Off the Carousel
Tired of re-gaining lost weight? Here are ways to
send those pounds packing for good.
By Lisa James
Are you constantly losing and gaining the same 15 or 20 pounds over and over, no matter what you do—to the point where you want to heave your scale out the bathroom window?
You’re not alone. A UCLA study found that while most people lost weight within six months of starting a diet, up to 66% of them regained all the pounds they lost, and more, within five years.
As depressing as those findings are, there are approaches to weight loss that go beyond mere dieting. Want to punch your ticket off the weight loss-weight gain merry-go-round?
Stop the Sugar
Sugar’s sweetness hides a bitter truth: Its empty calories cause your glucose to skyrocket then crash, leading to bingeing cycles that can derail weight loss. And cutting sugar intake is difficult because it is “cheap, convenient and readily available,” say Nicole Avena, PhD, and John Talbott in Why Diets Fail (Ten Speed).
More people, though, are becoming aware of sugar’s evil ways. “They’re learning that it affects you physically and emotionally,” says Susan Albers, PsyD, psychologist at the Cleveland Clinic Women's Health Center in Wooster, Ohio, and author of Eat Q (HarperOne).
Fight sugar’s siren call with foods that are more substantial. Avena and Talbott suggest vegetables, saying, “The greener and leafier the vegetable, the better it is for you to eat.” Albers says eating high-fiber foods “will help regulate your blood sugar throughout the day.” And you can fool your taste buds with “things like putting balsamic vinegar on strawberries, which can mimic the taste of chocolate on strawberries.”
Diet soda doesn’t give you a free pass, by the way. Studies link its consumption to increased obesity risk.
Cut Your Cravings
Sugar may be the most common craving, but it has plenty of company; burgers and salty snacks are also high on many people’s gotta-have lists. Coral Arvon, PhD, LMFT, LCSW, director of behavioral health and wellness at the Pritikin Longevity Center & Spa in Miami, Florida, believes as much as 85% of the country’s obesity problem is tied to cravings: “I see it all the time.”
Suppressed emotions such as anger, fear and shame, along with tension, underlie food cravings, says Doreen Virtue, PhD, author of Constant Craving (Hay House). “The more we try to ignore a feeling, the stronger it grows,” she says, noting that inner turmoil often finds an outlet in unhealthy eating. To break the crave, Virtue suggests cooling off for 15 minutes while asking yourself: Am I really hungry or simply holding a strong emotion in check? “Just the act of honestly admitting one’s feelings is usually enough to relieve the urgency associated with emotional hunger,” she says.
“Surf the urge. An urge is like a wave; it comes to a peak in a matter of minutes and then it will pass,” suggests Arvon, adding, “It’s easier if you’re putting nutritious food in your body all day.”
One Way to cut cravings is to be aware of what you’re putting in your mouth. “Many times people eat on autopilot,” says Albers. “When in this mindless, zoned-out state, we really don’t experience eating.”
Paying attention to food can pay dividends. “There’s a growing body of research that says when people eat mindfully they start to shed pounds,” says Arvon. “When we’re not eating mindfully, we eat more quickly. It takes 20 minutes from the time you start eating to register fullness. Eat too quickly and you’re not going to feel full soon enough, so you’ll eat way more than you would otherwise.”
How do you stay focused on your food? “Sit down at table instead of the computer. And one of the biggest triggers for mindless eating is television,” says Albers. She advises eating with your non-dominant hand to slow the process and to use a plate instead of eating out of containers. In addition, “make sure the very first bite is mindful—smell it, listen to it as you eating it. That first bite is experienced more intensely than the others.”
“Find a food you really like—mine is sweet potatoes—that you can really savor and enjoy because you enjoy the color, the taste,” suggests Arvon.
Eating filling, nutritious foods while getting enough exercise is a good start in banishing excess weight. But some people find that supplements can provide a little extra pound-shedding push. (Always consult a healthcare practitioner for help in designing a supplementation program.)
