, protein and fat are calorie sources from which the body gains energy. Calories are necessary to live and function, but consuming more calories than the body needs causes weight gain. Consuming the right amount of calories on a daily basis can prevent the body from retaining unneeded energy as fat.

The Mayo Clinic has a calorie allowance calculator here https://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/weight-loss/in-depth/calorie-calculator/itt-20402304 that makes it easy for you to determine how many calories you need each day to maintain your current weight. The calculator considers your:

  • Age
  • Sex
  • Height
  • Weight
  • Physical activity level

Your activity level and resting metabolic rate (see “Metabolism” in this guide) directly influence how many calories you may consume daily without gaining weight. Those with a moderately active life can eat more calories to compensate for the calories they burn. 

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) estimates the following daily calorie needs by gender, age, and activity level.

Basal Metabolism Chart by Activity Level

FemalesActitivity Levelcolspancolspan
AgeSedentaryModerateActive
16 to 181,8002,0002,400
19 to 401,800 to 2,0002,000 to 2,2002,200 to 2,400
41 to 751,600 to 1,8001,800 to 2,0002,000 to 2,200
76+1,6001,8002,000

* Does not include women who are pregnant or breastfeeding

MalesActivity Levelcolspancolspan
AgeSedentaryModerateActive
16 to 182,4002,8003,200
19 to 402,400 to 2,6002,600 to 2,8002,800 to 3,000
41 to 752,000 to 2,2002,400 to 2,6002,600 to 2,800
76+2,0002,2002,400

Weight loss comes from burning more calories than you eat or eating fewer calories than you burn. However, a healthy weight loss program involves consuming enough calories for the body to function while you maintain or speed up your metabolic rate. 

The USDA considers losing one to two pounds weekly as a safe weight loss rate, and each pound is 3,500 calories. A daily deficit of 500 calories for seven days can potentially cause one pound of fat loss.

Carbohydrates

Carbohydrates, or carbs, are one of the three ways your body fuels itself. The name comes from its molecules; carbon, hydrogen, and oxygen. Your body gets carbohydrates from fibers, sugars and starches. 

Carbohydrates are essential nutrients. The National Institutes of Health recommends that carbohydrates account for between 45 to 65 percent of your daily macronutrients. 

So, if you consume 2,000 calories a day, 900 to 1,300 of those would be from carbohydrates. One gram of carbohydrates is about four calories. On a daily 2,000-calorie diet, you can eat between 225 to 325 grams of carbohydrates.

However, certain health conditions affect the number of carbs your body needs. For example, pregnant women may eat more carbs than when they were not pregnant. Conversely, those with diabetes may consume less.

The body digests and absorbs simple carbohydrates faster and easier than complex carbohydrates. Simple carbs have only one to two sugars, while complex carbs have three or more. 

Processed food with refined sugars, such as candy and syrup, have simple carbs. They give your body a burst of energy that quickly fades. Simple carbs are “empty calories” that can cause weight gain. 

Complex carbohydrates give your body sustained energy. Starchy foods such as beans, cereals, corn, lentils, peas, peanuts, potatoes, and whole-grain breads have complex carbohydrates. 

Protein

Protein is the second source of fuel for your body. Like carbohydrates, protein gives the body calories or energy.  The optimal daily amount of protein to consume depends on your age, gender, and activity level. 

According to the U.S. dietary guidelines, each day, protein should make up 10 to 35 percent of your calories. So, if you consume 2,000 calories a day, 200 to 700 of those would be from protein. One gram of protein is about four calories. 

The U.S. Department of Agriculture suggests eating a minimum of 0.8 grams of protein per kilogram (2.2 pounds) of your body weight. This amount roughly translates to 7 grams of protein for every 20 pounds. 

Daily Recommendation for Protein (in grams)

WeightActivity levelcolspancolspan
Weight (Pounds)Sedentary (0.8 g/kg) 7 grams of protein for every 20 poundsModerate (1.2 g/kg) 11 grams of protein for every 20 poundsVery Active (2 g/kg) 18 grams of protein for every 20 pounds
1404977126
1605688144
1806399162
20070110180
22077121198
24084132216
26091143234

However, pregnant women may need to ingest more. During the first trimester, women can increase their daily protein consumption by an additional gram. By the third trimester, expecting mothers may add an additional 30 grams of protein. 

Foods high in protein are red meats, poultry, seafood, eggs and dairy products. You can also consume plant protein found in legumes, nuts, whole grains, and a few fruits and vegetables. It is recommended that you get protein from a variety of sources. 

Fat

Fat is the third type of macronutrient your body uses for fuel, and it is essential for your systems to function properly. The types of fats are:

  • Saturated fat should be limited to  7 to 10 percent of your daily calories. This is the “bad fat” since it increases your low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol levels (see below). Saturated fat is found in fatty meat, skin-on poultry, butter, cream, baked goods, ice cream, coconut oil and other oils that are solid at room temperature. 
    • Trans fat is the worst type of saturated fat, as it affects cholesterol levels negatively, contributes to insulin resistance, causes inflammation, and increases the risk of heart disease. The following types of foods have trans fat: shelf stable baked goods, shortening, microwave popcorn, frozen pizza, fried foods, nondairy creamer and stick margarine. There is no level of trans fats that is recommended.
  • Unsaturated fat is the “good fat” that improves cholesterol levels, decreases inflammation, and has other health benefits. Around 8 to 10 percent of your daily calories can be from healthy fats. 
    • Monounsaturated fats lower bad cholesterol and the risk of heart disease. This kind of fat is in avocados, almonds, pumpkin seeds and olive oil. 
    • Polyunsaturated fats also lower bad cholesterol and contain omega-3 and omega-6 that your brain needs for functioning. This kind of fat is in corn oil, fatty fish like salmon, flax seeds and walnuts. 

In addition to energy, fat helps protect your organs, build cells, keep you warm, and your body absorbs vitamins. However, eating too much does contribute to weight gain. A gram of fat has nine calories.

Cholesterol

Cholesterol is a waxy substance in your blood. There are two types; low-density lipoprotein (LDL) and high-density lipoprotein (HDL). LDL is the bad cholesterol that increases your risk of heart disease and stroke. HDL is the good cholesterol that reduces the level of LDL so it can be eliminated from the body.

While your body naturally produces cholesterol, many foods high in saturated or trans fat have bad cholesterol. Some foods that increase your LDL include:

  • Full-fat dairy products
  • Red meat
  • Processed meat
  • Baked goods
  • Processed food

Eating fatty fish, tofu, nuts, green leafy vegetables, and olive oil, however, can balance your good-to-bad cholesterol ratio.  

Vitamins and Minerals

Your body needs vitamins and minerals to function. Healthy foods contain the vitamins and minerals your body requires to work properly. 

Your body needs the following: 

  • Vitamins 
    • A
    • C
    • D
    • E
    • K
    • The B vitamins: thiamin (B1), riboflavin (B2), niacin (B3), pantothenic acid (B5), pyridoxal (B6), cobalamin (B12), biotin, and folate/folic acid
  • Minerals 
    • Calcium 
    • Phosphorus
    • Potassium 
    • Sodium 
    • Chloride 
    • Magnesium 
    • Iron
    • Zinc
    • Iodine
    • Sulfur
    • Cobalt
    • Copper
    • Fluoride
    • Manganese
    • Selenium

The amount of each vitamin and mineral type will vary based on your age, gender, and pregnancy status or other medical conditions. You can also refer to the nutrition label on food products, which lists the daily value as a percentage for each vitamin and mineral for a 2,000-calorie diet.  

Fiber

Fiber is a carbohydrate that your body cannot digest but has other benefits for the body. It maintains bowel movements and overall bowel health. Fiber also lowers cholesterol levels, controls blood sugar levels, and can help you lose weight.

High-fiber foods are more filling, so you end up eating less and staying full longer. They also tend to have fewer calories than low- or no-fiber foods. Foods with fiber include:

  • Fruits, particularly berries, pears, apples and avocados 
  • Vegetables, especially artichoke, carrots, beets, broccoli and brussel sprouts
  • Legumes including black beans, lentils, split peas, chickpeas and kidney beans
  • Whole grains like whole wheat, brown rice, oats and popcorn
  • Nuts and seeds, in particular chia seeds, sunflower seeds, pistachios and almonds  

Men younger than 50 years old are counseled to eat at least 38 grams of fiber daily, and women under 50 at least 25 grams. After age 50, men can cut down to 30 grams and women can reduce to 21 grams a day. 

Sugar

Sugar makes foods sweeter, but it is a big contributor to weight gain. Nutritionists recommend restricting foods high in sugar in your diet. They are unhealthy for a variety of reasons: 

  • They are high in calories yet typically have few if any vitamins, protein and other nutrients. 
  • They do not cause a full feeling like nutrient-rich foods; they make you feel hungry sooner causing you to eat more.
  • They can take the place of healthy meals. Some people may fill up on junk food, leaving no room for eating fruits and vegetables.
  • They raise your blood sugar levels. Prolonged high levels cause hyperglycemia, insulin resistance, and inflammation, all of which contribute to fat retention and weight gain.
  • Diets high in sugar can increase your risk of obesity, heart disease, cancer, type 2 diabetes, and depression. They can also negatively affect your hormone levels. 

Sugar and sweeteners are in many processed foods including items that do not taste sweet, such as ketchup and spaghetti sauce. The amount of sugar is listed on the nutrition labels for packaged goods. If present in the food, it is also listed in the ingredient list. The ingredients are listed in order of quantity so those that appear first are the main ingredients. Sugar may be disguised by a variety of names, including high fructose corn syrup, fructose, sucralose, evaporated cane juice, barley malt, rice syrup and many other names.

The American Heart Association recommends limiting added sugars (this does not include naturally occurring sugars in whole foods such as fruit and milk) to 9 teaspoons (38 g) for men and 6 teaspoons (25 g) for women daily.

Sodium

Sodium is a mineral your body needs and is one of the chemical elements found in salt. Your body only needs about 2,300 milligrams per day. 

However, many processed foods have a lot of sodium that exceed the daily recommendation. Excess sodium can cause high blood pressure and increase the risk of heart disease and stroke. 

