Seven Easy-to-Implement Weight-loss Strategies
After basically a year in which a great deal of free time was spent sitting on the sofa and binge watching television, it appears that sometime in 2021 we may begin to socialize again. Since elastic waist pants were the fashion item of 2020, it seems fair to anticipate that for many, getting back into your old wardrobe may require some weight loss. To do that, you are going to need to eat 3500 calories less than you otherwise need in order to lose each pound of weight. This translates to 500 calories a day every day of the week below your caloric maintenance level. If you have been gaining weight, then you have been eating more calories that you need each day so your caloric reduction based on current daily consumption may be substantially more than 500. By adopting a healthy diet and using a calorie tracker, you can readily eat below your caloric requirement. Here are the six keys to developing and maintaining a healthy diet.
1. Track your food and exercise
Sorry to say this, but without tracking your inputs, you are likely to forget you ate certain foods or to inaccurately estimate the calories you have consumed or burned. So, face reality and use a calorie tracker. I recommend you choose one that (1) uses your gender, weight and age, general activity level and actual exercise you perform in a day to compute the total calories you burn in a day, (2) computes the number of calories you should eat in a day based on your weight-loss goals, and (3) displays the total calories you have consumed based on the foods you have entered and the calories you may yet consume during the day to be on target.
Here is a screen shot from the app Cronometer, that I use to track food intake and reflect calories and nutrition.
I have set it up in a way where a sedentary user of a specific gender, weight and age would be seeking to lose 1.5 pounds per week. As a result, the remaining calories differs from the burned (in this case, expected burn, which is determined based on the user’s resting metabolism) calories. As you can see, without exercising, this user would be limited to 738 calories per day. While generally, anything less than 1200 calories is not recommended as it can create a nutrition deficit, I am confident that by focusing on eating nutrient dense, low calorie foods, you can exceed the recommended daily allowance of vitamins and micronutrients and consume under 1200 calories.
2. Do not keep unhealthy snacks in your home
For the most part, you are well aware of what is meant by unhealthy snacks. These include chips (including kale chips and beet chips and anything else that looks and crunches like a potato chip), baked goods, candy, chocolate, prepared whipped cream, and ice cream. While not exactly a snack, sodas made with sugar have a high calorie, low nutrient value and should also be eliminated.
Pretty much anything with calories that you are inclined to eat or drink in high quantities should be tossed and not brought back into the house.
If you can eat five or fewer chips or one eighth of a candy bar a week, then you may find that having these items in the house will not derail you from your goals. Alternatively, once you eliminate the other unhealthy snacks, these may become your go-to snacks, in which case, they too must go.
Obviously, cookies are not recommended on a diet. However, if you decide you must have a treat at some point during the week, I recommend that you make or buy frozen cookie dough in small-sized individual cookie portions. When you want a cookie (limit yourself to one per week), thaw a single cookie portion and bake one cookie for yourself. The cookie will be smaller than one you would typically purchase at a coffee shop and, if you adhere to the one at a time approach to thawing and baking, this will deter you from over-consuming.
There is another category of snacks that appears to be healthy but are so tasty and high in calories that they also adversely impact your efforts to lose weight and eat nutritionally dense foods. These include dried fruits, roasted and salted nuts and seeds, cereal, high calorie energy/protein bars, crackers, cheese, packaged fruit juices, delicious coffee drinks served at coffee shops and delicious fruit juices served at juice bars. Sugars like honey and maple syrup also belong in this category. Eliminate these from your home.
3. Keep healthy snacks that you like but do not love in your home
This is very much a question of individual choice.
The goal is to find food you like to snack on but on which you are not inclined to overindulge.
Raw nuts and seeds can be high in calories but let’s face it, they are less tasty than those that have been salted and roasted so you are less likely to over-consume.
Protein or energy bars of 200 calories or less make a decent snack or meal to go. They are not nutrient dense, so limit yourself to three per week.
Fruit that must be peeled and most vegetables are relatively low calorie snacks. Edamame, which can be bought frozen is an easy to prepare snack. A portobello mushroom cap with balsamic vinegar, topped with a small amount of cheese and grilled make a tasty snack. The preparation time of all of these snacks will likely deter you from over-consuming. For fruit such as apples or melons, which could be eaten without preparation time assuming you cut the melon in advance, create a rule for yourself that you must cut the fruit up immediately before eating because this takes time which may cause you to skip the snack or eat only an appropriate daily amount.
