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3 Rules of Healthy Weight Loss, Why We Fail and How to Succeed

Posted by Brooke Grant
3 Rules of Healthy Weight Loss

On the face of it, weight loss advice is extremely simple, and always the same: eat right and exercise. And people with weight problems know this advice thoroughly. In fact, many of them have been on various diets, and are extremely well educated on calories and nutrition. So, if it's that simple, why do so many Americans have problems with obesity?

Eat Right.

  • Calories: a person with average activity levels needs to consume 1800-2000 calories a day.
  • Meals: it's best to eat breakfast, lunch, and dinner, with light snacks in between. Eating early in the day boosts metabolism, and eating late in the day leaves little time to burn calories before sleeping.
  • Nutrition: while “the proper diet” for any one person can be different based on a variety of factors such as genetics, etc., good diets are generally comprised of approximately equal parts protein, fats, and healthy carbohydrates, and include a large variety of fresh fruits and vegetables. Refined carbohydrates and sugars should be used in moderation, if at all, and monounsaturated fats are healthier than saturated fats.

Why do people fail at their diets?

  • Hidden calories. Many foods we think of as healthy or “diet” include more calories than one would suspect. Fruit juices, pre-prepared salads, smoothies, coffee drinks, and many yoghurts all tend to have more calories than we expect. When we consume normal calorie counts in our meals, but neglect to account for high calorie snacks and beverages, they can add up.
  • Meal times: mornings can feel busy and hectic, and many people struggle to find time for breakfast.  Night-time food cravings can be triggered by stress that builds up during the day, not eating enough healthy foods during the day, or disruptions of intestinal processes that inhibit production of serotonin. Our antibiotic-rich environment, late-night sessions staring at the phone screen, or sticking to a strict diet all day long can all lead to late-night craving appetites.
  • Nutrition: we are biologically primed to desire fats and sweets, since our survival as a species often relied on having fat reserves available in times of scarcity. Though many of us aren't at risk of hunger, our biological appetites haven't changed. Even in America, where we enjoy relative prosperity and a stable food supply, 12.3% of households experienced food insecurity in 2016. Food insecurity leads us to eat in a “feast-or-famine” mentality, leading to binging on cheap fast food value menu items, which are also high in fat, salt, and sugars.

Work out.

Regular exercise is the single best thing we can do for our health, regardless of the size of our waistlines. Exercise improves the function of the heart, muscles, organs, and brain, and is linked to positive health outcomes for every part of our body.

  • Aerobic exercise: boosts circulation, strengthens the heart, and improves the function of all body systems and organs, including the brain
  • Anaerobic exercise: strength and resistance training leads to strong bones and muscles, supporting all of our movements and activities

So why do we fail to maintain working out?

In the post-industrial world, many of us are spending all day working at a desk instead of being physically active. In our history, most humans had to put physical work into the act of securing food, and there was no reason to seek additional exercise or activity. Even in the recent past, recreation was in the form of sport, dances, swimming, or walking, rather than in television, video games, or mobile devices. And, of course, for most of history people had to walk or ride a horse in order to get from place to place. Evolutionarily speaking, having a large percentage of the population start their days seated in a car, spend the day seated at a desk, and spend their evenings sitting on a couch, is a new development. In this modern environment, exercise is something extra, outside of the daily necessary routine, and can feel like a chore on top of an already busy schedule.

Be consistent.

Lasting weight loss is a lifestyle, not a single endeavor. Weight gain tends to happen gradually over time, and lasting weight loss happens the same way. Furthermore, while we tend to focus a lot on BMI, it's more important to be healthy and happy than to achieve a particular size or number on the scale.

Why do we fail at consistent practice of health and fitness?

Many people start a diet or a weight loss regimen with an emotion of resolution, or even of frustration. Or else we buy a fad diet or extreme workout series thinking that it will finally make the change. But these strong emotions, whether frustration or enthusiasm, aren't sustainable over the long term. When our emotions change, we tend to revert back to habitual behaviors.

While these are the three rules of weight loss, we frequently break them, for reasons that are entirely understandable and natural. What's important is that, before we begin, we set achievable goals and expectations, make a reasonable plan we can stick to, and perhaps address underlying issues with food and emotional well-being. Knowing when and why we frequently try and fail to lose weight informs better decision making for the next time, so we can make plans that work and create lasting change, inside and out.

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