Summer is officially upon us and thoughts quickly turn to out-of-office notes and lazy days in the sun, but if you haven't managed to get that summer-ready body you've been hoping for this year, just like years past, then you are certainly not alone. Losing weight is one of the toughest challenges we humans face, but understanding the reasons why we fail and developing a strategy for success is the way forward.
Angela Fitch, MD, is Associate Director of the Massachusetts General Hospital Weight Center and Faculty at Harvard Medical School. She is also Chair of Jenny Craig's Scientific Advisory Board and spoke to M&F to give us a better understanding of the obstacles we face and the knowledge it takes to lose weight.
Whether we're letting ourselves go completely or just want that 6-pack to finally shine through, we all share the same struggle when it comes to making the right decisions, but why is the weight loss process so darn difficult? Well, for starters, limiting your calorie intake is only one piece of the puzzle. "Weight loss is an abnormal process for the human body, just like you can't hold your breath for very long without breathing automatically," says Fitch. "The human body is inherently designed to protect itself against weight loss, so losing weight and maintaining weight loss is very difficult."
When we think about losing weight, our focus is often on a physical change, but to do that we also need to understand our current mental state. "Mental and emotional health is really important when trying to make physical changes," says Fitch. “Weight loss in particular is difficult, and not being in the right mental or emotional headspace can take its toll. I always say that you need to do this for yourself, not because someone else wants you to, and that you need to be patient as healthy weight loss can take time. While your physical health is of course very important and that is what I advise my patients to do, emotional and mental health is also connected to our physical side.”
Lifestyle changes are essential for fat loss
The often used saying; "If you keep doing the same things, you'll get the same results" has never been more apt than in the context of weight loss. "Losing weight is always a challenge," says Dr. Fitch. “It's more than just eating healthier and exercising. You really need to change your whole way of thinking and some of your lifestyle habits. Eating out or having a drink with friends is very different when trying to lose weight.”
It's so difficult to stay in control of your food intake because we need food to survive and snacks are all around us. So many of our favorite social situations revolve around unhealthy food, from sporting events to weddings to wild nights out, and that makes avoiding the litter all the harder.
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Stay tuned when it comes to losing weight
Another obstacle to sticking with our weight loss plans is the fact that losing weight is not an instant process. "It can also take a long time to get it right and healthy, and sometimes people hit a wall or a plateau and lose motivation to keep going," says Dr. Fitch. In addition to ongoing lifestyle changes, you must find a way to gain a metabolic advantage that will remodel your body to accept weight loss as an "ok" state. “The human body wants
to maintain your target weight, even if that weight is too high,” she says. "So the body makes neurotransmitters that signal you to eat more, even when you're trying to maintain a balanced diet. The more weight you lose, the lower your metabolism, and then when you eat more calories, you tend to gain even more weight with that lower metabolism.” So what can we do to win the Battle of the Bulge?
Lose weight by going off the "diet." Instead, set goals.
"The first thing you can do is not diet, but set goals for a better eating plan and build in some support so you can maintain structure and consistency," shares Dr. Fitch with. "Having a support team, coach, friend, or accountability partner has been shown to produce better results than doing it alone."
dr Fitch also recommends sustainable eating programs rather than fad diets, such as Jenny Craig's Max Up program. This and similar programs are less about limitations and more about healthy changes that can be sustained over time. For example, Max Up includes breakfast, lunch, and dinner, but also accounts for snacks and desserts. There is also 1 to 1 coaching so you don't feel like you are doing this journey alone. "Max Up offers intermittent fasting methodology, coaching, and chef-prepared meals," she says. “Also, this program has other lifestyle components that have been shown to help people lose weight; like fun physical activities and drinking reminders.”
When it comes to weight loss, not all drinks are created equal
"Typically, Americans tend to be chronically dehydrated," says Dr. Fitch. "Either we're just not drinking enough water, or we're drinking dehydrating drinks like soda or alcohol. Drinking more water can certainly help with weight management, especially if you substitute water for sugary and high-calorie juices and sodas. There are also some studies that suggest drinking water helps you burn more calories. You can even suppress your appetite if you have a glass before meals.”
Move it to lose it
Another simple task to make an impact is to move more. "The main trick that people might not know is that you can't limit yourself to just one type of exercise, like cardio or strength training," says Dr. Fitch. "It's really a mix of these activities that are most effective for weight loss."
cycling, running or swimming "These are more vigorous exercises that get your heart rate up and help you burn more calories in less time," shares Dr. Fitch with. "But it's also okay to walk if you can't do these activities."
weight training "Incorporate a day or two of strength training into your weekly workout combined with an activity like running or walking," suggests Dr. Fitch before. "t only will this help you shed the pounds, but it will also prevent you from losing muscle mass as you lose weight. And the more muscle you have, the more calories you burn at rest.”
HIIT training "Short bursts of intense exercise followed by longer periods of slower, less demanding activity can burn more fat than a single sustained activity," says Dr. Fitch, who recommends that people could enroll in HIIT programs at their local gym, or if they want to take smaller steps, they could experiment with walking pace and duration to change things up.
Final thoughts on fat
"We must accept that obesity, defined as excessive and dysfunctional storage of body fat that affects your health and well-being, is a disease process that warrants non-stigmatizing and unbiased treatment," says Dr. Fitch. “Set an initial goal of 5% weight loss and work from there. Sustained weight loss of 5% reduces the risk of developing diabetes. If your excess body fat is affecting your health and you are ready to make a change, know it takes a combination of efforts and there is help and support from programs like Jenny Craig and your health care team.”