Effective strategies for weight loss

Dear Dr. Mo: What are some of the strategies to loose weight in a healthy way? I am not looking for instant results but something long term.

Dear reader: Losing weight and maintaining a healthy weight is no easy task these days. We live fast, eat fast and when weight is concerned – most people want to lose it fast, which is not a healthy way to go about it.

A few facts first:

Eat slowly and limit your portions

Our digestive system has several ways in which it talks to the brain to crank our appetite up or down. This conversation is a continuous process and it involves hormones made in the gut and by the cells that store fat, and it also involves nerve signals, especially the vagus nerve, which runs from the digestive system to the brain.

There’s a hormone called Ghrelin, which gets dispatched from the stomach into the blood to go to the brain and flick the hunger switch on – this is how we start to feel hungry. We respond by eating a meal and during this process our stomach and intestine produce hormones called Leptin and Cholesystokinin to tell the brain to start feeling full.

Vagus nerve is also involved as there are stretch receptors in the stomach, which register the stretch as the stomach fills with food and/or liquids. The stretch signals also tell the brain to feel full.

Slow down

I was explaining this because none of these signals have an instantaneous effect and it takes some time for all of them to travel to the brain and trigger the feeling of fullness after which it will take some additional time before the brain will say “Stop, I’m done!” On average, this time is 15 to 20 minutes after we start eating and that’s important to remember.

If we are hungry and eat fast, which is very common nowadays, we can consume hundreds to even thousands of calories on top of those we need before our brain realizes we’ve had enough. These excess calories will turn into fat and go on to cause many of the adverse health effects down the road like hypertension, heart disease and diabetes.
This paradoxical situation in which we continue to eat when we’ve already had enough because our brains have not yet realized we should stop is among the leading causes of (unwanted) weight gain and one thing you can do is try to eat slowly.
This sounds too simple but believe me, it is not. It takes some discipline and concentration to achieve it and at times even a real struggle to refrain from devouring everything on the plate in minutes.

If you eat slowly, your brain will start to feel full after about 15 minutes. Another few minutes later, your brain will say “Enough!” and there may still be lots of calories on your plate, which you would have otherwise eaten.
Another useful trick is to opt for smaller or half-portions or to share them with an eating companion – this will remove the temptation and help you in your efforts.

Count your calories

Another important and useful thing you can do is to mind your calories.

In order to understand how many calories you should consume each day to lose some weight and then maintain it at a healthy level, you first need to figure out how many calories you need to maintain your current weight. Here, the calculation is very simple:

Multiply your current weight expressed in pounds by 15 – that’s all (it is important to multiply pounds not kilograms and you can find kilograms to pounds converters online). This calculation will tell you the number of calories per day you need to maintain your current weight.
I weigh 68 kg, which is 150 pounds, and to maintain this weight I need 150 x 15 = 2250 calories each day. If I wanted to lose some weight, which would be ill advised as I would become transparent, I would need to eat less than 2250 calories.

In your case, you would want to lose 1 to 2 pounds a week (a little under one kilogram maximum). This is the safe rate to lose weight – never aim for more than this! To lose 1 to 2 pounds a week you should eat 500 – 1000 fewer calories per day than your current weight-maintenance calorie total, as derived from the formula I just gave you.

I should emphasize here that men should never consume less than 1500 calories per day and women should never consume less than 1200 calories per day if losing weight on their own – eating less can endanger health.
If weight loss is under medical supervision, daily consumption could be lower.

To count your total daily calories, read the food labels as they provide this information, as well as their composition. You also want to avoid foods with a lot of saturated and trans fats, tons of sugar and empty calories.

Try to eat foods that are filling and low in calories and eat more fruits and vegetables daily.

  • Avoid fried/deep fried foods.
  • Avoid fast foods/junk foods at all times and ignore their misleading advertising.
  • Avoid eating ‘on your feet’ because then you eat faster – always sit down for a meal.
  • Avoid high-calorie, low-nutrient snacks – these are sweets generally.
  • When you eat meat, cut out fat segments and cut down portion size.
  • Use low-fat/non-fat dairy products.
  • Avoid sodas (both regular and diet – paradoxically, diet sodas have been linked to weight increase and triglyceride spikes so best to steer clear), fruit juices and alcoholic beverages.
  • Drink plenty of water – this is your best friend.

Good fats/bad fats

Not all fats are bad for your health and for the weight. Good fats are monounsaturated fats found in olive oil, canola oil, avocados and nuts, and the polyunsaturated fats found in omega-3 fatty fish, walnuts, flaxseed, and pumpkin seeds.

These fats help reduce total cholesterol while raising the ‘good’ one (HDL). This protects the heart, nourishes the hair, skin, nails, and bones.

However, fats are still fats and if you are on a gradual weight loss plan or just trying to maintain your healthy weight, fats should make up no more than 20 to 35 percent of your overall calorie intake. Always try to choose mono and polyunsaturated fats instead of unhealthy saturated and trans fats when possible. The American Heart Association states saturated fats should make up no more than 7 percent of your total daily intake.

Exercise

While just exercising without any lifestyle and dietary changes is shown to have little or no effect on weight loss, once combined with proper diet and an overall healthy life style (low stress, good sleeping habits, plenty of water, no smoking, little or no alcohol etc) it can be a powerful ally in controlling your weight. Aim for at least 150 minutes of exercise every week while losing weight and remember that evidence shows that once weight is down to a desired level, to maintain it, along with dietary and lifestyle changes, one needs at least 60 minutes of exercise every day.

And one final recommendation to help you slowly lose some weight is to drink green tea within 40 minutes after you’ve finished eating. Green tea will reduce the amount of fat being absorbed from your intestines and further help you in losing weight, while providing you with its many health benefits.

So though it’s hard to achieve a healthy weight, these few simple things can indeed help. Do not expect instant results but with some determination, a bit of good planning and in time, you should see the results that will reap life-long benefits.

Yours in health,

Dr. Mo