On one hand, eating for weight loss is a deeply complex matter, because it goes so much deeper than carbs and fat. There are hydrogenated oils to be considered, GMOs (genetically modified organism products) to be aware of and mono- and diglycerides to learn about.
So it’s no wonder so many women are seeking the silver bullet, asking me to topline it for them as simply as possible: “What’s the key to weight loss for women? Just tell us!"
Absent one simple quick fix, there are some universal truths — basic, overarching guidelines to weight loss for women that we can easily incorporate into our everyday lives. Here are five biggies:
1. Say hello to HIIT. High-Intensity Interval Training (or HIIT) is a must for women and weight loss, because it helps transform our bodies into fat-burning engines. Think of it as the tiger of aerobic workouts (while traditional, slow-and-steady exercise is a friendly kitten). Instead of a tempered approach to workouts, you intersperse your efforts with bursts of speed and power.
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A study published in the Journal of Obesity suggested that this is the most effective type of exercise for weight loss and shedding abdominal fat. So on your next walk, try it.
Walk at a nice steady state for two minutes. (On a scale of 1 to 10, with 1 being no effort and 10 being going-for-broke, you should be at a comfortable 5.) Then, ramp it up to a Level 8 for one minute, where you’re focused, determined and working too hard to carry on a casual conversation. Slow it back down to a 5 or 6, and repeat this cycle three times.
2. Balance your blood sugar. You always hear blood sugar being discussed for people with diabetes, but it’s also a major factor for women and weight loss. If we don’t balance our blood sugar, our bodies are on a roller coaster.
It’s a little bit like having an unsteady stock market inside your body: When you’re on that roller coaster, your blood glucose levels rise and fall dramatically before and after meals. The more frequently you allow your body to go on that roller coaster, the more you’ve set yourself up for sluggish energy, weight gain and even the risk of developing Type 2 Diabetes.
But balancing that blood sugar helps you counteract all that, so you can stay energized, avoid unhealthy cravings, lose weight and keep it off. And how do we do that? Well, that brings me to the next point:
3. When you eat is as important as what you eat. It all starts the moment you wake up, when you make your first food choice of the day. That determines whether you’re putting your body on that roller coaster or you’re keeping your blood sugar balanced.
This is a two-parter:
First, do not skip breakfast. And make sure that breakfast always includes good sources of both fiber and protein (actually, include fiber and protein at every meal and snack). They help you slow down digestion, so you can avoid blood sugar spikes, stay energized and curb cravings — making you feel fuller longer.
Good sources of fiber include: steel cut oats, black beans, berries (fresh or frozen), apples, oranges, and of course, veggies — the greener the better (kale, spinach and broccoli are three of the all-stars). The key with protein is to make sure it’s a high source of protein but a low source of saturated fat. So aim for egg whites, whey protein, fish and lean cuts of poultry and meat.
Instead of having three large meals, have a smaller meal every three to four hours. This helps keep your metabolism humming (the higher your metabolism, the easier it is for you to burn fat and lose weight) and helps keep your appetite at bay. Then, when it comes to mealtime, your body isn’t in starvation mode and you’re able to make healthier choices more easily.
A recent article about weight loss relapses from the American College of Sports Medicine talked about the three- to five-year phenomenon. That’s the length of the cycle women may follow on a weight loss plan before relapsing.
Studies suggest that keeping a regular journal of your exercise and eating improvements is a major determining factor when it comes to weight loss success. So keep track of your progress, however small it may seem.
Starting small, in fact, might just be the key for you. Instead of trying a complete, 180-degree full-body overhaul overnight, just pick one new habit to practice — for example, upping your water intake — and focus on that habit for a week. Once you’ve mastered it and the practice is starting to become second nature, move on to the next goal.
5. Combat stress. Weight loss for women can seem like a Catch 22: If you’re stressed out about weight loss, you’re more likely to turn to food and emotional eating as a source of temporary comfort. Not to mention that chronic stress is linked to high levels of cortisol, a hormone that causes unhealthy cravings and can lead to weight gain, especially in the midsection.
Lowering cortisol through relaxation, deep breathing and exercise doesn’t just help quiet those stressful voices in our heads; it’s also a key to weight loss for women. So the next time you feel yourself spiraling into the stress zone, remember: A nice, long deep breath really does the body good.
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