January 04, 2010

Weight Loss: What Works?

Welcome to the New Year! As you may have noticed, 'tis is the season when society's interest in weight loss escalates from the slightly obsessive to the barking, raving, shrieking insane.

Everywhere you turn, someone is telling you how to lose a quick and easy 10, 20, 50 or even 100 pounds. Of course, many of these are commercial pitches for dubious exercise devices, pills, fad diets, or low-cal convenience foods, squarely aimed at separating you from your hard-earned money.

Some of these pitches are laughably stupid. But there's also plenty of sensible advice on offer this time of year. It's just that few people want to follow the sensible advice, because, well, it makes sense! It doesn't promise magic. Real weight loss advice is no fun compared to a product we can buy that will miraculously make weight loss pleasant and effortless.

Yes, please sign me up for the diet plan where I get to eat my fill of delicious pizza, pasta, chocolate cake and ice cream while the pounds just melt away! Oh, and can you send me a little barstool I can swivel on for a few minutes at my desk each day that will magically sculpt my entire body and make me lean and muscular? Thanks! Oh wait, on second thought, I don't really feel like swiveling. Have you got something in a pill I could just take? You do? Awesome, let me get my credit card!

Not being clever enough to have any miraculous weight loss products to market myself, I suppose I have to share the boring sensible stuff instead. Which you probably already know! But in the season of jaw-dropping "before" and "after" photos, and "Lose 30 pounds in 3o days" claims, it might be a good time for a reminder about the tedious, obvious stuff that actually works.

1. Focus more effort on adding healthy foods to your diet than to subtracting calories.
I know, this seems backwards. And if you're an old hand at healthy eating and you're just working on portion control, feel free to skip this step.

But if you are eating even remotely like most people in this "modern" age, you are eating far too much processed, fatty, salty, sugary, dangerously tasty crap. You are getting a belly-full of transfats and saturated fats and sugar and refined grains and questionable chemicals. You are being programmed to crave junk and these cravings keeping you in a constant state of insatiable food-lust. And you are probably eating far too few fruits, vegetables, whole grains, legumes, nuts, lean proteins, and healthy fats like olive oil. The stuff your body actually needs that will keep you from being hungry all the time.

This not only messes with your weight and your metabolism; it leaves you a handy target for disease and will make your old age miserable, if you even manage to get to old age.

Of course if you're trying to lose weight fast, it's tempting to focus solely on calories or Weight Watcher points, for which you get "credit." Instead of putting healthier stuff in your body, it's easier to plot and scheme about how you can replicate all your favorite treats in 100 calorie portion controlled versions. However, many folks have discovered that this energy and motivation may be better used slowly but surely acquiring a taste for healthier foods.

It takes trial and error and persistence, but you can retrain your tastebuds. Eventually, you may come to crave a spinach, mango, and kefir smoothie in the morning just as much as you used to love a frosted Poptart.

2. Learn to prepare at least a few healthy meals you like to eat.

I hate this advice myself because I don't much like to cook. But no matter how "healthy" a restaurant or take-out place claims it is, you often can't trust that they're not adding extra butter, sugar, salt, etc. to make it taste better. And lets face it, most places don't even pretend to offer healthy ingredients. And "healthy convenience foods" that are truly healthy and don't taste like plastic and overcooked vegetables and sawdust? These are few and far between.

The old standard advice is still good: do some menu planning, get a list together, stock up on healthy staples, and make a big-ass pot of something a couple times a week and freeze extra portions for later.

Looking for recipe ideas? We'll be talking more about that in the next few weeks, but in the meantime, check out This Mama Cooks--On a Diet, or Green Lite Bites, or for vegan ideas, Veggie Going Vegan.

3. Track what you're eating and how much.

Eating mostly healthy foods is a HUGE step towards weight loss. But if you're in the habit of eating for entertainment, or for emotional reasons, you may find you need to account for what you're eating and try to bring it within sensible limits.

This may mean weighing, measuring, tallying, charting, and otherwise holding yourself accountable.

It can be a huge pain in the ass until you get used to it, and it drives many people crazy. If you are someone who rebels in a big way when asked to hold yourself accountable, this may not work for you. But for lots of folks it's incredibly helpful. Knowing that you will have to write down the calories for all 8 "fun sized" Snickers bars you just found in the back of the freezer left over from Halloween will make you much less likely to eat them all in a moment of weakness.

4. Exercise

This is a huge subject in itself and there are lots of tips and tweaks that we'll get to. But a lot of folks seem to feel like this is an optional step in weight loss. It isn't. You don't want to lose muscle along with fat, do you? And virtually everyone who has lost boat-loads of weight and managed to keep it off incorporates plenty of exercise into their daily routine.

