Toward a Complete Weight Loss Strategy

This site is completely focused on healthy ways for those of us over 55 to lose weight and keep it off for the rest of our lives. Over the past several weeks, the content has repeated the mantra of weight loss which is ‘Eat Less, Exercise More.‘ It seems strange that a multi-billion dollar industry fabricates tablets, equipment, powders, machines, diets, enzymes, experts, magic and a hit television show  around an issue that is this simple! Okay, it is only this simple if you leave the human side of the equation out of the picture – feelings, emotions, head games and the like are the big culprit when it comes to weight loss sabotage. Many dieters understand only too well the role of the mind in the weight loss program – and simply give up on their weight completely because they have come to understand diet failure patterns only too well.

Let’s see if we can come up with a strategy that isn’t so cut and dried as ‘Eat Less, Exercise More.’ Let’s start with weight maintenance at first, and then tackle weight loss once we see progress at simply maintaining the weight we are at right now. How to do that? Here’s some hints:

  • Assess your current weight realistically (that means don’t get on the scale fully-clothed, after a big meal and holding the cat!) and then set a goal date for when you want to check it again. One week out would be a good target – and all we want to see is no weight gain at that point.
  • Use the hints posted here over the last two weeks to change your diet over from fast food to whole food, from processed to fresh produce and from food-rewards to rewards of another kind.
  • Change your habits so that you can make five meals a day instead of three. . . (What? Eat More, You Say?) No, don’t eat more – eat more often! Each meal should consist of about 250 to 350 calories. Try for whole grains, fresh fruits and vegetables, lean meats (white chicken breasts are great), low-fat dairy products and lots of water. That’s 1250 to 1750 calories over the course of the day and you shouldn’t have a chance to get real hungry when food is scheduled for every 3 or 4 hours!
  • Make changes to your lifestyle to assist you with the changed eating patterns. Watch TV less and walk more, play tag or touch football with the kids, go to the zoo or park, go to the library and have a nice quiet time all by yourself. The one thing all of these suggestions have in common is that they keep you away from the fridge and pantry – a sure way to keep your weight in check!

After a couple or three weeks of this, you should see some patterns emerging. Take note of when you are tempted to eat, when you are tired and irritable and so on. Schedule your exercise (even just a quick walk) during the time you are tempted to go to the fridge, schedule your eating for when you are tired and so on. Just don’t schedule food to soothe a bad mood or loneliness – that’s part of what got many of us here in the first place! Make these changes as permanent as you possibly can by repeating them over and over again.

Okay, now it has been several weeks – you are comfortable with the new routines, you are pleased that you have some control over your weight, and best of all, you are not fighting the urge to give up and go back to the old ways. Congratulations, the tough part is over!

Now then, let’s try something bigger. . . how about a new goal like losing a few pounds?? With your new lifestyle – and your new belief that you can manage your weight – set a goal of a few pounds by a certain significant date. How about dropping a dress size in time for your daughter’s wedding? Or pulling your belt in one or two notches before the start of the new NFL season? Make the goal small and easily attainable. Most importantly: be reasonable and don’t set yourself up for failure.

Congratulations again! You now know you can achieve your weight loss goals if you set them up for success. And remember, you cannot change unless you make a change. Remember the definition of insanitydoing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different outcome? Well, you beat that by doing something differently in the beginning to ensure that the outcome would be different!

Weight Loss the Healthy Way

Part of the frustration of trying a new diet often is the chore of constantly monitoring our health and nutrition. The key to meeting weight loss goals is not only in the change of diet, but also in the commitment or will to stick to it.

Our lives revolve around food – it’s everywhere we look. As consumers, we are drawn in by ads that promote fast food for cost and convenience, and processed foods for quick food choices. One of the hardest things about our food addiction is that our bodies must have food and water!

Here are some tips that will help you lose weight as well as keep it off:

  • Weight loss should not only be done in a healthy way, but also in a way that isn’t a drastic change in your diet and lifestyle.
  • Be sure to stick to a healthy eating plan. Your body feels the most satisfied from foods that have a lot of fibre and low protein.
  • Try to remove processed foods slowly from your diet, replacing them, one-by-one with healthy alternatives.
  • Get rid of the unhealthy food items from your pantry and cupboards. Getting them out of the house and replacing them with healthy ones forces you to eat the healthier alternatives.
  • Don’t expect to lose a lot of weight all at once. Set realistic goals for yourself.
  • Remember to reward yourself (but not with food!) for the changes you are making on your way to better health.

