There are nearly as many reasons to maintain a healthy body weight as there are people wishing to slim down. But the desire to lose weight is no longer just a matter of wanting to look better – it’s now become one of life or death. The problem has become so serious that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have recently labeled obesity as an all-out health epidemic. Currently, 1.5 billion people are overweight and obese worldwide, with that number expected to rise to fifty percent by 2030. Being overweight and obese have been associated with numerous health issues, including heart disease, stroke and cancer-the three leading causes of death in North America. Type 2 diabetes, another disease rapidly spreading in both adult and child populations at an alarming rate, is also disturbingly linked to being overweight, at a rate of about 80%. Being overweight or obese is no longer just an aesthetic issue; it’s a full blown disease that can reduce your lifespan by ten years or more.
Of course, if weight loss were easy, everyone would do it. The honest truth is that meaningful, sustainable weight loss takes time, commitment and determination. But before you throw your arms up in defeat, know this: it certainly can be done, and while it may not always be easy at first, it can definitely be made simple. I know this firsthand because, in addition to my practice, I’ve been training hundreds of clients struggling with weight, fitness and proper nutrition, including Olympic athletes. With my extensive background in physiology, medical research, and in my many years of training pro-athletes and other top fitness trainers, I’ve come to realize something that most other professionals in the industry try very hard to keep secret – that big results can come from just a few simple changes. This is why, instead of providing arbitrary, untested and complicated weight loss advice, I’ve compiled a few simple, scientifically-proven weight loss tips you can start implementing as of right now.
Here are ten simple yet effective tips and tricks that can help you reach your weight loss goal in a healthy and safe way, and help you live a healthier and happier lifestyle.
More than anything else, our bodies are composed of water. You can survive for many days without food, but not without water. Staying hydrated is also essential to weight loss. Not only is it vital for proper digestion and elimination, maintaining normal blood pressure and body temperature, but dehydration is also a common trigger of overeating. Unfortunately, our bodies don’t seem to distinguish the need for food and the need for water very efficiently; hunger and thirst evince very similar symptoms (weakness, dizziness, crankiness, headaches, etc.), making it hard for us to distinguish whether it’s food or whether it’s water that our bodies are really craving. While, much of the time, it’s fluids that our bodies are asking us for – many experts state that about 75% of North Americans are chronically dehydrated – a lot of us tend to confuse these symptoms and wind up trying to eat them away instead. Constantly eating when we should be drinking can make our dehydration issues even worse, and can create a vicious cycle of chronic overeating before you know it.
Another bonus of choosing to drink more water throughout the day is that it will also help you stay away from a lot of the sugary, unhealthy beverages that have become such popular habits around the world, and that contribute extensively to weight gain. Recent research suggests the body does not “recognize” calories in liquids. This means that, while gulping down sweetened drinks will gain you a whopping load of empty calories, none of them will count towards actually alleviating your hunger, encouraging you to consume way more calories than your body needs. Consuming more calories than your body needs translates into stored fat. Not a formula for weight loss success.
Maximize your weight loss by cutting back on sweetened beverages and ensuring you’re getting the right water intake. The recommended daily intake of water for men is about three liters, and a little over two liters for women. For those who find it difficult to transition directly from sugary drinks to water, try making unsweetened iced tea using herbal teas, or trying flavoring your water in natural and calorie-free ways, such as adding fresh mint, other favorite herbs or lemon to your water bottle.
An intriguing new study concluded that people who eat a big breakfast, followed by a moderate lunch and a low-calorie dinner, lose more weight-and more inches off their waistlines-than people who eat a small breakfast, a modest lunch, and a big dinner. Researchers recruited women at risk for metabolic syndrome, and randomly assigned them to one of two groups. One group ate a hearty 700-calorie breakfast, a moderate 500-calorie lunch, and a 200-calorie dinner, for one month. The second group consumed the same number of calories each day, but in reverse – they started the day with a 200-calorie breakfast, followed by a moderate lunch, and a big 700-calorie dinner. Women in the big breakfast group reported feeling less hunger throughout the day than women in the second group. They also lost significantly more weight, despite eating the same number of calories as women in the big-dinner group. Evidently, the timing of caloric intake is more important then we previously believed. After a solid night of sleep (and thus, not eating), we wake up in the mornings with a body that is primed at its best to digest food completely and efficiently, and geared up to use that fuel for its daily activities rather than for storing that energy for later (as fat).