Start gradually; and remember any movement is better than none. You know all that advice about taking the stairs and walking on errands instead of driving? Do that stuff! But eventually you'll probably want to also be doing strength training, aerobic conditioning, and stretches. And if all that goes well, you may want to add high intensity intervals, balance training, endurance work, and "functional" fitness moves. Whew! It's exhausting just listing them all! But the more you do, the better you feel, the faster your metabolism goes, the easier it will be to lose weight and keep it off. You may, if lucky, even find forms of exercise you really like! I swear, it does happen sometimes.

Looking for inspiration and some exercises to try? Check out Truth2BeingFit, Weight for Deb, Stumptuous and Mizfit, among other sites I'll be suggesting as well when we get into more specifics.

5. Give up on being perfect.

Aim high, if you want. But don't expect to avoid falling on your face every now and then. You're NOT going to be perfect at this; no one is.

The people who are most successful at losing weight and keeping it off are those who don't freak out when they screw up. They know it's inevitable. They keep moving forward. After several skipped workouts or a big binge, they skip the self-flagellation and instead get all practical and analytical: what were the triggers? How could the situation be avoided or mitigated? What's the fastest way back on track?

If you follow the blogs of people who have lost lots of weight, you will find that all of them suffer setbacks and periods of crappy motivation.

For example, just read some random entries from A Forty-Something's Weight Loss Journey, or The Amazing Adventures of Dietgirl, or Jack Sh*t, Getting Fit. None of these bloggers claim to be perfect yet they've all done an amazing job slowly but surely losing weight.

Anyone else have any "basic" weight loss advice that's helped you lose weight and keep it off? Have any favorite web resources to suggest to others?

[Note: this post also appears at the Blogher 10X club because I'm lazy like that when it comes to writing multiple posts. But feel free to come join us and check out the challenges and rewards in the 10X club forum!]


  1. If people want to try tracking what they eat online, Sparkpeople.com is a free way to do it.
    (Things always sound more attractive when they have the word 'free' attached to it, but this one can also be quite helpful.)

  2. Fitday.com is another one.

    And if you can't find the calories in something you're logging try nutritiondata.com. I really like that one because you can input a recipe and it will tell you how many calories, how much sodium, vitamin content, etc.

  3. I agree with all your tips! Adding healthy foods is the one that got me started and keeps me going on my weight loss. If you stuff your fridge with lots of fresh fruits and veggies, then you HAVE to eat them before they go bad. And you don't have room in your stomach for pizza and fried chicken after you eat a whole pot of kale.

  4. I second the recommendation for nutritiondata.com. It's very helpful.

    As for getting into more cooking at home, I love Everyday Food magazine. Unlike other food magazines the recipes are simple and healthy--not packed with a million ingredients and directions and loads of unhealthy food. I get it each month and look forward to the new recipes to try. The book is quite good also.

  5. These are great recommendations you guys, thank you for the helpful specifics!

  6. I think the big three are: Portion control, low fat diet, and exercise. These will take it off, and maintain your weight.

    Happy New Years, Crabby!

  7. If you're in the UK foodfocus.co.uk is quite good - free and has a lot of British stuff in its database.

  8. I've become a giant fan of Clean Eating Magazine. Their recipes are guaranteed to be healthy and they have things in there for everyone from the basic cook to the more experienced chef. Each recipe has counts for calories, sodium, saturated fat, protein, etc. It even has a 2 week meal plan with 5 meals a day, calorie counts, and a grocery shopping list so you don't have to do the work of planning.

    I swear I don't even work for them, I'm just a giant fan of the magazine.

  9. Excellent advice to add rather than subtract. It makes it look like we can eat more, and in many ways eating the healthy stuff means we can.
    My only tip is veggies are really good if roasted in white wine rather than oil.

  10. My advice is to make your new, healthy lifestyle SUSTAINABLE for the rest of your life! If it's not, you might as well give up now. If you want to eat veggies, say celery, it's not going to kill your diet to put a little peanut butter on it. I can't eat celery without it. But bottom line, make is sustainable.

  11. Thanks for the good info and resources.

  12. Baby steps are huge. If I would have tried to introduce the way I eat to myself 3 years ago, I would have thrown a tantrum. However, now, it's just what I do. You do lose a taste for SOME of the crap when you don't eat it (I'm fast food free for 4 years now and don't miss it), but you'll still have weaknesses (potato chips...nummmy). One more vote for sparkpeople, it helped me lose 80+ lbs! Just resolve to do what it says to do for a month and you'll be well on your way!

  13. A few suggestions that helped me lose the 50 pounds that I gained during my first pregnancy by the time my son was 3 months old:

    For many people, evening is the most problematic time of day because they tend to snack and watch tv. Come up with a few "safe snacks" and keep them in the house. Avoid anything that is easy to eat out of a bag like chips or cookies. It's too easy to overindulge.I like oatmeal with dried cherries and walnuts.