Excess sodium can also cause you to retain water, which gives you a bloated feeling and increases your weight and blood pressure. 

Portion vs. Serving Sizes

Some use portion and serving as interchangeable terms when referring to food amounts. A portion size is the amount you choose to eat, while a serving size is a specific measurement, such as a cup or ounce. There is not a single serving size for all foods. Each type of food will have a distinct measurement. 

The nutrition label on packaged foods will list the suggested serving size. The label will also note how many suggested serving sizes are in the package. For example, a candy bar typically says there is one serving, which is the entire bar. A box of crackers, on the other hand, may list four crackers as a serving size with approximately eight servings per container. 

Instead of using “servings,” the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) now uses measurable amounts for its daily recommendations, such as cups and ounces. The recommended volume of food you can eat varies by age and gender. 

The USDA has the following daily portion recommendations:

  • Vegetables — 2 to 3 cups
  • Fruits — 1½ to 2 cups
  • Grains — 5 to 8 ounces
  • Dairy — 3 cups (fat-free or low-fat)
  • Protein foods — 5 to 6½ ounces
  • Oils — 5 to 7 teaspoons

The above portions may be divided between several meals. For instance, you could have two cups of salad at lunch and a cup of broccoli at dinner for your daily three cups of vegetables. 

Each food item contains vitamins and minerals your body needs to thrive. However, fruits, vegetables, meats, nuts, grains, and all edibles have different nutrients.  

To meet all of your nutritional needs, you can eat a variety of different food items from each group. For example, your fruit servings could be bananas and blueberries one day and mangos and watermelon the next. 

A healthy diet includes both your food choices and the amount you consume. In addition to paying attention to the food group percentage on your plate, you may want to consider the quantity of food you eat at individual meals and throughout the day. 

Moderation means eating the proper amount of food for your age, gender, and activity level. Eating too little or excessively can cause weight gain even if you are eating healthy food.

Estimating Portion Sizes

When you want to eat portions within the guidelines, you will often need to estimate the portion size of a particular food by guessing how many ounces or cups it is. Here are some ways to visualize portion sizes using your hand as a guide:

MeasurementApproximation
1 cupThe size of your fist from wrist to knuckles
½ cupThe size of your fist, just the fingers and thumb
1 teaspoonThe size of the top joint of your middle finger 
2 tablespoonsThe size of your thumb
1 ounce of a single thing like cheeseThe size of your index finger
1 ounce of smaller things like nutsThe size of your cupped hand not including the fingers
3 ouncesThe size of your palm

Nutrition and Aging

Your nutritional needs change with age, and your recommended servings per day decrease in the latter half of your life. You may consume fewer calories as your metabolism slows down and your level of activity decreases, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture

If you continue to eat the same way as you did in high school or college, you will likely experience weight gain. Healthy meals are important no matter your age, but it is even more important to fight nutrient deficiencies to maintain a good quality of life.

Your physician or a dietitian can make suggestions on how your meal planning can change. For example, they may recommend more fiber to stimulate bowel movements or more calcium to maintain healthy bones and counter the effects of aging.

Weight-loss Strategies

Certain weight-loss strategies are evidence-based; meaning they have a proven history of success by reputable sources. Some of these include the following:

  • Cutting calories – By creating a calorie deficit, your body is forced to use stored fat for fuel.
  • Cutting carbs – Low- and no-carb diets are higher in protein, which reduces appetites and boosts metabolism. 
  • Cutting fat – This approach is a specific way of cutting calories, as fat has the greatest calorie density compared to protein and carbs. 
  • Cutting sugar – This approach is a specific way of cutting calories, as sugar has a lot of calories.
  • Eating slowly – It takes your body time to produce the hormone that makes you feel full, and eating slowly gives your body time to realize it is full. 
  • Mini-meals – Eating several small meals throughout the day keeps your appetite satisfied and keeps your metabolism working. 
  • Increasing fruits and vegetables – Produce is low in calories and fat but filling. 
  • Increasing protein and fiber intake – Protein keeps you feeling full longer and fiber alters how quickly your body digests food.
  • Practicing portion control – Similar to mini-meals, portion control entails eating sensible portions of food. 
  • Intermittent fasting – By skipping meals, your body turns to stored fat for energy rather than the new calories being consumed.

However, every strategy does not work for every person. There is no one-size-fits-all diet to lose weight. For example, intermittent fasting can cause immediate weight loss, but it can also slow some individuals’ metabolism in the long run. 

Likewise, some diets are misleading or can prove fruitless. For instance, you could cut your daily calorie intake and still not lose weight. This can occur when you only consume carb and fat calories without protein calories or when you have a hormone imbalance or metabolism issue. When looking to lose excess fat, you may want to try different strategies to see what works for you, keeping in mind your overall health as the top priority.

Nutritional Weight Loss Tips

Eating a good diet means making healthy food and beverage choices that help you maintain or lose weight while meeting your nutritional needs. 

Choosing the Right Beverages

Your body needs water to function properly. The general recommendation is that women drink about 2.7 liters of water, while men consume about 3.7 liters daily. However, the following factors influence how much water your body needs:

  • Activity level – The more you move and sweat, the more water your body needs.
  • Environment – You may also need more water if you are in a warm, hot and/or dry climate.
  • Metabolism – Bodies with faster metabolism will also need more water, as they process fluids fast. 
  • Size – Bigger bodies need more water. 

Other beverages, like soda and sports drinks, may offer hydration, but they have added calories, sugar, and sodium. By switching to water, you can cut out 400 to 800 calories a day. But you do not have to drink water exclusively. If you want to sip something with flavor, select options that are low in calories, sugar, and artificial flavors like unsweetened iced tea or water infused with lemon. 

Avoiding Fried Foods

You may want to consider avoiding fatty and fried foods, particularly if you are trying to lose weight. Fried foods are high in calories, saturated fat, and salt, which make it difficult to shed weight and often lead to weight gain. 

Being Careful with Condiments

Condiments high in fat or sugar can ruin your weight-loss diet. You can undo all of your hard work by drenching your salad in full-fat dressing or smothering your vegetables in cheese sauces. Some products you may want to avoid when cutting calories include the following:

  • Mayonnaise
  • Creamy pasta sauces
  • Barbecue sauce
  • Ketchup
  • Tartar sauce
  • Pancake syrup
  • Teriyaki sauce
  • Certain salad dressings 

Smart Substitutions

You can replace unhealthy foods with healthier alternatives. For example, you can use a squeeze of citrus fruit, hummus, or oil and vinegar instead of store bought salad dressing. Here are some other healthier alternatives to common foods:

Instead of this high calorie food…Try substituting this low calorie food…
MayonnaiseMustard or hummus
SodaSeltzer
Dried fruit like raisinsFresh fruit like grapes
Sour creamGreek yogurt
Microwave popcornAir popped popcorn
Oil for cookingCooking spray
Alfredo pasta sauceMarinara sauce
RiceRiced cauliflower
BagelEnglish muffin
Half and  halfWhole milk

Feeding Your Cravings

Sometimes, you just crave a particular kind of food. If it is high in calories, you may want to try one of these alternatives when you are: 

Craving something sweet – Alternatives are applesauce, fresh fruit, dark chocolate, banana ice cream, or berries. 

Craving soda or something sweet to drink – Your body is just telling you it needs hydration. Drinking a low-calorie and -sugar ice cold drink, like water or tea may do the trick.

Craving something salty – Popcorn, edamame, hummus with vegetables, or roasted chickpeas can satisfy you. Savory foods are a great way to consume vital nutrients like vitamins and minerals. Choosing items high in protein will keep you feeling full longer. 

Craving something creamy – You may want to try chia pudding, Greek yogurt with berries, cheese, or mashed sweet potato. These options contain elements to keep your body fit and functioning, such as calcium, protein, and B vitamins.

Likewise, fad diets and weight-loss trends may be based on false information. For example, liquid diets and juice cleanses can cause a nutritional deficiency and lead to long-term weight gain. 

Skipping meals may seem like an easy way to cut calories, but it can lead to weight gain in the long run. Individuals who fast may overeat due to hunger or lower their metabolism by denying it adequate nutrients. 

Myths

You may have preconceived notions about weight-loss from misinformation. With so many dieting claims from unreliable sources, it is easy to confuse fact with fiction. 

Lose Weight Steadily

First, weight-loss is rarely consistent. You can lose pounds over a few weeks and then gain some or all of them back. It is normal for your body’s weight to fluctuate by a few pounds. Water retention, for example, can make you seem heavier though you have lost fat. 

Weight Loss is Willpower

Many variables affect putting on excess weight and losing weight. Genetic factors, medical conditions, other biological influences and medications can increase your risk of weight gain and make it more difficult to lose weight.  

Environmental factors can also influence weight. Your willpower to eat sensibly and maintain an active lifestyle may help you lose weight, but a lack of willpower is rarely the sole reason for excess weight. 

Carbs Equal Weight Gain

Your body needs carbs to function; not all carbs are bad. Some kinds of healthy whole foods, like whole grains and certain fruits and vegetables, have a high number of carbs. Refined carbs, like those found in processed food with refined grains and sugar, are the ones that lead to weight gain. 

However, low-carb diets can be effective strategies for weight loss. Or you may consider choosing foods with healthy carbs rather than refined carbs. 

Eating Fat Makes You Fat

While fat is calorie-dense, consuming fat within a healthy range will not make you fat. Because fat has about 9 calories per gram (instead of protein and carbs’ 4 calories/gram), you can consume excess calories by eating too much fat.

Your body needs healthy fat to work. Studies have shown high-fat diets that are low in carbs can lead to weight loss, like Atkins. 

Additionally, manufacturers heavily process many products marketed as low-fat or fat-free. These “diet” items are often high in sugar and other unhealthy ingredients.  

Eat Breakfast to Lose Weight

You may have heard the saying, “Eat like a king for breakfast, a prince for lunch, and a pauper for dinner.” The idea behind this weight-loss strategy is that consuming most of your calories at the beginning of the day gives you the most time to burn off the calories. 

However, intermittent fasting, like skipping breakfast, is one way to cut calories. No studies have shown that eating breakfast boosts your metabolism. 

