We’ve all been there – when you’re carrying extra pounds, losing weight can seem like a daunting task. But the rewards are sweet. The first time you can slide into your skinny jeans (you know, that pair we all save “just in case”) is a moment of pure personal triumph. The key is to sort through all the diet info out there and find out what honestly works. We spoke with dietitians, weight loss coaches, personal trainers and real women who’ve lost the weight – and kept it off – to find out the 20 top diet tips.
You have to change your eating habits permanently if you want to lose weight and keep it off. “You can’t just change what you eat for a short while, for a lasting effect,” says Ramona Josephson, a Vancouver-based registered dietitian and president of weightlossdeal.com.
Foods high in refined sugar are one of the fastest ways to add pounds. Check food labels for sugar in all its disguises: dextrose, fructose, corn syrup and maltodextrin, says Jennifer Salib Huber, a Halifax-based reigstered dietitian and naturopathic doctor. We all have our weaknesses, so if it’s sugar you crave, reduce the amount over time. Ajax, ON mom Kathy Kirton, was overweight after three pregnancies. She went from eating a regular-size chocolate bar every day to a Halloween-size and then to a 100-calorie bar. Then she reduced the frequency of the treats and has lost 28 lbs so far.
Most people know trans fat should be avoided as it increases bad cholesterol (LDL), decreases good cholesterol (HDL) and hardens arteries. And saturated fat should only make up seven to ten per cent of your diet. However, unsaturated fats, found in foods such as nuts, fish oil and olive oil, are beneficial. “They help reduce inflammation, lower cholesterol and prevent cardiovascular disease,” says Salib Huber. Additionally, they slow down the absorption of food into the bloodstream, keeping you full longer. But don’t overdo it. You only need one to two teaspoons of unsaturated fat in a meal.
It seems like a no-brainer, but we’ve all skipped it. “When you eat breakfast, you keep your metabolism rate up. If you don’t eat breakfast, your body sees it as potential starvation and your metabolism slows down,” says Josephson.
To keep your blood sugar level consistent, eat three well-balanced meals a day and snacks between meals more than five hours apart, recommends Josephson. This will help prevent arriving at the next meal famished and “out of control.”
You may fill your plate with healthy meat or fish and veggies, but then defeat your efforts by slathering on a lot of mayonnaise, butter, salad dressing or excess oil, warns Josephson. Limit the amount you’re using and consider selecting a low-fat product, as long as it doesn’t contain high sugar.
Heather Kovensky, who lost 100 lbs as a teenager and now works as a personal trainer, started eating fruits and vegetables instead of chips and cookies. She’ll munch on an apple, pineapple, grapes and carrots. “Carrots and celery are not as fun, but neither is being overweight,” she explains. Sugar also suggests trying raw almonds, yogurt, cottage cheese or soup.
Sometimes Kirton’s kids want to eat at McDonald’s. (They’re kids, after all.) Instead of a soft drink, burger and fries, Kirton orders a chicken fajita, a salad and a water to get her greens and protein. She also requests dressing on the side.
In the age of super-sizing, our sense of appropriate portions has gone out of whack. Learn about how much you actually need to eat. One serving of meat, for example, is the size of deck of cards, says Salib Huber. Use a smaller plate or bowl as a helpful visual cue.
Kovensky tries to have her last meal by 7 p.m. “If I’m eating at 8 p.m., I’m aware of the portions I’m having. I won’t have a big plate of pasta.” Why not? When you go to sleep, you’re sedentary and will burn fewer calories. Also, people tend to reach for comfort foods when they relax late at night.
“I try to drink eight glasses of water a day. Sometimes it’s six, sometimes it’s ten,” says Halifax-based mom Tory Greff. She drinks water especially before reaching for a snack to make sure she’s not just thirsty. “Also on a fuller stomach, I’m not as apt to scarf down as quite as many treats.” If you find the taste bland, try buying lemon or lime flavoured spring water, as Greff does, or opt for decaffeinated herbal tea.
Insufficient sleep affects three weight-related hormones, says Josephson. It can cause a decrease in leptin, an appetite-suppressing hormone, an increase in ghrelin, a hormone that keeps hunger pangs in check, and a rise in the stress hormone cortisol, which increases fat storage. Stress can also bring out our inner binge-eater, so be warned.
Get to the root of problem. “Knowing the reason why you react to certain emotions with food will make a difference in changing your eating habits. You want to identify the payoffs and benefits you think you’re getting, other than the taste, and then create the same type of feelings in other ways,” says Toronto-based weight loss coach Rob Sugar.
For the first three months, Kirton kept a food journal, which helped her accurately track what she was eating and kept her accountable. Even now, if Kirton falls off the wagon, she starts to record what she eats to help get her back on track.
Sugar calls his clients every day in the beginning and then reduces the frequency as new thought and emotional patterns become established. You can also find encouragement from a nutrition coach, a personal trainer, a friend or an online weight loss community, says Salib Huber.
When a relative tried to push Kirton to indulge in a piece of cake, she responded by saying she’d worked really hard to lose the weight and she’d like him to respect her decision. If you don’t want to bring up weight, Josephson suggests saying that you’re absolutely satisfied by the meal and don’t feel you could eat anything further.
Greff lost 25 lbs and then put 10 back on over Christmas. But instead of giving up, she re-examined her goals and got back on the wagon. “I reminded myself that I wanted to have the energy to take my daughter for walks and have the strength to lift her up. I also wanted to look good in my old clothes.”
“You want to do combination of cardio and weights for a minimum of three days a week for 45 minutes to 1 hour each session,” says Erin Galway, fitness manager and elite personal trainer at Goodlife Fitness in Toronto. For optimum weight loss, you need to do weights (which build lean muscles and raise your metabolism) as well as cardio (which burns calories and improves your heart and lung health).
Sometimes you can’t seem to find an hour to yourself. Try working out at home: use an exercise video, do resistance exercises with a Theraband and use food cans as weights, says Galway. Divide your workout into 10- or 20-minute chunks throughout the day and you’ll start to see the results.
To overcome plateaus, keep challenging your body. “For toning, when it becomes too easy to do 12 reps then do 15,” says Galway. A personal trainer can help, adds Kovensky, because she can change the exercises or increase the weights appropriately.