Get off the Dieting Cycle and Lose Weight for Good

Are you a yo-yo dieter, stuck in a seemingly endless cycle of losing weight and gaining it back again?  If so, you aren’t alone. I’ve met many people who say they are experts at losing weight but they just can’t seem to keep it off. So I’m going to share my top tips for taking the weight off and keeping it off for good – the very same steps I shared with Fox 5 viewers this week. But first, let’s talk about dieting….

All diets have one thing in common – they help you cut calories so you lose weight. And when you lose weight you’ll lose both fat and muscle. However, when you go on a juice fast or low calorie diet that doesn’t contain enough protein (and most don’t), you will lose a considerable amount of muscle tissue. And that’s a huge problem because muscle burns more calories at rest than fat (just a few but it adds up over time) so when you lose muscle you’ll need fewer calories each day just to maintain your weight. Over time, repeated bouts of protein poor diets could decrease your calorie needs even further, making it increasingly difficult to keep the weight off without dieting. And therefore, if you want to go on a diet there are two things you need to do:

  • Feed the Muscle to Keep the Muscle. You’ll need even more protein when you cut your calories to help ensure you are preserving muscle while losing fat. A good rule of thumb, start by consuming at least 25 – 30 grams of protein per meal. At breakfast consider mixing a packet of protein powder in 6 oz. of milk or higher protein soy milk, eggs (2 large egg whites + 2 large eggs = about 28 grams of protein and just 200 calories), plain Greek yogurt + 2 Tbsp. of peanut butter or eat foods that aren’t traditionally associated with breakfast (last night’s leftovers). At lunch and dinner, you’ll need about the serving size of a female’s palm worth of chicken, turkey or fish or mix and match proteins by adding tofu, tempeh, beans, bean pastas, nuts and seeds.
  • Have an exit strategy – a plan for transitioning off your diet. Don’t stay on a very low calorie diet for an extended period of time. You will decrease your metabolism – the amount of calories you need each day. If you are cutting calories for more than just a few months, take a day or two each week and don’t drop your calories – eat what you need to if you wanted to maintain your weight (bump up your calorie intake).

Now let’s focus on fitness. There are two mistakes I see people making over and over – spending hours on cardio machines and sitting around the rest of the day. If you spend some quality time burning calories on the treadmill, bike or other cardio machine, its time to trade in some of your aerobic sessions for resistance training – lifting weights, power yoga, or anything that requires you to exercise a muscle or muscle group against external resistance. As we age we lose muscle. Losing muscle means your body will require fewer calories each day (again, this means you’ll need to eat less over time just to stay at the same body weight). Maintaining muscle will be easier to maintain your weight. If you already lift weights, change your routine to continue to make gains. Incorporate different exercises, lift until failure – until you can’t squeeze out any more reps (you do not necessarily have to use a heavy weight but instead can lift lighter weights using more reps till failure) or try doing compound sets – two or more exercises in a row targeting the same muscle group without rest.

Last but certainly not least, get moving and stay moving. Simply going to the gym isn’t enough to help you maintain your weight or counteract the health hazards of sitting most of the day. Sitting for long periods of time slows blood circulation, increases your risk of developing blood clots, leads to tight muscles and, sedentary behavior is tied to an increased risk of heart disease. So get moving and stay moving all day long. Ignore modern conveniences including escalators, elevators, the drive-through, pay at the gas pump and more. All of these rob you of the chance to move your body, burn calories and improve your health. If you need a little motivation, buy a fitness tracker. I prefer the ones that show you how many steps you’ve walked on the device versus those that require you to log on to your computer or smart phone just to see how active you are.

Does Cardio on an Empty Stomach = Greater Calories Burned?

In college I’d wake up at the crack of dawn to meet my teammates for a run. Now, I can’t fathom doing that without any food (and caffeine) to get me going in the morning. And despite evidence to the contrary, many people still insist that exercise first thing in the morning in a fasted state will help them “burn more fat.”

There are a few reasons people vouch for this theorys. First, your blood sugar is low which means your insulin levels are low (insulin is a storage hormone and facilitates fat storage if you don’t need those calories for energy). Plus, some people believe that exercising first thing speeds up your metabolism for the rest of the day.

Despite these two seemingly logical theories behind exercising on an empty stomach first thing in the morning, my incredibly smart colleague Brad Schoenfeld, MS, CSCS, did an excellent job debunking this myth. In Brad’s article in the NSCA Strength & Conditioning Journal, he goes into depth discussing why this theory is incorrect. Here are the highlights:

  • Fat burning needs to be considered over the course of a day, actually days, not only during one exercise session. Say you burn carbs during your workout, then your body will likely burn fat post exercise or later in the day.
  • HIIT, high intensity interval training, has proven to be one of the best ways to shed fat. Yet, during this high intensity exercise, you are actually burning less fat which indicates that again, the whole day, or course of days matters the most.
  • Well designed clinical trials in endurance-trained athletes show that a pre-exercise meal does not impair fat oxidation during exercise.
  • If you exercise in a fasted state you probably won’t be able to train at the same intensity as you would if you had a pre-exercise meal. Greater intensity = more calories burned.

For all of the reasons outlined above, keep in mind that the best time of the day to exercise is the time that fits in your schedule and works for you. If you love to exercise first thing in the morning, go for it! Obviously it has it’s advantages since the rest of your day is free and you won’t skip out on an after-work workout in favor of a last minute happy hour. Plus, working out in the morning may get you “up” for the rest of your day, helping you feel like you’ve accomplished something and your body is both alert and ready to tackle anything that comes your way. However, don’t sweat it if you exercise in a non fasted state. After all, you should notice a huge difference in the quality of your workout.