Diets for Healthy Weight Loss

Bodies are as different as fingerprints, and no one diet works for everyone. What is effective for you may not be for your spouse or best friend. Results of any diet vary. 

Some diets are more popular than others because they have helped many people lose weight. It is important to weigh the pros and cons of each diet and match it with your preferences, food restrictions if any and schedule. For example, if you do not usually eat breakfast, then intermittent fasting is something you might want to try. If you are a vegetarian, then a low carbohydrate diet may be very challenging for you since it is high in protein, which is found in the highest concentrations in meat.

Some people prefer not having to track calories and portion sizes. If this describes you, you may want to consider a diet that involves pre-packaged meals such as Weight Watchers, Jenny Craig or Nutrisystem or meal replacement shakes like Optavia.

Although the weight loss industry is a $71 billion business, it is not necessary to spend hundreds or thousands of dollars to change your diet. You can learn about different types of diets below and then once you have chosen the one you want to try, it is easy to find eating plans and recipes in cookbooks and online.

Low-Carbohydrate Diets

Low-carb diets consist of consuming less than 100 to 150 grams of carbs daily. Some low-carb diets have stricter limits of no more than 50 grams of carbs daily. 

Weight loss on a low-carb diet requires your body to reach ketosis. Ketosis is when your body burns fat for fuel instead of carbohydrates. The fat comes from the food you eat and/or the fat stored in your body. When your body is in ketosis, it converts fat into ketones, which is an energy source it can use to power the body’s processes.

Low-carb, high-fat diets promote weight loss and have other health benefits for those with cancer, PCOS, diabetes and nervous system diseases. However, it is important to balance meat-heavy diets with vegetables, so you satisfy your nutritional needs. 

Medical professionals may recommend AVOIDING low-carb diets to persons with other medical diagnoses. For instance, those with renal disease may consume too much protein for their kidneys. Individuals with heart disease, high cholesterol or digestive disorders can also get worse from the high fat content and by neglecting to eat enough healthy fiber on these diets.

Keto Diet

In the Keto Diet, 90 percent of your calories come from fat, 6 percent from protein, and 4 percent from carbs. The diet calls for less than 50 grams of carbs a day but does not place restrictions on type of fat.

You can feel the side effects of being on a keto diet within the first week. These temporary side effects such as headaches, fatigue, constipation and brain fog occur when you withdraw from carbohydrates and sugars your body normally uses for fuel. 

Pros:

  • Weight loss 
  • Not feeling hungry 

Cons:

  • Side effects during the adjustment period of a few weeks to months 
  • Possible health side effects from eating excess fat and unhealthy fats

Dukan  Diet

The Dukan Diet gets its name from the creator, Pierre Dukan. The diet is a four-part, low-carbohydrate, and high-protein eating plan consisting of unlimited lean protein, at least 1.5 tablespoons of oat bran, 6 cups of water and a 20-minute walk daily in the first phase. In the next three phases, a few additional foods and “celebration meals,” in which you eat whatever you want, are added back in. 

Pros:

  • Weight loss 
  • No need to count calories or weigh food

Cons:

  • More restrictive than Atkins
  • Fewer food options, especially for those on vegetarian, vegan, gluten-free diets 

Atkins

Atkins is another dietary plan that restricts carbohydrates as well as starchy vegetables and high-sugar fruits with no restrictions on protein or fat. Atkins is extremely popular, and there are many pre-packaged options. Like Dukan, it has four phases. In the first phase, it limits daily carbohydrates to 20 grams, with unlimited protein and fat and low carb vegetables like leafy greens. Then more vegetables, nuts and fruit are added back gradually.

Pros:

  • Weight loss 
  • Hearty eating plan

Cons:

  • Less fruit intake
  • Must count net carbs

Paleo

Paleo diets reference the Paleolithic era and the foods humans typically consumed during that period. During the Paleolithic era, humans were hunters and gatherers with diets high in lean meats, fish, nuts, seeds, and certain fruits and vegetables.

The diet is not intentionally low carb, but limits foods that come from farming, like grains, dairy, legumes, and potatoes. While on a paleo diet, you also avoid refined sugar, salt, and highly processed foods.

However, the paleo diet is expensive when considering the cost of nuts and meat from grass-fed animals. Likewise, whole grains and legumes – beans – are more affordable and good sources of fiber and other nutrients. 

Pros:

  • Weight loss 
  • Heavy consumption of most fruits and vegetables
  • Elimination of processed foods

Cons:

  • Expensive food costs
  • Less consumption of fiber, magnesium, calcium, and other vitamins from whole grains and legumes

Low-Fat Diets

Ultra-low-fat diets cut your fat intake to no more than 10 percent of your daily calories. These diets are also low in protein and high in carbohydrates. 

Low-fat diets are typically plant-based since animal products have a lot of fat. Meals include fruits, vegetables, whole grains and white flour, beans, non-fat dairy, and soya. 

Ultra-low-fat diets are beneficial for those with certain medical diagnoses. Medical professionals may prescribe a low-fat diet to patients at risk for high blood pressure, high blood cholesterol, or type 2 diabetes.

Pros:

  • Short-term weight loss 
  • Good option for vegans and vegetarians
  • Lower cholesterol

Cons:

  • Less fat means less flavor
  • Less satiety because of less protein
  • Vitamin and mineral deficiencies 

Macronutrient-Balance Diet

Macronutrient-balanced diets focus on consuming a nearly equal portion of fats, carbs, and proteins. A balanced diet is ideal if you have celiac disease or a gluten sensitivity, since it excludes all grain-based foods. This diet may decrease the risk of cancer, diabetes, and heart disease, so you may want to consult with your doctor if you have one of these diagnoses.

The Zone Diet 

The Zone Diet has specific ranges for macronutrient consumption. On this diet, you would eat 40 percent carbs, 30 percent protein, and 30 percent fat at each meal. 

The diet recommends avoiding processed foods, grain-based foods and those high in sugar or starch. Grain-based foods include pasta, bread, and cereal. Certain fruits and vegetables, like potatoes, bananas, and raisins are also starchy.

Protein can come from lean meats, and carbs can come from fruit that is relatively low in sugar. The diet also recommends choosing monounsaturated (good) fats.

The diet recommends eating at certain times to “stay in the zone” throughout the day, including eating three meals and two snacks evenly spaced. The diet does not permit skipping meals and overloading (making up for missed meals).

Pros:

  • Teaches portion control
  • Fruit- and vegetable-rich diet
  • Can easily be gluten-free

Cons:

  • Time-consuming to plan or prep
  • Difficult to work into a busy schedule
  • Not all carbs are good carbs

Low-Calorie Diets

Low-calorie diets eliminate excess weight by forcing the body to burn stored energy, such as fat. These diets cause a calorie deficit, which means you eat fewer calories than you use.

Foods with high fat, high sugar, or refined carbohydrates typically have more calories. These foods are high in calories without the nutrients you need to feel full. Instead, low-calorie diets promote eating:

  • Fruits and vegetables
  • Lean proteins
  • Whole grains
  • Low-fat dairy
  • Smaller portions

A low-calorie diet is not recommended for children, teens, and seniors. Calorie-restrictive diets are intended for individuals with a BMI at 30 or higher. A medical professional may recommend a low-calorie diet if the patient needs to lose weight quickly due to a health complication.

The hCG diet

The hCG diet is an ultra-low-calorie diet combined with the hormone hCG. This protein-based hormone maintains progesterone production. The diet consists of three phases, with the longest limiting daily consumption to fewer than 500 calories.

While some claim the hormone prevents them from feeling hungry or losing muscle mass, no studies have proven that at this time. Similarly, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) considers this diet dangerous and say that it can lead to long-term health problems.

Pros:

  • Effective weight loss
  • Affordable

Cons:

  • Feelings of hunger
  • Lack of nutrients if not well planned
  • Not a long-term solution

The Mediterranean Diet

The Mediterranean diet, along with the DASH diet below, is considered to be the healthiest diet and is often recommended by doctors. It focuses on lean protein and carbs from low-sugar food, such as vegetables and certain grains. The diet comes from its namesake; the food and cooking styles common in the Mediterranean. 

The traditional cuisines in the area include a lot of vegetables, fruits, whole grains and lean meats. The diet limits red meat and dairy, but incorporates healthy fats and some red wine. 

The diet does not have a specific structure when it comes to counting calories and measuring food portions. However, it does encourage combining the diet with the lifestyle by keeping active physically and socially. 

The Mediterranean diet improves cholesterol, blood sugar levels, and inflammation. Individuals with or without medical conditions may benefit from the diet’s numerous general health benefits. 

Pros:

  • Balanced, flavorful diet
  • Health benefits for heart and mental health
  • Long-term diet in most cases

Cons:

  • Higher food costs
  • Lack of specific guidelines

The DASH Diet

The acronym DASH stands for Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension. Studies have shown that the DASH diet can lower blood pressure in as little as two weeks.  The DASH diet is a high-protein, high-fiber, and low-sodium plan that includes whole grains, fruits, vegetables, and low-fat dairy products. 

The typical American diet contains more than 3,4000 milligrams (mg) of sodium. On this diet, you consume less than 2,300 or 1,500 mg of sodium. In addition to sodium, you cutback or limit the consumption of saturated and trans fat, red meat, and sugar. 

The DASH diet offers heart-healthy benefits. However, it does not focus on weight loss, unless you opt for a low-calorie dietary plan.  

The American Heart Association recommends the DASH diet to help manage blood pressure. Other medical institutes promote the diet as one of the best diets overall. 

Pros:

  • Nutritionally balanced
  • Major health organization backed
  • Long-term diet in most cases

Cons:

  • Requires food tracking
  • Not designated for weight loss
  • No convenient food options

Veganism

Vegan diets limit you to eat only plant-based foods and avoid all animal products, including meat, eggs, honey and dairy. There are variations of plant-based diets that include some animal products:

  • Vegan – do not eat meat, poultry, fish, eggs or animal byproducts
  • Vegetarian – do not eat meat, but can eat animal byproducts like dairy 
    • Lacto vegetarian – do not eat meat, but can consume dairy
    • Ovo vegetarian – do not eat meat, but can eat eggs
    • Lacto-ovo vegetarian – do not eat meat, but can eat dairy and eggs
  • Pescatarian – do not eat meat, poultry, or eggs, but can eat fish and seafood
    • Ovo pescatarian – do not eat meat or poultry, but can eat eggs, fish, and seafood

Eating exclusively healthy produce can decrease your daily calories, cholesterol, and consumption of saturated fat. A vegan diet also has a higher amount of fiber, folic acid, iron, magnesium, and vitamins C and E. 

