Healthy Weight Loss Tips for Those Failing at Dieting

Thursday, May 24, 2007 - 6:01pm

By John Messmer, MD

A recent report by the American Psychological Association found that almost everyone who diets regains the weight they lost and more. Discouraging, isn't it? Yet, seven out of ten Americans have been on a diet. That's understandable since six out of ten of us are overweight or obese. Based on this information, many people would be tempted to say, "Why bother?"

Well, the "why" is very important. Being overweight increases the risk of diabetes, high blood pressure, and high cholesterol. These cause atherosclerosis or hardening of the arteries, cutting off circulation to the heart, brain, kidneys and other organs causing them to fail. Obesity also increases the risks of certain cancers and stresses our joints.

The problem with repeatedly losing and regaining weight is that our bodies become very efficient at storing food, making it even harder to take weight off. Yet, some people do lose weight and keep it off for many years. What is different about them?

The pitfalls of rapid weight loss

It's all in how you approach it. If you think it's going to be unpleasant and difficult, it probably will be. It takes time to gain extra weight and it will take time to lose it. A realistic schedule is a pound off a week. But we're impatient. We want it off fast, but rapidly lost weight tends to come back. When our bodies do not get enough to maintain our weight, our physiology changes. Any extra calories taken in during rapid weight loss is easily stored. That's why cheating on a crash diet leads to failure.

Hard-to-maintain diets

Diets that require special foods or are based on one particular food group (e.g., the grapefruit diet, Atkins, or Pritikin diets) are hard to follow for more than a few months. We want to eat what we like and often the foods on these diets cannot be found in restaurants or other peoples' homes. Any of these diets will work if followed - but that's the problem. Who wants to follow this kind of diet forever? Diet plans that require us to buy the food from them share the same problem. As long as you do not mind buying special foods, you can keep your weight off.

Simple tips for dieting success

So how do some people achieve and maintain a normal weight for the rest of their lives? Here are some simple guidelines:

  • A diet is not something that has a beginning and end. Your diet is how you eat for the rest of your life. If you go back to your old eating patterns, you will become your old weight.
  • Eat regular food-just a lot less of it. Include different colored vegetables and fruits plus whole grains and legumes (beans, peas, lentils, chickpeas, soy), fish, lean meat, and low-fat dairy. Eat in small amounts in three or four small meals a day.
  • Exercise. Most people will not lose weight only by exercise. It takes a few hours of exercise per day to lose weight without cutting calories, but at least 30 minutes of vigorous exercise five days a week will help, plus it is an essential part of maintaining good health.
  • Be consistent. If you reduce portions all week then reward yourself with a full slab of ribs or a big piece of cake, you do not understand that you must change your old habits permanently. On the other hand, a little fun food is okay once a week or so, but only a little and only rarely. Remember that extra calories are stored as fat. Consider giving yourself a non-food reward instead.
  • When you lose weight, you get hungry. Sorry, but that's just the way it is. In the first few days of eating less, most people get pretty hungry. Your body does not realize that you are surrounded by food. It is programmed to motivate you to go hunt something to eat like our ancestors had to do. After a few days, it is much better. Do not try to find fillers to take away the hunger. It is okay to be a little hungry. If you think of hunger as a bad thing, you will be tempted to eat too much.

The golden rules of dieting

The reason diets fail is we hate dieting, we love to eat, and we think of exercise as work. If we think of a diet as what we should eat on a normal day; accept that it's okay to enjoy our food in moderation; and face the reality that everyone should exercise as regularly as we bathe, our weight will be normal for the rest of our lives.