So think of your daily meal plan like an inverted pyramid, making breakfast your biggest meal of the day and each meal and snack successively smaller. But it’s important to note that not all breakfasts are equally beneficial for weight loss. To maximize your weight loss efforts, opt for a high-protein breakfast with complex carbohydrates. For example, a breakfast with eggs, beans and spinach on whole wheat toast or with a side of sweet potato hash will keep you full longer throughout the day and prevent your blood sugar from dropping. It will also curb your desire to binge on unhealthy snacks throughout the day, and if you eat a well balanced lunch and healthy snacks throughout the day as well, you’ll find that sticking to a small dinner in the evening to be much easier.
It’s important to consume the appropriate number of calories each day. The precise amount varies with body frame, activity level, gender and even age. Generally, one needs to consume no more than the number of calories needed to maintain a healthy weight. Hunger is a powerful force, though, and it cannot easily be ignored, especially when trying to lose weight.
Occasional hunger may be inevitable, but your chance of success will increase if you can keep your appetite under control. Studies show that snacking on certain natural foods, such as almonds, can assuage hunger enough to give you an edge. A handful of almonds contain heart-healthy, hunger-fighting monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats, filling fiber and muscle-building protein. Almonds are also a good source of the antioxidant vitamin E and folate, an essential B-vitamin. A diet featuring nuts may also help lower cholesterol levels.
A handful of nuts is an ideal snack between meals, as they are a nutrient-packed food that can curb a hunger pang much more healthfully then the nearest fast-food joint or vending machine. Opt for raw, unsalted nuts and seeds to reap their health benefits. Keep a bag handy with you at work and, between meals, measure out a palm full to snack on with a glass of water to feel energized and satisfied until the next meal-time hits.
Tea is the second most consumed beverage in the world, after water. It’s been brewed and enjoyed in Asia for thousands of years. Green tea, especially, enjoys a well-deserved reputation as a calming, yet refreshing drink. It contains caffeine, but it also contains theanine, a unique amino acid that relieves anxiety without sedation. Studies show it promotes relaxation, concentration and focus.
Green tea also contains a potent antioxidant polyphenol compound, EGCG, which is credited with numerous beneficial properties. Research also suggests green tea may promote thermogenesis, the process by which food calories are burned to produce heat. The EGCG antioxidants in green tea help to boost your metabolic rate, increasing your energy expenditure and promoting weight loss.
To reap the benefits of green tea, opt for high-quality leaves steeped in hot water. Just make sure not to overdo it; stick to no more than four cups of green tea daily.
Coconut oil has received mixed reviews in the past, since it contains saturated fat, believed to play a role in the development of atherosclerosis. But new emerging research suggests coconut oil is actually good for the body, as it is handled differently than saturated fat from animals. The research even suggests that it helps to shrink your waistline.
That’s because coconut oil is a rich source of medium-chain fatty acids, which are readily burned for energy. In contrast to other fats, such as the more common long-chain fatty acids found in corn oil, coconut oil’s medium-chain triglycerides are not as likely to be stored as fat as they are transported directly to the liver, where they are more likely to be burned directly for energy. A recent study found that a group of overweight men and women who were put on a low-calorie diet and were instructed to eat one to two tablespoons of medium-chain triglyceride oil a day lost more weight than a second group of overweight people on the same diet by consuming olive oil instead. The researchers believe that the metabolic boosting properties of the coconut oil played a role in this increased weight loss effect.
To introduce it into your diet, try experimenting with natural, unrefined coconut oil by using it instead of other oils in your cooking and baking. You’ll find that coconut oil also has a higher smoking point, which means you can cook with it at higher temperatures (unlike with olive oil, for example). Keep in mind, though, that as with any source of fat or oil, it’s important to moderate how much you are eating each day and to make sure that you are not overdoing it.
In the past, people believed that cutting fat from the diet was the key to weight loss. But this has not proven true. The body needs a certain amount of fat, just as it needs protein, fiber and other essential nutrients to thrive. In general, monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats from plants-think olives, avocados, or nuts-contain these heart-healthy fats in abundance. Your body also needs omega-3 fatty acids, and fatty fish such as salmon and tuna are excellent sources of these essential nutrients. Adequate intake of healthy fats may help increase satiety-the feeling of fullness and satisfaction that signals it’s time to quit eating. Incorporating healthier fats such as olive oil, avocados, salmon and nuts into your regular diet can help you achieve your weight loss goal.
