Have you tried losing weight over and over again and not succeeded? Have you tried expensive diets with a nutritionist, lost weight only to gain it all back? Have you spent money on supplements that promised more than they could deliver? If you are someone who has tried every diet fad and gimmick to lose weight without any success, what do you think your number-one roadblock to being fit is? Do you think it is the number of calories you take in? Think again. If you’ve been feeling discouraged, rest assured that you’re not alone. As a fitness professional I meet people like you every day who struggle with the same issue. My advice to them is to live by the following six most important rules that use the mind-body connection to help their weight-loss efforts, rather than hinder them.
Rule No. 1: Accept that diets don’t help you in the long run.
Every year you try to eat less and less, but gain more and more. Sure, some of this has to do with the biology of aging, but it also has to do with the damage all those fad diets have done to your metabolism. There’s no miracle pill or plan that can lead to easy weight loss. When you pursue these radical wacky diets, you will lose weight, but then you will get sick of it and go back to your normal eating ways. This leads to gaining back the weight and back to where you started but more discouraged. By starving ourselves, our bodies get into a starvation mode, where they develop this horrific situation in which even 1,000 calories of consumption a day leads to weight gain. This metabolic starvation, in addition to not helping you lose weight in the long run, also leads to the destruction of your health. Instead of approaching food with a deprivation mind-set, consider feasible, small changes that you can make over the long term like increasing exercise and increasing “chew foods”—highly nutritious and fibrous but low-calorie foods, such as fruits, vegetables, whole grains, etc.
Rule No. 2: Focus on fitness, not thinness.
Are these two words, fitness and thinness, mutually exclusive in your mind? Can you be fit but not thin? Can you be thin but not fit? For a long time I associated thinness with fitness. Over the years I’ve learned that those two words do not automatically go together. With media images of ultra-thin (or size 0) celebrities setting the trend, it’s hard to remember that your health and well-being are about more than being a particular pant/dress size. Try focusing more on how you feel rather than what the scale says. By focusing on being fit and feeling healthy—keeping your age in mind—you’ll be better equipped to hit your ideal weight. Be realistic when choosing the role model you want to look like. My role model is my 70-year-old mom, who does yoga three times a week and strength training & cardio 2 times a week. You want to look ahead of you, not behind you. Remember that if you are routinely physically active and overweight, you are still less likely to suffer heart problems than your normal weight counterparts who don’t exercise. And conversely, normal weight individuals who don’t exercise are at an increased risk of cardiovascular disease.
Rule No. 3: Make friends with food.
Losing weight should not mean eating bland, flavourless and too little food. And it definitely should not entail being hungry all the time. Think about food as nourishment, and make it as delicious as possible. In fact, if you do it right, you can eat just as much, if not more than before. I’m a big believer in eating great food, but it’s also about caloric density. If you’re going to take in fewer calories, those calories should be much larger portions. For example: If you absolutely have to eat your fish curry, make it with the same ingredients, but use less coconut and eat more of the fish and less of the curry. You’ll consume fewer overall calories, but more food, and still feel satisfied. Also stack your plate with more vegetables at mealtimes. They are high in fibre and assist in making you feel full. Try baking a whole bunch of different vegetables (sweet potato, pumpkin, carrots, eggplants, mushrooms, onions, garlic, broccoli, cauliflower, etc) in the oven (at 220 degrees centigrade for 35 minutes) with olive oil, salt & pepper and watch your taste buds come alive with the different flavours of the vegetables. When we feel satisfied, our brain sends signals to our stomach that we are full and we stop eating.
Rule No. 4: Start small and build slowly.
One of the biggest mistakes people make when trying to lose weight is going to extremes. Be aware of how physically fit you are, and respect your limits. With this in mind, start at a basic level and build slowly. For example if you have finally resolved to be fit or shed those extra kilos, start first with walking regularly three times a week; then slowly increase the walks to five times per week. Once you are comfortable with that, add some incline – a hill to your walk. Then concentrate on increasing your walking pace and finally think about stepping into a gym. At the gym, start with lower impact and then move on to higher-impact exercises once you have built your strength. People don’t know how to get started. Instead of starting slow, people will go out and join an intense weight loss program at a gym and injure themselves and they’ll get put off and be back to square one. So starting low-impact, and building up slowly and carefully is the number-one key with exercise. I have people who come to my gym who have not been physically active for a long time and want to join high impact fitness classes or take a fitness class 5 times a week. Even though I hate to burst their bubble of enthusiasm, I have to advise them against it as they will be more prone to injury and eventually further away from their goal than they are today.
Rule No. 5: Concentrate on commitment more than intensity.
You don’t have to log endless hours at the gym to become healthier, but a commitment to an exercise regimen is essential. When I’m talking to prospective gym members, the only thing I want from them is commitment. I want them to pencil in one hour everyday on their calendars to exercise at the gym. I don’t think you need a gym if you are self-motivated and dedicated to do it on your own. But being a member of a gym holds you accountable to show up there every day or at least most days of the week. The worst thing you can do is pay for a gym membership and not show up. This will not do you or your wallet any good. We seem to schedule everything in our lives – lunches, dinners, parties, events, concerts, etc., but not our exercise time.
Rule No. 6: Stop obsessing about your weight.
The fastest way to misery is to obsess over dieting and weight loss. It’s not only bad for your self-esteem, but it will sabotage your weight-loss efforts too. The worst thing you can do for yourself is to weigh yourself regularly. Don’t go by the numbers on the scale. Go by the way you feel and the way your clothes feel on you. Weight loss is not the only indicator (and definitely not the best indicator) that your exercise program is working for you. There are other more relevant indicators such as more muscle mass, lower body fat, a toned body, loss in inches, greater energy levels, glowing skin, an overall good feeling, etc. So, stop stressing about the weighing scale. There is a huge correlation between stress and the body – you store fat when you’re stressed. With this in mind, focus on long-term goals rather than micro-managing your life –and the numbers in it. Health is not a 30-day thing, a 60- or a 90-day thing. It is not a 3-month or 6-month or even an annual membership at the gym.
Take the advice, live by these 6 golden rules, use what you already know and do it every day. Success will follow. Be Fit. Be Healthy. Be Happy.
Nivedita Dempo is one of the first few ACE (American Council on Exercise) certified fitness professionals in India. | Twitter: @studio101goa