Weight loss that lasts: how can you keep “rebound pounds” at bay after you stop counting calories? Here are six sure-fire strategies for long-term success
It was such an odd moment for me: was at a bar a few months ago with some friends and, for whatever reason, the subject turned to weight issues. (Not, by the way, a subject usually choose to chat about over drinks.) I told some story about my chunky childhood and this guy I hadn’t met before, a friend of a friend, said he never would have pegged me as a person with a weight problem. That definitely threw me.
Here’s the skinny: Since I was 9, weight has been an issue for me. Over the last 23 years, I’ve become quite the expert at shedding pounds. In fact, I’ve done it more times than I care to mention through methods ranging from the sensible to the utterly ridiculous. (Let’s just say a weeklong banana-and-vanilla-ice-cream-only diet is not as much fun as it sounds.)
As for keeping the weight off? In that arena, I was a fumbling amateur. I would get bored. I would get frustrated. I would, well, give up, and my weight would creep up. Then, in 1999, I joined the weight-loss program at the (now-defunct) Theodore B. Vanltallie Center for Nutrition and Weight Management at St. Luke’s-Roosevelt Hospital Center in New York City. The dietitians there helped me realize that it was time to stop futzing around (and making myself miserable) with one-size-fits-all weight-loss plans; I needed an approach that allows a custom fit.
Now 45 pounds lighter, I’m confident (on most days) that I’ll be able to maintain that weight loss for the long haul. But I also realize that can never really let my guard down.
“It’s hard, hard work in a society that gives this kind of work short shrift,” says former Vanltallie Center director Cathy Non as, R.D., author of Outwit Your Weight: Fat-Proof Your Life With More Than 200 Tips, Tools & Techniques to Help You Defeat Your Dan er Zones (Rodale Press, 2002).
Following are a variety of tips and tactics you can put into play to help you get to — and maintain — your goal. Oh, just one big (and heavy) thing you need to keep in mind:
“When people will not acknowledge their responsibility, no other tool will be helpful,” says Madelyn Fernstrom, Ph.D., director of the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center Health System Weight Management Center.
Weight-loss success really begins when you are willing to take an honest look at your eating and exercise patterns and vow to make the necessary changes. If you have confidence that you can do it, you’re on your way.
6 tricks for slashing pounds (and keeping them off!)
1. Play by the numbers.
No matter where it comes from, a calorie is a calorie, and it takes 3,500 calories to gain or lose a pound. Want to shed a perfectly respectable 1 pound per week? Carve 500 calories off your day by thinking through your food choices and upping your exercise. “It’s easier both to walk for an hour and burn off 300-400 calories and to cut out 100-200 food calories than to focus on food restriction alone,” Fernstrom says. If you want to add ingredients like soy or olive oil to your diet, you have to make substitutions and fit them into your food plan. Don’t just tack on extra calories, she says.
2. Don’t cheat your body.
When deciding how to spend your calories, experts agree your body performs best when you include all of the macronutrients — protein, carbohydrates and fats in your diet. The American Dietetic Association recommends a diet that contains 30 percent calories from fat, 55 percent from carbs and 15 percent from protein.
3. Learn how to control food cravings.
“Cut out the specific items in the category [for example, carbs] that are giving you difficulty without cutting out the nutrition,” Nonas says. Give pretzels the heave-ho but don’t dismiss whole-grain breads. Has ice cream become a problem? Instead, snack on single-serving portions of yogurt. “Spice up meals by adding a new vegetable, trying a new recipe each week or adding a new color fruit,” suggests Danae Blair, R.D., a nutritionist based in New York City.
4. Keep careful track.
Carefully monitor what you eat and how much you exercise. “So many people tell me they walk all over the place,” Nonas says. “Then you put a pedometer on them, and they do an average of 4000 steps a day when it’s suggested that we do no less than 10,000 steps daily.”
When it comes to food, it’s not the drinks or desserts that do you in as much as mindless eating, Nonas says. To help account for all those calories (and to keep yourself honest), measure your portions, write down what you eat in a food record after each meal, and track your daily steps using a pedometer. If you don’t want to track everything every day, try keeping records one week out of every month just so things don’t get fuzzy.
5. Set your own rules.
Think of it this way: “If you’re a vegetarian, you’re not going to eat the meat no matter where you go — to a party, restaurant or a buffet,” Nonas says. The best way to achieve that same clarity when you’re trying to lose weight is to set some rules. Find yourself snacking on cereal at night? Make an only-for-breakfast rule. If you slip, no cereal in your house for a month! Tend to dive into the breadbasket as soon as the waiter brings it around? Set a one-starchy-carb-per-restaurant-meal rule. If you want the bread, tell yourself before you head out that you’ll skip the potato or pasta that comes with your meal.