Vegetarians and vegans have a lower risk of obesity, cardiovascular disease, and type 2 diabetes. There is also a direct correlation between lower risks of cancer with higher dietary intakes of fruits and vegetables. 

A vegan diet, nevertheless, can be unhealthy if you do not choose healthy vegan foods. Vegan junk food is heavily processed and can cause weight gain. Some examples of vegan junk foods include cookies, potato and corn chips, popcorn, and candy. In addition, it is lacking in certain nutrients particularly vitamin B12, calcium, iron and zinc, so taking supplements is generally recommended.

A doctor may suggest a vegetarian or vegan diet if you have high cholesterol, high blood pressure, or at risk for heart disease. A vegan diet can lower blood-sugar levels, and pre-diabetics may benefit from a plant-based diet.  

Pros:

  • Evidence-based health benefits
  • Lower food costs

Cons:

  • Limited food and dining-out options
  • Possible nutrient deficiencies

Diets for Medical Conditions

Some medical professionals like doctors and dieticians will suggest or prescribe a set of dietary restrictions that will promote healing or help reduce the symptoms of a medical condition. For example, a physician would likely recommend avoiding consuming food goods to which you are allergic. 

In general, the following diets are recommended for patients with medical conditions. Speaking with your doctor about the diet for your medical condition can help give you one more tool to maximize your health. 

  • Arthritis – Mediterranean diet
  • Cancers – DASH diet and plant-based diets
  • Cardiovascular disease – Mediterranean diet
  • Celiac disease – Gluten-free diet
  • Dementia/Alzheimer Disease – Mediterranean diet and MIND diet (which is a combination of Mediterranean and DASH)
  • Diabetes – DASH diet, Mediterranean diet, low-carb diets
  • Epilepsy – Keto
  • High cholesterol – Low-fat diets and Mediterranean diet
  • Hypertension – DASH diet and low-sodium diets
  • Kidney disease – DASH diet 

Just as food can affect your health, a medical condition can influence which foods you can eat. For example, a doctor may recommend that you eat less protein than a diet suggests if you have kidney disease.

Similarly, the medication you take for your condition may have side effects when combined with certain foods. Arthritis medicines, for instance, can cause stomach ulcers, and certain products can irritate them.

Customized Diets

While the government has dietary recommendations for the general population, your diet may reflect your personal nutritional needs and dietary restrictions. For instance, some conditions that can influence your diet include:

  •  Allergies
  • Being pregnant
  • Having diabetes
  • Being older than 65 years of age
  • Dietary preferences, such as veganism 

Speaking to your doctor before trying fad diets can help you avoid problems in the future. While some of these strategies can help you lose weight, they may also be harmful for your long-term health. A doctor or dietician can help you customize your diet based on your nutritional needs and dietary restrictions.  

The Benefits of Cooking at Home vs. Dining Out

You may find that meals at restaurants taste better than they do at home. That is due to the amount of flavor chefs incorporate into their dishes. However, this flavor typically comes from an excess of the following:

  • Butter
  • Salt
  • Fat
  • Sugar

While the above ingredients can make food taste better, they also increase the number of calories. Whereas a homemade meal averages between 350 and 700 calories, most restaurant meals are between 1,200 and 2,000 calories. 

Restaurants also plate large portions that can trick you into eating more than you need. Customers want their money’s worth, and it is more profitable for restaurants to make meals bigger than to charge less. Compared to the U.S. Dietary Guidelines on portion sizes, restaurant meals are twice to three times larger than home-prepared dishes. 

The “clean your plate” credence is outdated and is a contributing factor in weight gain. It can take your body a half hour to recognize your stomach is full. You may eat the 16 ounces served on your plate when your body only needs 10. 

Even “healthy” choices at restaurants are deceitful. A cobb salad with dressing, for example, may seem healthier than a double cheese burger. However, salads at fast-food establishments often have the same, if not more, calories, fat, and sodium.

Increased portions, calories, and other negative dietary factors lead to weight gain. You can make your favorite dining-out meals at home and cut out calories and other less-than-healthy options, such as cutting down on sodium. You can also plate your portions to size, so you are not tempted to eat everything on your plate in one sitting. 

Tips for Dining Out

Nevertheless, there may be times when you want or need to go to a restaurant. Special occasions and social events often involve eating outside of your home. Chains and fine dining establishments ramp up the flavor with fats, sugars, and more. However, you can keep to your diet without skipping restaurants and dining out. 

A diet does not have to restrict your entertainment and social life. Part of a balanced life includes enjoying good times with loved ones and delicious meals. Here are some tips on how to stick to your diet and weight-loss goal when going out to eat:

Selecting dishes that align with your chosen diet in terms of calories, carbohydrates, starch, protein, etc. will keep you on track

  • Be aware of how dishes are prepared so you can make a healthy choice. For example, something that says “crispy” is likely to be fried. Grilled food is typically lower in calories and fat.
  • Asking for sauces, salad dressings and condiments on the side gives you control over how much of these high-calorie items you consume.
  • Consider sharing an entree or packing up half of it at the beginning of the meal to reduce portion sizes.
  • If an entree comes with a starchy side like potatoes or rice, you can ask the server to substitute green vegetables.
  • Consider skipping the pre-dinner bread, alcohol, appetizers and dessert, all of which tend to be high in empty calories.

Exercise

Getting enough physical activity is recommended for everyone, regardless of their weight. When you work out, your body uses the fat stored in your cells for fuel. So combining your healthy diet with an exercise routine can improve your health and give you maximum weight-loss effectiveness. Some diets like the Zone and Mediterranean incorporate physical activity into their program, such as walking at least 30 minutes a day.

Weight loss (the number on your scale) can result from losing fat and muscle. Muscle makes up about 40 percent of your body weight. Exercise can maintain and build your muscle, so your weight loss is just fat loss. 

Keep in mind that a pound of fat and a pound of muscle takes up different volumes in your body in the same way that a pound of feathers and a pound of bricks take up different amounts of space. Muscle is denser than fat and takes up less space than the same weight of fat. A pound of fat takes up about the same amount of space as a small grapefruit, whereas a pound of muscle is the size of a tangerine.

During your fitness training, you may see your weight loss plateau or even see weight gain. Your scale is not the best indicator of your progress as you develop heavier muscles while losing spacious fat. 

Waist and body measurements can give you a more accurate reference. You can even use how your clothes fit as a slim-down gauge. 

In addition to weight loss, exercise can also help reduce:

  • Arthritis pain and associated disability
  • High blood pressure
  • Risk for osteoporosis and falls
  • Risk for type 2 diabetes, heart attack, stroke, and several forms of cancer
  • Symptoms of depression and anxiety

How much and the types of exercise you can do safely depend on your age, body type, weight and health. For instance, certain medical conditions can make it difficult to perform specific tasks. If you have a medical condition, your doctor can guide you in the best way to exercise.

Exercising over the long-term, however, makes each workout easier than the last, as your body becomes more fit and strong. You may want to start slow, and build up to more impactful movements. A realistic exercise plan paired with an attainable weight loss goal can get you on the right track. 

How Exercise Causes Weight Loss

Although weight loss is complicated, you can lose fat by burning more calories than you consume and creating a calorie deficit. Sticking to a healthy diet can help you reduce the number of calories you eat. Exercise helps you burn calories by making your body exert more energy. In addition, exercise and particularly weight training, help you build lean muscle mass, which burns calories faster while your body is at rest.

Metabolism

Your basal metabolic rate (BMR) is the minimum amount of energy your body uses while at rest. This rate is the least number of calories your body needs to do nothing but survive. 

Your age, gender, weight, height, ethnicity, body composition, and genetic factors affect your BMR. To estimate your BMR, complete the following formulas based on gender:

Women: BMR = 655 + (9.6 × weight in kg) + (1.8 × height in cm) – (4.7 × age in years)

Men: BMR = 66 + (13.7 × weight in kg) + (5 × height in cm) – (6.8 × age in years)

For example, a 150-pound woman who is 5’5” and 35 years old would have a BMR of around 1,400 calories a day. A 200-pound man who is 5’10” and 55 years old would have a BMR of around 1,845 calories a day. You can use this calorie calculator to easily figure your BMR: https://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/weight-loss/in-depth/calorie-calculator/itt-20402304 

Your body burns more calories than your BMR since you move throughout the day. The more you move and work out, the more calories your body uses for energy. 

Activity level can be categorized as follows:

  • Sedentary: Little to no exercise
  • Light: Exercise with elevated heart rate 1 to 3 times a week for 15 to 30 minutes 
  • Moderate: Exercise with elevated heart rate 4 to 5 times a week for 15 to 30 minutes
  • Active: Daily exercise with elevated heart rate for 15 to 30 minutes, OR intense exercise with elevated heart rate 3 to 4 times a week for 45 to 120 minutes
  • Extra active: Intense exercise with elevated heart rate 6 to 7 times a week for 45 to 120 minutes
  • Vigorous: Daily intense exercise with elevated heart rate for 120+ minutes

The below chart illustrates the number of calories utilized daily based on activity level.

FemalecolspancolspancolspanMalecolspancolspancolspan
Activity Level40-year-old, 150 pounds, 5’5”40-year-old, 200 pounds, 5’5”50-year-old, 150 pounds, 5’5”50-year-old, 200 pounds, 5’540-year-old, 200 pounds, 5’10”40-year-old, 275 pounds, 5’10”50-year-old, 200 pounds, 5’10”50-year-old, 275 pounds, 5’10”
Resting/BMR1,4151,6251,3701,5811,9302,3861,8702,329
Sedentary1,6981,9501,6461,8982,3162,8632,2482,795
Light1,9462,2341,8862,1742,6543,2802,5763,202
Moderate2,0732,3802,0102,3172,8273,4952,7443,412
Active2,1932,5182,1262,4512,9913,6982,9033,610
Extra Active2,4412,8032,3662,7283,3294,1153,2314,017
Vigorous2,6893,0872,6063,0053,6674,5333,5594,425

One of the factors that influence your BMR is body composition, such as your muscle mass. A higher metabolic rate is linked to muscle development and growth. Building muscle mass increases the body’s resting energy consumption (BMR). 

