Weight loss is a common focus. New Year’s resolutions, getting “beach ready,” or just desiring change can all be catalysts for making improvements to health by shedding some weight. In a world where detoxes and cleanses make appealing promises like “lose seven pounds in a week,” what is realistic and what is sustainable?
The good news is with the right tactics, healthy weight loss is both achievable and sustainable. Let’s look at best practices to help you reach your target goal.
Maximum amount of weight to lose
Setting realistic expectations prior to embarking on your weight-loss journey will help you not only achieve your goals but get there healthfully! The CDC recommends losing no more than one to two pounds each week or four to eight pounds per month. While products may lure you with the promise of loftier goals, they likely are not accomplished in a healthy way.
While these products, drinks, and programs sound appealing, claims are often too good to be true. Eating whole foods and incorporating movement into your life are tried-and-true methods. Sustainable weight loss occurs when you find a perfect balance of healthy food and exercise. And while we wish we could tell you an exact meal plan and exercise plan, there is no one-size-fits-all formula.
Scientists have long claimed that fewer calories going in versus more calories taken out equals weight loss, and many claims still say you must be in a deficit of 3,500 calories per week to achieve your goal. Unfortunately, not all calories are created equal. Choosing fresh foods with minimal ingredients generally provides significantly more value to your body than lower-calorie packaged foods.
Dangers of losing too much weight
Keeping in mind that ideal number of losing one to two pounds per week, there are many dangers of losing too much weight at a time. If you are losing more than one to two pounds per week, you may be eating too few calories, which can:
- Leave you feeling ravenous
- Not provide you with adequate nutrients
- Affect your mental health
- Leave you feeling lightheaded or dizzy
- Cause your body to burn muscle for fuel
Nutritional deficiencies can come in the form of hair loss, dry hair, dry skin, brittle bones, and poor immune function. Fueling your body adequately with a wide variety of healthy foods can leave you feeling good while still achieving your weight-loss goals.
Yo-yo dieting is a term for alternately losing and gaining weight. It’s dangerous for your body because it heightens the risk of heart disease and high blood pressure and can ultimately increase your body mass index.
To avoid yo-yo dieting, consider these tips:
- Cook most of your food at home to stay aware of the ingredients you’re consuming and keep in touch with your food from start to finish.
- Get adequate sleep and rest your body.
- Avoid processed foods and choose real foods that don’t include refined flours, sugars, and oils.
- Be mindful of your eating. Take time, without distraction, to enjoy each meal. Put away your phone and laptop to be conscious of what you’re putting into your body.
- Stay hydrated.
- Consult with a Health Coach for help staying on track with your goals and remaining in the right headspace for your weight-loss journey.
When to take breaks in dieting
It is often said that taking a two-week break from dieting can be beneficial. If you opt to do this, remember that breaks are not a free-for-all – a break allows time to modify the strictness of your intake. The goal during a break is not to gain or lose fat – it’s to eat the amount of calories needed to maintain (what your body burns on a regular basis).
Taking diet breaks can lead to higher basal metabolic rates and maintaining more lean muscle – both of which coincide with a faster metabolism. If you’re going to take dieting breaks, taking a two-week break every 6–12 weeks is recommended.
Nutritional recommendations for weight loss
The term macronutrients refers to the carbs, fats, and protein found in a food. Paying attention to the breakdown of macronutrients in your meals is key for sustainable weight loss. Some foods are high-fat and low-carb, like avocados; some are high-carb and low-protein, like oats. However, the ratio of carbs to fats to protein isn’t what makes any food healthier than another, as all three macronutrients are needed in your diet.
The recommended breakdown of macronutrients for weight loss is:
- 45%–65% of calories from carbs
- 20%–35% of calories from fats
- 10%–35% of calories from proteins
“Commonly known as ‘counting macros’, modifying the ratio of macronutrients you consume allows you to adjust the percentages of fats, protein and carbohydrates contributing to your daily caloric intake. Changing the amount of calories that each macronutrient contributes toward your daily intake can help you feel more satiated after meals and can provide sustained energy for physical activity,” explains Dana McNaught, a Certified Nutrition Specialist and Licensed Dietitian-Nutritionist.
“You may need to play around a bit to see what feels best for you, but the general guidelines are a great starting point. You may also find yourself tweaking these percentages if your goals change or your level of activity varies,” continues McNaught. “Many people find this approach to be sustainable through travel and holidays because it does not eliminate foods or food groups. Fats, protein and carbohydrates are all essential nutrients. It is important that you consume adequate amounts of each, and this allows you to get feedback from your body on what works best.”
Everybody – and every body – is different, so the number of calories you need and the breakdown of macronutrients for your ideal weight-loss journey will differ. While eating mainly plant-based with minimal animal protein and fat may be a viable solution for one person, another may find the intake of less carbs and more fats and protein helps them achieve their goal. Always remember to come back to the quality of the calories.
Nutrition is critical during and outside times of weight loss – 100 calories of broccoli looks very different than 100 calories of ice cream. They are different in macronutrient breakdown but also how they make you feel. Once you’ve determined the optimal ratio for your unique body, be mindful when choosing foods. Working with a dietitian or nutritionist can help you determine this exact breakdown, and a Health Coach can help you further implement their recommendations to stay on track!
Sustainable weight loss is absolutely achievable with the right tactics. Being mindful of your eating, having a realistic plan (which doesn’t include fad products, protocols, or programs), and eating healthy, unprocessed foods are essential to your success. What works for one may not work for another. Keep these concepts in mind when creating a weight-loss plan that works for you.