Hello summer! Hello more body exposure! It is at this time of year when the extra treats, the skipped workouts, and the hard facts from the past several months of bathing suit hibernation inevitably surface. Granted, this is not something I recommend over-thinking or obsessing over, but I do have clients that come to me just to forge ahead and get that extra boost to shave off those last few sticky pounds. You know the sticky ones. The ones that are fully happy hanging around while you eat healthfully, workout regularly, and focus on the rest of your world? They slowly creep up after a few days of eating out, celebrating holidays or birthdays, and although you may go back to your previous healthier habits, they just stake a tent and proclaim their insistence to stick around. At this point, you can offer them residence or you can show them the front door.
Here are my top 10 tips (5 food and 5 behavioral) to turn up the heat and kickstart your way past a plateau:
- Max out on fiber. The brain recognizes satiety – the state of fullness and satisfaction – when stretch receptors throughout your stomach are physically triggered by bulk (fiber plus water). People who eat diets that are high in fiber tend to be leaner, eat fewer calories, and lose weight easier (some research: here and here). Fiber is found only in plant foods. Base your diet on the Whole Food, Plant-Based Pyramid or Plant-Based Plate to ensure a high fiber diet and easy weight loss.
- Eliminate concentrated sources of calories. Caloric density is essentially the amount of energy (calories) per unit mass of food. Aim to eat the least amount of calories with the most amount of nutrients and fiber to promote weight loss. Foods lowest in caloric energy include (in order): vegetables, fruits, whole grains, and legumes. Emphasize these foods to shed those last pounds. Here is a great chart I found on the Forks Over Knives website:
- Cut all artificial and refined sweeteners. Artificial sweeteners provide a two-fold jab to your weight loss efforts. First, they are addictive and any type of highly sweetened foods promote sugar cravings, in a vicious cycle as via this graphic. Secondly, they attempt to manipulate your brain. The artificial, calorie-free sweeteners are designed in a lab to be hundreds to thousands of times sweeter than table sugar, thereby perpetuating your taste buds’ tolerance for super sweetness. These calorie-free sweeteners also signal the brain to expect calories, which are not provided, sending a cascade of hormonal reactions that help you store fat. The added sweeteners that do contain calories (sugar, agave, corn syrup, etc.) add extra useless energy (aka empty calories because they provide zero nutrition) and induce fat storage. For more information on sweeteners, click here for my VegNews article and here for my PerezHilton.com video. If you must sweeten, opt for fruit, fruit purees, mashed bananas, vegetable purees like sweet potato and pumpkin, dates, date paste, and pure maple syrup.
- Boost water intake. Water intake may seem unrelated to weight management, but there is something to be said for maintaining homeostasis. Although one small study claims water consumption may even augment energy expenditure, it is most likely the behavioral and psychological elements that help with weight management. Water provides a sense of satiety in the stomach and, further, sometimes thirst signals can be confused for hunger, leading you to eat when all you really needed was to rehydrate. Mild dehydration (which many people consistently walk around with) can cause cognitive disfunction, lack of energy, impaired performance capacity…issues that can dramatically impact your food choices. Prevent any level of dehydration by consuming approximately 8 -12 8-ounce cups (64 – 96 ounces total) a day. Further, compensate for excess heat, fluid losses via exercise, and diuretic beverages like those with caffeine and alcohol by drinking even more water. For more info on proper hydration with fitness, click here for the ACSM guidelines.
- Eat as close to nature as possible. Because of both of the first tips (#1 and #2) above, the goal should be to eat foods in their original state. Imagine a food from the moment it is plucked off the planet and how many stages of change it can evolve before it ends up on your plate. For instance, a kernel of wheat when whole contains a variety of fibers, phytochemicals, vitamins, and minerals that are removed when refined into bread or flour. Further, look at what happens when you extract the oil from an olive or flax seed…you lose all of the fiber and other key nutrients and then substitute in the excess calories and fat. A similar process occurs when taking fruit and dehydrating it into dried fruit or taking out the fiber and making juice. Ideally, to optimize weight loss, go for food in its initial state. For more info on oils and how to cook without them, click here for my episode on Reluctantly Healthy and here for a clip from my book, The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Plant-Based Nutrition.
- Practice mindful eating. How many times have you sat down with a huge plate of food only to suddenly notice you had finished everything without realizing it? Or that infamous disappearing bag of potato chips (which is a whole other blog post)? Eating while talking or watching tv or sitting at the computer can be disastrous to your weight loss goals. Focus on each bite, chew mindfully, and listen to your body so you don’t miss a meal and so you can focus on your body’s inner signals.
- Eat less. Because we are told to eat varying amounts of meals and snacks by different experts based on some exogenous formula, we have long forgotten our true inner hunger/satiety signals and eat because we are “supposed to” or because it is “convenient.” Until you avoid toxic hunger and eat only for actual physical hunger, it will be difficult to comfortably master weight control. Ultimately, you end up eating less because your body intuitively knows how much it truly needs to maintain its ideal weight and thrive. There’s also evidence that eating fewer calories increases longevity (some research: here and here). Getting rid of stimulating, addictive foods (refined, processed, and animal products) enables true hunger signals to be clear and cravings disappear. Great books on the subject: Breaking the Food Seduction, The Pleasure Trap, and Salt, Sugar, Fat.
- Move more. Exercise may not be the most effective primary weight loss tool (food intake is way more significant), but weight loss maintenance is very difficult – if not impossible – without it. Regular workouts and consistent movement throughout the day provide limitless benefits for overall health management. For weight specifically, you need to continue building muscle tissue to keep your metabolism firing and burning energy to promote calorie output. Include cardiovascular, resistance, and flexibility training in your workouts and move every single day. Short bursts of exercise are comparable to one long one, so there are no excuses to make it fit into your day. Here are some easy exercises you can do anywhere from What Would Julieanna Do? and Power of a 5 Minute Fitness Break by Lani Muelrath.
- Manage stress. There is no doubt that stress can lead to weight gain and prevent weight loss. Stress hormones can interject their powerful effect despite diet attempts by increasing appetite and sugar cravings and by relocating fat. Since everyone is unique, there are different techniques that resonate with different people. Experiment to find the ones that are effective for you and commit to participating on a regular basis. Whether it’s meditation, journaling, reading, taking a walk, deep breathing, and/or just sitting, schedule it in and know you are making a good investment in your body, mind, and soul.
- Sprout your social network. Social support turns out to be a secret to eternal youth and weight loss bliss. Having connections, communication, and support during and after a weight loss program have been shown time and time again to evoke success. Go to groups, find a web-based app, connect on social media, and tell your loved ones around you that you are focused on succeeding. That support is priceless and will expand throughout all aspects of your life.