It’s the beginning of the New Year, and for a lot of people, that means the beginning of a new, healthier lifestyle. However, many of these New Year’s resolutions are being tested with January inching to a close.
Staying fit and healthy is no easy task. Every person’s body is unique, and as a result, everyone responds to diet and exercise differently. This means that losing weight is a commitment, one that a person must actually spend time trying to make work.
Carol O’Neil, a registered dietitian and professor at LSU, offered insight explaining how to go about fulfilling this commitment. O’Neil began with a forewarning.
“Before we talk about diet at all, let me just say that children, the elderly, people with health problems or those who are more than 50 pounds overweight really need to have seen a doctor prior to any attempt to lose weight.”
She then continued, explaining the different reasons why a person may struggle so much with losing weight.
“One important component is their motivation for losing weight,” O’Neil said. “If the motivation is not there or it is coming from the wrong source, the diet will not work. The individual themselves needs to want to lose the weight and be ready to take action to do it,” she said.
A big factor in the effectiveness of weight loss is that many incorrectly believe that they can lose weight by exercise alone.
“I do want to comment on physical activity,” O’Neil said. “This is a good adjunct for overall health; however, it is unlikely to help people lose weight, although it may be important in weight maintenance. It is certainly important though in overall disease reduction and health promotion.”
O’Neil said many are doomed to fail at the start because of their impractical assumptions.
“Another one of the main reasons people fail is that they have unrealistic expectations for weight loss, and when it does not happen and happen quickly, they become discouraged and go off their diet,” O’Neil said. “Weight gain happens one pound at a time and weight loss is going to happen one pound at a time.”
To help fight against this struggle, O’Neil suggested that it helps to have a realistic weight loss goal.
“One thing that might help is the setting of reasonable and reachable goals Even a 10 percent weight loss can improve health.”
For some, the reason a person does not change their diet is due to a lack of education. There are hundreds of diets floating around—How is someone supposed to know which one works for them, or at all?
“Programs, which are expensive, that provide food are only effective as long as the food sent is consumed. Once the person stops ordering the food and they return to what they were eating, and the weight will come back on,” O’Neil said. Most of these programs lack the ancillary nutrition education that people need.”
O’Neil continued about dieting misconceptions, focusing in on the ones which heavily regulate certain food groups.
“Diets that severely restrict food groups are seldom a good choice. The country is riding a ‘Gluten Free’ mania. This diet/food is designed for a narrow segment of the population, those with diagnosed Celiac Disease or some other type of gluten intolerance; those with a wheat allergy would also benefit. Gluten Free diets are not for weight loss, however, but the ads imply they are good for overall health.”
Another thing to be wary about is celebrity diets, she said.
“What does Suzanne Sommers know about nutrition? The same is true of other celebrity endorsers.”
While there are several obstacles for staying fit, O’Neil made it clear there are still many viable options to losing weight.
“The Dietary Guidelines for Americans provides a range of kcal options; one of these is likely to work out well,” she said. “The DASH (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension) diet has also been associated with weight loss. Both of these are available online…for a weight loss program, I would recommend Weight Watchers, since they work with ‘real’ food and teach moderation.”
More specifically, O’Neil offered advice for students trying to diet while on a budget.
“From the standpoint of a student eating on campus—choose non-starchy vegetables, fruit, whole grains, and low-fat or fat-free-milk more often than starchy foods or sugar sweetened beverages (note that 100 percent fruit juice is not a sweetened beverage). Avoid gravies and dessert too. I had a friend who went on a ‘Cookie Diet’ and the only thing he did was cut cookies from his diet and he lost 40 pounds.”
She continued, “The broke college freshman also needs to be careful of portion sizes—reasonable meals that can lead to weight loss can be selected from fast food restaurants.”
“So for example, from McDonalds, a single hamburger and a side salad with dressing on the side is an option. For those living off campus, choose the foods with lower calories every time: Non-starchy vegetables rather than starchy vegetables or broth-based soups rather than cream soups. Choose 1 percent or skim milk, water or unsweetened coffee or tea rather than sugar sweetened beverages. Avoid high energy condiments like mayo.”
O’Neil’s final piece of advice related to what she believes is the most important of dieting, the mindset behind it.
“When people think of diets, most of them think short term: it’s a little like going on a vacation—go on vacation, have a good time, and come home; go on a diet, lose the weight you need to get into a dress or whatever, and go off the diet. What they need to do is to think of lifestyle change—this doesn’t need to be drastic and it doesn’t need to be done all at once.”