Serious about losing weight? Here’s one first step that will change your life
People ask me all the time how I lost 45 pounds at age 56, a time in life when there’s a perception that metabolism is fighting against you. (Actually, the biggest reasons why weight gain is more common as you grow older are a progressive loss of muscle fiber – which burns more energy than fat – and the fact that you’re more likely to be sedentary. Regular cardio exercises and resistance training can turn that around.)
What they want to hear, of course, are a few simple steps that they can then do themselves – not a complicated answer that exhausts them just to listen.
So I tell them to start by doing one thing:
Track everything you eat.
Until you become truly conscious of everything you are putting in your mouth, along with the consequences, your chances of losing weight and keeping it off are slim to non-existent. So much of what we eat is unconscious or so casual that we aren’t truly aware of just how much we are consuming. (Quick tip: Decide now to never “eat out of the bag” again.) Likewise, even foods that seem healthy because they contain vegetables, for instance, can actually pack a wallop of calories simply because of their sauce.
I normally hate chain restaurants, but the fact that they now list the calories of their dishes on their menus – previously required by many states and mandatory nationally under the Affordable Care Act – is a boon. If you know you need to limit your daily calories to, say, 1,200 a day to lose a healthy pound a week – which was true for me – then consuming 800 calories in just one meal, or even drink (such as a milkshake) is clearly a no-no. The thing is, if you don’t eat in chain restaurants all the time (and hopefully you don’t!), you are typically unaware of the consequences of your choices related to food and serving sizes.
When I first joined Ultimate Results, I was given a paper journal to keep track of everything I ate. But that didn’t work for me. I would forget to pack it in my purse, and then forget to enter what I ate when I got home. Or, I would overlook that handful of chips from the bag, for instance. Plus, writing it down is easy enough, but figuring out the calories (along with how I was doing in terms of protein vs. sugar and fat) was too much work.
I was doing great with my personal training, but without fixing my diet, I was clearly not going to reach my fitness goal. So, instead of trying to browbeat me into the proper use of the food journal, the UR team introduced me to a smart phone app called My Fitness Pal (available also on the Web). There are many others, so you can search for the best one for you. But this was the “charm” for me.
Now, no matter where I was, I could whip out my phone and immediately enter what I had just eaten or drunk and get immediate feedback. (The app has a huge database of foods and beverages, including dishes featured by chain restaurants and major brands found in the grocery stores. If you’re eating at a friend’s house or at an independent restaurant, just look for generic descriptions, such as “turkey lasagna,” for an estimate. If you’re cooking at home, enter the ingredients and calculate it exactly.) The app told me how many calories I had consumed, where I stood for the day, and whether I was over the recommended allocation for protein, fat, carbohydrates, etc.
And that’s what finally got me to add cardiovascular exercise into my daily routine, along with my three-times-a-week personal (weight) training. Without the “free” calories I earned during exercise (which you can also enter into the app), I simply couldn’t live on 1,200 calories a day without feeling hungry all the time. Invest in a simple heart-rate monitor, then do whatever cardio exercise you like the best. – biking, hiking or hitting the gym for a spinning class. The monitor will tell you how many calories you burned.
A January 2013 Pew Research Center survey found that 60 percent of American adults say they track their weight, diet or exercise routine (compared to 33% who track other health indicators). But 49 percent of those supposed trackers say they just do it “in their heads.” My bet is that they are not being consistent, and can’t accurately report the calories they are consuming or burning. Knowledge is power.
One study by Kaiser Permanente found that people who wrote down everything they ate doubled their weight loss. Give it a try.