Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Are You Prepared To Lose Weight?

Yep, it’s that time again! The New Year is upon us, and I would imagine many of you are making New Year’s resolutions. What’s on the agenda for 2010? In chatting with family, friends, acquaintances, losing weight and getting healthy are topping the list…again. It’s difficult to stick with resolutions, especially if you throw in the towel within a month. It typically takes about six weeks to make a behavior change that lasts, so the question is what will help you get through that time. So I ask, are you prepared to lose weight?

Weight loss is just like many other things in life – an action plan is needed, one that includes some accountability to keep things on track. I have some suggestions that might help get things started. Like we’ve discussed before, the keys are diet and exercise (with some goal setting thrown in for good measure).

First, the food. I know, the holidays are tough…big meals, more of them and throw in a little merriment and you’ve got a few extra pounds to deal with. “I’ll just wait until the new year.” Well, it’s time to put together a plan. Keep track of what goes in your mouth for about a week. Yes, that’s right, a food journal. Believe it or not, it really reveals what’s going right and what’s going not so right. People are less likely to overindulge or have that third piece of pie if they have to account for it (here’s that accountability). It also shows habits, when you tend to eat out, or stay home and cook. This brings me to the second part of the “food” category: create a weekly plan for food. By doing this, you can prepare snacks and meals ahead of time, as well as have a grocery list handy when you go to the store. Boil some eggs, chop fruit or veggies or even prepare full meals for easy use later. Again, having a written plan helps to guide the diet and reduce pitfalls.

Next, the exercise. No new news here…having a plan will help. Get out your calendar (you can print a month at a time on Google or Outlook or whatever) and schedule your workouts. Schedule the time as if it’s a piano lesson, doctor’s appointment or client meeting. Again, accountability just like the rest of your appointments. If it’s in the calendar, the time is already blocked off. If you are feeling ambitious, try to schedule specific activities during those appointments. Meet a friend for a jog around the neighborhood. Attend a class at a gym. Alternate cardiovascular and weight training at the gym.

The answer is whatever works best for you to get and keep you motivated. Once you have established a pattern, you and your body are getting used to exercise and eating healthier. So, be prepared to lose that weight!

I hope you enjoy a happy and prosperous New Year!

Monday, November 23, 2009

It Doesn't Have To Be All or Nothing to Lose Weight

Recently, I was chatting with one of my friends and we were discussing how difficult it is to stay “healthy” and “be good” during the holidays. She thought she might just give up since she felt she wasn’t eating all that great anyway, and just start after the New Year. I think we all have had this attitude at some point about something, trying to do everything at once to achieve a goal. The thing that can be great about weight loss is that it’s a multi-faceted project, so you can attack it from several angles. Granted, it’s most effective when you are able use all the tools to achieve the goal the quickest, but that doesn’t mean you can’t try to address one part when your life gets too busy to handle it all.

Let’s take a quick look at some barriers to weight loss that the holiday season might emphasize and little things to do to help stay on track. First, there is the time issues – lots of events, gatherings, etc that are scheduled during your normal exercise times. Try to squeeze in a workout when you can, even if it’s just 30 minutes instead of your usual hour, or just a couple of days a week. If you can get your heart rate up for that time, you have most likely increased your metabolism slightly and it’s more than if you sat and watched television.

Next, there is the food. I don’t know exactly what it is about family, friends and the holidays, but it brings out some scrumptious food that you just don’t see all year. Unfortunately, many of these dishes are loaded in fat, sugars and assorted other items that are not on the regular food list of what you eat. On the flip side, it’s also a great time of year to get out and hit the dance floor and burn some of those calories as you are taking them in. Another trick is to eat something healthy before you leave the house. When you get to the event or party, you won’t be as hungry and not as tempted to eat everything available. I allow myself one serving of my most favorite food as a treat to myself – that way I am having something I enjoy but managing the huge spread of treats at the same time. When you do decide to eat, see if you can sit down and enjoy every last bite. When you are standing and grazing, you are more likely to eat more than if you fill your plate and sit down.

Finally, let’s look at the challenge of traveling or having guests in your home. This is actually a great opportunity to ask a family member or friend to join you on a walk after the big meal, or to get up and fix a healthy breakfast together. Involving other people is motivating on both sides: you have incorporated some exercise and/or healthy eating with your family or friend, and they might be looking at you and your habits as motivation to make a change in their lives. It’s amazing how the smallest things can make the biggest difference.

Back to my friend….she realized she wasn’t eating awful, she just needed to watch out for the office pitfalls of cake and candy, and she’s still on track. See, it doesn’t have to be all or nothing!

I wish you and yours a Happy Thanksgiving and Holiday Season!!

Monday, October 26, 2009

What's In a Label?

Sorry I have been out of touch…I got some of the crud that’s going around and had to take it easy and recover. While I was sick, I found myself reading labels on my over the counter medications: what was the dosage, how much of what ingredient was in a tablet, how often to take them, any side effects that are possible, you get the idea.

I know most of us don’t give food labels this much attention, but perhaps it’s something we should consider. A food label can provide a considerable amount of information, which comes into play with a healthy lifestyle and weight loss.
First, it tells you how many calories are in a serving, and where those calories come from. It’s all a basic math equation, believe it or not. One gram of carbohydrate equals 4 calories, same for protein and one gram of fat is 9 calories. So, you can see how much energy the food will give you.

