After a long winter, most of us look forward to shedding some layers and getting outside for warm sun and fun. But with the return to shorts, t-shirts, and swimsuits, many people can become body-conscious if they’re overweight.
Spring and summer are great times to start if you’re thinking about losing weight and improving your health. Longer, warmer days — plus an abundance of lighter, healthier foods — make it easier to stay motivated. Still, it’s often hard to know where to start.
There is no one-fits-all weight loss plan. “It’s not easy to lose weight without knowing what’s right for your body,” explains Vicki March, MD, co-founder of UPMC’s Comprehensive Weight Loss Program.
“You have to look at the whole picture,” she says.
Dr. March recommends a combination of the following:
- Healthy eating. This often means eating more fruits, vegetables, and home-cooked meals instead of take-out, fast food, or packaged foods.
- Consistent physical activity. Whether it’s a gym, group classes, hiking, biking, or swimming, it’s crucial to find activities you enjoy and can commit to.
- Coping strategies. One-on-one counseling or group support programs provide tools that help you stay motivated and work through weight loss barriers.
Together, these contribute to a feeling of well-being and also help you look and feel your best. Changing your diet and lifestyle takes time and hard work. But the reward is great
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Weight Loss Tips
These tips from the UPMC Comprehensive Weight Loss Program can help you get started.
Track your eating and exercise habits
Journaling is the best way to identify habits you want to change. And it helps you stay accountable as you work on those changes.
To start, you can carry a small notebook and jot down what you eat and when you exercise. Or keep it even easier and download a weight loss app that tracks how many calories you eat and how many you burn.
The app will calculate your daily calorie needs. You just enter everything you eat and drink (including snacks and beverages with calories). Try different types of exercise to see which helps you burn more calories.
Tracking your calories is important for weight loss, but don’t get too hung up on numbers. Instead, focus on making long-term changes like eating at least a half plate of vegetables at each meal or exercising more consistently. Establishing those new habits will make it easier to meet your calorie goal day after day.
Read food labels carefully
Packaged foods are deceiving. Foods labeled low-fat, less sugar, reduced calorie, low-carb, or all-natural aren’t always as healthy as they appear. Reading food labels provides a better sense of a food’s nutritional value.
At the grocery store, read the ingredient and nutrition facts label and look for foods that:
- Aren’t too high in calories.
- Have little to no saturated fat, trans fat, or added sweeteners.
- Have at least three grams of fiber per serving.
- Are made with ingredients you recognize.
Better yet, try to buy mainly foods with no labels — like fresh fruits, vegetables, fish, chicken, or eggs. Or choose foods with only a few whole ingredients on the food label. Good options include:
- Plain frozen fruits and vegetables.
- Nuts, seeds, or nut butter.
- Plain whole grains, like oats, shredded wheat, brown rice, or quinoa.
- Milk and plain Greek yogurt.
Don’t skip breakfast
There are many reasons breakfast is the most important meal of the day. After eight or more hours without eating overnight, your body needs fuel. Eating a healthy breakfast is like putting premium gas in your car — it helps your body run better.
Skipping breakfast can backfire and cause you to overeat later in the day. Eating breakfast helps you achieve a healthy weight and maintain your weight loss.
Plan a breakfast with healthy carbs (like fruit and whole grain cereal). And include a generous serving of protein (low-fat milk, Greek yogurt, or eggs) to get a nice energy boost for the day.
Drink plenty of water
When it comes to losing weight, staying hydrated is a well-known tool. Your body needs plenty of water to perform its metabolic functions — including burning calories.
Plus, many people think they’re hungry but are thirsty instead. Drinking more water throughout the day helps you stay hydrated, so you avoid the pitfall of mistaking thirst for hunger. Plain water is great, but other calorie-free, hydrating beverages include:
- Plain or fruit-flavored, unsweetened seltzer water.
- Fruit or herb-infused water.
- Herbal tea.
- Decaffeinated green or black tea (or plain coffee).
If part of your weight loss plan is to exercise more, making up for fluid lost through sweat is especially important.
Get up, get out, and move
Speaking of exercise, being sedentary makes it harder to lose weight and can promote or worsen other health problems. Moving more helps burn calories, improves your blood sugar, and reduces the risk of heart disease.
Daily exercise is a vital part of a healthy lifestyle. But if the word “exercise” is intimidating, think of it as “moving more.” The more you move, the healthier you will be, and the easier it will be to manage your weight.
If you’re not currently active, talk to your doctor and ask which activities are safest and how much to do. And start slowly. Small amounts of activity add up throughout the day.
Start to increase your daily activity by:
- Taking the stairs instead of the elevator.
- Parking your car further away from your destination so you have to walk more.
- Visiting your office coworker instead of emailing.
- Using a pedometer or fitness tracker to gradually increase your daily steps.
Once you feel stronger, add some group fitness activities or get outside and walk, bike, or swim several days each week. The most important thing is to find what works for you.
Get more sleep
Sleep is highly underrated, but it’s one of the most important things you can do to take care of your health. Poor sleep contributes to various health problems like insulin resistance, high blood pressure, mood disorders, and weight gain. You may find it easier to lose weight if you get an average of seven to nine hours of sleep a day.
If you have trouble falling asleep or staying asleep, try these tips:
- Try to go to bed and wake up at the same time each day.
- Make sure to turn off any blue-light devices like your TV, phone, tablet, or laptop at least one hour before bedtime.
- Create a sleep environment that’s quiet, cool, and dark.
- Avoid eating dinner or anything heavy within three hours of bedtime.
- Limit caffeine from coffee, tea, or chocolate starting in the late afternoon.
- Talk to your doctor if you snore or suspect you have sleep apnea.
Weight loss is a journey with lots of starts and stops. There isn’t one route that’s right for everyone, but having a plan can help you find your way. And if you need help, your health care team is here to partner with you.
Editor's Note: This article was originally published on , and was last reviewed on .
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