By: Melissa Wadolowski, RD, LDN, CHC, Jefferson Health – New Jersey Dietitian
The New Year has arrived again, and many people are reevaluating their goals and making promising resolutions. Losing weight? It’s at the top of the list. Unfortunately, instead of relying on a healthy diet, many people focus solely on exercise or contemplate various fad diets (trendy weight loss programs that promise quick results).
As a dietitian, seeing excessive weight loss over a short period of time is an indicator that something is wrong. With this preoccupation on losing weight, we tend to lose sight of the big picture: our health. Weight is an imperfect measurement that doesn’t tell us about the body’s functions. By focusing on that one number, your muscle tone, fat stores, and hydration status are all variable and often overlooked.
While it’s possible to lose weight exclusively through exercise, it requires a lot more effort than when it is accompanied by a healthy diet. Continued consumption of junky foods is counterproductive. Foods provide the building blocks of our bodies; we rely on these nutrients for growth, repair and energy. Working out at the gym more might make up for some of that extra intake, but you’re still allowing for all those sugars, unhealthy fats and food additives to be incorporated into your body.
What many people forget is just how much exercise is required to burn off these extra calories. If you ate two sandwich cookies for a mid-day snack and wanted to burn them off during your workout, it would take about 45 minutes of walking.
It’s also possible to lose weight through fad diets and prolonged calorie restriction. However, these methods are not only unhealthy, but entirely unsustainable. Quick weight loss often means you’re losing muscle along with fat stores. Chronically restricting calories will cause your metabolism to slow down, as your body avoids starvation. This will last beyond your dieting period, and as you return to your normal eating habits, your weight will steadily increase.
To address your weight sustainably, you need to consider long-term lifestyle changes instead of instant results. Healthy lifestyle goals can be well-rounded, easier to achieve and have a much greater impact on your quality of life.
Many struggle to make healthier diet choices without feeling like they’re kept “prisoner” from all their favorite foods. The trick is to stay mindful and accountable. You can’t expect your choices to be perfectly healthy 100 percent of the time. This may lead to feelings of failure and low self-worth if you deviate from your diet.
The goal is progression, not perfection. As long as you’re choosing healthier options about 80 percent of the time, you can incorporate treats into your diet without diminishing the results you’re looking for. Experts often refer to this as the 80/20 rule. Perceiving having treats as “cheating,” based on convenience and availability, can lead to an unhealthy relationship with food. It’s okay to appropriately and moderately incorporate treats that you truly enjoy.
Remember, your weight and health status are a result of your habits over time. By focusing on both exercise and a healthy diet, you are more likely to see better and faster results!
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