A new year often means resolutions, and according to Statistics Brain Research Institute, losing weight and eating healthier is the number one resolution in the U.S.
But if weight loss is your goal, the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics reports you’ll need to burn 3,500 calories to lose just one pound. For a 150-pound adult, that’s more than eight hours of aerobic exercise, eight hours of tennis or 11 hours of brisk walking.
If you can’t squeeze eight hours of tennis into your schedule this week, don’t worry. For the best results, experts recommend pairing healthy nutrition with daily exercise to lose weight.
“Essentially any weight loss plan means eating fewer calories than you burn,” said Jonathan Wymore, a registered dietitian with SamFit. Making a small adjustment to eat fewer calories combined with exercise to burn calories leads to weight loss without changes that are too difficult.”
Ready to get started? Here are the pro tips for how to optimize your weight loss this year.
Maintaining lean muscle tissue is a key factor for people who want to lose weight. Muscle tissue burns more resting calories than fat and also helps your body to absorb nutrients.
“With weight loss, when you lose fat you also lose muscle,” said Kyle Bangen, MS, a strength and conditioning specialist at The SAM.“Resistance training helps the body maintain and build muscle, which makes the rest of your exercise like cardio more beneficial.”
Resistance training can include doing lunges, squats, dead lifts, push ups, rowing, rigorous forms of yoga or lifting weights. According to Bangen 30 to 90 minutes of resistance training a day is beneficial. Spend at least half of your exercise time on resistance training, preferably at the beginning of your workout each day or early in the week if you want to split your resistance training and cardio into different days.
Eat a Balanced Diet
The key to any weight management program and good health in general is to eat plenty of fruits and vegetables, whole grains and lean protein. Wymore doesn’t recommend cutting out certain food groups, like carbohydrate or fat.
“Most fad diets — low-carb, gluten-free, cabbage soup — are all trying to manipulate how you eat so that you have to eat fewer calories,” said Wymore. “If snacking is your problem and you stop eating crackers and baked goods, you’ll probably lose weight. But for many people the change is pretty unsustainable because they haven’t changed their lifestyle long term.”
Wymore encourages clients to embrace a whole foods, plant-based diet as part of a lifestyle change. Eating whole grains, fruits and vegetables takes up more space in your stomach and helps you feel full while contributing fewer calories to your waistline. In contrast, many refined foods and junk foods are energy dense and not filling, which means you don’t have to eat very much to have consumed a lot of calories and still be hungry.
“People are usually pretty jazzed about a whole foods diet because they like to eat food and they don’t want to be hungry all the time,” said Wymore.
Whole food, plant-based meals can work for many types of cuisine like Mediterranean, Mexican or Asian. Just make sure that your plate is at least half full of things from plants like fruits and veggies. The other half of your plate should be filled with lean protein like chicken or beans and whole grains like brown rice, quinoa or oats. Don’t forget to add a small amount of healthy fats like olive oil and nuts.
Slow and steady might feel boring but according to Bangen the results are more likely to stick.
“People who lose a lot of weight quickly seem more likely to gain it back than people who do it slow and steady,” said Bangen. “The recommendations are to lose no more than two pounds a week, but even losing just one or two pounds a month is fine. Long term you want to keep the results.”
Bangen recommends developing a routine that includes at least 30 minutes of daily exercise that you can complete consistently. As long as you see results and feel good, don’t worry if the weight leaves slowly.
Make a Plan
Cooking healthy, balanced meals at home and fitting exercise into your day doesn’t just happen. It takes a plan. Wymore recommends taking time to create a calendar with what you’ll be cooking that upcoming week. Know how many times you’ll need to pack a lunch for yourself so you can work in healthy leftovers. Then make a list and shop from it. Bonus points if you take an hour or so at the beginning of the week and do food prep like chopping and portioning ingredients for each meal so that cooking goes faster on a busy weeknight.
“Most people I talk to have no plan for dinner that night. They wing it every day,” said Wymore. “Those who are the most successful with weight loss are the ones who are involved in their food and are willing to make meals at home. You don’t have to be a farmer or only shop at the farmer’s market to have healthy food, but you have to create a culture for yourself and your family that is about purposeful, healthy eating.”
Anytime you feel motivated for improvement, it can be easy to make sweeping proclamations about all the things you’re going to change. Or maybe you feel overwhelmed by all the things in your life you know need to be changed.
“Focus on one thing at a time,” said Bangen.
He suggests identifying one thing you feel that you can accomplish consistently that will have the biggest impact on your health, and then focus on that and only that for at least two weeks. Once you feel like you have a good handle on that one change and it has become part of your lifestyle, then add another change.
“People get off track when they try to do too much at once and make too many changes,” said Bangen. “It’s just not sustainable. You want to make sure you master a new behavior or new habit before you move on to the next one.”
To see how many calories you burn with certain activities, check out this calorie calculator.