Step 1 – Food. Counting calories, carbs and grams of fat can be very intimidating. I don’t and won’t do it. It is easier and quite effective to just try to increase your nutrition, and cut out the foods that do not actually feed you. This will automatically reduce the calorie content. Look for high protein foods such as, meats, fish and eggs (if vegetarian there are alternatives). Add lots of green veggies. Raw is best as the nutrients are still intact, not heat damaged or diluted by boiling; lightly steamed or quick stir fry is okay. Avoid white food (except cauliflower) as they are high starch, and high on the glycemic index (I will over simplify to say high on the glycemic index means it converts to fat easily). Avoid anything made from flour. This means cakes, cookies, pasta and bread. Don’t worry, you won’t starve. To keep from being hungry either increase the portion size of the proteins, or veggies or add beans. Beans are starchy so they are filling. They have high fiber, and although they have calories they are processed slowly so you don’t get hungry for quite a while. This means you end up eating less. If after you fill up on these foods you want one of the foods you are avoiding go ahead. Have ONE. One cookie, or one slice of cake. Not one each. If you feel deprived of these things you will not keep up with the healthy eating. Or instead of giving yourself permission to have one treat a day, some people prefer being very, very strict with themselves 6 days a week and on the 7th having a “Cheat day”. I cannot stop with just one, so I like the cheat day myself. I even write down the foods I really want, it is a reminder that I do not have to give them up forever, I can still have cheese cake. Other people say no cheating, never. If you can do it, I salute you. I have tried and eventually I just gave up. I want a plan that actually works, not one where I can play the martyr with my friends and family or where I try to impress people with my will power. I don’t actually have any will power.
Step 2 – Water. You need water for your body to be able to flush out the fat, and the toxins stored in the fat (that could be a whole other article). Everything your body does, it does better with adequate water. Chances are, you are not drinking enough water (soda, coffee and juices don’t count). Start getting more water by substituting water or tea for your soft drinks and coffee. Do this slowly, give yourself time to adapt. If you normally drink 4 soft drinks a day, then on day one make it 3 soft drinks and 1 water or green tea. When you are used to the change, substitute water for a second soda, then a few days later substitute for the third. You want to have no more than 1 a day. I wouldn’t recommend cutting the “bad” drinks (except diet drinks) out completely as that will make you resistant to keeping up with the plan. Only have one when you really want one and then take a little time – sit down and enjoy it. It will be more satisfying if you make drinking it an “event”. Being satisfied will keep you from wanting another one immediately.
After you gradually reduce the sugary or caffeine laden drinks, you will want to start adding more water. Again do it gradually. Your body is not used to getting all the water it needs. It is used to storing and hoarding water. It will still store water for a while as that is what it has always done and it takes time to change. This means you may have a little water retention, be a little bloated. This is temporary. As your body comes to rely on you giving it water, it will start to store less. When it stops storing and starts releasing old water, you will have to go to the bathroom more frequently. This is also temporary. Your body (bladder) will get used to working again and you will have less frequent urges. Your body needs 8 to 10 glasses of water a day, but you have to allow your system time to get back into gear. Do not overwhelm your body or yourself by making this change too fast.
Diet drinks may not have the calories, but there are other problems. They are not good for you. Do not start drinking them. If you are drinking them, try substituting them out of your diet at a slightly faster pace. You may even consider using the regular soda instead of the diet while they are being phased out. There are numerous articles and books on the dangers of these drinks. I won’t repeat them here (though I may at some point do an article just on diet drinks). Just think of them as poison and treat them as a disease you need to be rid of. I will just say one thing. Your body knows how to process sugar, but it has trouble dealing with unnatural foods like diet soda. There is an insulin response because it is sweet, but there is no sugar for the insulin to work on. What happens? My theory is the insulin that has been released because of the diet drink has to do something, so it works on whatever sugar is there in your blood stream, turning it into fat, and as your blood sugar lowers, you get hungry. So even though there are 0 calories in that drink, the extra snack you are eating because the diet drink made you hungry, does contain calories. Diet soda is one diet food you could do without.
Step 3 – Supplements. Do you need supplements? Supplements can help, but you don’t have to have supplements for success. If you are currently taking supplements keep on taking them. If you are not taking any, but you are interested in boosting your nutrition with supplements go ahead, but again I would caution you to go slowly. Add one supplement at a time. Give yourself time to adapt to it and time to be certain there is no adverse reaction. People can be sensitive to supplements just as some people are allergic or sensitive to some foods. If you add a dozen supplements to your diet all at once, and you react to one, you will not know which one is the problem. Also your body has to learn how to process the supplement. Even if you are giving yourself something you really need, your body has learned to cope without it, now it has to do things differently. Even though it is a change for the better, it is something that your body must learn and adapt to. Do not overwhelm your system by too much at a time.
I would start with a good multi-vitamin. You could read the labels and find the one with the most vitamins and minerals, or ask a friend, or ask your doctor, or ask your chiropractor. After a few days, you can add another supplement. The second one I would add would be something to provide Omega 3. You have some choices here. Fish oil, hempseed oil, Chia seeds all are good. With fish oil, you want to be sure the manufacturer has tested it for pollutants. I believe fish oil, good fish oil, to be the best option, yet I do not use fish oil myself. I cannot swallow the capsules, so I eat Chia seeds. If you get Omega 3’s from fish oil, I would add vitamin E. It helps to protect you if the fish oil is even a little bit “off”, which can happen. The third addition would be a good pro-biotic. If you have ever had an anti-biotic you probably need to increase the good bacteria that your body uses for digestion. The fourth one would be Vitamin D. The use of sun screens, has resulted in nearly all of us being low on vitamin D. Next I would add magnesium as my reading indicate it is a mineral we all seem to be deficient in.