Lose Weight and Keep It Off

Everyone is at a different stage in their weight loss adventure. Some are beginning, full of ambition and commitment, some are seasoned and challenged with staying the course, and some are actually near their goal, beginning to bask in the glory of a battle fought and won. Where ever we are in the journey, we can look at others and feel some pride in our achievements and some envy that others have gone out ahead. Throughout the weight loss crusades, the basic weapons are simple: less food and more exercise. But for those who are at or near their goal weight, the challenge becomes different, and in some cases, more complicated – how to keep the weight off, now that we’re at our goal.

According to a study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, approximately 20 percent of people who lost at least 10 percent of their body weight, kept it off for at least a year using a few simple steps. Here are five strategies that the study says help to keep off the pounds you worked so hard to lose:

  • Be physically active – popular activities included walking, cycling, weightlifting and aerobic exercises
  • Maintain a consistent eating pattern with a low-calorie, low-fat diet. The study showed people went out for meals less than three times per week with less than one of those meals being ‘fast-food.’
  • Eat breakfast regularly – eating breakfast boosts your metabolism, which helps you avoid mid-morning snacks as well as snacks later in the day.
  • Monitor your weight regularly – catching a couple of pounds is easier than letting it go to 10 or 15. Researchers noted that participants commonly gained a pound or two, but that early adjusting kept the task achievable.
  • Don’t fall off the wagon – don’t be detered by fluctuations, catch them early and stay on track.

Weight Loss and Fitness

Let’s pretend that we all like exercise, and that we would like to do exercises every day. And let’s pretend that the only reason that we don’t exercise is that we don’t have a gym in our home. Wait, we don’t have to pretend that – most of us don’t have a gym in our home, so we have a valid excuse for not exercising, right?

Wrong. The one surprise that most people have when going to a personal trainer is that the trainer doesn’t have them using a great deal of equipment in their workouts. What trainers know is that the handiest piece of gym equipment is the human body – most of us have our hands full just trying to move our own weight around! With that in mind, consider the following exercises when its raining too hard for you to go for a walk.

Your exercise routine or workout should consist of three parts: cardiovascular activity, weight training and stretching. There are lots of exercises in each area that aren’t too strenuous, are great for burning calories and are almost fun! Here are some to try:

Cardiovascular activity (“cardio”)

  • Outdoors: jogging and running
  • Indoors: jogging on the spot
  • Indoors: jumping jacks
  • Indoors: skipping rope or invisible skipping rope
  • Indoors: running on the spot
  • Indoors: high-knees jogging on the spot

Goal: complete 30 minutes of cardio using various activities two to three times per week. If you want to do more, feel free.

Weight Training (“weights”) using your own body weight

Squats: Stand with your feet shoulder width apart and your knees slightly bent. Slowly squat down as far as you can go without falling over and hold that position for 3 seconds then slowly raise to where you don’t feel strained. Repeat for 5 to 15 reps depending on your fitness level. For extra work, use free weights held over your head, or do pulsing squats where you only come halfway up from the squat and then go down again.

Standing lunges: Stand with your feet slightly apart and then step the left leg forward and ease down until the upper leg is parallel to the floor. Push back on your front foot to start, lifting your right (rear) knee to hip level and immediately stepping back down.  Repeat for 10 reps and switch sides. For extra work, hold free weights or try walking lunges where you take a step forward with each lunge.

Planks: Lie on your tummy on the floor and then raise your body up, resting on your elbows and toes. Hold your back straight and tighten your stomach and glutes to hold the pose for 20 seconds or more. This can be difficult at first, so go as long as you can, focusing on good form rather than length of time holding the position.

Side planks:  Lie on your left side with your left arm raised from the shoulder so that you are resting sideways on your elbow and your forearm is pointed the same direction you are facing. Slowly raise your hips off the floor until your back is straight and you are resting on the side of your left foot and your elbow. Hold for 20 seconds or more. Again, focus on good form rather than length of hold. After completing the left side, roll over and do a side plank on your right side.

Crunches: Lie on the floor on your back and place hands behind your head or across your upper chest.  Bring your feet up toward you so that your legs are at 45 degrees to the floor. Contract your abs and lift your torso, pulling the bottom of your ribcage down toward your hips. Don’t come up too high, just enough to work the ab muscles. Drop back down and repeat, continuing to contract your abs and pulling your ribcage to your hips. Don’t forget to breathe. . . in as you lie back and out as you raise up. Try for 10 crunches at first, working up to as many as you can handle!