Certain workouts build your muscles, which, in turn, help you burn more calories. So you will burn calories while exercising and your body will require more calories to sustain your muscle gains. 

As you age, unfortunately, your muscle mass declines if not engaged in regular strength training. Likewise, your BMR will lower as your body requires less fuel to function. 

Types of Exercises

There are four types of exercise that can help you reach your fitness goal; cardiovascular, strength, balance, and flexibility. Each of these types provide different health benefits, and you can each type at various intensity levels. The first two, cardiovascular and strength, directly help you lose weight, while the other two, balance and flexibility, improve range of motion, improve core strength and reduce injuries. 

Aerobic or cardiovascular exercises improve your fitness by increasing the endurance of your heart, lungs, and circulatory system. Types of aerobic exercise include walking, jogging, running, cycling, swimming, and dancing. If you go to a gym, you can use a treadmill, elliptical machine, or stair stepper for cardiovascular workouts.

Strength training helps you build and increase your muscle mass. Increased muscle mass increases your BMR and can increase the number of calories you burn while at rest. Weight and resistance training are other names for strength training activities since they often require weights, resistance bands, or other equipment. Other types of strength exercises include:

  • Carrying groceries or children
  • Climbing stairs
  • Squats and lunges
  • Pull-ups and push-ups

Balance exercises increase your body’s ability to control itself. They can prevent you from becoming injured, improve your posture, and decrease your risk of falling as you get older. Some types of balancing exercises include:

  • Standing on one foot
  • Some yoga poses
  • Tai Chi
  • Walking on a balance beam

Stretching releases tension from your muscles and prevents injuries such as muscle pulls and joint problems. Static stretches are those that require little motion, while dynamic stretches are performed in motion. Stretching increases your flexibility, range of motion, and blood flow to your muscles. You can stretch specific body parts, such as the back of your legs, or perform movements that stretch multiple muscles, like during a yoga practice.   

Light physical activities include the everyday tasks you do regularly as part of your lifestyle, such as taking the dog for a walk, gardening, or cleaning the house. Light physical activities can burn about 150 calories more than your BMR. 

You may have better cholesterol levels, blood pressure, and metabolic health by staying lightly active throughout the day instead of sedentary. For example, make sure to stand up and walk around for a few minutes every hour if you have a desk job. 

Moderate physical activities include those that require some cardiorespiratory endurance, like walking briskly, jogging, and weight training. Playing sports, like baseball and golf, are also forms of moderate physical activities that can encourage you to play by being entertaining rather than feeling like a workout. 

Doing moderate exercise three times a week can improve your quality of life. In addition to helping you lose fat, muscle-strengthening helps protect your body by supporting your joints and bones as well as slowing down bone density loss. Likewise, regular exercise increases balance and decreases the risk of falls in older adults. 

Vigorous physical activities will get your heart pounding and make you break a sweat, such as running, strength training, and aerobics. Moderate-to-vigorous exercises can improve your cognition, mood, and ability to learn. Regular exercise can also help you sleep better at night.

Your muscles and body become fatigued when exercising and need to rest. Giving yourself a break between reps can reduce post-workout soreness. It is recommended you break up your workout into reps and sets.

‘Reps’ is the shortened term for repetitions, or the number of times you complete an exercise movement. For instance, 10 reps means to repeat the exercise 10 times, such as doing 10 sit ups.

Sets are how many times you complete reps. Two sets of 10 reps mean you complete the exercise 10 times, rest, and then do it for 10 more repetitions. 

Determining Intensity and Heart Rate

Your heart rate determines the intensity of an exercise. Your resting heart rate is the number of beats per minute (bpm) when your body is at rest, such as sitting or after sleeping. Lower resting heart rates are indicators of healthier hearts and physical fitness. 

A normal resting heart rate is between 60 and 100 bpm. Age, fitness, stress, medication, and other factors can influence your resting heart rate. An Olympian athlete, for example, would have a resting heart rate of around 40 bpm. 

How to Check Your Heart Rate

  1. Take your index and middle fingers of one hand and lightly press on the opposite wrist, just below the base of the thumb.
  2. Or, take those same two fingers and lightly press the side of the neck, just below your jawbone.
  3. Count the number of beats in 15 seconds, and multiply by four to get your heart rate.

You can also get your heart rate from your Fitbit or smart watch or from the monitors on some exercise machines.

Maximum Heart Rate

For men, calculate your maximum heart rate with this formula:

220 minus your age 

For example, a 50 year old man’s MHR would be 220 – 50 = 170

For women, calculate your maximum heart rate with this formula:

208 minus (your age x .88) 

For example, a 50 year old woman’s MHR would be 208 – (50 x .88) = 164

When your heartbeat is at or above this rate, you can feel chest pain, discomfort, and arrhythmias. Like your resting heart rate, other factors influence your maximum heart rate (MHR). 

From resting, your heartbeat will increase to between 50 and 70 percent of your MHR during moderate-intensity activities. Your heart rate during vigorous-physical activities is between 70 and 85 percent of your MHR.  

Your target heart zone is 50 to 85 percent of your MHR when exercising. The fat-burning heart-rate zone is 70 percent of your MHR. This zone is when your body uses stored fat for energy. 

Heart Rate During Activity By Age and Sex

AgeMaximum Heart Rate
100 percent
colspanVigorous Activities
85 percent
colspanTarget Heart Rate
70 percent
colspanModerate Activities
50 percent
colspan
MenWomenMenWomenMenWomenMenWomen
2020019017016214013310095
251951861661581371309893
301901821621551331279591
351851771561501301249389
401801731531471261219086
451751681491431231188884
501701641451391191158582
551651601401361161128380
601601551361321121098078
651551511321281091067875
701501461281241051027573

The above chart is just a guideline, as your MHR can vary 15 to 20 bpm in either direction.

Keeping your heart rate in the moderate heart rate zone when you are beginning to workout will help you ease into an exercise program. If you:

  • Are very sedentary with no exercise at all, workout at about 57 percent to 67 percent of your MHR.
  • Engage in minimal activity, workout at 64 percent to 74 percent of your MHR.
  • Exercise sporadically, workout at 74 percent to 84 percent of your MHR.
  • Exercise regularly, workout at 80 percent to 91 percent of your MHR.
  • Exercise a lot at high intensities, workout at 84 percent to 94 percent of your MHR.

Listen to your body if you cannot track your heart rate while exercising. If you feel dizzy, ill, or lightheaded it may be a good idea to stop exercising and if you are feeling better, perhaps resume at a lower intensity.

How Much Exercise is Necessary to Lose Weight

Determining the exact amount you need to exercise to lose weight is complicated. If you exercise more but also eat more, then you might not lose weight if your caloric intake is higher than the number of calories you burn.

In addition to food, the factors that affect your BMR also influence how effective exercise is towards your weight loss. Even identical twins could have different results eating and exercising the same. 

  • Age – More difficult to reach higher intensities as you age
  • Body composition – Higher muscle mass burns more calories
  • Diet – Eating too much or too little affects your metabolism and calorie intake/deficit 
  • Fitness level – You burn more calories learning an exercise than when you are experienced and efficient
  • Oxygen intake – Oxygen gives you energy and heavier breathers burn more calories
  • Sleep – Inadequate sleep negatively influences your health, including being too fatigued to work out or impacting your intensity level
  • Temperature – Living in extreme hot and cold climates requires more energy from your body to stay at homeostasis and, therefore, burns more calories 

Your current weight has one of the biggest influences on how many calories you burn performing a workout. Consider the below chart and estimated calories burned per hour.

Body Weight 150 pounds200 pounds
Aerobics, step: high impact720960
Aerobics, step: low impact504672
Aerobics: high impact504672
Aerobics: low impact396528
Aerobics: water288384
Basketball: game576768
Basketball: wheelchair468624
Bicycling, stationary: moderate504672
Bicycling, stationary: vigorous7561008
Bicycling: 20 mph11881584
Bicycling: 12-13.9 mph576768
Bicycling: 14-15.9 mph720960
Bicycling: 16-19 mph8641152
Bicycling: BMX/mountain612816
Bowling216288
Boxing: sparring648864
Calisthenics: moderate324432
Calisthenics: vigorous576768
Chopping/splitting wood432576
Circuit training: general576768
Dancing: disco, ballroom, square396528
Dancing: fast, ballet, twist432576
Dancing: slow, waltz, foxtrot216288
Elliptical trainer: general648864
Football: competitive648864
Football: touch, flag576768
Gardening: general324432
Golf: carrying clubs396528
Golf: using cart252336
Gymnastics: general288384
Handball: general8641152
Health rider360480
Heavy cleaning: car, windows324432
Hiking: cross country432576
Hockey: field and ice576768
Ice skating: general504672
Kayaking360480
Martial arts: karate, kickboxing720960
Moving: carrying boxes504672
Mowing lawn: push, hand396528
Mowing lawn: push, power324432
Operate snowblower: walking324432
Racquetball: casual504672
Racquetball: competitive720960
Raking lawn288384
Rollerblade: skating504672
Rope jumping720960
Rowing, stationary: moderate504672
Rowing, stationary: vigorous612816
Running: 6 min/mile11881584
Running: 8 min/mile9001200
Running: 10 min/mile720960
Running: 12 min/mile576768
Scuba or skin diving504672
Shoveling snow: by hand432576
Sitting: reading, watching TV81108
Skateboarding360480
Skiing: downhill432576
Ski machine: general684912
Sleeping4560
Snowshoeing576768
Soccer: general504672
Softball: general play360480
Stair-step machine: general432576
Stretching, Hatha yoga288384
Swimming: general432576
Swimming: laps, vigorous720960
Tai chi288384
Tennis: general504672
Walk/Jog: jog<10 min.432576
Walk: 15 min/mile324432
Water polo720960
Water skiing432576
Water volleyball216288
Weightlifting: general216288
Weightlifting: vigorous432576
Whitewater: rafting, kayaking360480
Wrestling432576
Volleyball: beach576768
Volleyball general play216288
Source: Calculated using the University of Rochester Medical Center’s Calorie Burn Rate Calculator. 