I take several other supplements, but we don’t all need the same things. This is a good start and for many people it is all you need. If you wanted to investigate whether anything else was needed I would recommend seeing a qualified naturopath, or getting a good book on supplements from the library.
Step 4 – Exercise. Exercise can be tricky. It is possible to lose weight without exercising; harder, but possible. If you are losing the weight to look better, or to feel better, then do it with exercise. Otherwise the weight you lose may be muscle as well as fat. You may be thinner, but soft flabby muscles are not attractive. Working out also jump starts your fat loss.
With exercise, you have to start where you are; wherever that is and build yourself up. Too many people start at a level that is several steps above where they are. At best they will get discouraged and quit, at worst they get injured. Take your time. A slow success is much better than a quick failure. If you are quite out of shape here are some very easy exercises you can start with.
• Gentle stretching. My mother is 92 and in very good physical shape. She starts her day by stretching (while still in bed). She recommends moving like a cat. Move everything that can move. Stretch your arms up, stretch your legs out. Lift your leg (you can use your hands to help) stretch your thigh. Bring your knees to your chest to stretch your lower back. Give yourself a hug to stretch your upper back. Just slowly and gently move yourself. Don’t do anything that hurts. Don’t do anything fast (too easy to go too far and hurt yourself). At her recommendation I started doing this. Before, when I first got up I would ache, just a little, walking downstairs was just a little difficult. This has made a big difference. Now I roll out of bed ready for the day.
• Walking. Don’t worry about how far you go or how fast – it is not a competition. How much time do you have? Make the walk fit into your schedule, don’t rearrange your whole life for the walk because you will become resistant to doing it. When you start your walk, pay attention to your energy levels. When you start to get tired turn around and come back (you have to have energy for the return). It doesn’t matter whether you go half a block or a couple of miles. Just go. Do what you can. As you get stronger you will go farther. If your time is limited you don’t have to take more time, you can build yourself up by doing your route faster. It is also effective to walk at a brisk pace for most of the walk, but add a sprint (full out run for 10, 15 or 30 seconds). Yes, I said seconds. You will be amazed at how much good you can do in just a little bit of time.
• Weights. You do need to weight train too. Hold on, weight-train is not a four letter word. It does not need to be super hard, difficult or complicated. You can start slow and easy. You don’t even need equipment in the beginning. You can use your own body weight to start. Stand by a wall palms touching the wall about level with your shoulders, lean into the wall and then push away. As you get stronger move from the wall to a counter, then to a braced table (braced, you don’t want the table moving and you ending up on the floor), then a braced chair, then a push-up from your knees. There are a lot of ab work outs. To start, just engage your abs while doing other things. Tighten them, hold the muscles but do not hold your breath. Another, while lying down on your back, try to pull your navel toward the floor. If you do these for a couple of weeks you will be strong enough to try a “plank”. A “plank” is where you are on the floor, face down supported on your elbows and toes. Keep your back straight. It is your abs that keeps you from slumping. Try to work up to holding this position for 30 seconds. Work up to 30 seconds, if at first you can only do 5 or 10 that’s okay, start where you are. You will get stronger. If you are a woman, the body parts most in need of help are the triceps. You know them. That is the part of your arm, that when you wave good-bye continue waving after your hand has stopped. Some people have you start training triceps with “dips” or with weights. They are tricky to work. Problem with “dips” is you may not be stronger enough to start there. You could try a reverse push away. Stand with your back resting on a wall, feet 4 to 5 inches from the wall, palms on the wall about hip height. Push yourself away from the wall just a couple of inches (you don’t want to push yourself over, just a little movement is necessary). Pay attention to your muscles. If it is not the triceps that is doing the work of moving you from the wall you may have to adjust your hands up or down, out or in. Do these exercises and you will be able to feel yourself getting stronger.
• When you can do these easily you will be ready to start a more traditional work out with free weights (dumbbells) or resistance bands. I would do the bands first. You can easily adjust the tension to increase or decrease the level of difficulty. If purchased as a set, usually instructions and exercises are included in the package. Neither the bands or dumbbells are extremely expensive. Dumbbells can be purchase one set at a time, starting with just 2 pairs (light and medium weights). You can add bigger weights as you get stronger so you are spreading the cost out over time. If you are still concerned about the expense of buying equipment, it is possible to use items in the house as a substitute for weights. A milk jug washed out and refilled with water (how much water depends on how strong you are, increase the amount as you increase your strength). Soup cans also work as weights.
• There are many books and videos that describe the best method for using bands and free weights safely. While books and tapes are good references, and I know many people feel that gyms can be expensive, even so, if you can afford to go to a gym and see a professional trainer, even for just a couple of sessions; go. You need someone to show you how to do things right so you do not injure yourself. A book cannot see your form and could never correct it.
The information in this article is enough that, if you actually did it, regularly, every day, it would result in weight lose and it would build strength. You would get fit. If only it were really this easy. The real secret to fitness and weight loss is mind-set and motivation. The why? why you are fat, why you want to lose weight, why you have failed in the past? is much more important than What to do? or How to do it? But that is a slightly different topic, for a different article.