Wednesday, January 13, 2010

How to Lose Weight and Keep it Off: 10 Rules to Live By

I’ve been browsing a lot of wedding message boards lately. It’s a fun pastime. You take polls. You read arguments that could only happen in America. You learn what preoccupies engaged folks. Which? Besides the usual etiquette questions and endless recaps of Bridezilla, is losing weight.

To a certain degree, this is to be expected. It’s certainly a concern of mine. (Those photos will last for-freaking-ever.) But there are a disturbing number of fad diets floating around those boards: cheap pills, single-food fasts, and bizarre old wives’ tales. Needless to day, they’re expensive and frequently harmful, and the results are usually only temporary.

Of course, when it comes to successfully losing weight (and more importantly, keeping it off), nothing is written in stone. What works for one person may not work for her twin sister. I certainly don’t know all the answers.

But I kinda know some of them. These ten rules have been echoed time and again by medical professionals, nutrition experts, and the media in general. They’re fairly essential to any weight control. Many have worked for me over the years. Hopefully, they’ll help you along, too.

If you have more rules to add, I'd love to read 'em. Please fire away in the comment section.

1) Seek information.
Read. Research. Watch. Absorb. Flip on your interweb button and learn about food. Get facts from experts, health professionals and reliable sources who know what they’re talking about. Gather good data and apply those numbers and strategies to your own situation. Do not let advertising make your decisions for you.

2) Ignore dumb fads.
A good rule of thumb: if it sounds like something your crazy co-worker would try, keep on walking. This includes master cleanses, herbal laxatives, TrimSpa wannabes, apple cider vinegar diets, grapefruit diets, chicken soup diets, cabbage soup diets, that godforsaken cookie diet, and their ilk. As mentioned above, these are often dangerous, pricey, and based on bum science (when they’re based on any science whatsoever).

3) “Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.”
Of all the theories I’ve heard on healthy eating, Michael Pollan’s credo seems to be the most reasonable and potentially effective, not to mention the most conscious of the financial, environmental, and social consequences. Let’s break it down.
EAT FOOD: consume whole foods and/or products with very short ingredient lists. “Don't eat anything your great-great-grandmother wouldn't recognize as food.”
NOT TOO MUCH: check your portions.
MOSTLY PLANTS: eat less meat. Increase your produce intake. Serve more whole grains.

4) Cook.
By cooking at home, you regulate portions, control ingredients, spend less money, and reduce wasteful packaging. It keeps you out of restaurants and fast food joints, where serving sizes are much larger than they were 30, 20, or even 10 years ago. So, experiment with dinner. Learn how to use a knife. Pick up How to Cook Everything by Mark Bittman. A few minutes in the kitchen could save you a few years of heartache down the line.

5) Get up and move.
To lose weight and keep it off, you must consistently burn more or as many calories as you ingest. This is an unassailable fact, and means some degree of daily exercise, probably for the entirety of one’s life. Use it or lose it, folks.

6) Drink water.
It’s been estimated that soda makes up 10% of all calories in the American diet. That’s practically enough for its own food group. Plus, USA Today and Yale University say: “[Soda drinkers] do not appear to compensate by reducing calories somewhere else in their diets, so they tend to pack on extra pounds.” By replacing pop with water, you’re cutting calories and hydrating your body in a healthy way.

7) Kill your TV.
According to the National Institute of Media and Family, “children who watch more than three hours of television a day are 50 per cent more likely to be obese than kids who watch fewer than two hours.” If TV is that detrimental to kids, you know it can’t have a spectacular effect on adults. Same goes for your computer and/or Playstation. That’s time you could be cooking, moving, socializing, learning, reading … you get the picture.

8) Have breakfast.
The National Weight Control Registry is a reputable organization that monitors people who have kept 30 pounds off for at least one year. (On average, it’s 66 pounds for five-plus years.) Of those successful individuals, 78% eat breakfast every single day. It prevents overeating through the rest of the day, and “may leave the subject with a better ability to perform physical activity.”

9) Remember: everything in moderation.
Are you a cold turkey kind of person? More power to you. But lots of us are baby-steppers, and when we attempt to overhaul everything at once, it results in massive burnout. So, unless it’s a medical crisis, take baby steps. Change your behaviors a little at a time. Don’t starve yourself. Work your way up to more intense exercise. You may not even notice the difference after awhile, because it’s become such a part of you.

