Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Staying motivated - is your weight-loss programme working?

Once I had committed a weight-loss programme, I found the best way to stay motivated was to actually be losing weight!

I remember being about two months into this nutrition programme and putting on a skirt I hadn't worn for a while. I put my feet through it, hiked it up to my waist, zipped it up at the back - and it was so loose I was able to turn it completely around my body in a single movement. At first I was a bit shocked. Had I really lost all that weight? Then it sunk in. Yes! Woo hoo! Sure, I'd seen the numbers dropping on the scale, but putting on that skirt and seeing the huge gap between my body and the material was fantastic! My motivation went through the roof, and I had no problem sticking with my programme - and still maintaining to this day.

The proverb (or cliche'): 'Nothing succeeds like success' ... is apt with regard to weight-loss. Success with weight-loss does breed further success. When you start getting the very results you are after, you keep doing what is working.

I think the top reason people lose motivation when they are trying to shed fat is because the programme or diet they are following doesn't work for them. Over the years I have tried countless diets (which I posted in detail about here) and got little or no results. There are only so many weeks or months you can carry on eating a particular way when you are not seeing the results you'd been expecting.

Here are three ways to find out if your weight-loss programme is working:

1. Weigh yourself on a weekly basis. You may not see a loss every week, but you should see a regular downward trend over three to four weeks. On average you should losing 500g of fat each week. The only problem I have with scales is that they often do not show the true picture of what is happening with your body. There may be weeks when the scale actually shows weight gain -but that doesn't mean you've gained fat - it could just be fluid retention. The scale does not show that you could be losing muscle instead of fat. Both scenarios have happened to me, and my nutritionist was able to tweak my programme to assist with getting my body back into fat-burning mode. Still, there is merit in seeing the numbers on the scale.

2. Your clothes start to feel looser. I know, this is pretty obvious. But I have to say, there were times when I could convince myself that I was losing weight, and the reason my jeans were so tight was because they'd just come out of the dryer. Choose an item of clothing you can use as a benchmark - keep it in the closet and use it just to check if your body is indeed shrinking.

3. Keep track of your measurements. Measure your bust, waist, hips, thigh and upper arm with a tailor's tape. These are the areas where you are most likely to store fat - so most likely place for the fat to come off. Measure on a weekly basis and write it down. Stay consistent with the tautness of the tape each time you take your measurements - having it loose one week and tight the next is not going to help you track your results accurately.

If you are not seeing consistent weight loss over a three to four week period using the above ways to track your progress, your programme needs tweaking. I will cover possible problem areas and what might need tweaking in next week's post.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Serious about losing weight? Follow this 5-point checklist

I remember when I wanted to lose weight. I just wanted to lose weight. I was tired of squeezing into my jeans and despairing at the flabby reflection in the mirror. I wanted the fat to be gone. But at that stage, I wasn't willing to make the changes losing weight required. I had no intention of giving up easy dinners of pizza and hamburgers. If my husband was going to have a slice of cake after lunch, then I wanted to enjoy one too. If friends invited us over for dinner I was hardly going to refuse a rich and delicious meal. If I stayed up late at night, then my goodness, I really needed to get my rest the next day - forget exercising.

I was not serious about losing weight.

Years - and many failed diets - later, I got serious. Something clicked. This time I was ready to make all of the lifestyle changes that would support losing weight - and staying slim, fit and healthy. When I look back, I can see clearly what was required to make this happen. Here is my 5-point check-list. Rate yourself - are these statements true for you?

You're serious about losing weight if you:

1. Have a definite, numerical weight-loss goal. If your goal is to fit back into the jeans you wore when you were 16 (or 21 or before the baby!), that's not good enough. You need a number - actually two numbers. First, the number you want to see on the scale when you have lost all the fat you need to lose. Second, the number of pounds or kilograms you need to drop to see the first number on the scale. Both numbers are very important. The first number is your goal weight and the weight that you will maintain. The second number should be divided by 1 pound or 500 grams (which is a healthy, weekly fat-loss average) to give you the number of weeks it is going to take you to reach your goal weight. For example, my goal was to lose 22 pounds. Ideally I would be losing 1 pound a week - so I knew it would take me 22 weeks to lose the weight. That's about five months. By by identifying and writing down these two numbers you can track how your weight-loss is progressing each week and make any changes required. You also get perspective - while you really want to fit back into those jeans, you now know it is going to take you five months.

