Lose weight.


January GO Challenge:

Lose weight.

If the phrase “lose weight” is on your resolution list, you’re in luck! This month’s GO Challenge is all about dropping those unwanted pounds and keeping them off for good. But first, let’s clarify one point: We’re talking about a lifestyle change here, not a diet.

As you’ve probably already learned, diets don’t really work — at least not in the long run. You may lose weight initially, but it’s difficult to keep the pounds off.

Why is losing weight so hard? Lots of reasons. For openers, studies have found that when people lose body fat, they also experience hormonal changes that increase their appetite and slow their metabolism. Not only that, if you cut out too many calories all at once, your body switches into “hibernation mode” to protect you from starvation, again slowing down your metabolism and making it even harder to burn calories.

But don’t lose heart. There are ways to overcome these and other challenges, boosting your metabolism and satisfying your appetite even as you’re losing weight. But first, check out all the health benefits of slimming down:

To prepare for the challenge, make sure you have a set of scales that work and a notebook to record your daily weight. Seeing your progress will help you stay motivated. You can also get a head start on the challenge by incorporating the following practice into your daily routine:

  • Eat mindfully. Pay attention to what you’re eating. Instead of mindlessly munching in front of the TV, at your desk, or in the car, notice the taste and texture of foods. Appreciate the aroma and presentation. When you’re focused on something other than your meal, it’s too easy to overeat. But when you slow down and savor the experience, you’ll eat less and enjoy it more.

7 great tips for dropping those pounds.

When you’re ready to start trying to lose weight, it’s only natural to want to lose it quickly. But studies show that it’s easier to keep the weight off if you take things slow and steady. Ideally, you should lose no more than 1-2 pounds per week. Anything more could upset your metabolism and leave you feeling tired and sluggish.

Ready to get started? Try these tips for losing weight the healthy way:

  • Weigh in with your doctor. A good place to start any weight loss program is with a trip to your family physician. He or she can offer sound advice based on your medical history — and refer you to a dietician who can work up a personalized food plan, if you need it.  
  • Eat smaller portions. One simple way to cut calories is to reduce portion sizes. At home, serve yourself on a smaller plate. In a restaurant, split a dish with a friend or choose an appetizer instead of an entrée. Eventually, you should get used to eating less and won’t require as much food as you once did.
  • Learn what’s bad. We all know ice cream, fried foods and pastries are fattening, but did you also know that deli meats could be sabotaging your weight-loss efforts? So could granola bars, energy drinks and vegetable chips. Check out this list of fattening foods so you know which foods to cut back on or avoid.
  • “Hara hachi bu.” The long-lived Okinawans live by this ancient Japanese principle, which means to eat until you are 80% full. Remember, there’s about a 20-minute delay before your brain registers how full you are. So stop eating at 80% (when you start to feel a little stomach pressure), then wait 20 minutes. You should be fine.
  • Move it to lose it. Along with cutting calories through diet, you also need exercise. Specifically, aerobic exercise. It’s the best way to burn calories. Start slowly and work your way up to at least 30 minutes of cardio per day, 3-5 days a week. Strength training is vital, too, because it speeds up your resting metabolism and makes you a more efficient calorie-burning machine. Lift weights on two non-consecutive days per week.
  • Fill up on fiber. One of the easiest ways to lose weight is to eat more high-fiber foods like vegetables, fruits, whole grains and beans. The healthy fiber in these foods fills you up, telling your brain it’s time to stop eating. Fiber also grabs onto fat and moves it through your digestive system faster so less of it is absorbed. Start slowly, though! Too much fiber too soon can be hard to digest.
  • Never say never. Instead of banning a food from your diet, simply eat less of it, less often. When you make an item off-limits, you end up feeling deprived and craving it even more. Before you know it, you’ve polished off an entire pint of Rocky Road! Another idea is to schedule periodic “treat times” when you can enjoy your favorite indulgence guilt-free.

More ways to slim down — and keep the weight off.

Remember, your body is changing constantly. You’re losing water, lean tissue and fat in varying amounts each week, and your hormones react differently to each of those changes. In short, what worked initially may not be working anymore.

But the problem isn’t you. That’s just the way weight loss works. Try to be patient and keep practicing the lifestyle changes you’ve learned. If, at some point, you reach a plateau where you’re not losing weight anymore, you may need to find a way to cut more calories. But you can do it! Here are a few more healthy ideas for slimming down.

  • Drink more water. There are lots of benefits of drinking water, but did you know that water can also boost your metabolism? To stay properly hydrated and burning calories, drink a glass of water before every meal or snack. The water will also help fill your stomach and keep you from eating too much.  
  • Eat fresh fruits and veggies. Fresh produce is so low in calories, it’s generally safe to eat as much as you want. And it’s loaded with fiber and water to help you feel full. Studies show that berries, apples and pears are the best fruits for weight loss, while soybeans, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts, broccoli and leafy greens are the veggie winners. However, starchy vegetables like corn, peas and potatoes can lead to weight gain.  
  • Get enough sleep. Research has shown a link between lack of sleep and weight gain. Again, the reason is hormones. When you don’t get enough sleep, your levels of the hormone ghrelin (which stimulates appetite) go up. Not only that, your levels of leptin (the hormone that tells your brain you’re full) go down. That’s how you end up overeating and putting on the pounds.  
  • Go for the “after burn.” If you want better results from your workouts, mix in shorts periods of high-intensity exercise. This interval training can boost your metabolism even higher and for longer periods in the hours following a workout. Try short bursts of jogging during your regular walk, or sprint to the end of the block when cycling. Be careful not to overdo it, though. Too much high-intensity exercise can burn you out.
  • Reduce sugar. Got a sweet tooth? Don’t panic over this one. By slowly cutting back on the sugar in your diet, you can wean yourself off this addictive diet destroyer and your cravings should stop. Just remember, sugar is found in more than just desserts and soda pop. Also check the labels on breads, pasta sauce, ketchup, yogurt, instant oatmeal, salad dressings, energy drinks, oat and bran cereals, dried fruits and more.
  • Don’t eat after dinner. Ideally, eat your last meal earlier in the day and then fast until breakfast. According to studies, limiting your meals to the hours when you’re most active and giving your digestive system a 14-hour break each night can facilitate weight loss. Fourteen hours may not be practical for you, but do your best not to eat too late.   
  • Cook more often. If you want to eat fewer calories, make your own meals. Restaurants are notorious for adding in extra fat, salt and sugar to make foods taste better. That’s why you almost always consume more calories when you eat out. Home-cooked meals cost less, too. And just think of all the exercise you’ll get by walking those grocery aisles!

Before we go, here’s one final tip to help guide you on your weight-loss journey.

  • Do the little things. There’s no magic pill to help you lose weight — no one big change that will cause the pounds to fall off. It all comes down to lots of little acts you do every day, as best you can. Squeezing in a 10-minute walk. Eating veggies instead of chips for a snack. Going to bed earlier. Ordering water instead of cola at a restaurant. Every little thing you do adds up to a healthier, slimmer you.