If you are like many people, you want to start off the new year with clear goals for yourself. While there are many types of goals to consider as you begin a brand-new year, weight loss is one that many people choose to focus on.
There are many healthy ways to lose weight in the New Year. Some of them are easier, healthier, or quicker than others. Here is the dilemma: There is ample scientific evidence that fad diets don’t work. In fact, studies show that restricting your food can even create more binge-type behaviors. Take note: most fad diets rely primarily on temporary and often drastic changes in your eating patterns rather than on creating sustainable and loving habits around your health, body, and bathroom scale.
This year, instead of restricting calories, eliminating food groups, or going on the latest fad diet, try an approach that is sustainable, healthy, and scientifically sound. Keep reading and learn some fundamentals of healthy and sustainable weight loss that include, but also go beyond, what is on your plate.
1. Replace Leftover Holiday Goodies with Healthy Options
You may have woken up on New Year’s Day gung-ho with a new diet plan—only to open the pantry to find leftover holiday cookies, candy, alcoholic beverages, and other indulgent snacks you recently served to your family and guests.
While you may think you are strong enough to stay on track in the face of your leftover holiday goodies, what you may not realize is that human willpower can be inconsistent. Your willpower changes based on a few key ingredients, including stress, sleep quality, and blood sugar.
Rather than leaving your New Year’s weight goals up to an inconsistent aspect of the human psychology, try doing a little kitchen cleanse to eliminate the temptations that can derail your healthy eating plan.
- Go through your cupboards and refrigerator and get rid of any refined and processed foods such as refined carbohydrates, fast food, sugary treats, and classic junk food, which have been shown to lead to weight gain.
- Restock your kitchen with fresh, whole foods that ensure you are set up for success.
- Shop the perimeter of the store where most whole foods, healthy produce, and higher quality ingredients are found.
- If you are craving comfort food, try substituting more healthy ingredients for less healthy ones—such as using a natural sweetener (honey, maple syrup, or stevia) instead of refined white sugar.
2. Boost Your Protein Intake
There is an important food group to get to know to support healthy weight loss: healthy protein. One study found that healthy, overweight participants who ate a high-protein diet (25 percent protein) lost substantially more weight than the participants who ate a high-carbohydrate diet with only 12 percent protein.
Healthy proteins to explore include plant-based proteins, such as legumes, nuts, hemp seeds, and chia seeds. Healthy proteins can also include free-range, grass-fed, or wild proteins such as meats, fish, eggs, and organic dairy products.
Adding more protein to your plate has many benefits, including healthy weight loss and maintenance, longevity,(when the protein source is plant-based), increased satiety, and muscle growth and preservation.
- Make sure that your plate includes at least 25 percent protein at each meal.
- Choose healthy, unprocessed proteins whenever possible.
3. Upgrade Your Carbohydrates
Do you know the difference between a refined carbohydrate and a whole carbohydrate? Refined carbohydrates are processed and have added ingredients (such as sugar and additives), whereas whole carbohydrates are unprocessed and come in the form of a whole food, such as fruits, whole grains, and starchy vegetables. Refined carbohydrates are digested by the body very quickly and are associated with obesity, weight gain, and metabolic syndrome. One study of overweight and obese men found that eating refined carbohydrates triggered food cravings many hours after consumption.
Researchers have also found that when adults ate carbohydrates in their whole form, they reported feeling greater satiation and fewer food cravings. Eating high-quality whole carbohydrates—such as brown rice, sweet potato, steel-cut oats, quinoa, or a tart apple—may help you reduce your cravings and achieve long-term, sustainable weight loss.
- Choose whole carbohydrates—whole grains, low-glycemic fruits, and starchy vegetables—for your carbohydrates at each meal.
- Track your cravings and notice how they change depending on what you eat. A reduction in your cravings can help you make progress toward healthy weight loss.
