Let’s just say you’re approaching 50 and you don’t like the direction you’re going. You’re overweight and occasionally short of breath, especially when you’re pressed and have to get somewhere quickly. One day you’re late for a meeting at which you are supposed to be the key player. You get there almost on time, but you are sweating and wiping your brow just as the boss is about to begin the meeting. Fortunately, the boss has a few issues of his own and delays passing the baton over to you long enough so that you don’t have to begin your presentation while still gasping for breath. Close call!
Things went well this time, but you can no longer deny the fact that you are not the guy or gal you used to be. You’re overweight and beginning to look like someone you don’t want to see in the mirror every day. You’re out of shape. You can’t even walk fast without getting winded. When you get home after work and eat, you are often too tired to do much. You are eating more than you should, and likely your diet is not well-balanced. You are also not getting much exercise. Getting back your youthful figure seems out of the question. Your only real choices are to continue to lose ground or stop slipping backward. I’m hoping you will opt to lose some of those pounds and begin to improve your physical shape and endurance with exercise.
Let’s say you are 15-25 pounds overweight. Maybe it’s more, but losing that much would be a great start. It would certainly help you look and feel a lot better. So let’s shoot for this realistic initial goal: lose 20 pounds and simultaneously improve your appearance and general health through exercise.
Now you can’t lose 20 pounds in 10 days. You’re going to have to trust me on that. Be patient! You can lose 20 pounds and tighten up those muscles in 4-6 months. And there are good reasons why you should spread the weight loss out over the longer time, not the least of which is to develop the new habits that will help you keep the weight off once you get to your goal.
Let’s keep it simple. Every day you follow a few rules which help keep the pounds coming off and maybe even help reduce weight further. The formula has two parts: increase activity and change your eating habits.
In the beginning, take it slow, especially if you’ve been a “couch potato” for a while. For exercise, walk whenever possible rather than ride. Take the stairs not the elevator. Never sit in a chair or a sofa longer than 30 minutes. Get up and walk around. If you’re at a desk or even on your sofa, do a few dynamic tension exercises. Later you can do yoga, run, lift weights, and do other more strenuous exercise.
While you’re burning more calories, start changing your eating habits. Do this modestly in the beginning. First, just eat less at every meal—change portion sizes or just leave a little on your plate, especially if you’re out and the chef has made the decision on how big your portions will be. Choose well: lean meats, fish or poultry (broiled rather than fried), and green leafy vegetables rather than potatoes or rice. Cut back on rich sauces if you can. Also, a glass of red wine is far more preferable than a double martini. Ice tea or water would be better yet.
When making your own meals, go for more protein (lean meats and some dairy) and fewer carbohydrates. If you are a baked potato freak, remember that a little olive oil or cottage cheese and salsa are by preferable to butter and sour cream. You can eat 4-6 of the former and get about the same number of calories as one of the latter.
Also, get a little fiber—beans, dark multigrain bread, or oatmeal. Cut back on or stay away from alcohol, caffeine containing sodas, and heavy sugar items like donuts. Have some vegetables and fruit with every meal, or vegetables with the meal and fruit for snacks. If you can spread out what you eat into 5-6 meals (or 3 meals and 2-3 snacks each day), then overall you will eat less as portion sizes will decrease. And lastly, stay hydrated by increasing your water intake.
A really useful idea is to always leave the last bite on the plate, even if you were raised to be a member of the Clean Plate Club. By leaving the last 10 calories behind 3-4 times a day, you’ll consume about 30 cal less per day. Over a full year, that’s a little less than 11,000 calories. Over 10 years, the cost of finishing that last bite is 30 pounds around your midsection!
In summary, you’re going to eat a little less and more sensibly while simultaneously burning more calories as a result of modest increases in physical activity. By spreading it out over 4-6 months, you can certainly lose 20 pounds or more. If you’re eating and exercise habits are quickly established, you can expect to lose 4-6 pounds per month in the beginning and only 1-2 pounds per month toward the end. Don’t be discouraged by the slower change toward the end. It is a natural consequence of losing more weight early.
Your best ally in this process is your scale. It will help you determine if the changes you are making are appropriate. Weigh in once a week or less often if you like. Keep track of your progress while these new eating and exercise patterns become habits. If you aren’t losing, make further adjustments in your diet and exercise regimens. After about 5-6 months, you’ll have met your goal and you’ll be eating about what you need to maintain your weight at 20 pounds less than where you are now.
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Richard A. Hudson is a writer, reader and blogger committed to exercise, proper nutrition and health. He’s interested in politics, economics, alternative energy, gardening and sustainability and has written brief essays on many of these topics on his bloghttp://richlynne.wordpress.com. Despite his generally positive and optimistic views about globalization, he wonders whether we will survive current destructive forces that increasingly promote warfare among political and social classes. He is also beginning to think about the declining influence of the know-it-all baby boomer generation just as the next generation born in the 60s begins to slowly stumble into a dominant position in the U.S.
He received a Ph.D. in organic chemistry from the University of Chicago (1966) and subsequently spent 42 years in academics, gradually developing all sorts of interests well beyond his basic training. He ended his academic career in 2008, having published about 100 scientific papers, reviews and commentaries. In his last several years in the academy, his role as Dean of the Graduate School afforded him many opportunities to interact with students from all over the world seeking graduate degrees.