Summer is officially upon us and thoughts are quickly turning into ‘out of office’ replies and lazy days in the sun, but if you’ve failed to get that summer-ready body that you’d hoped to achieve this year, just like in previous years, then you are certainly not alone. Losing weight is one of the toughest challenges that we humans face, but understanding the reasons why we fail and building a strategy for success is the way forward.
Angela Fitch, MD, is the Associate Director of the Massachusetts General Hospital Weight Center and faculty at the Harvard Medical School. She is also the chair of the Jenny Craig science advisory board and talked to M&F in order to give us a greater understanding of the obstacles we face, and the knowledge required to lose weight.
Whether we’ve let ourselves go completely, or just want that 6 pack to finally show through, we all share the same struggle when it comes to making the right decisions, but why is the process of losing weight so darn tough? Well, for starters, restricting your calorie intake is just part of the puzzle. “Weight loss is an abnormal process for the human body, just like how you cannot hold your breath for very long without automatically breathing,” says Fitch. “The human body is engineered to protect against weight loss by nature, so losing weight and maintaining weight loss is very hard to do.”
When we think about losing weight, our focus is often on making a physical change but to do so, we must also understand our current mental state. “Mental and emotional health is really important when trying to make physical changes,” says Fitch. “Weight loss specifically is difficult, and not being in the right mental or emotional headspace can take its toll. I always say that you need to be doing this for yourselves, not because someone else wants you to, and that you need to be patient because losing weight healthfully can take time. So, while of course, your physical health is very important and that’s what I counsel my patients in, emotional and mental health is tied to our physical side as well.”
Lifestyle changes are essential for dropping fat
The often used saying; “If you keep doing the same things, you will get the same results’, has never been more apt than when related to weight loss. “Losing weight is always challenging,” says Dr. Fitch. “It’s more than just eating healthier and exercising. You really have to change your whole mindset and some of your lifestyle habits as well. Going out to dinner or having drinks with friends is very different when you’re trying to lose weight.”
Taking control of your food intake is so difficult because we need food to survive, and snacks are all around us. So many of our favorite social situations revolve around unhealthy foods, from sporting events to weddings and wild nights out, and this makes it all the more difficult to cut out the junk.
Hang in there when it comes to losing weight
Another barrier to sticking with our weight loss plans is the fact that losing weight is not an instant process. “It can also take a long time to do correctly and healthfully, and sometimes people hit a wall or plateau and they can lose the motivation to continue,” says Dr. Fitch. In addition to ongoing lifestyle changes, you need to find a way to gain a metabolic advantage that re-engineers your body to accept weight loss as an ‘ok’ state. “The human body wants
to maintain its set point weight, even when this weight is too high,” she says. “So, the body makes neurotransmitters that signal you to eat more even when you are trying to maintain balance in your diet. Also, the more weight you lose the lower your metabolism is, and then when you consume more calories you tend to gain even more weight with this lower metabolism.” So, what can we do to win the battle of the bulge?
Lose weight by ditting the ‘diet.’ Set goals instead.
“The first thing you can do is not be on a diet but rather set goals for a better nutritional plan, and build in some support so you can maintain structure and consistency,” shares Dr. Fitch. “Having a support team, a coach, a friend, or an accountability partner has been shown to produce better results than going at it on your own.”
Dr. Fitch also recommends sustainable nutritional programs over fad diets, such as Jenny Craig’s Max Up program. This program, and other like it, are less about restriction and more about healthy changes that can be maintained over a longer period of time. Max Up, for example, includes breakfast, lunch, and dinner, but also accounts for snacks and desserts. There’s also 1-to-1 coaching so that you don’t feel like you are making this journey alone. “Max Up delivers Intermittent fasting methodology, coaching, and chef-crafted food,” she says. “Also, this program has other lifestyle components that are proven to help people lose weight; like fun physical activities and hydration reminders.”
When it comes to losing weight, not all drinks are equal
“Typically, Americans do tend to be chronically dehydrated,” says Dr Fitch. “Either we’re simply not drinking enough water, or we’re drinking dehydrating drinks like soda, or alcohol. Drinking more water can certainly help with weight management, especially if you’re swapping sugary and calorie-filled juices and sodas with water. There are also some studies that suggest drinking water helps you burn more calories. You may even suppress your appetite if you drink a glass before your meals.”
Move it to lose it
Another straightforward task to make a difference is to start moving more. “The most important trick that people may not be aware of is that you can’t stick to just one type of exercise like cardio or strength training,” says Dr. Fitch. “It’s really a mix of these activities that are most effective for weight loss.”
Biking, Running, or Swimming “These are more vigorous exercises that get your heart rate shares up and help you burn more calories in less time,” Dr Fitch. “But it is also fine to walk if you cannot do these activities.”
Strength Training “In combination with an activity like running or walking, add a day or two of strength training into your week-by-week workouts,” suggests Dr. Fitch. “This will not only help you to shed the pounds, but also prevents you from losing muscle mass as you lose the weight. And, the more muscle you have, the more calories you burn at rest.”
HIIT Workouts “Brief bursts of intense exercise followed by longer periods of slower, less demanding activities may burn more fat than a single sustained activity,” says Dr. Fitch, who recommends that people could enroll in HIIT programs in their local gym, or if they want to make smaller strides, they could experiment with walking tempo and duration in order to switch things up.
Final thoughts on fat
“We need to accept that obesity, defined as an excess and dysfunctional storage of body fat that adversely effects your health and well-being, is a disease process that warrants non-stigmatizing and unbiased treatment,” says Dr. Fitch. “Set an initial goal of 5% weight loss and keep working from there. 5% weight loss sustained over time reduces the risk of developing diabetes. If your excess body fat is impacting your health and you are ready to change that, know that it takes a combination of efforts and there is help and support out there from programs such as Jenny Craig as well as from your healthcare team.”