If you've resolved to lose weight this year, congratulations. It's a healthy goal. But how you go about it will have a lot to do with whether you succeed.
Dr. Aaron Michelfelder of Loyola University Health System is well acquainted with weight-loss strategies that work and those that don't. He's identified 5 in particular that he sees time and again but with poor results.
Bad strategy No. 1: losing weight at the gym.
Gym memberships soar in January because that's when many people decide to adopt a healthier lifestyle. Working out is good for your health and can help to maintain your weight. But exercise alone is not very effective in shedding unwanted pounds.
Michelfelder says most consumers have no idea how few calories are burned during exercise. Walking on a treadmill for a half hour, for example, will only burn about 200 calories. To lose weight, you will need to eat fewer calories each day. It's that simple.
Bad Strategy No. 2: dramatically changing your diet
Making an abrupt change in diet is not only not a good idea, Michelfelder says it is not even necessary. A better strategy? Try cutting a few hundred calories a day.
First, figure out where your break-even point is calorie-wise. For the average person it might be 2,200 to 2,500 calories a day. To lose a pound a week, consume about 500 fewer calories a day.
Reduce snacking and avoid high-calorie beverages. When going to a restaurant, eat an apple before dinner to dull your appetite, then skip the bread before the main dish arrives. Eat smaller portions and ask for a to-go container.
Bad Strategy No. 3: relying on weight-loss supplements
Michelfelder, a professor in the Department of Family Medicine of Loyola University Chicago Stritch School of Medicine, says supplements burn more muscle than fat. When you stop taking them, he warns you will gain back more fat than muscle, making you worse off than before you started taking them.
Bad Strategy No. 4: trying to lose it fast
Reality shows like The Biggest Loser may inspire the overweight and obese, but create the impression that slimming down can be done quickly. In most cases, it can't – at least, not if you want to keep it off.
Michelfelder says a more realistic -- and healthy -- strategy is to try to lose 1 to 2 pounds per week. Remember, cutting back 500 calories a day, such as a bagel with cream cheese, will help you drop a pound a week.
Can't do 500 calories? Eliminate 250 calories a day and you'll lose 2 pounds per month.
“This will provide the slow-and-steady type of weight loss that will be long-lasting,” Michelfelder said.
Bad Strategy No. 5: giving up
It's easy to become discouraged because losing weight is a process that takes place over an extended period of time. Most of us are accustomed to instant gratification. Weight loss doesn't work that way.
Michelfelder says you shouldn't stress if you don't drop down to a trim, normal weight, defined as a body mass index of between 18.5 and 24.9. If you are overweight or obese, he says losing 10% of your body weight will improve your appearance and have significant health benefits, such as lower blood pressure and a reduced risk of diabetes. Even losing as little as 5 pounds will be good for your joints.
As for structured programs, like Weight Watchers and Jenny Craig, Michelfelder says they can be effective – but more effective if you attend in person instead of participating online.
“For the New Year, most of us should add some weight loss to our resolutions,” Michelfelder said. “Obesity is now so common in the United States that it causes more disease and years of life lost than smoking.”