Next, what type of energy is it providing? Are the carbohydrates simple (sugary) or complex (think fibrous)? What percentage is the fat content? The answers to these questions are found in the label and the list of ingredients. If you look at the saturated fat content, it tells you the ratio of unhealthy to healthy fats. How much fiber is included in the carbohydrates? By reading the ingredient list, which are listed in descending order, keep an eye out for words that end in “-ose” such as fructose, lactose, sucralose, etc. These are all forms of sugar.

Here’s a little experiment you can do the next time you are in the grocery store: go to the canned fruit aisle. Take a fruit (fruit cocktail or peaches work great) and compare calories and ingredients between those in heavy syrup, light syrup and 100% juice.

Now, I don’t want everyone thinking that foods are horrible if they have a high fat content or some sugars in the ingredients. Balance and moderation is the key. Think of calories like the different grades of gasoline at the pump. If your body calls for premium grade gasoline (or nutrient rich, balanced foods), it functions best on that premium grade. You can choose the low (junk food) or mid grade, but you may not get the best performance and could feel sluggish.

Keep an eye on the labels and watch the scale and your mood change!!

Sunday, September 27, 2009

It's Not Easy Losing Weight...Or Climbing a Mountain

This weekend, for the first time, I had the experience of climbing one of Colorado’s famous “Fourteeners.” I ended up tagging along with a friend and a couple of people I didn’t know prior to the hike. While it was one of the “easier” mountains on the list, it sure wasn’t easy to finish. There was knee deep snow most of the way, and the trail was covered on the upper half of the mountain. The wind was blowing harder than I imagined it could, and I kept stepping on unstable rocks. Despite all the struggles during the hike, I was glad to get back to the car and know I had accomplished something I wanted to do that wasn’t easy.

It occurred to me this hike has many similarities to losing weight. The weight loss journey isn’t easy, although parts of it may be. The first difficult moment is making the commitment to yourself to set the goal. So you set out on your way, watching your diet and exercising and doing all the things you are supposed to. Things start off pretty simple and then you might hit a roadblock. It might be boredom, it might be a weight plateau, it might be winter, it might be your very favorite food in a very large quantity. Somehow, you need to get past that. It’s not the end of the world, if you keep going and not let the setback derail you from your goal. This is where other people are useful. These other people are your supporters, cheerleaders and teammates, if you will. They know you want to accomplish your goal, and can help you up that steep hill. They might be people that have similar goals to yours, so you push each other to the next level. They could be people you don’t know all that well, but provide the motivation you need at that point and time.

It’s not without some pain either. Forces around you will try to get you off track. The wind will blow, the snow will fall, but it’s up to you to keep moving forward.
The top of the mountain, or reaching your goal, is only a landmark in the journey. Once you have experienced your desired weight loss, it’s important to maintain it so you don’t end up where you started. If you are at the top of the mountain, you still have to get down. The good thing is that momentum is in your favor, helping you to be successful going forward. You have already been up, so you know where the pitfalls are and how to deal with them.

Yep, weight loss and Fourteener climbing aren’t all that different. Set a goal, make a path, deal with obstacles, stay on track, have a support system and enjoy the scenery.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

In Weight Loss, Little Things Can Make a Big Difference

I know many of you, like myself, have been looking at where the money goes and where a few dollars might be saved here and there. Little changes, like one less lottery ticket, buying generic cereal instead of brand name can make a huge difference in the bottom line.

The same principle applies to weight loss and living a healthy lifestyle. I recently read that people underestimate their caloric intake by 30%, and overestimate their exercise expenditure by 30%. What this tells me is that we don’t take into account the little things and how much they can make a difference. We forget to make time to go to the gym and make a plan to exercise tomorrow, or forget that piece of cake for someone’s birthday when the calories are being counted. It’s easy to do.

In order to burn a pound of fat, the caloric deficit required is 3,500 calories. Wow, that’s a big number! Just as it’s easy to forget everything we’ve eaten (or underestimate portion size) or how much exercise we get, it’s also easy to make little changes that can add up to be a big difference.

First, let’s take a quick look at food. A small but easy change is to drink skim milk instead of 2%. It’s not really THAT different. Instead of that prepackaged apple pie, try applesauce or even an apple. Eat a good breakfast, including some protein – it will help you keep going rather than the doughnut mid-morning. Swap your soda for some tea or juice.

The exercise component is really the simpler of the two. It’s especially easy in the Denver Metro area, including all those suburbs such as Highlands Ranch, Littleton, Centennial, etc. Life can get in the way of getting a good workout everyday. The ACSM (American College of Sports Medicine) recommends at least 30 minutes of activity each day for an active lifestyle. Piece of cake, so to speak. Park your car 10 spaces further from the building. When you need a break at work, don’t run to the vending machine and vent, take a walk around the building or the block. It will help to clear your head, and get some steps in too. I bet your dog would love a trip to the park. Again, these don’t have to be a long process. Ten minutes here, ten minutes there all add up in the long haul.

I challenge each of you reading this to try one little thing with diet and with exercise to change for just a week. Write it down in a place that will motivate you. Tell someone, and challenge them to do the same.

Until next time…