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Listen to Dr. Neal address this topic on Episode 265 of the podcast Optimal Health Daily.

We really need to approach weight loss from different angles. This is, of course, not to overwhelm you, but to help you kick the you-know-what out of those unwanted pounds. Because when we look at the causes of weight gain and the best methods for weight loss, it really comes down to doing a few things consistently.

Calorie Control

Yes, this is still the best way to begin shedding pounds. For those who believe you really don’t need to cut back on calories but instead, feel that increasing the calories you burn during your workouts will do the trick… you would be mistaken.

Let’s do some quick math, shall we?

Let's say you’re currently doing cardio 5 days a week for 30 minutes each session. When walking, most folks will burn between 65 and 100 calories. Why such a large discrepancy? The number of calories you burn during exercise is very dependent on not only the intensity and duration of the exercise, but age, gender, current level of fitness, body composition, etc. But, again, the bottom line here is: if you’re lucky, you’ll burn 100 calories at the most. That’s 30 minutes of your hard work and you will only burn 100 calories.

But what if instead of having 2 cans of soda today, you had just 1? By doing that, you just removed about 150 calories from your diet with very little effort. Or instead of having 2 cookies for dessert, you had just 1? Again, you likely saved another 150 calories. That’s 300 calories saved with very little effort. If you do this consistently, that’s 2,100 fewer calories consumed each week! This is why monitoring your food intake is so important. I’m not saying exercise is useless when it comes to weight loss (more on that in a second), but I wanted to show you how quickly and easily you can reduce your calorie intake, which may be enough to start the weight loss process.

The daily calorie target for otherwise healthy adults that want to lose weight is 1,800 calories per day. This means each meal, provided you eat 3 meals per day, should be no more than 500 calories and you can have 300 calories worth of snacks in between.

My recommendation is to find an eating pattern that suits you and your lifestyle–one that is appealing and doesn’t remove any foods or food groups–and stick to it. Let’s talk about exercise next…

Stay active

Again, exercise is important when it comes to supporting your weight loss efforts. While it may seem like you’re working really hard for very little payoff as far as calories burned is concerned, that can be misleading, because when you workout, you’re going to increase the size of your muscles. When you increase your muscle mass, you burn more calories. The trouble is that when we restrict our calorie intake to try and lose weight, we often lose muscle mass. This is because the body starts to break down muscle for fuel. However, researchers are discovering that a mix of weight training and cardio is most helpful for preserving muscle when you’re trying to lose weight. And, as I’ve mentioned on the Optimal Health Daily podcast many times, High Intensity Interval Training or HIIT can be very beneficial. Just be sure your doctor says that it’s safe for you to try.

Social support

Social support is very underrated, but so important. If you are going to be truly successful and losing weight (and actually keeping it off in the long term), it’s important you have the support of your friends and family. A while back, Time magazine published a cover story titled, “Is Obesity Contagious?” The conclusion: yes, obesity is contagious. We are very much influenced by those around us. If we spend the majority of our time with others that watch what they eat, exercise regularly, etc. we’re more likely to do those things, too. If weight loss is your goal, let it be known to those around you.

My next suggestion sounds silly, but it really works. You remember how I always talk about the importance of writing things down? Well, here’s another example of why that comes in handy:

If you’re trying to lose weight, write out a contract–something like, “Over the next 30 days, I will consume 1,800 calories each day and exercise at least 3 days per week”… whatever you decide will best get you started on your journey. Then sign and date it. Not only that, but have a witness read it, sign and date it as well! Keep the contract in plain sight somewhere: your refrigerator, your bathroom mirror, your computer monitor… someplace you and your family will see it as a constant reminder.

Don’t Underestimate the Power of Your Environment

This step is probably one of the easiest to accomplish, but very few actually do this. As soon as you can, open up your refrigerator and pantry and took a good, long look at the foods you see. I am guessing the foods that first catch your eye are those that you have been trying to avoid. If that’s the case, don’t throw them out. Simply move those foods to the back of the shelf or to a very low or very high shelf. Out of sight, out of mind. It really works.

Then move those foods that you want to consume more often to the front and right at eye level. Take those vegetables out of the crisper drawer in your refrigerator and put them right at eye level at the front of the shelf. Watch the magic happen!

Keep At It

As the great Mark Twain once said, “Quitting smoking is easy. I’ve done it a thousand times.”

His point is oh so important: sometimes losing the weight is the easy part–it’s maintaining it that can be the real challenge. After a while, the novelty of the journey begins to wear off.

Life gets in the way.

Your workout routine is becoming monotonous.

You hit a plateau and the weight stops dropping.

The cure for any and all of these potential setbacks is to keep a food journal. You heard right: keep a daily food journal. The moment you start to feel like you’re slipping, immediately start writing down what you ate and drank, how much you ate and drank, the time, and the location of your meals and snacks.

Be patient with yourself, too. You will have those little lapses, where you missed a workout, or went to a social event and ate too much. That’s ok. It happens. Those little blips likely won’t affect your weight loss goals. If it becomes a pattern, that’s when the weight will begin to creep back up.

Consider this analogy: remember the last time you were driving around and chose not to use Google Maps or Waze and decided you’re going to wing it? For some of us, we may have gotten a bit lost along the way and backtracked a little, but eventually, we succumbed and punched the address into an app and we eventually got to our destination.

Keeping a food journal is your Google Maps on your weight loss journey. If you start to get lost and begin to backtrack, start recording your behavior.

When it comes to losing weight and keeping it off, you will likely need to use a small cache of tools. But if you arm yourself as I’ve described, you can be successful. I wish you all the best as you take these next steps!

Listen to Dr. Neal address this topic on Episode 265 of the podcast Optimal Health Daily.

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Neal Malik

Dr. Neal Malik ("Dr. Neal") has a Doctorate in Public Health with emphases in disease prevention and nutrition. He is also a Registered Dietitian and Certified Health Education Specialist. He is currently an assistant professor at California State University, San Bernardino. Dr. Neal has published peer-reviewed scientific research and been featured as a nutrition and wellness expert in over 70 media outlets including Parade and The L.A. Times.Send in your health related question and Dr. Neal will answer it on the Optimal Health Daily show!
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