Making Weight Resolutions Stick

by Martha McKittrick, RD, CDE

losing weightMany of us have spent the last several weeks indulging in second and third portions of foods we ordinarily might avoid. Instead of saying "No thank you," we say, "It's the holidays!" But good cheer aside, drinking and feasting during the holidays can lead to serious weight gain.

These common questions about post-holiday pound loss will help you prepare for this year's weight loss resolution

How do you figure out what your ideal weight is?

One way to do it for a woman would be for the first five feet it is 100 pounds. For each additional inch, add five pounds. For example, a woman who is 5 foot 5 inch would have an ideal body weight of 125 pounds, plus or minus 10 percent.

For a man to determine his ideal body weight, it is 106 pounds for the first five feet, add six pounds for each inch over five feet. For example, a man who is 5-10 should weight 166 pounds plus or minus 10 percent. But I think this is a little strict, and unrealistic for most people.

What are the first steps to post-holiday dieting?

First, make an eating plan. Write the menu plan for the first few days, and that will get you on your way. I would keep the environment clear of trigger foods that could tempt you away from your goal. Stock up the kitchen with healthy foods, and keep junk foods out of the house. Some basic rules of thumb for good diet are to bake and broil foods rather than fry them, try to fill up on a lot of vegetables, and eat fruit for snacks. And don't forget to drink at least eight glasses of water a day. Your body is made up of about sixty percent water. Drinking water hydrates your body, and can also help you feel more full so you will eat less.

Any tips for sticking to a new eating/exercise program?

You need to start making small changes in your behaviors. If you try to make too many changes at once, they will never become permanent. Once you feel comfortable with them, add another change or two. The problem with most people is that they try to make too many changes at once. And therefore end up failing.

We've all heard about high protein/low carb diets. Do they work?

Yes, you will lose weight quicker eating mainly lean protein and vegetables. However, I am not a proponent of omitting all carbohydrates from your diet. There is no one diet for every person. Some people do better eating less carbohydrates but I wouldn't go lower than three servings of starch a day, and two servings of fruit a day. Some of the low carbohydrate diets out there recommend levels of carbs that are too low. Remember too, any calories, whether they be from protein, fat or carbohydrates, can lead to weight gain.

Some common diets are the Slim-Fast Diet and Weight Watchers diet. How effective are they?

Slim-Fast can be used for an occasional meal replacement. But you can get more full on a turkey sandwich for lunch, with the same caloric content as a can of Slim-Fast. I think Weight Watchers is a great program, because it allows for flexibility in your diet. But you just need to be careful regarding how you use your points. Do not accumulate points to use for junk food on a regular basis.

What if medication is causing the weight gain? What can be done?

Weight gain from medication is very common. Those who experience it must pay close attention to diet and daily calories, and exercise on a regular basis. It is still possible to lose weight on medication.

Is it true that people should try to keep their blood sugar at a constant level all day long?

It is not possible to keep your blood sugar at a constant level all day long. Your goal is to prevent major fluctuations in blood sugar. You do this by eating several small meals throughout the day and by including a little protein and fat along with carbohydrates at each meal. Three meals a day plus snacks, or six small meals a day are both recommended.

How important is weight lifting compared to aerobic exercise in losing weight?

You need to do both. Weight lifting will build muscle mass, which will ultimately speed metabolism. Aerobic exercise is beneficial because it burns calories, as well as conditions the cardiovascular system. A good exercise program could include aerobic exercise three times a week for a minimum of 30 minutes, and weight training 2 to 3 times a week for about 30 minutes per session.

Do you recommend eating carbs before exercise?

I usually recommend eating about 200 calories worth of carbohydrates before a fairly intense workout. After an aerobic session you want to eat again about 200 calories of carbohydrates to replete the glycogen stores.

What is your basic advice to a "yo-yo" dieter?

It's very important to work on making permanent changes in your eating behaviors. Too often we focus on following diet after diet rather than on changing behaviors. I recommend identifying one or two problem eating behaviors and working on changing them. Until you change the behaviors the weight will not stay off.

Is there a place for appetite suppressants?

Appetite suppressants are a crutch, though they are beneficial for some people. For example, for those people who are morbidly obese [at least 50 pounds overweight] and need to lose weight for medical reasons. But for the average person, I do not recommend them.

What should people order if they are going to eat at a fast food restaurant?

Fast food restaurants are beginning to offer more healthy choices. For example, grilled chicken sandwiches, baked potatoes, salads. These are all healthy choices.

What is a good food to keep me awake and give me energy?

To give yourself energy you want to avoid high sugar foods. Foods that are high in sugar will cause your blood sugar to rise rapidly then crash. Which leads to poor energy levels. Your best bet is to eat six small meals a day. Include protein and a small amount of carbohydrates at each meal. Also make sure you stay hydrated and drink at least eight glasses of water a day.

Where do carbohydrate cravings come from? And how can they be stopped?

Carbohydrate cravings can come from fatigue or low blood sugar. To help decrease your cravings, make sure you are eating a healthy lunch which includes some protein. In addition, plan an afternoon snack at about 4 PM. Typical snacks could be pretzels or fruit or yogurt. This will help get your blood sugar up and can help prevent carbohydrate cravings.

Does genetics play a role in obesity?

Yes. If people in your family are overweight it is quite possible that you have a genetic tendency to be overweight yourself. This just means that it might be a little more difficult for you to lose weight. It certainly is not a hopeless situation.

Martha McKittrick, RD, CDE is a registered dietitian and certified diabetes educator. She specializes in weight control, hyperlipidemia, polycystic ovarian syndrome, diabetes, and preventative nutrition. A staff dietitian at The New York Presbyterian Hospital for the past 17 years, she also counsels clients privately and is a consultant to physicians, corporations, and health clubs. She was the nutritionist for the 1998 NYC Marathon. She is also an exercise instructor and has been teaching exercise classes in NYC health clubs for the past 10 years. Ms. McKittrick has appeared on numerous television, radio, and webcast programs. She lectures on a regular basis and has been interviewed and written for publications including Shape, Family Circle, Women's World, New York Newsday, and the Journal of The American Dietetic Association. For the past several years, Ms. McKittrick has been specializing in polycystic ovarian syndrome. She is on the medical advisory board for PCOSA and is on the editorial advisory board for PCOS Pavilion of OBGYN.NET.

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