Nonas says that those on a weight-loss plan should eat no more than six servings of (preferably high-fiber) grains per day. On maintenance? Eleven is the magic number. (A serving of carbs is one piece of bread, and a serving of grains is 1/2 cup of whole-wheat pasta.) To make the rules official, write them down.
6. Step up to plan B.
Sudden cold snap hit and your walking partner bailed on you? Join a gym, take a new exercise class or purchase some inexpensive at-home workout tapes or gear. Weight loss slowed and you’re frustrated? To avoid boredom, shake things up. Register for a healthy-cooking class or go vegetarian one day a week.
RELATED ARTICLE: weight-loss maintenance recipes and tips
Have you overdosed on egg-white omelets? Can’t handle yet another lunch of grilled chicken over greens — hold the dressing? Instead of letting boredom get the best of your weight-loss efforts, put your meals to work for you. Designed by Robin Vitetta-Miller, M.S., the following recipes offer the nutrients your body needs. Since they’re packed with just the right amount of fiber and protein, they also will help you feel fuller longer You’ll finally be able to say so long to the urge to munch between meals. Also. these dishes will help you break away from the “diet food” mentality and introduce you to a variety of ingredients that aren’t traditional weight-loss edibles, such as almonds, feta cheese and a big ol’ juicy burger (with a twist, of course). By trying new foods and new recipes, you’ll never feel cheated again.
Colossal Blueberry-Apricot Muffins With Almond Streusel Topping
The best place to start? Breakfast! If you starve yourself until the lunch bell rings, you’ll probably overindulge during the midday meal.
Makes 12 muffins
Prep time: 10 min./Cook time: 20-25 min.
Nutrient note: These megamuffins are like bakery versions minus the calories and fat. Whole-wheat flour is high in fiber and B vitamins; oats are rich in heart-healthy soluble fiber; milk and yogurt pack in calcium; apricot nectar is rich in vitamin C and potassium; blueberries contain powerful antioxidants called anthocyanins; almonds contain heart-friendly monounsaturated fat.
Nonstick cooking spray
2 cups all-purpose flour, divided
3/4 cup whole-wheat flour
1 cup quick-cooking oats
1 cup granulated sugar
1 tablespoon baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
3/4 cup nonfat milk
3/4 cup apricot nectar
1/2 cup lowfat vanilla yogurt
3 tablespoons light margarine, melted and divided
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 1/2 cups blueberries, fresh or frozen (keep
frozen until ready to use)
1/4 cup chopped almonds
1 tablespoon light brown sugar
Preheat oven to 400[degrees]F. Coat a 12-cup muffin pan with cooking spray.
In a large bowl, combine 1 3/4 cups of the all-purpose flour with the next 6 ingredients. Mix thoroughly with a fork, make a well in the center and set aside.
In a large bowl, whisk together milk, apricot nectar, yogurt, egg, 2 tablespoons of the margarine, and vanilla. Fold mixture into dry ingredients until just blended. Fold in blueberries. Spoon batter into prepared muffin pan, filling each cup (batter will be heaping in the cup).
To make the streusel topping, in a small bowl combine remaining 1/4 cup flour, almonds, brown sugar and remaining 1 tablespoon margarine. Sprinkle mixture over muffins.
Bake 20-25 minutes, until a wooden pick comes out clean. Cool muffins in pan, on a wire rack, 10 minutes before removing from pan.
Nutrition Score per serving (1 muffin): 274 calories, 14% fat (4 g; 1 g saturated), 76% carbs (52 g), 10% protein (7 g), 3 g fiber, 114 mg calcium, 2 mg iron, 297 mg sodium.
Quinoa Salad With Vegetables and Feta
Pack this easy-to-prepare-ahead salad in your lunchbox and make your pastatoting co-workers jealous.
Prep time: 10 min./Cook time: 10 min.
Nutrient note: Quinoa contains more high-quality protein than any other grain because it’s a complete protein, supplying all the essential amino acids; green peppers are brimming with vitamin C; carrots have loads of beta carotene; cabbage contains calcium, phosphorous, potassium and vitamin A; olive oil is a good source of heart-healthy monounsaturated fat.
1/2 cup quinoa
1 cup water
1 green bell pepper, seeded and diced
1 1/2 cups chopped carrots
1 cup diced red cabbage
1/2 cup minced red onion
1/4 cup minced sun-dried tomatoes
(from oil-packed jar), drained
1 tablespoon red wine vinegar
2 teaspoons Dijon mustard
1 teaspoon olive oil
Salt and ground black pepper
2 tablespoons feta cheese
Rinse quinoa under cold water and drain. Combine quinoa and 1 cup water in a medium saucepan. Bring water to a boil, reduce heat, cover and cook 10 minutes, until liquid is absorbed. Transfer quinoa to a large bowl and add green pepper, carrots, cabbage, onion and sun-dried tomatoes.
