After days or weeks of indulging in heavy holiday foods, with no shortage of cookies and other confectionary goodies, weight loss is on the minds of a lot of people. According to a survey by Forbes Health, 37 percent of Americans said their 2023 goal was to lose weight.
Shedding those pounds can be an intimidating prospect, but even small amounts of weight loss can have huge positive impacts on your overall health. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), these include improvements in blood pressure, blood cholesterol, and blood sugars. Weight loss can also lower your risk of developing chronic conditions such as heart disease, stroke, type 2 diabetes, and many cancers. But how do you ensure that you’ll stick with your resolution and be happy with the number on the scale next New Year’s Eve?
Personalize Your Plan
A weight management plan isn’t one-size-fits-all. What works for one person may not work for you, and a lot of that has to do with your body composition, which describes how much fat, bone, and muscle your body is made up of. This is typically measured in percentages and helps doctors measure your health.
Sarah Zou, MPH, a clinical dietitian at the Osher Center for Integrative Health at University of Utah, says weight alone is not usually a great indicator of health.
“Someone with a lot of muscle, which is a denser tissue than fat, could have a higher BMI simply because their muscle weighs a lot,” Zou says. “That’s where body composition comes into play. Similarly, two people could weigh exactly the same but have very different body compositions.”
If weight loss is your 2023 goal, it’s important to talk to a health care professional first to learn what steps would be best for you.
Slow and Steady
It may be tempting to jump in with both feet, but Zou recommends making gradual lifestyle changes that are sustainable, rather than ones that are dramatic or too restrictive.
“The rush of enthusiasm and motivation in the New Year is a great push, but it often burns out quickly when we set unrealistic goals because we essentially set ourselves up to fail,” Zou says.
Regular exercise is an important factor in weight loss. Instead of setting a goal of going to the gym five days a week when you hadn’t been going at all, try starting out with one or two gym sessions per week. Once that becomes a routine, gradually add in one more day until you work your way up to five, or whatever your specific goal may be.
Embrace the Gray Area
Even the most disciplined people have the occasional slip-up. Don’t let this ruin your goal. It’s never too late to get back in the saddle after a bad day, week, or even month.
“I think one way we often get in our own way is having a black-or-white, all-or-nothing approach to lifestyle change,” Zou says. “If we hold ourselves to unrealistic or perfectionist expectations, sometimes there is the tendency to throw in the towel when we inevitably slip up or make a mistake.”
Remind yourself that change is a process, and achieving hard goals isn’t always linear.
Approach Dieting in a Similar Fashion
Just like with exercise, taking small steps to improve your diet gradually over time increases the likelihood of long-term weight management success. Jumping into the deep end of a restrictive diet is unsustainable. Zou recommends starting to incorporate the following foods into your daily diet. These support weight loss but are also nutrient-dense and will keep you energized:
- Non-starchy vegetables, such as dark leafy greens, carrots, tomatoes, cauliflower, and zucchini
- Whole grains, such as brown rice, oats, and whole grain breads and pastas
- Legumes, such as beans and lentils
- Lean proteins, such as skinless poultry, fish, and low-fat dairy products
- Fruits in moderation, but not fruit juice, as it typically has high sugar content
Don’t Be Tempted by Trends
Stalls in weight loss progress are totally normal, and it can be frustrating when you’ve stuck to your exercise and diet routine but the number on the scale isn’t changing. It might be tempting to try trendy fad diets found on social media to get quicker results, like detox diets or intermittent fasting, but Zou says these are not recommended because they are often not evidence-based.
Even diets like keto, which have gained popularity over the years, are not necessarily the best option for everybody.
“Many people who attempt to follow a ketogenetic diet are eating too much protein to be in ketosis,” Zou says. “It’s hard to do correctly on your own. Some people are able to maintain a specific diet like keto for the rest of their lives, but those people are definitely the exception and not the rule.”
Foods that are marketed as promoting weight loss are often highly processed, low in nutrients, and more expensive than foods like vegetables and whole grains. Your best bet is to stick to the whole foods listed above that are proven to both nourish your body and help you lose weight.
Slow, incremental steps with both diet and exercise require patience and persistence, but it’s the best way to see long-term success in your weight management goals and overall health.