Weight Loss and Dieting
If you like to exercise but aren't exactly a fanatic about it, you might need a little extra motivation to get to the gym or get outside, especially when the weather is not ideal. For many people, a workout buddy does the trick to inspire mutual motivation. Sometimes, it's best to choose an acquaintance rather than very close friend – someone you wouldn't want to be a slacker in front of, especially since friends are more likely to let things slide.
But, just as a fitness friend can be a boon to your workout routine, some friends can also bring you down when it comes to exercise and weight loss. In fact, several studies have revealed a type of waterfall effect that comes with surrounding yourself with people who don't practice healthy habits.
For example, according to an October 2013 article in the Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, which was an analysis of previous studies, researchers from the University of Liverpool found that both the amount of food others eat and the type of food they eat influence people's food decisions, provided they are in our social circle. This relates to perceived social norms of the group. Surprisingly, the researchers found that this was true even when people ate alone. What this indicates is that the influence of others' food choices on us – which leads to weight loss, gain or maintenance – is very subtle, so much that we might not even recognize it is happening.
Previously, a May 2011 study in the American Journal of Public Health by researchers at Arizona State University looked into three different pathways for friends influencing weight gain. Researchers found that if one has heavier family members, friends and colleagues, it's more likely that he or she will be heavier too. And, interestingly, the closer the relationships are, the bigger the influence on weight there is.
What lead researcher Alexandra Brewis Slade found was that – rather than feeling peer pressure or slowly taking on friends' viewpoints over time – the mechanism for this social influence is more subtle. It's often not discussed or even really thought about, but can be as simple as ordering dessert at a restaurant, even when you're full, because everyone else in your group is doing it.
"The key message is that behavior and what people do together is important," Brewis Slade said. "So parents might want to go bicycling with their kids, go to a salad bar with kids, focus on what they do together."
The bottom line?
While this research might be interesting and convincing, it shouldn't be taken as a reason to ditch friends because they are on the heavier side or enjoy junk food more than most. In fact, awareness is important, and knowledge can help you resist what you probably never thought about before. Plus, influences can be positive as well. Perhaps you can be the catalyst for change to healthier habits in your friend group.
In this day and age of technology, it's almost surprising that our phones can't do even more for us. But that's OK – they'll get there. One thing that our smart phones can do is track calories and weight loss goals. If you're searching for something to give your weight loss and fitness routine a boost, here are some apps that we think definitely make the cut:
Diet Tracker & Calorie Counter by MyFitnessPal
The Diet Tracker & Calorie Counter by MyFitnessPal is one of the most highly raved about on the web. It's free for both iOS and Android. This all-in-one app uses your stats – height, weight, exercise levels, age and target weight – to calculate a daily caloric intake. By entering the nutritional and calorie values of everything you eat, you can target your eating goals. But it's easier than that! MyFitnessPal is equipped with a barcode scanner that you can use to pull the data from the food's packaging when possible, making it less time-consuming. The app has over 3 million food items, and counting, so it's unlikely that you'll need to input data about what you eat, but if you do, it stores the information for next time.
MyFitnessPal's calorie counter also tracks your exercise regime, can tell you the healthfulness of the food you've eaten and submits progress reports.
Lose It! is a free app for both Android and iOS that is similar to MyFitnessPal. It helps you set weight loss goals by using your vital stats and how many pounds you'd like to lose per week – with a maximum of two. Lose It! tells you your target calories per day to meet your weight loss goals, and it keeps track of both the calories you consume each day and those you burn during exercise. It's cited for being especially user-friendly. The premium version allows you to see stats on hydration, body fat, sleep cycles and other statistics that might help. You can also add friends to help you stay motivated!
Noom Weight Loss Coach
Noom Weight Loss Coach does more than just log your foods to track your daily and weekly calorie intake and weight loss progress. It also has a pedometer to track how many steps you walk or run per day, the data of which is incorporated into your exercise and weight loss progress. Noom focuses a lot on motivation, providing users with daily health and wellness articles to help them work toward various goals and to encourage them to stick to their fitness plans. In this way, it's a virtual coach, not just an app! The goal is to help you form healthy habits in your daily life, no matter what your goals are.