In our super-sized society, it’s easy to lose track of appropriate portion sizes. Over time, we’ve become accustomed to massive plates laden with larger portions of high calorie foods. We very much tend to eat with our eyes, and not stop eating when we should. It takes twenty minutes for you to register that your stomach is full, yet people often continue eating way past that point.
Try this simple trick to help you get a grip on appropriate meal serving sizes: use smaller plates and bowls when serving food. Studies suggest that this simple substitution may serve to nudge you closer towards your caloric-intake goals, without you even being conscious of it. Review appropriate portion sizes, and learn some simple tricks to make portion control a short and simple judgment call just by eyeballing your plate. A three-ounce serving of lean chicken breast, for instance, is about the size of a deck of cards.
Another trick to control your portion sizes is to fill plates in the kitchen, and not bring large dishes of food to the table. This way, with the food out of eye shot and further away from access, you will be less inclined to get up and spoon another portion of food onto your plate. And when snacking, pour whatever you’re eating into a small bowl rather than eating straight out of the bag, and don’t eat your snack in front of the television, computer or book; this will prevent you from mindless snacking, one of the prime culprits of weight loss sabotage.
Hot chili peppers contain a family of chemicals called capsaicinoids. These compounds give peppers their heat, adding a spicy quality that many people enjoy. They also help improve the body’s ability to burn fat and control appetite.
Hot pepper sauce on your morning eggs? It may not be your style, but consider giving it a try. It just might boost your weight-loss success by reducing the number of calories you’re tempted to consume throughout the remainder of the day. Capsaicinoids have also been shown to increase the rate at which your body burns fats for energy. While you shouldn’t overdo it, introducing moderate amounts of chili pepper to your diet can help your body burn more fat to maximize your weight loss goal.
Caloric intake is just one side of the energy balance equation. Your body burns calories to power your muscles, so increasing your muscles’ workload helps burn more calories. In recent years, it’s become increasingly clear that inactivity is downright toxic. Getting up and moving is not only helpful for weight management, it also helps your body stay healthy and fit.
We used to think you needed to engage in specific activities-walking for a half hour per day, for instance-to meet your minimal daily exercise requirement. But emerging research suggests even small amounts of activity spread throughout the day can contribute to your daily need to be active. Try parking farther from the door. Take the stairs. Pace the floor while on the phone. Get up off the couch. Try working at your desk while standing. Anything you do to move your body will help. Remember that sitting for prolonged periods is detrimental to your health.
There are numerous reasons that you should reintroduce more raw, whole fruits and vegetables into your diet. The obvious reason is to ensure that you fuel your body with essential vitamins, nutrients and minerals to stay healthy. However, eating raw whole foods can also help you lose weight.
Researchers at the American Association for the Advancement of Science recently found that it takes a person more energy to break down raw food than it does cooked food. For instance, compare a cooked carrot to a raw one – even though they may have a similar calorie count, your body would expend more energy to break down the raw carrot than the cooked one (which has already been partially broken down). This means your body has to burn off some of the calories contained in the carrot just to digest it; in the end, then, the raw carrot has a lower net calorie value than the cooked carrot.
For this reason, introducing more raw foods into your diet can help improve your overall health and help you meet your weight loss goals. Your body will need to work harder to digest the raw food, thus expending more energy, burning more calories, and helping you lose weight.
Many people say they are fed up with the constant struggle to lose weight, claiming to have tried every fad diet out there with no success. You may be one of them. It’s important that you recognize that losing weight doesn’t have to involve a total life overhaul – in fact, this approach is often the reason that so many people fail at their weight loss pursuits. Remember that a little goes a long way. Starting out on your weight loss journey with smaller, more manageable and less intimidating steps, like the ones I’ve listed above, can often be more effective in meeting your goals.
In that vein, probably the most cardinal and life-changing weight loss tip I give my clients is this: don’t be afraid to start small – but at the same time, don’t be afraid to keep challenging yourself. Continuous, small steps towards success will get you there much faster and much more enjoyably than taking a couple of massive leaps that leave you too overwhelmed to keep going.
Yours in Good Health,
Dr. Alwyn Wong