Weight loss can occur when you burn more calories than you consume. Burning 3,500 calories is the equivalent of a pound of fat. Your body will use more calories during higher intensity workouts than low or moderate exercises. 

If your exercise routine puts you in a daily calorie deficit of 500, then it is possible to lose a pound a week. If you have a daily calorie deficit of 1,000, you can lose two pounds weekly. A weekly weight loss of one to two pounds is a healthy goal. 

The Department of Health and Human Services has Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans. The recommendations for adults are:

  • 150 to 300 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic activity weekly
  • At least two days a week of muscle-strengthening activity

Instead of two-and-a-half to five hours of moderate-intensity aerobic activity, you can save time by ramping the intensity to vigorous. Between 75 to 150 minutes of vigorous-intensity aerobic activity can substitute longer moderate-intensity workouts.  

Choosing exercises that are appropriate for your fitness level can help you avoid injury. You can increase the intensity as you build your endurance and fitness level. 

How to Develop Healthy Exercise Goals

Matching your exercise plan to your current fitness level and your schedule will help you sustain your exercise plan for the long term. It is easier to write ‘do 100 push ups’ than to actually do them. Likewise, your plan will only be as successful as your ability to stick with it. Work, family, and other responsibilities can influence when you can work out.  

Consider the mnemonic acronym S.M.A.R.T. for setting your weight-loss and exercise goals:

  • Specific – Choose specific exercises you will complete, such as walking, bicep curls or yoga. Pick something you want to do. You may feel overwhelmed walking into a gym with dozens of equipment stations. A specific routine also helps you practice the movements to increase your endurance and strength. 
  • Measurable – Once you determine the specific exercises, set measurable objectives, like time, distance, repetitions, or weight. For instance, you could set a goal to run for 10 minutes, to run a mile, or to run a mile in less than 10 minutes. Similarly, you could set a goal to do 100 sit ups or deadlift 100 pounds. 
  • Action-based – Make an action-based strategy to reach your measurable goal using specific exercises. This could be a daily, weekly, or monthly plan, such as a 30-minute walk after work each day or doing cardio and strength-training exercises on certain days of the week. Start with actions you can do now and then build your routine as you progress. Your action plan can detail what you are going to do, how often/much, and when. 
  • Realistic/attainable – Factor in your lifestyle and fitness abilities to set a realistic exercise goal and strategy. Going to the gym every night would help you reach your goal faster, but you might not have the time with work, family, and social responsibilities. Similarly, going from a sedentary lifestyle to vigorous workouts could cause injury. Pick something you can do relatively easily to increase likelihood of success while starting a routine.  
  • Timely – While your ultimate goal could be an Olympian physique, set fitness goals that you can reach within a few weeks to keep you motivated to hit your next milestone. You can add distance, time, and weight after each fitness breakthrough.
Too General or VagueS.M.A.R.T.
What am I going to do?I’m going to lose weight. Each week, I’m going to do cardio three times and strength training twice. Cardio activities will include walking briskly and volleyball to burn fat, and I will lift weights to build muscle.
How much am I going to do?I’m going to work out until I’m tired.I’m dedicating 150 minutes of cardio and 60 minutes of strength training weekly. I will try to reach my target heart rate while working out by monitoring it with my smart watch.  
When am I going to do it?I’m going to work out a few days a week. I’m scheduling a workout hour after work four times a week and signed up for a volleyball group on Wednesdays.

Going slow when starting out with an exercise program can help you stick with it. Doing too much can cause injuries, which can slow or stop your exercise routine. You can increase the intensity or duration gradually. You may also rest to recover between sets and workouts. 

If you are new to exercise, you can ease into exercise with a simple cardio and strength training program. Working out at a moderate intensity can build your fitness level. Your heart rate can be between 50 and 60 percent of your maximum heart rate, or the intensity to cause a breathy conversation. 

It is normal to feel sore after trying a new exercise, but you may not want to workout at an intensity where you cannot move the next day. Make sure to stretch before and after exercises to reduce the risk of injury.

As a beginner, you may want to aim for three days of cardio and two days of strength training. Consider the following weekly beginner exercise program:

  • Monday and Wednesday – Cardio
    • ·      10 to 30 minutes of walking, stationary bike, or elliptical 
  • Tuesday and Friday – Strength
    • 1 set of 12 of:
      • Assisted lunges
      • Seated triceps extension with 5-lb weight
      • Wall push ups
      • Other strength-building exercises
  • Wednesday and Saturday, and Sunday – Rest or Flexibility
    • Gentle stretching or yoga

You may want to make changes to your routine during the first few weeks as you determine what works and what does not. However, it is healthy to give yourself permission to struggle with exercises as you learn and establish new healthy habits. 

You may be ready to increase your workout after three months of training consistently. During this period, you could slowly increase the duration and intensity of your fitness routine. For instance, a 10-minute walk twice a week could gradually build to a 60-minute walk five times a week.

As a more experienced exerciser, you can aim for five or more days of cardio and four days of strength training. You can also combine cardio and muscle-building exercises on the same day and target different muscles. Consider the following weekly intermediate exercise program:

  • Monday and Thursday: 
    • ·      30 minutes of cardio
    • ·      Strength training upper body on Monday, lower body on Thursday
    • ·      Stretch 
  • Tuesday and Friday: 
    • ·      30 minutes of cardio
    • ·      Core training on Tuesday, Total body training on Friday
    • ·      Stretch
  • Wednesday and Saturday: 
    • ·      Rest, gentle stretching, or yoga
  • Sunday: 
    • ·      45 to 60 minutes of cardio endurance workout or circuit training

As you advance, you may build to doing cardio and strength training five days a week. Focusing on specific areas, such as shoulders and legs, allows you to strength train more often while still giving your body time to rest. 

Sticking to Your Exercise Plan

If you have tried to establish a fitness routine, you might have experienced distractions and hurdles that kept you from making exercise a habit. You are not alone. Forming a new healthy habit can take weeks to months.

Knowing what factors might get in the way of your exercise plan in advance can help you decide how to handle them. Motivation can ebb and flow, and having a plan to handle difficult situations can help you stay on track. 

ProblemSolutions
I rather go out with my friends than go to the gym.Invite your friends to do a group activity that could double as exercise, such as cycling.
I’m too tired after work to exercise. Do early morning or midday workouts.
Sometimes, I just can’t get myself to start. Create a reward system that motivates you to stick to your routine. A workout buddy could also keep you accountable.
I hate working out. Play sports or other physical activities that feel more like fun than a workout. You can also do things in your daily life that increase your movement, such as taking the stairs instead of the elevator. A 30-minute walk three to five days a week is a great way to get your heart pumping.  

Having a hard time starting? If the idea of exercising stops you in your tracks, try doing just one thing such as one push-up, crunch or stretch. 

One small action does more than no action at all. Focus on the exercise you are doing, not the workout you are avoiding. One thing can form into a routine once you do it every day. 

You can slowly work up to more. Start doing two or add another single-rep exercise, such as doing a pull up and a sit up. Even if one rep is all you can manage, try again later in the day. You can break up your movements throughout the day. 

Another tip is to incorporate exercise into your daily routine. Little changes can have a big impact on the number of calories you burn. Consider the following healthier routine alternatives to help you lose weight:

  • Walking or riding your bike to work, school, or while doing errands
  • Parking your vehicle far from the entrance to add more steps
  • Choosing the stairs instead of the elevator, and continue to climb the stairs of escalators 
  • Doing sit-ups, crunches, push-ups, and other small exercises during commercial breaks
  • Getting a standing desk to decrease being sedentary at work; you can also get steppers, treadmills, and other exercise machines meant for standing desks

Making other healthy changes can also motivate you to stick to your exercise plan. Getting adequate sleep each night will keep you energized to exercise and help you recover from the workout. Likewise, stretching just before and after sleep will keep your body and muscles limber.

Staying hydrated before, during and after your workouts replaces fluids lost from sweat and exertion. Sufficient water will ensure your body recovers from the workout quicker. Water also flushes out toxins that can make muscles feel more sore.

Top 10 Tips for Sticking to Your Fitness Routine

  1. Focusing on the habit, not the results. Consistency is key when it comes to losing weight and keeping it off. Even if you are not hitting milestones as you expected, healthy habits equal a healthier and better-quality life.  
  2. Switch it up if you start to get bored. Your exercise plan does not have to be the same week after week. Adding or changing to a new exercise once a month can keep you interested in working out. 
  3. Getting a workout buddy. A friend, co-worker, and family member can keep you motivated. Having a weekly softball meeting with friends can transform your workout into a social activity. Even the family pet can encourage you to go for evening walks.
  4. Doing something you enjoy or something that calms you. A workout does not have to feel like work. Playing sports and engaging in physical activities are a great way to burn calories and build muscle. Yoga and Tai Chi, for example, are exercises that incorporate mental wellness. 
  5. Reminding yourself why every day. It is easy to lose sight of your goal without prompts when you are tired, soar, or unenthusiastic. Put a note or a photo on the refrigerator, by your car keys, near your workout clothes, or wherever would be best to remind you what you are working towards. 
  6. Complimenting yourself every day for your progress. Every step towards your goal is an achievement. Do not focus on what you have left to do but rather what you have done. Recognize your progress along with your daily goal reminder.
  7. Tracking your progress. Keeping a record of which exercises and how much (duration, intensity, etc.) you complete can be motivating. After a few weeks, you will be able to see your progress. 
  8. Moving a little every day. While you may rest to give you a chance to recover, avoid returning to a sedentary lifestyle on your off days. On your rest days, you can continue to stay active by going for walks, stretching during commercial breaks, and making sure not to sit for longer than an hour. 
  9. Scheduling your workouts. The best way to stick to your plan is to have a precise one. Know at the beginning of each week which days and what time you plan to workout. If you go to fitness classes, sign up at least a week in advance instead of waiting until the day of. You are more likely to follow set plans than working out just when you feel like it. 
  10. Keeping your routine balanced with your life. As you start to see progress, you may be tempted to push yourself harder. You can further your training as your body gets stronger and healthier. However, you can still give yourself time to rest as well as enjoy other aspects of your life, such as being with your friends and loved ones. 