Though there are only currently around 1 million foods in its calorie logging database, Noom Weight Loss Coach teaches you which foods are healthiest by using color-coding after foods are logged, which is great for people who have just started paying attention to what they eat. The design is appealing and easy to use, and Noom is available for Android users.
Calorie Counter PRO by My Net Diary
This app – available for both Android and iOS – is not free, but it has more impressive advanced features than many of the free apps, making it well-worth the costs. Calorie Counter PRO allows you to track foods using a barcode scanner and set weight loss goals, just as other apps do. But it also allows you to easily compare foods side-by-side so you can make a healthier choice more easily. Calorie Counter PRO also gives you real-time tips based on how you've been eating during that day. You can also track exercise and workout data, making it a comprehensive fitness and weight loss app!
If you're exercising for weight loss and paying attention to the calories you take in and how many you burn during each workout, you should know that making small changes in your routine can lead to increased weight loss success. For example, did you know that we even burn calories while we sleep? Here are some changes you can make in everyday things to increase the number of calories you burn:
Ditch the dry cleaner
If you have wrinkly shirts, rather than dropping them off at the dry cleaner, save money and get a workout by rounding up the wrinkly clothes and ironing them. Just 30 minutes of ironing burns more than 75 calories! Plus, you're standing the whole time, which is good for circulation and overall health. Also, folding laundry for 30 minutes burns about 70 calories.
Take the stairs
Sometimes the elevator just feels like a lazy option. Plus, you're not exerting much effort just pressing a few buttons and standing there. Take the stairs instead, or if you take an escalator, walk up it rather than just standing on it.
Do the cleaning yourself
For people who can afford it, hiring someone to clean the house can seem like a luxury that's hard to live without. But if you have the time, do the cleaning yourself. Just 30 minutes of vacuuming can burn 120 calories, and cleaning in general for 30 minutes burns about 100. So, put on some music and get cleaning!
Put on your chef hat
Rather than ordering carryout, hone your cooking skills by making a delicious, healthy dinner that is absent of the fat, sodium and other unhealthy ingredients often found in takeout. You'll burn 150 calories in one hour of meal prep. Wash the dishes afterward for bonus calorie-burning!
Many people claim that protein shakes actually cause us to gain weight, rather than lose it. This isn't necessarily the case – in fact, it all depends on what's in your protein shake and how you use it.
If you're aiming for weight loss rather than bulking up, choose a high-quality protein powder that is meant to be a meal replacement. What this means is that you won't be adding the protein shake to your regular meals, but substituting it for a meal – usually breakfast or lunch. Choose a complete protein meal replacement like Naturade's VeganSmart All-In-One Nutritional Shake. It includes all of the essential amino acids, 22 vitamins and minerals, fiber (which makes you feel full) and omega-3s. Also, VeganSmart protein powder is low in fat and has zero cholesterol.
When you substitute a protein shake made with VeganSmart, you can be sure you're getting the nutrients your body needs while consuming less calories per day. However, if your goal is weight loss, don't add ingredients that are high in calories like peanut butter or oatmeal. Instead, just mix 2 scoops with water or your favorite drink, shake and enjoy!
For most people who are trying to lose weight, you can lose 1 pound per week initially by cutting 500 calories per day. The math behind this is that 3,500 calories equals about one pound, so cutting 500 during each of the seven days a week will drop you 1 pound. This moderate calorie restriction is a healthy way to lose weight – more extreme measures can backfire, as cutting more calories per day will not provide your body with enough sustained energy.
There are a lot of simple ways to cut calories from your diet. In fact, you don't necessarily have to eat less volume-wise – you just have to recognize what you're eating and how many calories it contains, and be open to substituting it for something similar. Here are some tips to help you in your journey to get healthy:
- Eliminate high-calorie drinks. Sugary juices, soda and alcohol are the first things to toss out, because just a 12-ounce serving of soda or orange juice has about 170 calories. Replace these drinks with water, which is calorie-free, sugar-free and essential to your body's functioning.
