There certainly is no shortage of diet approaches out there, and if you’ve been around the block you may have dabbled in more than a few! Here is a list of strategies sure to boost your efforts no matter what type of diet you choose to follow.
Find a buddy
Whether it's a spouse or friend that will follow along in your new diet and workout regimen 100% (or even just 100% of the time you can see what they are eating!) having a partner to embark upon a dieting journey with is paramount to success. Diets can be tough and having someone to share in the pitfalls and successes can make all the difference when you feel the temptation of giving up. Even if your buddy won't be partaking directly along with you, make sure you have someone that knows about your diet plans that you can report to and have on your team as support.
Don’t have anyone you think you can lean on for support? Consider joining an online or smartphone app-based diet and weight loss forum (there are a ton and most are free!) to have a group of people to check in with and be accountable to.
Include exercise that you can get excited about
Instead of forcing yourself to exercise, all the while convinced that you aren’t having fun, find some form of movement that you actually want to do. For those new to working out, think about your personality type when choosing an exercise approach. Do you enjoy socializing and are you comfortable being around others while sweating up a storm? Then joining a group fitness class like aquafit at the local pool or a learn to walk or run group are perfect for chatting and having fun, with calorie-burning as a side effect. Are you pretty sure that you dislike exercise? Then try out something that is “exercise in disguise” like a dance class (zumba is great!) or hiking in nature. Don’t mind exercise but you would rather do it on your own time and schedule? Then consider home gym equipment like a stationary bike or treadmill, or getting a pass to your local gym where you can use the equipment at your own pace.
Do you really have to exercise to lose weight? Maybe not. Do you really have to exercise to lose weight more easily and keep it off in the long run? Absolutely. In addition to the many health benefits of staying fit through regular exercise, it will boost weight loss and help you keep the pounds off. Weight loss approaches that involve changes to diet alone can often result in plateaus (periods where the weight does not budget despite continued dieting) when your metabolism has leveled off and become used to the new way you’ve been eating. Exercise can help break through plateaus, by consistently increasing your metabolic rate and calorie-burning capacity in a healthy and sustainable way. And one day, when you are finished dieting (you hadn’t planned on dieting forever had you?) you will want to keep stimulating your metabolism to avoid gaining the weight back – and the best way to do this is with consistent exercise.
Beware of magical diet pills
Advertisements in magazines for “magic” diet pills that can help you loose 10, 20, 30 or more pounds in a matter of weeks really do sound too good to be true, don’t they? Well (and here’s the shocker) that’s because they are. Most of these diet pills are based on ephedrine and/or caffeine (or similar) compounds, and work by the mechanism of forcing your nervous system into a fight or flight, or adrenaline mode. The idea is that by doing this, your calorie-burning rate will increase or you will have more (perceived) energy for exercise and thus be able to lose more. The problem is that taking these types of pills is not sustainable long term, and the list of potential side effects (headache, dizziness, nausea, diarrhea, cardiac problems) can keep you from sticking to a healthy diet and exercise regimen. They also have the potential to affect your metabolic rate, meaning that when you go off of the pills, the weight can easily return and you may have an even tougher time losing going forward.
Choose to loose the stress as well
I am a firm believer that any new health regimen should not ultimately cause more stress, and this counts for dieting. Are diets hard? Yes. Can they be a struggle in a lot of ways? Yes. But should they be causing extra stress in your life? At the end of the day, no I do not think so.
Increased stress (mental, emotional, or physical) causes an increase in the stress hormone cortisol in the body, and unchecked cortisol levels are famous for contributing to further weight gain (particularly around the abdominal area). And since cortisol imbalance has the capacity to slow your metabolism, then it might not matter how hard you continue to cut calories with food or increase calorie burn with exercise – your metabolism, and thus fat burning capacity could be diminished. This means that if your diet is causing you undue stress, you may in fact be hindering your weight loss as a result of cortisol increase! Sounds pretty counter productive, right?
But how can a diet be non-stressful; is that even possible? Yes, as long as you are realistic about your approach and you take measures to make it doable for you. Choose a dietary plan that you know you can follow and feel good on, rather than one you know you will feel deprived following. I typically tell patients, that if the mental-emotional stress of depriving yourself of a certain food is greater than the physiological stress would be if you ate that food, then just eat it! Make sure to have a support network in place to boost your spirits when you need it. Choose to track short-term goals (increasing exercise by 5 minutes a day, losing 1 pound) rather than lofty long-term goals (running a marathon, losing 50lbs) so that you are always winning and feeling positive about your progress.
Consider seeking the advice of a professional
Let’s face it – dieting and weight loss can be confusing, and there is an overabundance of information about there about which diets and weight loss approaches are the best. Which diet works best - low carb, low fat, low calorie, etc.? Should I / can I exercise, and if so how much and what type is best for me? Do I need supplements, and if so which ones?
Sit down with any doctor who sees a lot of weight loss patients, and they will tell you that there really is no one single diet approach that will work for everyone. In my practice, I see a very wide variety of reasons why patients are unable to lose weight easily, and often there it is a combination of factors. Some of the most common medical reasons resulting in difficult weight loss include hormonal imbalance, thyroid dysfunction, need for detoxification, gastrointestinal inflammation, food sensitivities, and metabolic damage. The latter reason I often see when patients have a history of being on calorie-restrictive diets over and over again (with gaining the weight back each time). Addressing some of these conditions is complicated, and will likely involve medical testing and assessment. If you are having difficulty with weight loss or have reached a plateau, despite a good diet and exercise regimen, make an appointment with your physician to discuss options for ruling out whether there is something more complicated going on.
Whatever your reason for embarking upon weight loss, remember that it is a journey – with ups and down, and where you have the opportunity to learn a little bit more about yourself along the way. Treat yourself and your body with kindness, seek professional advice when you need it, and remember that you aren’t only losing weight – you are working towards better health!
Dr. Courtney Campbell is a Naturopathic Physician and co-founder of Aurora Integrative Medical in Vancouver, Canada. Her professional passions including working with patients on their journeys towards weight loss, hormonal balance, digestive health, and improved stress and anxiety.