10) Don’t diet.
Change your lifestyle. The vast majority of successful dieters gain the weight back, maybe because he very word “diet” implies a temporary modification of habit, as opposed to a lifelong adoption of behaviors. For weight loss to work, it’s gotta be for the long term.

And that’s it. Readers, what would you add to these basic tenets? What essential rules have worked for you? The comment section is open.

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Liz Tee said...

True dat. The whole obsession with losing weight for the 'special day' is why I limited my pre-wedding activities to the Offbeat Bride site. Their message boards prohibit disparaging comments about weight or body image. The other wedding sites just pointed out to me how out of hand the whole wedding thing has gotten.

JuLo said...

Great post! I lost over 65 pounds last year, and I used every single one of your rules! In stages, of course.

I found a good resource for information and motivation. And food blogs have been invaluable in learning to cook. I'm not much into cookbooks. I like how food blogs show pictures of every single recipe (usually), and even pictures from the cooking process, not just a finished product. I find it much more approachable.

Diet and exercise really is the key. And diet does not mean a fad, it means a way of eating. All the time. Not just for a week or two.

Along with eating a good breakfast, I also don't let myself eat after dinner. I have dinner, maybe sometimes a small dessert (one chocolate covered almond is great for something sweet and satisfying that is small and actually kinda healthy), and then I'm done putting food in my mouth. I got for a walk after dinner, and my rule is no food once I walk. Ever. Nighttime snacking is gone.

Making the commitment to eating real food has done wonders for me. Now when I look at something, I see the nutrients in it, right along with how yummy I think it'll be. Sure, a cupcake is delicious, but it's all processed flour and sugar and fat. It does nothing for me. But a blueberry muffin with whole wheat flour and oats? Much better!

Really, it's all about finding what works for you. You have to resign yourself to change because if you're not willing to change, you're not going to stick with it. Think you don't have time to cook or work out? Make time. I gave up all my hobbies while I worked exercise and cooking into my schedule, then introduced them back in as I was able and willing. I don't have time to cook during the week, so I cook food for the entire week on Sundays. It takes half the day and some of the evening, but then I have every single evening free during the week. That's the trade-off that works for me.

virginia said...

I would add "Try things for a month." Too often we are busily convincing ourselves we could never do something,or that it won't work, instead of just doing it and seeing what the result is FOR YOU.

I was convinced my 10 pounds higher than desirable weight was going to take a very serious and unpleasant amount of exercise to get rid of, and that my lifelong acne and terrible cramps were unaffected by diet or exercise. I tried going vegetarian and lost the weight. Going vegan cleared up my skin completely in a month and zero cramps. I will never go back.

Everyone has different results. Give things a try and see what happens.

gfpumpkins said...

I really wish I could remember where it was published, but a very recent study showed that mildly cutting calories is unlikely to impact most people trying to lose weight because we don't REALLY know how many calories we eat or expend.
Here it is:,8599,1951798,00.html?xid=rss-topstories
It's not the original research, but something that everyone should be able to access. I think it's good food for thought and goes back to portion control. One or two cookies is ok. Just not the whole bag!

Anonymous said...

Great advice, I would add 'Don't expect results overnight'.

Tim said...

I agree that you should avoid silly fad diets. Celebrities might say that the 'pea soup' diet is all they did but we all know that secretly they had a personal trainer work them out at the gym until the fat dropped off.

Drinking more water is good too as it has no calories (much better than soda). And moving more is essential as it burns calories.

My advice is that you need to cut your net calorie intake if you want to lose weight - eat fewer calories and burn more off. Just be calorie aware - for instance, it is easy to drink water some of the time instead of Cola is it not? That way, you will reduce your calorie intake. If you get your net calorie intake to a level lower than the amount of calories you need to maintain your current weight, you will lose weight. Once you are at your desired level, just remain calorie aware and you'll be fine.

When trying to lose weight, I think it is essential to keep a food and exercise diary. Pen and paper will do or try a free website like Purple Weight Loss ( Alternatively, WeightWatchers (www.weightwatchers) does a similar thing but instead of counting calories, it uses a parallel language of WeightWatchers Points. Ediets is good too but it costs a bit. These kind of sites are good as well as they can create a plan for you which will help you set off in the right direction.