    For workouts, be sure to include weight training. Cardio alone won't cut it.

    BTW, if I see that commercial with Marie Osmond one more time, I'm going to lose my mind

  14. Your Number One point resonates with me.

    That is what I did when I set out to finally lose and keep off the pounds that have plagued me for so many years. It worked.

  15. Hmmm, I'm a guy and I read your blog. Is that ok?

    I try to follow Jillian Michaels Perfect Day of Weight Loss Plan. Since I'm not perfect I dont follow it perfectly but it is what I shoot for.


  16. Crabby, thx for the mention! You really hit so much of it. The basic premise is easy, the doing it is hard cause it does not always feel good... you have to sometimes get into the uncomfortable zone to make positive changes, both in health & otherwise. But the payoff is great!

    I have a post tomorrow on this with my 2 things I think are important along with all you said: patience & consistency. I elaborate more in that post tomorrow but without them, it can be tough going.

    Great post!

  17. Oh ho... so you say I'm not perfect. Some friend you turned out to be!

    Seriously, good advice and very good timing.

    Happy new year!

  18. Normally I'd agree with you but right now I just really, really want a cookie.


  19. Sounds like we're on the same page today! I love your first tip about focusing on adding good things rather than thinking about all the "bad" stuff you can't have.

  20. Some very good advice, Crabby! I also agree with focusing on adding the good stuff. As you eat more natural foods your palate gets recalibrated and before you know it, you prefer the "cleaner", fresher tastes.

  21. Great tips!!

    I'm a big fan of getting support from others. Whether that be joining a group (like Weight Watchers), going online into forums or messageboards, or doing it alongside someone in your life (family member or friends). Having the support of another person is so helpful, especially when they're doing it with you. You can gain support, inspiration and motivation from one another when you're feeling good and when you're feeling down. Having the other person on the same page will also keep you honest and accountable.

    It also means someone to work out with!

    As for food, I'm a big fan of shopping the perimeter of your grocery store for lots of fruits & veggies, lean sources of protein, whole grains and healthy fats.

  22. Thanks for the shout out, Crabby! I love #1 - it took me a while to figure that one out, but it's a great way to eat. And #4 - exercise? Me??? Never would have thought I would like it, but I have to say that reading your blog day after day in the beginning of my journey made me think that I could actually, possibly, do some form of exercise. So thank you for that!

  23. Great ideas, as usual. I must stick with the well-tested, time honored methods - regardless of what my inner slug is commanding me to do. And next time you want to use my image for your post, Crabby, please give me a heads up. I would've thrown something (more) on.

  24. great list. If we all were to stick with the basics instead of getting suckered in to the gimmicks we'd all be better off.

  25. Food journals make me crazy (literally...food obsessed). But, focusing on getting some recipies that are good and good for me has helped the most! Also, learning to eat only when hungry.

  26. Ah, tis the season.

    Nothing works. Diets don't work. No, really, they don't. Not even if you call them sustainable lifestyles. Show me a plan that more than 50% of people who use it keep off more than 15% of their body weight for more than 5 years, with no serious side effects, and I'll not only eat my words but I'll go on the plan tomorrow.

    That said, if your goal is truly to increase your health, working towards better nutrition and adding exercise to your life is a great way to accomplish it. Just don't expect to lose weight doing it. That's an approach that's been proven to improve health outcomes long-term, where dieting hasn't.

    If your goal is to feel better about your appearance, do the emotional work to accept yourself as you are. If your eating is out of control and truly not connected to hunger, that's also something you might want to explore with a professional.

    But diets still don't work.

  27. This post is among the "best of."

    Thanks for all the references.

    And Gigi, you're too funny. ("And next time you want to use my image for your post, Crabby, please give me a heads up. I would've thrown something (more) on.")

  28. Crabby I swear you need your own show...lol. But you hit what works right on the head, especially #5. People just need to focus on being the best THEY can be and not what some magazine or publications image of "perfect" is.

  29. Wonderful advice! I can attest to their effectiveness because that's what I've been doing for the last quarter of 2009. They do work and they're not hard to follow.

  30. We're kicking off 2010 with a weight loss contest! Check this link out on how to join: http://www.pr-inside.com/weight-loss-blogger-challenge-kicks-off-r1641366.htm

  31. Try wearing wearable weights like “Body Togs” anatomically designed weighted sleeves worn on your arms & legs under your clothes. Put them on in the morning and you literally forget you have them on while increasing your calorie burn, muscle tone & bone density! Weighted vests work great too!

  32. Diets do not work. Making healthy lifestyle changes is the key to losing weight, keeping it off, having more energy and feeling good about yourself.


    Healthy Lifestyle

  33. Cheers for another stunning post. I have one you may like. "The Candy Weight Loss Diet"

    Learn how to lose weight and still eat candy.


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