So losing weight is on your “to-do” list? We’ve identified six essential tasks—based on the clinically tested principles of The EatingWell Diet—to help you get it done.
Losing weight certainly has its rewards: more energy, the satisfaction of slipping into a new pair of jeans, better health. Research shows that, if you’re overweight, losing just 5 to 10 percent of your body weight can improve blood pressure, lower cholesterol and provide better blood-sugar control. But slimming down also means making some sacrifices. You must settle for less dessert, less wine, sometimes even less sleep (gotta fit in that workout somehow!). It often requires carving out some extra time to plan and cook healthy meals. But slimming down doesn’t need to be a full-time job. That’s where we come in.
How can you complete your weight-loss to-do list? Different approaches work for different folks, so we’ve homed in on all sorts of tasks and tools—whether you’re still in love with low-tech tools or you’re tethered to your iPhone (or Droid or BlackBerry). Let’s get started.
Research suggests that if you really want to get thinner, you need to set goals that are specific, measurable and realistic—so, in other words, how much will you lose? By when? (Don’t forget the realistic part! Your answer should not be 20 pounds by next week.)
Tried-and-True: Weigh yourself and calculate your body mass index (BMI), an estimate of percent body fat calculated from height and weight. A BMI of 25 or less is considered healthy; 25 to 29.9 is “overweight,” and a BMI of 30 corresponds to an “obese” category. Next, calculate your daily calorie goal; to lose one pound a week subtract 500 calories. Use the formulas below:
New tools: Consider buying a scale that does some of the work for you. Taylor’s The Biggest Loser Cal-Max Electronic Scale calculates BMI and a “maintenance” calorie intake level. Tanita’s Fitscan Body Composition Monitor also calculates the number of calories needed to maintain your current body weight but, instead of a BMI, it goes one step further and actually calculates your body composition: fat versus lean mass.
Once you set your daily calorie goal, record everything you eat or drink—and the number of calories in these foods and drinks. Studies show that people who keep food diaries tend to lose more weight and keep it off longer than those who don’t. Tally calories as you go. If you wait until the end of the day, you’re more likely to exceed your target.
Tried-and-True: Carry a small notebook to use as a log.
New tools: Track your intake with an app or online site. The free Lose It! iPhone app (or its new Web-based platform, loseit.com), remembers foods you’ve entered so it’s easy to find what you’ve enjoyed before and apply it to a new day. Check out tweetwhatyoueat.com, a free diary that lets you set up a Twitter-based food diary and track your weight and caloric intake. Foodpics Log uses your smartphone’s camera to capture what you really eat—in a nicely organized daily format—and allows you to add notes for each meal and snack. (We recommend entering calories in the notes section.)
If you don’t want life to get in the way of your good-eating intentions, you have to anticipate and outsmart obstacles: namely, high-cal fatty foods that seem to be lurking around every corner. One way to do this is to plan what you eat in advance.
Tried-and-True: Curl up with this issue, a stack of cookbooks and a cup of tea, tag your favorite recipes and jot down the ingredients you need for the week and some healthy snacks to have on hand.
New tools: Log into EatingWell’s Interactive Menu Planner to drag and drop your favorite recipes, plus healthy snacks, into a weekly grid that calculates calories (and other nutrients, including saturated fat, fiber and sodium!) and creates a shopping list. Check out Kitchen Monki, a website where you can store your favorite recipes (and find new ones), make a weekly meal plan and then generate a shopping list from the recipes you’ll be making. It also allows you to designate different locations for buying the ingredients (e.g., spices at the supermarket, produce at the co-op) and send your shopping lists to your cell phone. The SnackApp for the iPhone offers hundreds of ideas for snacks that are 50, 100 and 200 calories. Search by your craving (e.g., salty, sweet, crunchy) or pick the Surprise Me! option.
In the world of football-sized burritos and snack packs that serve six, you constantly need to ask yourself: Is that portion actually one serving?
Tried-and-True: Follow a recipe and divvy it up among the number of plates it says it serves. If you’re making a simple meal—lean meat, side of whole grains and some vegetables—you can use the “divided plate” rule of thumb to help you eat in the right proportions. Divide your plate into three sections: make half of it vegetables, one quarter a whole-grain, such as brown rice, and the other quarter a lean protein, such as chicken, fish or tofu.
New tools: Plates that “tell” you how much to eat. Slimware melamine dinnerware helps remind you of recommended portion sizes with correspondingly sized “food placement areas” (think: flower or swirl, not the divided plates you use at barbecues) for protein, a whole grain or other carb and vegetables. Use a souped-up kitchen scale, like Escali’s Cesto Portable Nutrition Tracker, to find out precisely how many calories are in your serving. Put your snack on the scale and, pulling from its database of common foods, the Cesto calculates its calories. This is particularly great for healthy-yet-higher-calorie snacks, like almonds, dried fruit or cheese—for which a small margin of error can easily result in consuming 100 (or more!) extra calories.
Exercise makes weight loss easier—but more important, people who move more are more likely to keep the pounds off. Aim to burn at least 1,000 calories/week through exercise. (Note: Most of us underestimate how many calories we eat—sometimes by nearly 1,000 calories, says one study.) Try to think of your workouts as a way to compensate for these “margin-of-error” calories.
Tried-and-True: Use this calorie-burning rule of thumb (it’s not exact, but it is easy to remember): Walking or running one mile is equal to 100 calories burned. Riding a bike for the same amount of time it takes you to walk one mile also burns about 100 calories. Look at the “calories burned” output on a treadmill, elliptical or rower (that asks you to enter your weight).
New tools: Download the app for MapMyFitness.com or RunKeeper.com—which, despite its name, isn’t limited to running—and take your phone for a run or a ride or a hike. Using the GPS in your phone, these apps calculate how many calories you burned (not to mention your pace, elevation and more). Don’t want to exercise with your phone? Use these products’ free online sites. There, you can map your route, enter the time it took you to complete it and your weight to get your calorie count. You can also store your workouts and routes and share them with others via Facebook and Twitter. Use the WiiFit Plus to count the calories you burn playing with the kids too. First, you set up your “Mii” (that’s your profile) by standing on the balance board—which weighs you—and completing a fitness assessment. Then when you participate in a Wii activity (hula-hooping! ski jumping!), the game senses your efforts and calculates the calories burned during the session. It also tracks the calories you burn over time.
Study after study shows that teaming up to lose weight is more effective than going it alone. Surrounding yourself with supportive people works for a couple of reasons. The first is accountability: whether you’re attending weight-loss meetings or connecting with a friend at the crack of dawn for a jog, people are counting on you. Plus there’s the element of encouragement.
Tried-and-True: Join Weight Watchers to connect with other like-minded dieters.
New tools: Become part of the Losing Well diet community to connect with fellow dieters as you all follow the EatingWell Diet. If you’re looking for social support along with individualized feedback from a trained weight-loss expert, check out Vtrim, an online weight-loss program developed at the University of Vermont by Dr. Jean Harvey-Berino, co-author of The EatingWell Diet. Vtrim’s six-month virtual weight-loss program centers around weekly one-hour group Web chats guided by a certified facilitator.
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