Good luck to ya'all.

Joy Manning said...

Great post! I actually really agree with everything you said here. If I may just make a comment about the wedding day weight loss issue.

In the months before my wedding, my father in law to be was dying from cancer. He lived to see our wedding day but not much longer.

When something like that is going on, it's almost impossible to obsess about one's weight. When my mind would drift in that direction, as it so often is inclined to do, I remembered how very luck I was to be healthy.

So I didn't lose any weight before my wedding. I was afraid I would look fat in the photos. But you know what? I don't. I look nice. And, even more important, I look like myself.

I know more than one woman who dieted down to a once-in-a-lifetime thinness and then started gaining the weight back on her honeymoon. In the pictures, she looks thin, but they just make her feel ashamed for having gained the weight back.

The photos are forever, but you don't want them to present some fleeting image of yourself as the thin you you should really be. Not that that would be an issue for anyone who permanently adopted these wise, common-sense guidelines.

Junie said...

Great list! I especially like your suggestion of avoiding fad diets. I am done following the popular diet of the month that I have been doing for the past many many years. I have had success losing weight, always gain it back when I become tired of the gimmick. I have determined that I need to make permanent changes to my lifestyle that I can live with. I am not going to starve myself, nor am I going to start eating food that I would normally not eat (like the all meat adkins diet - been there done that).

I picked up a diet book a couple of weeks ago, and so far everything is going great. No fad dieting, no losing 15 pounds in one week, just simple easy changes.

Rach said...

Kind of a practical application of the "mostly plants": I make a big green salad every single night with dinner. And we're talking a legit salad - lettuce that's not from a bad, some goat cheese, homeade dressing with (shudder) OLIVE OIL! Yes, olive oil has more calories than those fat-free dressings, but a little bit goes a long way. The salads are delicious and leave me relatively full before I even dig in to the main meal, meaning I eat smaller portions of the non-plant things on my plate.

Um, another little not as healthy secret? Dunkin Donuts glazed donuts only have 220 calories each. Yes, they have a ton of fat (and not the defendable kind) and they're made from god knows what, but if you're having one of those days when you just need something fried, this will do the trick without totally shattering your "calories in" for the day. Now go hit the treadmill.

Ms. Meg said...

I am a big fan of the Michael Pollan mantra. In Food Rules, he talks about making your junk food from scratch - this is a great policy. You can have french fries, but you have to wash, peel, cut, cook, and salt the potatoes yourself. It's a lot of work and it makes one less inclined to "just have some fries."

The other thing that helps me tremendously is writing down everything I eat, even if I'm ashamed of it. It helps me be accountable for my mouth.

Alex said...

Love this, great article. It makes me cringe how often I hear: "That's it! I need to drop some pounds off this fat ***, STAT! I'm going to cut my calories to 800 a day and start working out for two hours a day!!". A week later, and it's: "Sigh...I'm so bad...I broke down, I totally binged yesterday, but TOMORROW I'll be back on track...". It's a horribly abusive dynamic that wreaks serious havoc on metabolism, not to mention physical and emotional health.

My husband and I have lost 60 pounds between us over the past year with very little effort. How? By doing exactly what you said here--we educated ourselves about what we were eating, then made gradual changes to our diet based on what we learned. No more HFCS, or aspartame, or mercury. No fast food or processed food (although we hadn't been eating it in the first place, but it was definitely out). And eventually, no more meat. That plus walking everyday (just walking! That's it!), and all of a sudden our clothes were falling off so fast we could barely keep up.

Magically, my blood sugar regulation issues disappeared, and his migraines have dropped off from once a month to "once in awhile, maybe". Our energy has skyrocketed. We're sleeping better, thinking more clearly, and our health has stabilized. And we're STILL losing weight.

I only wish more people would start making gradual changes to improve their health, but the "all or nothing" mentality is so pervasive, it's depressing. Most of the time people scoff when I mention food additives or eating less meat, but...I dunno, the proof is in the pudding. I can't refute the physical transformation. Common sense works.

lizzie said...

Dont let yourself get too starving hungry and have something to eat before you go to bed if poss.

jamie said...

It's all about calories, portions, and exercise. And water...lots of water.