In a small bowl, whisk together vinegar, mustard and oil. Pour mixture over quinoa mixture and toss to combine. Salt and pepper to taste. Spoon mixture onto individual plates, and top each serving with 1 tablespoon feta cheese.
Nutrition Score per serving (2 cups): 325 calories, 29% fat (10 g; 3 g saturated), 58% carbs (47 g), 13% protein (11 g), 8 g fiber, 172 mg calcium, 6 mg iron, 286 mg sodium.
Curried Turkey-Green Apple Burgers With Chipotle Mayonnaise
If it’s comfort food you’re craving, there’s no better meal than this burger. The apples keep the lean turkey breast moist and add a surprisingly delicious tart twist.
Prep time: 10 min./Cook time: 6-8 min.
Nutrient note: Turkey is an excellent source of high-quality, lean protein; apples contain pectin, a soluble fiber that lowers cholesterol and heart-disease risk.
1 pound ground turkey breast or ground skinless chicken breast
1 Granny Smith apple, cored and diced (1/8-inch pieces)
1 teaspoon poultry seasoning
1 teaspoon curry powder
2 teaspoons olive oil
4 tablespoons fat-free mayonnaise
1 teaspoon minced chipotle chilies in adobo sauce
(from 7-ounce can)
4 whole-grain hamburger rolls
4 lettuce leaves (red leaf)
2 medium tomatoes, sliced
In a large bowl, combine turkey, apple, poultry seasoning and curry powder. Mix well and shape mixture into 4 patties, each about 1-inch thick. Heat oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add burgers and cook 3-4 minutes per side, until cooked through.
Meanwhile, whisk together mayonnaise and chipotle chilies. Place burgers on rolls. Top with mayonnaise mixture, then with lettuce and tomato slices.
Nutrition Score per serving (1 burger): 257 calories, 23% fat (7 g; 1 g saturated), 42% carbs (27 g), 35% protein (22 g), 4 g fiber, 34 mg calcium, 15 mg iron, 401 mg sodium.
What to do when the scale won’t budge
Around the six-month mark, even the most diligent calorie counters plateau, according to Cathy Nonas, R.D., author of Outwit Your Weight: Fat-Proof Your Life With More Than 200 Tips, Tools & Techniques to Help You Defeat Your Danger, Zones (Rodale Press, 2002).
“Is it physiological? Is it mental? It’s probably a little bit of everything,” Nonas says. “You feel good about yourself, you’ve lost weight, so maybe you get a little casual or careless, even though you’re not doing anything crazy like eating a box of cookies. The other possibility is that your body may need to slow down and adapt to the changes in weight,” she adds.
* First, figure out if you’ve hit a true plateau. “I’ve known people who thought they were plateauing when they were just losing half a pound a week,” Nonas says. “When somebody plateaus, they can continue to lose fat even though they don’t lose weight. One good reality check is to ask yourself if your clothes feel looser.”
* If you’re really doing everything you can to lose weight and you’re still not making any progress, “pat yourself on the back for having lost [weight] and kept it-off,” and then make some subtle changes, Nonas says.” Just make sure you’re clear about the changes so you can track your progress,” she adds. Try eating a healthier lunch a few times a week or give a new class at the gym a try. “It may take a wile but, eventually, you’ll move ahead again,” Nonas says.
* If you’re already eating healthfully and exercising sufficiently, recognize that you may have achieved a health weight that’s ideal for you. Celebrate the progress you’ve made and appreciate what your health body can do. At the point where you are already eating healthfully and exercising regularly, it’s foolish to continue focusing on what you weight. Instead, be vigilant and nurture yourself with healthy habits.
Jenna Schnuer is a freelance writer based in New York Gity. Robin Vitetta-Miller, M.S, is a Shape contributing editor based in Yardley, Pa.
“What works best for me in achieving a fit life is flexibility,” reveals Jenna Schnuer, who authored “Weight Loss That Lasts,” page 152. “If a workout’s not working, it’s time to try something new. I also eat a variety of foods to keep things fresh” she says. Schnuer’s venturesomeness is whetting her appetite for adventure travel, which she hopes will take her fitness to “new levels.” We’re expecting a postcard from Schnuer during her initial outing — probably a kayaking adventure in Maine. The New York City-based freelancer also has written for Advertising Age and oxygen.com.
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