Ready to lose weight and get healthy? From Day One, choosing the right strategy can boost the odds you'll lose weight and keep it off and see improvements in blood pressure, cholesterol and blood sugar numbers a year later.
A new, headline-grabbing report says tackling diet and exercise together is the key. But another report, ignored by most of the media, suggests there's more to this story.
Researchers from Stanford University followed 200 dieters and discovered those who jumped head-first into a healthier lifestyle — upgrading to five to nine servings of fruit and vegetables a day, slashing artery-clogging saturated fat, and making sure they got 150 minutes of exercise a week — were going strong 12 months later. In contrast, those who made gradual changes were less successful.
Going all-out at the start can be smart. Your motivation is high. You'll get faster results, which will keep you motivated, too. That's why we think it's wise to do at least two things when you're ready to make a healthy change: 1. Commit to a half-hour walk or other exercise every day, and 2. clean out your fridge, replacing the Five Food Felons (saturated and trans fats, simple sugars and syrups and refined carbohydrates) with good-for-you produce, whole grains, low-fat or fat-free dairy products, good fats (olive and canola oil) and lean protein (skinless poultry and fish such as salmon and ocean trout).
A second study from Stanford scientists didn't get as much attention, but it reveals another effective way to lose it and keep it off. The discovery: finding “tricks” that can help you maintain weight loss before you start on your healthy regimen has great results, and dieters regain 60 percent less weight a year later. Here's what they learned, plus other nondiet tricks that will make good health central to your life now and for all the (added) years to come:
Avoid feeling deprived. Put effort into finding healthy splurges that taste as good as the foods you crave. It could be a great veggie burger in place of a double-stacked cheeseburger, a big bowl of berries and an ounce of dark chocolate instead of molten chocolate cake, or hearty whole-grain bread slathered with almond butter and strawberries instead of a grilled-cheese sandwich.
Aim for an ideal weight range, not just one number. If you weigh yourself every day for a week, you'll see how you add and subtract pounds naturally. So set your weight goal in a 5-pound range. If you are too rigid, you'll get discouraged.
Turn in earlier. Staying up into the late hours could lead you to eat 500 extra calories a day. And too-little sleep changes your body chemistry, so when you lose weight, you're losing more muscle and less body fat, not what you want to do for your metabolism or your health. With the right amount of sleep, it's smart to add 20 minutes of strength training twice a week; you'll build lean, sexy muscle and stay strong.
Just add water. Sipping a large glass of water (16 ounces) before each meal and tracking it in your healthy-change journal (you are keeping one, aren't you?) could help you lose extra pounds and keep that weight off. It's an easy change worth diving into!
Stay enthusiastic. Motivation dips after the first four weeks on a diet. So for Week Five, review and celebrate your progress. People who appreciate what they've been able to accomplish are less likely to let a small slip-up (I know I shouldn't have had that ice-cream cone!) derail an enduring commitment to adopting more healthy habits. Also, consider joining an online or in-person support group. Get a workout buddy if you don't have one; it's the No. 1 way to keep yourself on track. And if you haven't been writing down your food and exercise choices, start now. Keeping a journal doubles weight-loss success.
Mehmet Oz, M.D., is the host of “The Dr. Oz Show,” and Mike Roizen, M.D., is chief wellness officer and chair of the Wellness Institute at the Cleveland Clinic. To live your healthiest, visit share care.com.