- Ditch the creamer. Your coffee will taste just as delicious with skim milk, or even low-fat milk, and it's much healthier than rich cream or – even worse – flavored coffee creamers that have all kinds of artificial chemicals and oils that are bad for your health.
- Eat a filling breakfast. Start your morning off with high-fiber cereal or oatmeal mixed with fruit. Complex carbs take longer to break down, helping us stave off the hunger pangs until later in the day.
- Forget about the cheese. At lunchtime, order your sandwich without cheese. Most delis, burger joints and other eateries provide you with more than one serving per sandwich. Instead, opt for a flavorful hummus or BBQ sauce, both of which contain less calories than most cheeses.
- Choose dessert wisely. If you're a dessert-junkie, it can be difficult to eliminate sweets from your daily routine. So try a slice of low-calorie angel food cake with fresh strawberries, rather than cookies or other hearty, butter-filled desserts.
- Eat more slowly. Make sure to take your time when eating. Not only will you – hopefully – enjoy your food more, but you'll also likely eat less. Research shows that it takes our bodies about 20 minutes to register that we are full.
Have you heard of intermittent fasting? Basically, it's a diet that involves a period of regular eating followed by one of fasting. The fast can last as long as 24 hours and involve only drinking water, black coffee or tea, or it can last for just eight hours. In other iterations, the fast period involves a restriction of calories – such as consuming only 600 calories on the fast day – which is much more feasible for many people. After all, who can get any work done on a hungry, empty stomach?
Fasting has been around for ages and is often part of religious practice. In general, fasting is healthy if not taken to extremes and dieters get sufficient nutrients and enough calories to function. So, moderate fasting is fine for most people, but is it effective for weight loss?
A recent study from the University of Illinois at Chicago found that intermittent fasting in combination with calorie restriction and liquid meals helped obese women both lose weight and lower their risk of coronary heart disease. A 2007 clinical review found that intermittent fasting could likely protect against Type 2 diabetes, cancer and heart disease. A controlled trial in 2007 found that fasting for normal weight subjects was not effective without calorie restriction. However, more research is required to determine which patterns of fasting and calorie restriction are most effective, and in turn, if intermittent fasting is more effective than other weight loss strategies.
Other research has shown that fasting could be positive for brain aging and function. Still, until there's better research, for adults of regular weight who are trying to get in shape, it's probably better to stick to healthy eating and exercise for weight loss.
Appetite suppression isn't something people should do frequently, but when you're taking the leap and making drastic changes to your diet, those cravings for potato chips and chocolate cake can be strong.
One thing that people swear by to make them fuller is drinking more water. In fact, many people don't take in as much water as their bodies need everyday, so this can be a good way to drink more. And H20 for appetite suppression isn't just an old wives' tale! In a 2010 clinical trial by the American Chemical Society, which was funded by the Institute for Public Health and Water Research, all participants were on low-calorie diets, but one group drank 2 cups of water before eating. After 12 weeks, the group who drank water before meals lost an average of 15.5 pounds, while the other group lost only an average of 11 pounds. Researchers think that the water made them feel more full, causing them to consume less calories.
Appetite suppression foods to try
Some good options are those low in fiber and/or high in fiber, including:
Maybe you started out as one of those people who never looked at food labels – you worked out frequently, had a stellar metabolism and ate what you liked. But now, your metabolism is catching up to you and you're pretty sure you eat too much sugar, so it's time to start checking out food labels.
Food labels can be a bit daunting, and they can be a lot of work to read every time you buy something new. But if you know the basics and focus on the ingredients you're most concerned about – which will be different for each person – you'll get a better idea about what processed products contain. Here are the basics for reading and interpreting a food label:
First, not the serving size. The calories, fat, cholesterol, sugars, protein, fiber and everything else are all based on one serving size as detailed by the Food and Drug Administration. So, for example, you might grab a bag of chips and skim down the fat and sodium levels and think "Hey, that's not bad!" But when you look at the serving size, you notice that the bag contains 2.5 servings … and you were planning to eat the entire bag of chips in one sitting.