Air popped popcorn with no butter added is a relatively low calorie, high volume snack with crunch.
4. Do not keep high calorie meal foods in your house
This is a broad category that generally includes cereal, bread, pasta, prepared spreads (such as nut butters, Nutella, jams), potatoes, flour, oils and rice. None of these items should be eaten on their own, and any food that can be eaten with them can be eaten without them. These foods are all high calorie, low in nutrients and far too easy to prepare as a lazy substitute for a lower calorie option. As a limited part of an otherwise healthy diet, these foods can be acceptable. When you are trying to develop new habits and lose weight, it is best to eliminate them entirely.
If you feel you must keep bread, choose the thin-sliced version or a low calorie wrap, store it in the freezer and thaw and eat no more than 150 calories (approximately two slices) of bread per day.
5. Prepare nutrient dense meals and freeze them for a quick meal you can reheat
These include meals like soups, stews (use packaged low calorie gravy rather than meat drippings gravy), chilli, meat pies (without any pastry crust). These meals should be high in veggies, low in fat and have a moderate amount of protein in them that will contribute an appropriate amount to your daily protein intake. Having these meals in the freezer reduces your ability to convince yourself that there is nothing quick to eat so you should buy take-out food when you have had a busy day.
6. Eat greens based salads without dressing
The key to a more enticing dressing-free salad are three-fold: a balance between the components of the salad, a wide variety of flavours and texture (for me, crunch is particularly important) and moisture.
To achieve balance, I recommend cutting or tearing the greens into small portions. This tricks your mind into underestimating the volume of the greens and balances each forkful more equally between greens and other components of the salad. Cutting or tearing the greens leads to the salad feeling much less like a bowl of leaves. It also contributes to your absorption of the nutrients they offer.
I have developed several strategies to create variety. I use an electric spiralizer to spiralize beets and carrots every few days. These add interesting flavors and texture to the salad. Pickled beets and a few olives will also add flavor. Celery slices and a few teaspoons of raw seeds add crunch.
A few mandarin orange or apple slices, cucumber slices or cubes and a tablespoon or two of corn can each add moisture to the salad. In addition to moisture, fruits and corn will contribute sweet flavors. To transition to a no dressing salad, in addition to adding moisture-rich vegetables or fruits, consider topping the salad with a tablespoon or two of guacamole or hummus. If you are eating dairy, feta or cottage cheese will also add moisture and flavour.
7. Do not keep alcohol at home if you are inclined to consume more than one drink per week
I know this last recommendation will be unpopular with a lot of people, but alcohol simply does not belong in a weight reduction plan. Not only does alcohol add empty calories, but when you have alcohol in your system your body in unable to burn fat or process 75 to 90 percent of any other calories you take in, leading to those calories being stored as fat. Depending on the amount you drink, your gender and your particular metabolism, it could take up to 48 hours for your system to fully process the alcohol you ingested. That means most of the calories you eat or drink during that 48-hour period will be stored as fat.
If you are adamant about keeping alcohol in your diet, your calorie tracker will not make the necessary adjustment for the effects of alcohol on calories burned so you need to make a mathematical adjustment to this number for the period that there is alcohol in your system and adjust your intake accordingly. Online calculators are available to compute alcohol breakdown time based on your gender, weight and alcohol consumed.
I recommend making a downward adjustment to your calculated calories burned equal to the proportion of hours in the day in which there is alcohol in your system.
If you are a 180-pound man, it will take approximately five hours for two 12 ounce beers to clear your system. Assume your calories burned for a day with no exercise are 1500, reduce that by 5 hrs/24 hrs x 1500 = 313 calories. In addition, each beer had approximately 155 calories so having the beer means you effectively used 313 +155 x 2 = 623 calories, or over 40 percent of your daily caloric allowance. If you are a 120-pound woman with 1200 calories burned in a day with no exercise, it will take almost 8 hours for the beer to clear your system, which means your caloric cost for the beer is 8 hrs/24 hrs x 1200 calories + 310 calories of beer = 710 calories, which is nearly 60 percent of your daily caloric allowance.
Seriously, ditch the alcohol while trying to lose weight. Doing otherwise will create a nutrition deficit or cause you to fail to achieve your weight loss goals.
Best of luck in achieving all of your goals for 2021!