Key to Weight Loss Is Healthy Eating, Not Dieting

SPRINGFIELD — Are you one of the millions of Americans who each year resolves to lose weight and eat right, but fails a month or two into the new year?

“The key to your success is to start making lifestyle changes and to not consider your venture for the New Year as a diet, but as a beginning to healthy eating,” said Sheila Sullivan, clinical dietitian in Food and Nutrition Services at Baystate Medical Center.

According to the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, the world’s largest organization of food and nutrition professionals, of which Sullivan is a member, you will need to transform your resolution to lose weight and eat right into realistic plans so you can maintain it throughout the entire year. To set yourself up for success, the organization suggests establishing a ’SMART’ goal, one that is:

  • Specific. Instead of saying, “I want to lose weight,” be more specific and say, “I want to lose 10 pounds.” Start small; you can always reset your goal once you’ve achieved it.
  • Measurable. Establish parameters and set a timeline. Ask yourself, “how can I measure my goals? Do I need to establish an end date?”
  • Achievable. Your goal should be challenging, yet reachable. Ask yourself, “can I do this? Can I incorporate it into my schedule?”
  • Rewarding. Make yourself an offer you can’t refuse. Ask yourself, “once I reach my goal, how can I reward myself?”
  • Trackable. Create a way to track your progress and your pitfalls. This will help you identify ways to adjust your goal as needed. Ask yourself, “can I keep track of my progress?”

The lifestyle changes you make will involve not only what you eat, but how much, as well as introducing regular exercise into your daily routine to help burn off those calories.

“Set goals together as a family,” said Dr. Chrystal Wittcopp, director of the Pediatric Weight Management Program at Baystate Children’s Hospital. “Get the entire family involved for some healthy, quality time together by selecting an activity that everyone can enjoy whether walking or biking.”

If you have been sedentary or have health problems, it is important to get an OK from your physician before getting started on an exercise program. When setting goals for weight loss, “don’t rush it,” Sullivan said.

Successful weight loss means losing no more than one or two pounds per week. This has been shown to be the most effective way to take it off and keep it off. If you do enroll in a weight-loss program, it should be closely supervised, and counseling should be provided by credible, medical personnel, Sullivan said.

Whether you are considering a diet book, diet drink, or diet program, Sullivan recommends looking for the following when choosing a diet for the new year:

  • The diet encourages a variety of foods;
  • The diet provides the minimum number of servings from the food guide pyramid;
  • The diet contains at least 1,200 calories for women and at least 1,500 for men;
  • The diet promotes lifelong changes in eating habits and behaviors;
  • The diet follows the U.S. Dietary Guidelines with plenty of whole grains, fruits and vegetables (at least five servings per day), and low-fat dairy products;
  • Fat sources should be monounsaturated (olive oil, canola oil, etc.) and omega-3 (fish once or twice per week, plant sources such as flax seed, walnuts, etc.). Avoid saturated and hydrogenated fats found in butter, margarine, and fried foods; and
  • The diet is written by a person knowledgeable in nutrition.

In general, beware of diets that promise fast results, very low-calorie diets, diets excluding an entire food group (i.e., no dairy), claims based on a secret scientific breakthrough, mail-order diets, diets that rely on personal testimony instead of scientific fact, and diets that promote special combinations of food, mega-doses of vitamins and minerals, or appetite suppressants, gimmicks, or special or expensive foods.

“Dieters have no easy task in distinguishing a sound diet from an unsound one in this post-holiday blitz of advertising,” said Sullivan. “All diets were not created equal, nor were they meant for all people. Pick the program that best suits your personal needs and desires, get moving, and get started to get rid of your excuses for not losing that excess weight this year.”

Sometimes, no matter how hard you try, the weight just doesn’t seem to want to come off, and weight-loss surgery may be an option if you meet certain criteria, noted Dr. John Romanelli, medical director of the Weight Loss Surgery Program at Baystate Medical Center.

“It’s not a sign of failure,” Romanelli said about turning to weight-loss surgery for help. “Many times, despite your best efforts, it all comes down to genetics, even though you may have tried in earnest to diet, exercise, and make significant behavioral changes.”

He said those at least 100 pounds over their ideal weight who have tried unsuccessfully to lose for years, and whose health is compromised by their excess weight such as high blood pressure, diabetes, and heart disease, should consider weight-loss surgery.

“Patients opting for weight loss surgery will lose up to two-thirds of their pounds overweight, and oftentimes the surgery will cure or improve diabetes, high blood pressure, and other diseases caused by obesity,” said Romanelli.