4. Move Your Body Daily
There are many types of movement and many exercise plans that can help you lose weight. Exploring options that span choices such as Zumba, outdoor hikes, and spin class, to yoga, Pilates, and weight training will support you in finding something enjoyable and effective.
When you choose a movement that you enjoy, you will be more likely to find yourself looking forward to it. Studies show that successful weight loss works best when you are consistent with moving your body as well as combining your regular movement with healthy eating.
- Love your movement: For greater inspiration and improved weight management, explore and find forms of exercise you love. For example, one study showed that pleasurable movement improved weight loss for overweight women.
- Schedule it: Creating consistency with your exercise routine will help you expedite your weight loss journey, as well as maintain your weight loss. A recent study found that participants who had lost 30 pounds or more and maintained that weight loss for over a year relied on physical activity to prevent weight regain.
5. Manage Your Stress
While life will always present stressful moments and challenging times, you can control how you respond to stress, and this has a big impact on the damage the stress can do (including halting weight loss).
Creating healthy stress management strategies will support you in feeling better while also promoting healthy weight loss.
- Practice meditation regularly: Meditation has been shown to relax the nervous system and diminish symptoms of stress. Take a few minutes and find a regular time each day (such as first thing in the morning or right before bed) when you can practice meditation.
- Practice self-care: Practicing daily self-care has been shown to quell feelings of stress and increase the overall quality of life.
- Journal: Sort out some of your stressful feelings through journaling. Emotion-focused journaling can help you mitigate stress and increase well-being.
6. Practice Forming Habits
To reach your long-term health and weight-loss goals, you need to create supportive, healthy eating habits. One of the leading researchers in the field of habit formation, James Clear, recommends that you commit to making small, incremental changes rather than trying to create a new habit or get rid of an old habit all at once. Instead of relying on willpower, which can be irregular and inconsistent, you can make small, easy changes that, over time, will lead to impressive results.
Forming habits can be effective in many areas of your life that relate to weight loss, such as eating, exercising, meditation, sleep routines, and your support systems and strategies.
- Consider picking one very small healthy weight-loss strategy and practice making it a daily habit.
- Set a reasonable time frame to work within (such as 60 days) to anchor your new behavior with time, consistency, and practice.
7. Learn Mindful Eating
Mindfulness is defined as the ability to experience real-time thoughts, sensations, experiences, and emotions without judgment. Mindfulness has also been shown to have positive effects on health and well-being in many areas of daily living.
Mindful eating—paying attention to your food, eating consciously, moment by moment—is a well-known practice to support individuals in savoring the eating experience while also staying present during mealtime.
- Practice breathing: Try focusing on your breathing. Slow, deep breaths activate the parasympathetic (calming) branch of your nervous system and support healthy digestion. Breathing before you take each bite also allows you to slow down and be conscious and more mindful of your hunger and fullness cues.
- Practice gratitude: Gratitude helps you focus on the goodness in your life. If eating is confusing, stressful, or even anxiety-ridden, practicing gratitude can shift your perspective and enhance your eating experience, helping you to appreciate the blessings of food and well-being.
8. Celebrate Your Successes
Often, you may find yourself ignoring your little successes and focusing on the gargantuan goal that may require some time and patience. When working toward your long-term health and weight goals, try celebrating the little successes and victories along your way, marking your progress to fuel your hope and inspiration.
- Acknowledge your progress as you go. Tracking changes and celebrating your successes (big and small) will continue to inspire your health and healing.
- Share and celebrate your success with others in your life. Sharing the successes you are having with others can boost your mood and inspire you to stay focused on fulfilling your intentions for your health and well-being.
As you can see, there are many aspects of your health to consider including in your New Year’s weight loss plan. The synergy of each of these strategies creates stepping-stones to your success.
*Editor’s Note: The information in this article is intended for your educational use only; it does not necessarily reflect the opinions of the Chopra Center's Mind-Body Medical Group; and is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health providers with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition and before undertaking any diet, supplement, fitness, or other health programs.
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