***Stands up to podium. Clears throat*** I'm surely not the only one sick and tired of promotions for New Year's weight loss kick starts and "lose fat fast" by signing up for x, y, z. Don't get me wrong, I adore New Year's resolutions and the energy around turning over a new leaf. But my heart breaks watching people every year (or every summer, or every 1st of the month) attempt to "get healthy" with a haphazard and temporary method. The intelligent, respectable people in the health & wellness community will echo each other in saying "quick fixes and diets DON'T WORK." Everyone looking for help hears this, but somehow ignore it in hopes that a 14-day cleanse or 21-day program will do the trick this time. Even beyond that, so many fall in the trap of restrictive, unnatural forms of lifestyle changes a la calorie counting, carb-cutting, low-fat, excessive/miserable cardio workouts which is only sustainable for so long.
As a doctor, I've got to tell it to you straight (again). DIETS DON'T WORK. I know, it's infuriating to think that following a diet plan with it's grapefruit breakfast and tuna lunch and salad for dinner won't help you lose weight permanently. Key word-- permanently. Surely you'll drop some weight temporarily, maybe keeping it off for a few months; but if you're not fixing the underlying issues related to food and your health, it's going to come back. Even more scary is that yo-yo dieting is actually associated with an increase in heart disease (as presented at AHA this year, read about that here.) So stop it, stop it right now with cookie cutter meal plans and calorie counts. The way you're going to get healthy is to stop making it about weight loss at all.
I support body positivity completely, and I truly believe in self-love at any size, shape, color, etc. I'm probably one of the few physicians out there that thinks BMI as a surrogate to health is utter nonsense. Having a BMI of 27 puts you in the "overweight category" but what if you're physically active built of muscle and take care of your body with good food and enough sleep? Should you really be trying to get down into that "normal weight" category? (No, the answer is no.) Likewise, a BMI of 19 doesn't equate to the picture of health either. I see patients all the time with "normal weights" who are still type II diabetics with a side of tobacco abuse. I'd pick the BMI 27 ANY DAY. Regardless of these scenarios, I have to make it clear that excessive fat is not good for your physical health and making changes to your nutrition/exercise habits/mindset to improve your body composition can very well help you live a better and longer life. Small and wise incremental changes that almost exclusively start with good mental health, will assist you in long term success in maintaining wellness. Along the way, though, you should look in the mirror every single day and remember that you are wonderfully made exactly as you are. Need help on body positivity? Check out Kelly U on Youtube. She's a force to be reckoned with :-)
Before you read on, get your mind right. No really, what are your reasons for your new year's healthy resolutions? If it has everything to do with being skinny, having abs, and looking good.. you're setting yourself up for failure. Aesthetics are temporary, and will leave you feeling empty anyway. If you want to make changes because you want a full and long life, to be able to DO MORE, to spring out of bed feeling wonderful every morning.. then you're ready. Read on :-)
STOP THE EXTREMES, STOP THE RESTRICTING, AND START ADDING IN. This is fourfold-- add in time for meaningful hobbies, eat MORE natural, satiating foods, move MORE (in a fun, low-stress manner), and sleep more (my favorite!)
- DO MORE OF WHAT YOU LOVE. Instead of sitting and obsessing about how to get your best body, channel that energy into all the wholesome things that make you feel alive. Restart your practice of a musical instrument, regularly go to concerts, plan more weekend getaways with friends, truly invest time with your family, pick up an old sport that you used to love. Ignite passion into your free time so there's no room for self-loathing and feeling sorry for yourself. Physical health is meaningless without mental health. The three most commonly prescribed medication drug classes are pain medications, cholesterol medications, and anti-depressants. (source: CDC.gov.) If you need professional help, seek it. A sound body is useless without a sound mind. For more blog posts on mental health, I encourage you to read ANYTHING written by the incredible Freud & Fashion (I adore you Vania!)
- EAT MORE. I mean this. An extreme restriction in calories will lead to muscle loss and thus subsequent suppressed basal metabolic rate, and is mentally disastrous! Try fasting (wait, don't) for a prolonged period of time and see how much you'll overcompensate later. If you are making changes to be healthier, you need to EAT. Slowly but surely, you'll need to stop obsessing over calorie counts or carb contents and really eat things that are both nutritiously and mentally satisfying. Over time, you'll find that processed diet food actually tastes like freeze-dried garbage (and gives you gas.. oh wait is that just me?), candy really isn't that good, and that whole foods like avocados, olives, parsnips, sweet potatoes, brussels sprouts, strawberries, mangoes, coconut oil, nut butters will leave you feeling like a champ (and very full and satisfied!) You'll learn how to listen to your hunger cues, and stop when you're satisfied. You'll be willing to try a few new types of produce each week and be willing to look up recipes so that you'll ACTUALLY eat it. You'll learn that if you're regularly eating satiating and nutrient-dense foods.. you can actually eat a serving of ice cream without thinking twice about what it'll do to your waistline. You'll learn how to experiment with vegetables and good fats, you'll discover what your body dislikes, all by trial and error.. and not a single calorie counted. Your weight will equilibrate to where it should be, and that's enough for your health. Visible abs DO NOT EQUATE TO BEING HEALTHY.
I'm a huge fan of intuitive eating, and if you really want help in this process, I HIGHLY recommend Amanda Adams' and Ander Wilson's Hot & Healthy Habits (so motivational and absolutely no B.S.)
- MOVE MORE. And I don't necessarily mean in the gym. Stand up, walk around, stretch, fidget. Park your car in the back of the lot. Say no to elevators and escalators. Stand at work whenever possible. Take routine office breaks to wiggle wiggle. Leisure walk. In one of my favorite papers, prolonged sitting was an independent risk factor for deleterious health outcomes regardless of physical activity (Biswas et al, Ann. 2015.) So just because you killed it in the gym for an hour each day, doesn't necessarily mean you're offsetting your risk of cardiovascular disease and all-cause mortality if your other 23 hours are spent like this-
If you've first made little adjustments so that you're on your feet and MOVING throughout the day, you're already in the right direction for living your best life. Of course, regular structured exercise is always a good idea! But again, workouts should never be focused on "burning off extra calories" or "working out to look good naked.." those are temporary motivators. Exercise to feel better than you did yesterday. Do whatever type of exercise you're willing to stick with, that you don't dread (even if it's challenging) and that actually fits your schedule. If you're a woman, I highly recommend checking out Emily Miner if you're looking for do-anywhere, short, effective workouts (accompanied by mindset counseling and no-BS approach to food.) I just love this girl, she's me in health coach form!
- SLEEP MORE. Pretty self-explanatory, but so undervalued. None of the above changes will happen if you're exhausted. You owe it to yourself. Change your sleeping environment for maximal shut-eye (dark curtains, NO ELECTRONICS, sound proof setting.) Stop the glorification of overworking and staying up. You deserve more rest.
So if you really want to get healthy, stop giving a damn about weight loss. You can improve your health tremendously without seeing a single pound lost on the scale. You want a New Years resolution? How about living longer, living better, living with intention? Those all sound pretty sweet to me.