Some herbs and nutrients focus on bodily processes involved in weight loss. The mineral chromium helps insulin, the hormone that controls blood sugar, do its job. Coleus forskohlii contains a substance called forskolin, which promotes lean body mass formation, while raspberry ketones promote the breakdown of body fat. Garcinia cambogia, a small pumpkin-like fruit native to southeast Asia, contains hydroxycitric acid (HCA), which inhibits the development of fat stores while supporting healthy blood sugar levels. Extracts from brown seaweeds such as Ascophyllum nodosum and Fucus vesiculosus help block enzymes that convert starch into sugar within the digestive tract; the Chinese herb Cassia nomame helps block intestinal fat absorption. Green tea extract boosts metabolism, as does ginger. The Siberian herb rhodiola helps boost energy and fight depression.
Sustained weight loss also requires reinforcing the brain’s reward-and-motivation system. An amino acid-based formulation called Synaptose does that by supporting production of dopamine, a brain chemical that has been shown to control cravings and influence energy production.
Time Your Meals
Timing is everything, in eating as well as life—which explains why you should eat as many calories as you can early in the day. “You need that energy to get going,” says Albers. “Also, we make our best choices in the morning.”
Unfortunately, that runs counter to many people’s schedules. Albers believes this has to do with “the rush-rush-rush throughout the day. We think we’re saving time by skipping breakfast, and for many people the lunch break is also very short.”
Making time for breakfast somehow is crucial. “That may mean preparing the night before, it may mean getting up 10 minutes earlier,” says Albers. “Do an experiment; for two weeks eat breakfast and track your energy levels on a 1-10 scale each day. See if that shifts your energy.”
Avoid the cold-cereal routine. Avena and Talbott like eggs because they can be prepared different ways—scrambled, sunny-side up, in omlets—to avoid boredom. They suggest skipping sugary fruit-flavored yogurt in favor of plain yogurt to which you add your own fruit.
Albers advises having a snack before you leave work. This can help you avoid mindless eating when you get home.
Maintain Your Momentum
So you’ve lost weight—you rock that bikini. Time to hit the road for some well-deserved downtime!
Not so fast. Arvon warns against treating vacations as munching sprees: “There’s a saying: All I want to bring home from vacation are souvenirs and the clothes I bought, not the weight I gained.”
When going away, Arvon suggests finding a location where you can enjoy sports or other calorie-burning activities. Stock your room with plenty of water and fresh fruit, and have some before going out to that fancy restaurant. “Set boundaries for yourself: ‘I’m going to eat what I like, but at this meal only and not at all of them,’” she says.
You should take the same approach to holiday eating. Arvon advises, “You have to say, ‘What do I really love? I can do without the stuffing, but I want the pecan pie.’”
How Helpful Are Weight Loss Apps?
In a world where there’s an app for everything, it’s no surprise that you can download apps to help you meet your weight loss goals. But are they worth the effort?
Researchers say, “To an extent.”
Of the 200 most popular health and fitness apps, a study team led by Sherry Pagoto, PhD, of the University of Massachusetts did an in-depth analysis on 29—16 for iPhone and 13 for Android. The selected apps contained at least some of the 20 behavioral strategies that the team identified as being useful for weight loss including goal setting and progress monitoring, as well as providing suggested food substitutions and advice on such topics as stress management and reading a nutrition label. All the apps were either free or cost up to $4.99.
MyNetDiary and MyNetDiary Pro for iPhone “included the greatest number of evidence-based strategies” at 65% of the total, the team wrote in the American Journal of Preventative Medicine. The best Android apps were both free: the Noom Weight Loss and the Calorie Counter and Diet Tracker.
Most of the apps studied allow the user to set weight loss and dietary goals, and to help the user balance calories in terms of healthy eating and adequate activity levels. However, “few provided other behavioral strategies,” the team said. “This suggests that the technology for a more comprehensive weight loss app is currently available.”