Everyone is looking for quick, easy ways to shed those extra pounds around the middle, and the weight loss market is often too willing to oblige with endless fad diets and weight loss gimmicks. Often these work for a short time, but they usually fail in the long run, and more often than not, those who try them gain back everything they’ve lost and more.
Being skinny doesn’t necessarily equate with being healthy. Reaching your optimum weight is an important part of getting healthy, but it should occur as an outcome of a sustainable healthy lifestyle NOT as the outcome of the relentless desire to fit into your summer bikini.
That said, there are ways to get lose weight and get healthy that are simple, cost effective and easy to implement in your daily schedule. Here are my top 7 tips to lose weight and improve your health quickly.
Tip #1: Don’t Drink Your Calories
Liquid calories, whether they come in the form of diet sodas, sports beverages, or fruit juices are the single biggest source of sugar in our diet, they are extremely addictive, and they simply shut down your metabolism. They cause you to eat more, it doesn’t take your body any energy to metabolize them which means your resting metabolic rate plummets, and they are filled with fructose which your liver turns into fat.
The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, found that if people drank water instead of sodas, they would consume 225 fewer calories a day (equivalent to about 1 soft drink).iiIn a year, that is 82,123 fewer calories. That amounts to a weight loss of 24 pounds a year just by switching to non-sugar sweetened drinks.
Want to lose weight quickly and keep it off for good? Stop drinking soda and never pick up another one.
Tip #2: Eliminate the White Menaces
After beverages, the second biggest source of sugar in our diet is what I call the “white menaces”: white flour, white rice, and white potatoes. From a metabolic standpoint these is little difference between them and table sugar. When you’re at the supermarket looking at the aisles of bread, pasta, cookies, and cakes, you should think, “This is ALL sugar,” and stay away! Even items that advertise themselves as “whole grain” often are not.
Eating too many refined carbohydrates causes your insulin levels to skyrocket and this wreaks havoc on your health and your waistline. Stabilizing your insulin and blood sugar levels may be the single most important thing you can do to minimize your risk of chronic illnesses like diabetes, heart disease, hypertension, Alzheimer’s, cancer, and more. It’s also a key way to stay thin and fit for life. Avoid these bad carbs and you go along way toward achieving both of those goals.
Tip #3: Replace Refined Carbs with Whole Grains and Vegetables
For some of you, eliminating these two items may make it seem like there is nothing left to eat! That’s far from the truth. I’m not encouraging a starvation diet. I’m simply encouraging you to choose the foods your body is designed to thrive on. At the end of the day, it may be that the single most important foods you can eat are healthy carbs. That means, whole grains (brown rice, quinoa, millet, and others); veggies (anything green, red, yellow, or blue in your produce aisle is fair game); beans; nuts; and seeds.
For every serving of pasta and bread you push out, add a serving of spinach instead. Get rid of the bad, and put the good in its place. Accentuate the positive, eliminate the negative. You don’t have to starve. You just need to make different food choices. So fill half of your plate with healthy carbs at each meal.
Tip #4: Focus on Healthy Fats
Fat has gotten a terrible reputation in the last 40 years. The low-fat diets that began to be popular in the 70’s are a big part of what has driven the epidemic of weight gain and chronic disease in this country. When the nation eliminated fat, it replaced it with refined carbs. This caused a host of problems. Fat increases satiety, it has no impact on insulin levels, and every cell in your body is made of it.
Low-fat diets cause you to be more hungry, they typically increase your level of refined carbohydrate and the concomitant insulin problems, and you deprive your cells of an essential nutrient. Most people don’t realize that if they eliminated all of the fat from their diets, they would die. Essential fatty acids are called “essential” for a reason: You must have them to survive.
So eat fat. Focus on healthy fats like omega-3 fats in fish, nuts, and seeds; olive oil; and avocados. When you eat these kinds of fat, you actually burn more fat, reduce the amount of inflammation in your body, and give your cells the raw materials they need to construct healthy cell walls and enhance communication throughout your body.
Tip #5: Get Enough Protein
When fat was demonized, protein went out of fashion as well. This problem fits hand in glove with the difficulties outlined above regarding the reduction of fat in our diet. Your body is made of the protein you eat. All protein is made of special building blocks called amino acids. The only job your DNA has is to take the amino acids you get from your diet and string them together into the chains of protein that created literally every cell in your body.
So imagine what happens when you don’t get enough amino acids or you get the wrong kinds. Your body doesn’t have the raw material it needs to form your cells. This is devastation from the ground up.
These days your choices about purchasing protein are especially important. Protein is usually packaged with fat, and the quality of protein and fat you get is determined by the source from whence it comes. Factory raised and processed cattle have VERY different fat profiles from those that are grass finished. The same is true of chicken and pork. Farmed fish may have been fed corn (unbelievably!) which alters its fat content. Small, wild river fish, on the other hand, are packed with health fat and are free of mercury. So you need to be careful when making protein choices.
My recommendation: Buy the best protein your budget allows. Look for pastured chicken and pork, grass-fed cattle, and wild, sustainable caught fish. Focus on lean chicken and fish with a little of the others mixed in for good measure. And never forget vegetarian sources of protein like beans, seeds, nuts, and tofu.
Tip #6: Exercise
Aside from eating breakfast, exercise is one of the few elements of a healthy lifestyle that consistently correlates with long term health and weight loss across all of the scientific literature. There are too many benefits of exercise to count. They include improved cardiovascular health, improved cognitive function, improved mood, and an improved waist line.
You should get 30–60 minutes of vigorous exercise at least 5 times as week. Make sure to incorporate both aerobic and strength training components into your regimen.
Tip #7: Relax and Connect
We live in a stressed out, isolated society. Our sense of separation and our chronic levels of stress are one of the most under recognized factors in our modern health problems. A study in the Journal of the American Medical Association found that even after controlling for behaviors and risk factors like low socioeconomic status, smoking, consumption of alcohol, junk food, obesity, and lack of exercise, higher rates of disease and death could not be just explained by these factors alone. ii
The key, they said, was not behavior but perception of one’s place in the world. The key findings that could account for the higher risk of disease and death were:
- Lack of social relationships and social supports
- Personality dispositions (thinking the glass is half empty) including a lost sense of mastery, optimism, control, and self-esteem, or heightened levels of anger and hostility
- Chronic and acute stress in life and work including the stress of racism, classism, and other factors related to the inequitable distribution of power and resources
The answer is to reconnect, relax, and re-conceive your relationship with your world. Get involved in your small groups and connect with others on The Daniel Plan, take a break this summer and give yourself the gift of some deep breathing and other relaxation exercises, and reconsider your disposition. Are you a glass is half empty or half full kind of person? What do you feel connected to? What gives meaning and purpose to our life? Answers to questions like these define who we are, not only mentally, but physically.
All of these tips can actually be wrapped up into three simpler steps:
- Get rid of the sugar.
- Eat whole, real, natural foods
- Balance exercise and relaxation
Follow those steps and you go a long way toward lifelong health, happiness, and the trim waistline you’re looking for.
To your good health,
Mark Hyman, MD
iiPaula M. Lantz; James S. House; James M. Lepkowski; David R. Williams; Richard P. Mero; Jieming Chen, Socioeconomic Factors, Health Behaviors, and Mortality: Results From a Nationally Representative Prospective Study of US Adult, JAMA, Jun 1998; 279: 1703 - 1708