Think the number-one roadblock to being fit is the number of calories you take in? Think again. The key to healthy, successful weight loss isn’t just about getting the right information—it's about knowing how to use that information. It’s why those extra pounds won’t budge, despite your understanding the importance of calories in versus calories out, knowing the difference between good and bad carbs, and being diligent about mixing cardio with strength training. If you’ve been feeling discouraged, rest assured that you’re not alone. We spoke with medical, nutrition and fitness experts and asked them one simple question: "What are we missing?" Read on to discover the six most important ways to use the mind-body connection to help your weight-loss efforts rather than hinder them.
Accept that diets don’t help you in the long run.
Every year you try to eat less and less, but gain more and more. Sure, some of this has to do with the biology of aging, but it also has to do with the damage all those fad diets have done to your metabolism. There’s no miracle pill or plan that can lead to easy weight loss. "People just cycle between these fads, these radical wacky diets, and they will lose weight, but then they get sick of it," says Timothy Harlan, MD, medical director at the Tulane University School of Medicine and author of Just Tell Me What to Eat! This leads to gaining back the weight, which puts you back at square one. "It's really important to know why women eat like birds and look like elephants as they get older," says Eric Braverman, MD, author of Younger (Thinner) You Diet. "They develop this horrific situation in which they eat 1,000 calories and gain weight…the metabolic starvation that these girls are doing [leads to] the destruction of their health." Instead of approaching food with a deprivation mindset, consider feasible, small changes that you can make over the long term. Braverman recommends increasing exercise and increasing "chew food"—highly nutritious and fibrous but low-calorie foods, such as an apple instead of apple juice. Photo: Shutterstock
Focus on fitness, not thinness.
In our body-obsessed culture with ultra-thin celebrities setting the trend, it’s hard to remember that your health and well-being are about more than being a particular pants size. “Do it for your health, do it to stimulate your mind and find passion,” says Ramona Braganza, celebrity trainer and fitness expert at Gold Gym. "It’s not about getting a Hollywood body.” Try focusing more on how you feel rather than what the scale says. "Women think they're sexier when they're thin, flabby Gumbys. They haven't incorporated a really liberating feminist model of nutrition, fitness and discipline into their lives," Dr. Braverman says. By focusing on being fit and feeling healthy—keeping your age in mind—you’ll be better equipped to hit your ideal weight. "There are happy people in all different shapes and sizes, so if you’re picking your model person, it has to be somebody realistic," says Braganza. "Your body changes, and I think it’s hard for women to accept that they won’t always have their 25-year-old body. So you have to look for a new role model. My role model is my 75-year-old mom, who teaches Zumba classes. You want to look ahead of you, not behind you." Photo: Shutterstock
Make friends with food.
Losing weight should not mean eating bland, flavorless food. And it definitely should not entail being hungry all the time. Think about food as nourishment, and make it as delicious as possible. In fact, if you do it right, you can eat just as much, if not more than before. "I'm a big believer in eating great food, but it's about caloric density. If you're going to take in fewer calories, those calories should be much larger portions," Dr. Harlan says. His example: beef stroganoff. Make it with the same ingredients, but use more mushrooms and less beef (the leaner the better). You’ll consume fewer overall calories, but more food, and still feel satisfied. "We respond to volume of food, and when the volume is high and we feel filled up, we'll stop eating," Dr. Harlan adds. "That's how I craft a recipe. I ask myself, 'How can I make this portion larger, preserve the flavor—or make it more even delicious—and keep it at the same number of calories?’" Photo: Shutterstock
Start small and build slowly.
One of the biggest mistakes people make when trying to lose weight is going to extremes. Be mindful of where you are, and respect your limits. With this in mind, start small and build slowly. "People don't know how to get started. But I'd be happy if you just went out and walked three days a week," Dr. Harlan says. "But instead, people will go out and injure themselves and they'll get put off. So starting very low-impact, going slowly and building up very carefully is the number-one key with exercise." Braganza agrees: "When you’re starting, anything is better than nothing. Go for a regular walk and then include a hill. Then go at a faster pace, and then step into the gym," she says. "Lower impact to start with, and then go on to the higher-impact exercises once you’ve built up your strength." Photo: Shutterstock
Concentrate on commitment more than intensity.
You don’t have to log endless hours at the gym to become healthier, but a commitment to an exercise regimen is essential. "When I'm talking to patients, the first thing I do is work on time. We schedule everything in our lives, but we don't book exercise," Dr. Harlan says. "If I can just get them to start by penciling in that 30 minutes three times a week, that's enough to get them started." In fact, despite what we may think, celebrities aren't spending every waking second in the gym to get those beautiful bodies. What they are doing, however, is committing to a weekly routine, and giving it their all when they're there. "My people work out pretty conservatively about four days a week for an hour," says Braganza, who has trained such stars as Jessica Alba and Halle Berry. Photo: Shutterstock
Stop obsessing about your weight.
The fastest way to misery is to obsess over dieting and weight loss. It’s not only bad for your self-esteem, but it will sabotage your weight-loss efforts, too. "I was a cheerleader for the Oakland Raiders, and we had regular weigh-ins. The girls gained during the season because they were so concerned about it. Then during off-season, the weight just fell off. You store fat when you’re stressed. There is a huge correlation between [stress] and the body," says wellness coach Cassandra Corum. (Not to mention the natural fluctuations caused by hormones and age.) With this in mind, focus on long-term goals rather than micro-managing your life. "Health is not a 30-day thing, a 60- or a 90-day thing. Take the advice, use what you already know and do it every day,” Corum says.