Medical Interventions

Many people who want to lose excess fat have tried a variety of diets and exercise plans but have either gained the weight back or not lost weight at all. If this describes you and your BMI is over 30, you may want to look into medical interventions.

Weight Loss Doctors

There are doctors who specialize in helping patients lose excess body fat. Weight loss doctors, called bariatricians, help patients lose excess body fat through medication, nutrition counseling and physical activity recommendations but not surgically. Bariatricians usually work within an existing family, internal medicine or ob-gyn medical practice. 

After assessing their patient’s health by getting a medical history, doing diagnostic testing and performing a physical exam including various measurements, the bariatrician will put together a medically-supervised weight loss plan. This usually includes a diet plan, an exercise plan, food logging, counseling and sometimes medication. Private insurance may not cover these visits and services unless the patient has been diagnosed with heart disease, metabolic syndrome, diabetes or pre-diabetes.

If you are looking for a bariatrician in your area, you can go to the website of the Obesity Medicine Association (OMA) and do a search here: https://obesitymedicine.org/find-obesity-treatment/. Bariatricians who have more than 60 hours of obesity-specific training and have passed the American Board of Obesity Medicine certification exam are designated with the term “ABOM diplomate.”

Weight Loss Medications

There are several prescription medications that help patients lose weight. They do this in different ways, including reducing appetite, increasing satiety (the feeling of being full) and modifying how the body absorbs fat from food. These medications are not meant for cosmetic purposes, like losing ten pounds to fit into a wedding dress, but are for those with a BMI of over 30 or a BMI 27 or higher with existing weight-related health problems like type 2 diabetes or high blood pressure.  

Doctors prescribe these medicines to be used along with lifestyle and behavioral changes like eating a healthy diet and getting sufficient physical activity. They tend to be effective at helping patients lose weight initially (10% or more of starting weight according to research) and keeping it off. If you are on a weight-loss medicine that is working for you, your doctor is likely to keep you on it indefinitely since obesity is a chronic disease.

To date, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has approved five weight-loss drugs for long-term use. They are: 

  • Orlistat (brand name Xenical) – Approved for adults and children age 12 and older, this medication works in your digestive system to reduce the amount of fat your body absorbs from food. It is available in a lower dose without a prescription under the name Alli.
  • Phentermine-topiramate (brand name Qsymia) – This mix of two drugs, phentermine, and topiramate, may make you less hungry or feel full sooner. It is only approved for adult use. Since it may lead to birth defects, it is not recommended to women who are or plan to become pregnant or who are breastfeeding.
  • Naltrexone-bupropion (brand name Contrave) – Approved only for adults, this is a mix of two drugs, naltrexone and bupropion, that separately have been used to treat addiction and depression. It may make you feel less hungry or full sooner. Like antidepressant medication, it may lead to an increase in suicidal thoughts or actions.
  • Liraglutide (brand name Saxenda) – This is a daily injectable medication that is approved for adults and children 12 and older. In the body, it mimics the action of a hormone that regulates appetite and food intake.
  • Semaglutide (brand name Wegovy) – Like liraglutide, this medication is injectable (once a week) and mimics the action of a hormone that regulates appetite and food intake. It is approved for adults only. A study found semaglutide was the most effective weight loss medication, with more than half of participants losing at least 15% of their body weight. Both semaglutide and liraglutide are also available in different doses and names to treat type 2 diabetes.

In addition to these five medicines, another medication called setmelanotide (brand name IMCIVREE) is prescribed for weight loss in people aged 6 and older who have one of three specific genetic conditions that cause weight gain. 

Some doctors may prescribe other medications for short-term (up to twelve weeks) appetite suppression and weight loss. However, since obesity is chronic, once patients stop taking the medicine they may regain the weight. The drugs are not recommended for patients with heart problems, anxiety or other mental health issues. They are:

  • Phentermine
  • Benzphetamine
  • Diethylpropion
  • phendimetrazine

Bariatric Surgery

Bariatric surgeons, another type of weight loss physician, exclusively perform bariatric surgery to help patients lose weight. Bariatric surgery is only an option for those for whom lifestyle changes have proven not to help and who have a BMI of 40 or higher or have a BMI of 35 or higher along with potentially life-threatening weight-related conditions such as heart disease, high blood pressure or type 2 diabetes.

In bariatric surgery, the surgeon reduces the size of the patient’s stomach so that it can hold and digest less food. There are several ways to do this:

  • Roux-en-Y gastric bypass – This procedure is the most common method of gastric bypass. This surgery decreases the amount of food you can eat at one sitting and reduces absorption of nutrients. It is not reversible. The surgeon cuts across the stomach making a small pouch and then cuts the small intestine and attaches part of it directly to the pouch. Food bypasses most of your stomach and the first section of your small intestine, and instead enters directly into the middle part of your small intestine.
  • Sleeve gastrectomy – With this surgery, about 80% of the stomach is removed, leaving a long, tube-like pouch which cannot hold as much food. It also produces less of the appetite-regulating hormone ghrelin, which may lessen your desire to eat.
    This is less invasive since it does not involve rerouting of the intestines and the recovery time is quicker.
  • Biliopancreatic diversion with duodenal switch – This is a two-part surgery that is a combination of the other two types of bariatric surgery. First, the surgeon performs a procedure similar to a sleeve gastrectomy. The second step is connecting the end portion of the intestine to the duodenum near the stomach bypassing the majority of the intestine.

Because bariatric surgery shrinks the size of the stomach, some patients experience acid reflux (GERD) after surgery until they modify their portion sizes. It can also result in malnutrition since part of the digestive system is removed so doctors monitor patients afterward to make sure that the food they eat is high in nutrients. Patients typically meet with a nutritionist at the doctor’s office to come up with a healthy eating plan and to make sure that the patient is on track with both diet and exercise for lasting results.

Although it might seem like an extreme solution to weight loss, bariatric surgery has been shown to be highly effective. Clinical trials show that after surgery, patients quickly lose weight for the following 18-24 months. In fact, trial participants lost between 30% and 50% of their body weight in the first six months and up to 77% of excess weight a year after surgery. The results were long-lasting too; patients were able to maintain their weight loss of 50% to 60% of their excess weight over ten years later. 

Keeping Weight Off

You made changes, and you did the work to reach your weight loss goals! While you may celebrate your success, this does not mean you can revert back to your former behaviors. Continuing to make healthy choices when it comes to your diet and activity level will help you to stay at your target weight.

A weight-maintenance plan will help you avoid regaining weight. However, your weight maintenance plan does not need to be as strict or regimented as your weight-loss journey. If you wish, you can lessen the intensity of your weight-loss diet and fitness routine. 

Your calorie intake can match the number of calories you typically burn since you are no longer trying to lose fat (see “Metabolism”). A daily caloric deficit is not necessary to maintain your current weight. 

Just as you set multiple milestones on your path to weight loss, you could continue to have goals once you reach your target weight. Your weight-maintenance goals could still be simple and realistic for your fitness and lifestyle. Some sample goals are: 

  • Stay at current weight
  • Build and tone muscles
  • Eat more new healthy foods
  • Run a mile under 8 minutes
  • Lower cholesterol levels
  • Fit into my old clothes
  • Have family dinner 4 times a week

You should always speak to your doctor or dietician about your health and fitness objectives. Your wellness concerns change as you get older, and a medical professional can best discuss your health objectives. 

Changing Your Past Behavior and Creating New Habits

You may be tempted to go back to the activities and behavior that caused you to gain weight initially once you reach your target weight. But keeping up new healthy habits is the most important aspect in keeping off weight.

Here are 10 tips for sticking to new healthy habits:

1.     Start simple – Instead of making a 180-degree lifestyle change, you may want to take on one or two small changes. Over-motivation can quickly turn into lack of motivation if you become overwhelmed with a lot of sudden changes. Simple changes, like adequate sleep and water, are easy to stick to and can start a snowball effect. Once a little change becomes a habit, you can add more healthy behaviors.

2.     Reminders – You might lose inspiration after a few days to a couple of weeks of starting your habit. Reminding yourself of why you are pursuing your goal weekly or daily – even multiple times a day if needed can help. A note next to your bathroom mirror can renew your motivation each morning. 

3.     Be consistent – Habits are repeated behaviors. Committing to the repetition will make it part of your routine. For example, if you pledge to go to bed at a specific time each night, eventually your body will grow accustomed to this pattern and you will find yourself naturally getting tired around that time.

4.     Do it daily – Your new healthy habit is more likely to stick the more often you do it.  It is easier to make the action or behavior a habit if you commit to doing it every day. Setting aside exercise time each day even if on rest days builds your habit and gives you time to stretch or meditate. Doing even minimal exercise in your daily routine will strengthen your enthusiasm on days dedicated to cardio and muscle building.

5.     Make a commitment – It can take 30 to 60+ days for a habit to stick. Making a one- to two-month promise to yourself to practice your new behavior to give you time to condition yourself. Conditioning is the process of training you to behave in a certain way, such as being a professional in the workplace and casual at home. 

6.     Get a buddy – If you have a difficult time staying motivated, finding someone who wants to form these new habits with you can make it easier for you both to keep the commitment. Having a partner keeps you accountable and you can motivate each other. 

7.     Triggers – Another way to condition yourself is to set a trigger before you engage in the habit. Using a trigger will create an association between the two that will eventually naturally prompt you to do the behavior. For example, if you drink a banana smoothie before each workout, the taste of banana can stimulate your brain and body into workout mode. 

8.     Substitutions – Replacing anything you are losing in your new healthy lifestyle with something else can help you avoid feeling deprived. For example, if you cannot eat your favorite meal as part of your new diet, replace it with a healthy alternative. Or substitute time spent in front of the television with time playing with the family pet or doing a fun hobby.

9.     Remove temptation – It is simpler to say ‘no’ to a bad habit that takes effort, but your resolve may soften if temptation is in front of you. Cleaning out junk food from your pantries and avoiding a certain doughnut shop on your morning commute reduces the temptation. Out of sight, out of mind.  