The rest of the numbers can be deceiving if you don't first read the the serving size and notice how many servings are in each container of food.
Percent of daily value
Each aspect of the food measured on the label is expressed in grams and also percent daily value. The food labels are based on a 2,000 calorie diet, but some people need as many as 2,500 calories per day while others can eat less – or plan to eat less to lose weight.
Other measurements to note
Many things are measured on a food label, but here are other important ones to pay attention to:
- Calories and calories from fat
- Total fat, which also shows saturated and trans fats
- Various vitamins
At the bottom of the food label, the ingredients are also listed. Generally, the more ingredients a food item has, the less healthy it is for you. If you have food allergies, it's especially important to read this list carefully. Although the FDA requires that below the ingredient list, products state if they contain – or are produced in an environment with other products that contain – the most common food allergens, like wheat, soy, dairy, milk, eggs and nuts. Ingredients that many people believe should be avoided are high fructose corn syrup, partially hydrogenated oils, sodium nitrate and nitrite, BHA, sodium benzoate, food colorings and various others.
Sometimes extreme changes aren't as weird as they seem. When Serbian tennis player Novak Djokovic took the advice of his doctor to make some major dietary changes in 2010, people called him eccentric. Turns out, the tennis pro – then ranked in the top-10 in the world – had some major surprises up his sleeve, as soon after his dietary restrictions, he became the number one tennis player in the world.
So what were dietary changes did he make? Djokovic decided to go completely gluten-free. He also avoids dairy and caffeine, including two favorites in most people's diets: coffee and chocolate. For some unknown reason, he has also reduced his intake of tomatoes. Djokovic swears by this diet, saying it gives him more energy and he lost 11 pounds right away. Still, in an August 2013 Wall Street Journal interview, he admitted it was difficult at first.
"First few months, you know, I felt that need for sugar instantly after the meal, if you know what I mean. I would just take teas now and kind of try to satisfy my needs. But it wasn't as easy, you know," Djokovic said.
While gluten-free and various other dietary restrictions aren't for everyone, Djokovic surely benefited. He was up against Rafael Nadal in the championship game of the U.S. Open this year. Though Nadal bested him, Djokovic certainly has come a long way and will most likely remain a major force in the tennis world.
If you're interested in going gluten-free or making other dietary restrictions, either for health or weight-loss reasons, it's a good idea to talk to your doctor or a nutritionist first to find out if you should supplement your new diet with a multivitamin.
Everyone loves snacks – they often help us get through the toughest days. But if you're on a diet, you're likely limiting your snacks because they connote something unhealthy that you shouldn't be having. In fact, it's good to eat healthy snacks when you're hungry – denying yourself food when you need it is not a great idea for both health and psychological reasons. But if you choose diet-friendly snacks, you'll stay on course and feel good. Here are some great healthy snack ideas:
- Popcorn: This healthy popped treat adds plenty of good fiber to your diet. Just make sure to choose lightly salted popcorn without artificial butter, which is not a healthy option.
- Chips: No, not potato chips – veggie chips, like beets, sweet potatoes, zucchini, kale and carrots. Simply use a mandolin to slice them thinly, place the vegetables on a parchment paper lined sheet and sprinkle modestly with salt and pepper and bake them at 300 degrees for 30 to 45 minutes, depending on how thinly you've sliced them.
- Yogurt: Try plain Greek yogurt with fresh, in-season berries and a drizzle of honey. This high-protein snack is a good way to get you through the rest of your day.
- Crackers: If you're craving carbs, it's OK to eat a few multi-grain crackers that are low in fat and sodium. Top them with hummus and an avocado slice for a heart-healthy snack that's also delicious. If you just can't say no to cheese, swiss is a great low-fat cheese that's tasty, too.
- Oatmeal: Oats don't really seem like a snack, but they're filling ad provide excellent complex carbs that keep your blood-sugar level throughout the day. Give your oatmeal a protein boost by mixing in Naturade Pea Protein in Vanilla.