Anonymous said...

I lost about 60 lbs before my wedding 3.5 years ago and have kept it off. Here are some additional things that worked for me. I know that some people have trouble with this, but it has helped me to weigh myself pretty much every day, keeping in mind that some fluctuation up and down is normal. This has helped me not only track my progress but stay on top of my maintenance.

Also, I think it is very important to build in and look forward to some treats. I would be good all week and then have full-fat ice cream or dinner out once over the weekend - I could look forward to it and then feel very satisfied. Of course, one has to be good for the rest of the weekend too.

Good luck!

Anonymous said...

I actually never weigh myself, don't even have a scale...I go by measurements and clothes. And I don't count calories. For me, both those things tend to lead to obsessive and "being mean to yourself" behavior, placing too much value on numbers.

JuLo said...

I just remembered another rule that always helped me: Don't drink your calories! It goes along with drink water. Liquids don't fill you up, so when you drink sodas or even healthy juices, your ingesting calories without getting full. So instead of drinking orange juice, eat an orange! Or if you really don't want to drink only water, try tea without sugar. That way of thinking of it really rang true with me. Now when faced with a big cup of root beer I think, I'm sure it would be tasty, but I'd rather get the same amount of "bad" calories from a cookie or something equally bad but more lasting. Hehe.

Ashlee said...

I would add: ENJOY LIFE!!! Stress is such a detriment to a healthy lifestyle and even if you are eating perfectly but you are not happy it's harder for your body to make the changes it needs to. Stress is a killer. I think when you are eating healthy if you decide you need a cookie one day you should have it, and enjoy it. Be happy about what you are eating. Find the healthy things that actually taste good to you. And enjoy the other aspects of your life too... relationships, hard work, the beauty of nature.

Did you see Julie/Julia? Julia Child lived to her mid-nineties on food that I would never dream of eating. The only thing I can think that made the difference for her was that she was happy. She enjoyed life!

Laura said...

I've been thinking about the idea of moderation quite a lot lately, since I'm embarking on a 15-week healthier living challenge on Monday. Usually when we (or is it just me?) say moderation, what we actually mean is severely restrict or eliminate something deemed "bad" for us. That's just downright depressing.

But I've decided that rather than "moderation," I'm going to be going for "wisdom" this time around. Do I like my Culver's custard? Heaven help me, yes! But is it wise for me to eat it as often as I have been? No! So I need to exercise wisdom in my choices. Because I already know what's better for me to eat and what's not so good. I just have to do it.

Krista said...

I could not agree more! I have tried every fad diet out there and sure, sometimes the weight comes off but it always comes back.

In June we went on vacation and during that week I decided that when we got home I was going to Weight Watchers. I joined June 22 and as of my weigh in next Monday I will have lost 50lbs. (Was at 48 last week and I swear to you if I am not at 50 this week heads will roll!)

I still have a lot to go, but now I feel like I can do it.

Kris said...

Patience, balance, maintaining overall happiness - excellent ideas, everybody. I would absolutely add "keep a food diary" to the list, and I know not eating after dinner has helped a LOT of people out, especially in the long run.

Also - congratulations to you guys who've successfully kept the weight off while remaining healthy and happy, too. It's really an accomplishment, and I applaud you.

eaternotarunner said...

Great list, I agree with every one!

Gabriella said...

I found that setting realistic goals on exercise and diet helped a lot.

not promising myself things i know i couldn't keep up, like training 7 days a week.

Set your self doable goals

Anonymous said...

Julo. I love your comment. I was feeling down all day because I've been on and off with trying to be healthy and lose weight since it interferes with my "hobbies". I like how you slowly introduced them back one by one.

Anonymous said...

As always, thanks for the delicious post Cheap Healthy Good! Love you guys.
I just wanted to throw in something that has really helped me to lose weight-- not a diet or exercise regimen, though these are helpful of course-- but a switch to a standing desk.
By not sitting down in front of a computer all day at work, I've lost weight effortlessly. I just stand!
If you're in the market, I recommend NextDesk because that's what I use and I love it, but there are tons of options out there for everyone.
Mine is called the NextDesk Terra though and it is a beauuty. Photo here:
Whichever you choose, just start standing more and the weight really will come off.
Thanks again guys.