Reality shows like The Biggest Loser are often misleading. Unless you quit your job and spend the whole day at the gym, you’re not going to lose 20 pounds in a few weeks. Even if you did, the extreme exercise and strict diet will be incredibly difficult to maintain. If you slide even a little bit, your weightloss will plateau – and very often, you’ll gain back everything you lost, and more.
Renee Rogers, an exercise physiologist, advocates taking a completely different approach. “Make small changes that work with your life and your personality, but stick to them. Even fi you lose just 5 pounds a month, you’ll lose 50 by the end of the year. Furthermore, you’re more likely to maintain your weight because you’re on a diet and exercise program that you enjoy.”
Jaclyn London, a nutrition director and registered dietitian, agrees. “The biggest obstacle in weightloss is lack of motivation and frustration. You think your ideal weight is beyond your reach. Small, sensible changes can help you stay on track. You will never feel discouraged or overwhelmed.”
Aim to lose 1 to 2 pounds a week
It’s dangerous to lose 5 pounds a week without medical supervision. “You will be at risk for malnutrition from very low calorie diets,” says Renee Rogers. “Very fast weight loss and weight gain can also throw off your metabolism and hormones. Your body will feel you are going through extreme stress, and try to keep the weight.” You should give yourself at least two to four months to lose 20 pounds without throwing your body off-balance.
London gives another formula: body percentage. “I wouldn’t recommend losing any more than 7-10% of your current weight in less than a three to six month range. Weight that comes off too fast for some may be impossible to keep off.”
Spread out your calorie intake
The key to sticking to any diet is to never allow yourself to go hungry. When you deprive yourself to the point of feeling weak, dizzy or irritable, you’re more likely to give up on your diet or make bad food choices.
Prevent this by dividing your total calorie intake so you can eat every four hours. For example, if you need to limit calories to 1,800, you can have a three 400 calorie main meals, and then have 600 calories left for small snacks. Since you’re constantly fuelling up, you never reach a point when you can wolf down a bag of cookies in one sitting. (Here are some healthy snacks that will satisfy cravings.)
Never skip breakfast
It’s the most important meal of the day! Your body needs to refuel after going 10 or more hours without food overnight. If you skip this meal, you’re more likely to binge during lunch hour.
If you don’t have time to sit down for breakfast because you need to get to work early, prep your breakfast and eat it at your desk. Healthy options include: a wholewheat sandwich, overnight oats in a mason jar, instant oatmeal, cereal and low-fat milk, yoghurt and fruit.
“Eating a healthy breakfast also sets the right mental mindframe. You’re already telling yourself, ‘I am going to eat right today. I am taking care of my body. I am making healthy choices.’ That sets the mood for the rest of the day,” says London.
Take the 50% rule
Rogers says that overcomplicated diets that bans foods or requires measuring portions are too unrealistic for most people to maintain. “The best diets are the simple diets. It’s easier to stick to something that doesn’t stress you out. It’s common sense.”
She recommends a very easy rule: just make 50% of your meals vegetable-based. Eat meat, but fill half of your plate with salad. If you’re too tired to cook, just scramble an egg but add heaps of tomatoes and onions.
Make healthy eating easy and instinctive
Prepare vegetables or buy them in pre-prepared bags so it’s convenient to eat. “We reach for chips because it’s an easy way to satisfy hunger. Make it just as easy for carrot sticks or apple slices.”
In the same way, make it difficult and even annoying to eat unhealthy food. Don’t buy chips or cookies at the supermarket, so when cravings hit at 8 pm you know you need to walk to the nearest convenience store just to buy the junk food.
Another easy, no-brainer way to lose 20 pounds: always prefer food in its natural state. Eat fruit instead of drinking fruit juice. Bake a potato instead of frying frozen fries. You immediately skip preservatives, salt and artificial flavourings.
Commit to 15 minutes of physical activity a day
Don’t have the time, energy or motivation to go to the gym? Then at least promise yourself to spend 15 minutes of physical activity – even if it isn’t technically exercise! Walk instead of taking the bus. Climb stairs instead of taking the elevator. Dance in your bedroom. Mop the floor. Anything that gets you off your seat!
Diet experts say that the worst thing you can do is to take an all or nothing approach to exercise: I won’t go to the gym, so I won’t exercise at all. Any exercise is better than no exercise, and once you get into the habit of physical activity, you’ll feel less emotional resistance to trying a home workout and eventually signing up for an exercise class.