For an extra bit of fun, try using a wobbleboard to do the activities listed above (except the crunches). A wobbleboard or balanceboard is a device that has a rounded section on its bottom that forces the user to balance as they do an exercise. This causes tightening of the core muscles as well as exercises the proprioceptors, which are the receptors that your body uses to determine if it is upright and balanced. This is especially good for those of us over 55 as we need to keep our balance into the later years to prevent serious injury from slips and falls. If you want more information on a wobbleboard, so a Google search and you’ll find plenty.

Goal: Complete 20 to 30 minutes of weight training twice or three times a week. Don’t go overboard – let your body have time to rebuild the muscles that you are working.

Stretches (Absolutely always stretch your muscles after you work them)

Hip/glute: Lying on your back, raise your right leg so that it forms a 90 degree angle perpendicular to the floor. Cross your left  foot over your right knee and clasp your hands behind your right thigh and gently pull the leg toward you, keeping your upper body relaxed.  After 20 seconds, switch legs and repeat with the left leg.

Hamstring: Lie on floor with knees bent 45 degrees to the floor.  Straighten your left leg and raise it (keeping the knee slight bent) while slowly pulling it towards your head by clasping the thigh, calf or ankle.  After 20 seconds, switch legs and repeat.

Inner thigh or groin: Sit on the floor with your knees apart and the soles of your feet pressed together. Try to bring your feet slightly towards you and then stretch your knees toward the floor. Keeping your abs in (stomach tight), lean forward slowly until you feel a gentle stretch in your inner thighs. Alternately, lie on your back and put the bottoms of your feet together with your knees apart. Try to bring your feet up toward your hips, splaying your knees. Gently push down your knees toward the floor using your hands. Either stretch is effective if done for 20 seconds or more.

Knees to Chest: Lying on the floor on your back, pull your knees into your chest and clasp your hands around your legs below your knees.  Gently pull the legs in while pressing your hips to the floor. Release after 20 seconds.

Calf Stretch: Starting on your hands and knees, raise your core by straightening your legs, but keeping your knees slightly bent.  Gently press one or both heels down toward the floor, keeping your back straight and your stomach tight (abs in.)

Spine Twist: Lying on your left side on the floor, bring your right foot up to rest on your left knee.  Using your left hand, gently pull your right knee towards the floor, twisting your spine and keeping your right arm straight out across the floor. Try to keep your hips and shoulders on the floor.  After 15 or 20 seconds, switch sides and repeat. Don’t push this one too far at first – go slowly and take your time.

Quads: Lie down on your left side placing your left elbow  in front of you on the floor for balance.  Using your other arm behind you, slowly pull your right foot toward your glutes, keeping both knees together and bent knee pointing down.  After 15 or 20 seconds, roll over, switch legs and repeat.

Goal: Complete 5 to 10 minutes of stretching at least every time you do weight training (focus on stretching the muscles that you just worked.) Stretching feels good, so do it as often as you like. And if you really get hooked, investigate visiting a yoga class in your community. Yoga is stretching raised to its highest level and it’s a great workout in its own right!

You can probably find examples and pictures of all of these exercises on-line if you are confused. Try to target your whole body in a workout and change up the exercises, and the order you do them in. You want to keep tricking your body so that it doesn’t get to know what comes next – it will get smart enough to work against you!

Important points to remember:

  • Always work within your comfort zone. If it hurts, don’t do it!
  • Choose a quiet spot away from everyone so you can focus on what you’re doing.
  • Include a few light stretches and a five-minute cardio warm-up before you get going. Cold muscles get hurt!
  • Breathe regularly throughout your exercises. Inhale in the relaxed move and exhale in the work move.
  • Most importantly, before you do any kind of physical exercise, check with your doctor. He/she knows best what you can and cannot tackle.

If you find that you actually like exercising, try getting an exercise ball, some resistance bands and a few free weights and look on the internet for more varied exercises. There are thousands that you can do without any heavy equipment!

Oh, and don’t forget to have fun. Nobody said it had to be serious!

Weight Loss: How Many Calories Do You Need?

We often hear the word “metabolism” tossed around when people discuss weight loss. While metabolism does play a role in what your body does with food, it is simply the process by which your body converts food into energy. The real issue, as has been said here before, is the number of calories entering your body compared to the number of calories being converted into energy to be used by your body. If you take in the same number or more calories than your body uses, you will gain weight or stay the same weight. If you want to lose weight, you must take in less calories than your body uses over the course of the day.