10.  Add ease of access – Like getting rid of bad foods, you can make healthy choices more convenient. An example is avoiding skipping a workout by choosing a gym between your home and your workplace, and stocking your fridge with produce and healthy products.

Meal Planning

It is tempting to grab whatever is fastest and easiest when you are hungry. Highly processed high-calorie food is often the most convenient option for a quick bite. However, you can enjoy healthy meals quickly with a little preparation. 

Elements of Meal Planning

Meal planning first involves choosing healthy meals, writing down an ingredient list, grocery shopping from that list and then making the meals each week according to your plan. Meal plan for a week and pick several breakfast, lunch, dinner, and snack options. Organize the dishes so you know which meal you will have on which day. 

To keep your meals interesting, you may want to spend time checking out new recipes, and creating a place to save appetizing dishes you want to try. If you have a vault of to-go recipes, you can select your weekly menu based on what is on sale at the grocery store.

Consider keeping a meal journal or a calendar to help you plan and stay organized. You can also keep a routine with your favorite meals by creating themed nights, like Taco Tuesday or Stir Fri-day.  

For budget-friendly meal planning, see what is on sale at your local grocery and build your menu around those items. Create your shopping list once you have determined the week’s meals. 

Then you will need to prepare the meals, either each day right before the meal is served or in advance. You can prepare all of your meals to be warmed up later or some components of your meals, like cutting up vegetables and making rice. 

You can separate food into properly portioned plates and save to eat later in the week (or month if you freeze it). Use the weekend to shop, prepare, and portion meals for the next week. 

Meal planning has many benefits, such as:

  • Healthier options – Having meals ready at home can make it easier to avoid picking up fast food or shopping, preparing and cooking a full meal at the end of a hard day. 
  • Portion control – You are less likely to overindulge when you have measured meals ready to eat. Hunger can make you fill up your plate, but you may not realize you are full until a few minutes after eating. 
  • Food waste reduction – Many healthy food options can spoil if not consumed shortly after purchase. Meal prepping can ensure you use your ingredients before they go bad.
  • Less stress – Meal prepping on the weekend can make weekday meals easier to manage on a hectic workday. 
  • Money saver – Avoid impulse buying at the grocery by going into the store with a list. You will also save money from food waste and going to restaurants.  
  • Saving time – Food takes up a lot of time from deciding what to eat, shopping, preparing and cooking, and cleaning up after. Meal planning and preparation cuts down on time at all of these points.
  • Variety – It is easier to cook something familiar when you are pressed for time. Meal planning encourages you to try new dishes. 

Casseroles and other large portion meals are popular dishes for meal planning. The recipes are normally set for four people or more, so you do not need to worry about doubling or tripling the ingredients. 

You may worry that bulk meal planning means eating the same thing every day. When you cook many helpings, you can freeze some to save for a later date. You can rotate your favorite large-portion dishes, so you do not become bored of eating the same meal over and over.

Try to make modified versions of your favorite meals. Some popular ingredient switches include:

  • Vegetables for pasta, like spaghetti squash and cauliflower gnocchi
  • Quinoa for rice
  • Eggplant and spinach for meat, such as in lasagna and parmesan dishes
  • Cauliflower for rice, flour, meat, and potatoes
  • Greek yogurt for sour cream, butter, and mayo
  • Lettuce for tortilla wraps
  • Unsweetened applesauce, mashed bananas, or honey for sugar

When it comes to snacks, grab-and-go produce like apples, bananas, and oranges offer more nutrients than potato chips. Likewise, nuts are a good protein snack between meals that have a long shelf life. 

Grocery Planning and Shopping Tips

  1. Going to the grocery store hungry makes it more likely to impulsively purchase unhealthy food. You will be less tempted by sweet and savory items if you go after eating a meal or healthy snack.
  2. Buying in bulk can save you money. Bulk prices are less than smaller-portion purchases. You can freeze a portion of the meal to eat at a later date. 
  3. Checking out sales when choosing meals will not only save you money but will ensure that you use produce that is fresh and in season. See if you can make a few meals from the products that are on sale at your local grocery store.
  4. Investing in containers will give you ready tools to easily divide meals into portions. 
  5. Saving recipes you like to put into a monthly rotation gives you variety and saves time. Eventually you could have eight weeks of meals planned that you can repeat every other month. 

Maintaining Your Exercise Plan

Another way to maintain your weight is to stick with your exercise plan. By continuing to do cardio and build lean muscle mass, you will be continuing to use the energy from food rather than storing it as fat. If you plan to go to a restaurant or a party, you can offset the additional calories by doing more cardio in the days before and after.  

Involve Others 

Your fitness journey is not one you need to travel alone. Friends, family members, and even coworkers can play a part whether you are trying to lose weight or are simply staying active to maintain your weight.

An exercise buddy is a great way to keep accountable and make exercising more fun. You are more likely to workout when someone else commits. Both of you reinforce each other to stick to the fitness routine.

In addition to having a partner with you at the gym or in a fitness class, you can create group activities and workout as a team. Some popular adult group sports include the following: 

  • Basketball
  • Cornhole
  • Dodgeball
  • Football
  • Golf
  • Pickleball
  • Tennis 
  • Soccer
  • Softball
  • Ultimate Frisbee
  • Volleyball

Also, you can incorporate family and roommates in meal planning and preparing. Talking to your partner, kids, and other household members about what they want to eat may give you inspiration for a healthy dish.

With kids, you can write out meal options on index cards and let them choose what to eat on which days. They are less likely to fuss about healthy meals they picked out.

A fun way to involve others is to make meal preparation a household event, especially if you are prepping for the whole week. Give each member a task based on their age and ability. For example, adults can handle cutting and cooking on the stove, while kids can help package plates and clean dishes.

Another way to make your weight loss social is to keep people informed. Many people start social media accounts to document their success or keep their connections up to day on their progress. Making your weight-loss efforts public can elicit support from your friends and family and can reinforce your motivation.

Using social media to help you lose weight:

  • Post about staying active and weight-loss results
  • Create a vision board with your fitness routine and meal planning
  • Unfollow indulgent food and other triggering accounts
  • Follow motivating healthy cooking and fitness accounts 

You can also check out weight-loss support groups on social media, like Facebook groups, and other online-based communities, such as through fitness-related apps. For example, if you have a fitness watch, you can join its online community. There may also be in-person support groups in your city or town. 

Additional Tips

Weight loss strategies are not a one-size-fits-all, and you may find that certain approaches work better than others. Things to keep in mind:

Expect setbacks. It may be a plateau in your weight loss or gaining back a few pounds, but setbacks are a normal part of the process. Injuries, illnesses, and emergencies can stop and hinder your progress. Likewise, poor sleep, stress, and other factors can interfere with your ability to perform your best. 

Even if you return to old eating habits and stop exercise, you can always start again. Forgive yourself for any slip ups and think about how you can better stick to your goals in the future. Focus on the positive of your progress.

Recognize progress. Any small step in the right direction is progress. Do not compare your results with someone else. Keep a journal of your weight loss, so you can see the quantitative proof of your efforts. Every pound shed is a reason to celebrate. 

Enjoy success. Much of weight loss is staying positive and continuing to make healthy choices. Those decisions are not always easy, so it is important to identify and applaud your progress and achievements.

However, be wary of rewarding yourself with treats and behaviors that counter your progress. Below are some ways you can celebrate achieving your weight loss goals:

  • Treat yourself to pampering; manicure, pedicure, hair salon appointment, or massage
  • Buy clothes to fit your new waistline
  • Buy yourself flowers
  • Get something to enhance your workout; new water bottle, sneakers, smart watch etc.
  • Go do something new, like take a class for cooking, dancing, or painting 
  • Buy new food containers for meal prepping

Another way to reward yourself is to put $1 in a jar for every pound you lose. Do not take money out if you have setbacks. Once you reach your goal weight, you will have some shopping money.

Tools for Staying on Track

The best tools to stay focused on your fitness goals are the ones you use. You may want to try several weight-loss aids to see which works best for you. 

Support Groups – Having support while establishing new healthy habits and slimming down is beneficial to keep you on track. A support group – whether your immediate circle or a group of like-minded individuals – gives you an outlet for your ups and downs. 

Food and Exercise Journals – Writing down your goal (keep it in a place you will see) and track your progress can keep you accountable. Your food journal can include what meals, snacks, and beverages you consumed. If you use a digital food journal, like an app, you may be able to track your macronutrients, calories, and other information. 

Regular Self Weigh-Ins – Invest in a home scale to weigh yourself routinely but not daily. Your body weight fluctuates based on several factors, so choose one day a week to record your weight. You could weigh yourself in the morning before breakfast for consistency. 

Weight-Loss Apps

The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) offers the free MyPlate app to help with your weight loss and management. The app lets you set goals, track your progress, and celebrate your success with badges for completed goals. You can download it for Apple or Android here: https://www.myplate.gov/resources/tools/startsimple-myplate-app

Lose It! is a weight-loss app that lets you track your food and set personalized macronutrient goals that match your diet plan. You will also receive emailed reports on your progress. It also works with Apple Health and Google Fit for iPhone and Android users. If you choose the premium access, you will also get meal and exercise planning help. Download it here: https://www.loseit.com/?correlationId=89cd1831-fe5f-443a-a5a0-1461fde4b3f4 

MyFitnessPal connects with more than 50 other related apps to learn and track your behavior. In addition to the food diary feature, you can use the exercise portion to estimate the number of calories you burn completing a certain exercise. You will also have access to the largest fitness community. Download it here: https://www.myfitnesspal.com/ 

The Fitbit App is a great option if you already have a Fitbit watch or tracker. When combined with a physical product, the app tracks your exercise, heart rate, and sleep automatically. This app also has a food tracking feature and online community. You can even challenge other members to fitness goals, like reaching 10,000 steps. Download it here: https://www.fitbit.com/global/au/home 

MyNetDiary boasts having the most reliable food database and provides much more detailed nutritional information than most other apps. You can customize the user interface to have as much or as little information readily available. A unique feature is the Grocery Check, which compares food products while you are at the store to help you choose the healthiest one. Download it here: http://www.mynetdiary.com/ 

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