2. Have someone you're accountable to. If you've done Weight Watchers before (or if you're doing it now!), you can appreciate the importance of the weekly weigh-ins. You have to front up, get weighed and be accountable to your supervisor and the others in the group. What a great system! Enlist yourself with a nutritionist or dietician who can track your progress each week and give you the right nutrition advice. Being accountable to someone other than yourself is a solid way to stay on-track every day. You know you're going to have explain any indescretion - it's much easier to just stick with a clean programme.

3. Have a definitive food plan and keep a food diary. Just planning to 'eat healthy' or 'cut out junk food' will not work. Why? Because our brains are too clever! They find ways of justifying any delicious morsel. You need to spell out exactly what foods you are going to eat for breakfast, lunch, dinner and snacks that are going to support your weight-loss goals. Anything not on that list cannot be eaten. Simple as that. Keep a food diary - write down exactly what you eat every day. I keep my food diary in a handy place so that I can write down what I eat after each meal or snack. Sounds a bit over-the-top, but when you weigh yourself each week and you're not seeing a loss, the food diary becomes a handy reference. It also makes you accountable - I can't tell you how much it pains me to have to write down something that is not on my food programme. The food diary has kept me from 'cheating' a fair few times!

4. Are committed to a clearly-defined exercise programme. Set out exactly when, where, what and how long you are going to exercise for. My exercise goals have changed over the years but here's my current clearly-defined exercise programme: Monday through Friday, walk briskly for 40 minutes in on my neighbourhood streets starting at 6:45 in the morning. I know myself too well, if I just set the goal to 'walk in the morning', I would justify this as having been accomplished if I only walked two mornings in a week at a slow pace.

5. Tell people what you are doing. I don't mean emailing your entire contact list about the weight-loss journey you've set out on. I'm talking about those social situations that often cause people to cave in on their weight-loss commitments such as Friday night drinks after work, morning tea shouts, lunch or dinner with friends. If people ask why you are not indulging in all the food and drinks, just tell them. Don't say that you are 'trying to lose weight' or that you are 'on a diet'. That seems to be an open invitation for people to tell you how you don't need to lose weight or 'just have a little'. The best line I've come up with if people ask is: "I only have treat food once a week and this isn't it." Amazing how this works.

If all of these statements are true for you, congratulations, you are on the road to weight-loss!

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

My 6 sure-fire tips for weight-loss plus 1!

I notice a lot of my posts are centered around weight maintenance, probably because that is where I am at. This post is a reminder to myself about what it took to lose the weight in the first place. If you have a goal to lose fat, here are my six sure-fire tips (plus 1!) to fat-burning (you'll notice they are very nutrition-based because losing weight is 80% nutrition!):

1. Cut out the fat. Let me be the first to say that fat is extremely important in a healthy diet. However, if you're trying to kick-start your body into burning stored fat - you can't be eating any. That means no butter on toast, no oil in salad dressings, trim milk in tea or coffee, low-fat cottage cheese and yogurt, and lean meats. This isn't forever ... it is just for the first 4-6 weeks to get your metabolism up and running. Then you'll be having fat in a weekly free-meal and you can introduce 1 tablespoon of food fat (I use flaxseed oil) each day.

2. Eat every three to three-and-a-half hours. The body needs regular re-fueling to ensure it does not go into 'starvation and storage' mode.

3. Eat protein and carbohydrates together at meals and snacks. Protein keeps the blood sugar stable while the carbs give you the energy. I'm not an expert on the science but it works! You won't be starving an hour after eating.

4. Do not eat heavy carbohydrates at your evening meal. Carbs such as bread, potatoes, rice and pasta get stored as fat if you have them during your evening meal. Unless you are an athlete, you don't need these carbs at dinner.

5. Drink lots of water. You need to be peeing clear.

6. Exercise. I am not talking about training for a marathon - or even slogging it out for an hour at the gym. Just walking 40-60 minutes 4-5 days a week at a moderately brisk pace is all it takes for the body to burn fat.

And here's my extra tip which is the best!

7. Eat a free meal each week. After you've been following the above for approximately four weeks (on average you should be losing 500g or a pound a week) ... add in a free meal. Pig out - anything goes. You need it. It will stop your weight-loss from plateauing. Read more about the coveted free meal.

Sound simple? It is! Truly. I highly recommend visiting a nutritionist/dietician to get your food programme spot-on. However, if you just want an idea of what I ate to lose weight and keep it off, I wrote a post about it here.