Losing weight is at the top of many a New Year’s resolution list. In addition to maintaining a healthy diet and getting enough exercise, what else can one do to make sure those good intentions have a lasting impact throughout the year?
Below are research-based tips from investigators at Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center that may help jump start one’s weight loss progress in the coming year.
1. Keep moving each day. We all know that exercise is crucial to losing weight, but sometimes it’s easier said than done. The task need not be daunting; all it takes to see a weight-loss benefit is 30 to 60 minutes of aerobic activity daily. “You don’t need to be athletic. Just brisk walking or dancing to your favorite music or using an aerobic exercise machine like a stationary bike or treadmill is all you need to do – just try to do it each day,” said Anne McTiernan, M.D., Ph.D., director of the Hutchinson Center’s Prevention Center. The exercise doesn’t have to be all at once. “You can break it into 10- or 15-minute sessions throughout the day to get the weight-loss benefit,” she said.
2. Keep a food journal. “By spending a little extra time to write down everything you eat and drink, you’ll be able to see where extra calories sneak in,” said postdoctoral research fellow Caitlin Mason, Ph.D., an exercise and health researcher in the Public Health Sciences Division of the Hutchinson Center. “There are lots of good online tools that can help estimate the calorie content of common foods and track your weight loss progress over time,” she said.
3. Set realistic goals. “The biggest mistake people make when trying to lose weight is trying to lose too many pounds too fast or setting unrealistic goals,” Mason said. “For long-term success, aim for a slow, steady weight loss of about 1 to 2 pounds a week. No one wants to lose weight only to gain it all back – and often more – a few months later.
4. Set specific goals. Instead of resolving to “lose weight,” which is too general, set several smaller but more specific goals, such as eating five servings of vegetables per day, taking a 15-minute walk at lunch each day or drinking six glasses of water per day. “Adding healthy behaviors to your routine is often easier than telling yourself ‘don’t do this’ or ‘don’t eat that,’” Mason said.
5. Don’t let one slip-up derail your efforts. “Don’t throw your entire routine out the window after one bad day,” Mason said. “Instead, try to identify the specific barriers that got in your way and think through strategies to avoid such challenges in the future.” For example, to avoid the temptation of buying a candy bar while standing in the checkout line at the grocery store, make sure to eat a healthy snack, such as a handful of nuts or a piece of string cheese, before going shopping.
6. Practice yoga. Two observational studies conducted by cancer prevention researcher Alan Kristal, Dr. P.H., a member of the Hutchinson Center’s Public Health Sciences Division, have found an association between regular yoga practice and weight maintenance and weight loss. One of his studies, published in 2005, found that regular yoga practice is associated with the prevention of middle-age spread in normal-weight people and the promotion of weight loss in those who are overweight. A follow-up study published in 2009 found that regular yoga practice is associated with mindful eating, and people who eat mindfully are less likely to be obese. “These findings fit with our hypothesis that yoga increases mindfulness in eating and leads to less weight gain over time, independent of the physical activity aspect of yoga practice,” Kristal said. “Mindful eating is a skill that augments the usual approaches to weight loss, such as dieting, counting calories and limiting portion sizes. Adding yoga practice to a standard weight-loss program may make it more effective.”