How can you figure out how many calories you use in a day?  There are several calculators available to count up all the calories you burn in a day (try this one) but there are also several general guidelines that you can follow.

Body Size: Just as a jet uses more fuel than a four-seater Cessna to cover the same distance, larger bodies need more fuel to do the same amount of work. So, consider your height, weight and bone structure when thinking about calories requirements.

Body Composition:  Muscle requires more energy than the same mass of fat, so the more muscle you have, the more calories you will burn. Conversely, the more fat you carry, the more work you must do to lose the same number of calories.

Age: Metabolism rates slow as you age. So those of us in the 55 plus range have an extra challenge. This characteristic is the reason that we can’t eat like we did in earlier years. Our metabolism has slowed so we burn less calories doing the same amount of work.

Gender: Men generally have more lean muscle per pound of weight than women. As a result, they burn more calories because their metabolism is slightly higher.

Location: People in the colder parts of the world tend to need more calories to keep warm than those nearer the equator. This means they can get away with eating a little more than their tropical cousins.

So, apart from using a calorie calculator, you can use the general guidelines listed above for daily calorie needs and adjust them as you see fit. The bottom line is that if you are trying to lose weight and it isn’t working, you need to eat less and/or burn more calories.

The Weight Loss Wild Card!

Many of us face a common challenge in trying to lose weight – the emotional baggage that we attach to many foods. We’ve all heard the words “comfort food” used to describe high-fat or sweet and rich foods. We have all seen the images on television and in the movies where the jilted single woman sits alone with a carton of ice cream to mend her broken heart – and we have also seen the beer commercials that show us that the only happy man is one who is drinking beer with his buddies!

If you ever find that you gravitate toward some kind of food when you are unhappy, stressed, bored or upset – or there are some times of the day when you must go to the fridge to find something to munch on – you may have found one thing standing in the way of permanent weight loss. You are being sabotaged by your emotions!

One way to battle this is to create a food journal and write down everything you eat outside of regular meals. When you write down the food, also write down how you were feeling when you ate it. After doing this for a week, go back over your entries and see if you can see any common triggers. If you don’t see any patterns, keep going for another week and then review again. As recipes often state, “repeat as necessary!”

If you do see some common threads of behavior, look for more positive ways to deal with those trigger events in the future. How about grabbing your water bottle and having a good long drink. Often, when we think we’re hungry for “something,” it’s a signal that we’re dehydrated. If all else fails, get away from the cupboard and fridge by going for a walk until the feeling passes.

While it can’t be stated enough – the only two ways to achieve permanent weight loss are eating less and exercising more – it is worth paying attention if you aren’t achieving your goals and you think you’re doing everything you can. Often your frustration is due to the weight loss wild card: your emotional triggers.

So what about high-protein, low-carb anyway?

Yesterday, this blog was critical of high-promise, low-commitment diets in general. Today, the focus is on the many programs in the popular mainstream that promote low-carbohydrate and high-protein dieting such as Atkins, South Beach, the Zone, Dr Atkins, Dr Stillman and others. These diets are controversial, as many health studies question their effectiveness and point out the many health risks that are involved for people who use them.

While the research has looked at a broad spectrum of people (varying ages, health and fitness levels, medical conditions) it hasn’t pointed out the more serious potential for problems in those over the age of 55. The half-century plus of abuse that our bodies have suffered may make them particularly susceptible to potential damage from these types of diets. The American Heart Association (AHA) has completed extensive research on the effects of adhering to these types of diets and have come to some interesting conclusions.

While a low-carbohydrate, high-protein diet may be okay for body building and endurance training, the AHA reported that most Americans already consume more than enough protein than their bodies require.

Some of the health risks that have been found in the studies are as follows:

  • High protein foods increase uric acid levels and may cause gout, a form of arthritis.
  • Increased risk of diabetes (and sometimes cancer) often spreads in progression as the kidneys work too hard to work off the high protein amounts – this can lead to kidney failure.
  • Saturated fat consumed in the diet while limiting the amount of carbohydrates may also be linked to raised blood pressure levels.
  • Vitamin, mineral and fibre deficiencies from the restricted diet can lead to a broad spectrum of adverse health effects.
  • Some of the immediate side effects caused by these types of diets are nausea, bad breath, and lightheadedness.
  • Healthy complex carbohydrates (they protect against diseases such as heart disease and cancers) are not consumed as part of the diet, which makes people more susceptible and at higher risk for these diseases.

Not a pretty picture, is it?