Losing weight is hard. If it wasn't, everyone would be as trim as a twig, and French people wouldn't be the only ones with the market cornered on how to never get fat. Anyone who's ever tried a diet knows the best intentions don't always lead to the best results. Finding information on dieting and weight loss is easy, but with so many websites, studies and statistics floating around, it can be hard to know what's accurate and what's a marketing gimmick. It can also be hard to know if you even need to lose weight at all. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, if your body mass index (BMI) is between 25 and 29.9, you are considered overweight, and if your BMI is 30 or higher, you are considered obese. Katie Mazzia, registered dietitian at Vail Valley Medical Center, said unless you're an athlete (athletes tend to have a higher BMI due to more muscle mass), a BMI of more than 25 can put you more at risk for health issues.
"Even losing 5 (percent) to 7 percent of your body weight can reduce your risk for health consequences or health-related diseases," Mazzia said. "Excess fat can put you at risk for diabetes because your body produces some insulin but it's not able to get out to the cells to keep your blood sugar in a healthy range, and it's also harder on your heart."
Looking to lose weight but confused about which approach is best? Here's the skinny on what works and what doesn't when it comes to weight loss.
Unless you have an injury or serious medical condition, there's very little downside to exercise. According to the Mayo Clinic, exercise can combat health conditions and disease, improve mood, boost energy and even help you sleep better. Often the words "diet" and "exercise" go hand in hand, but new research suggests when it comes to losing weight, exercise might not do as much as people think. Susan Drake is a registered dietician and nutritionist who treats clients in Eagle County.
"There is science behind exercise and health," Drake said. "But there isn't science behind exercise being the key to weight loss. It's a little misleading thinking that when you exercise you're burning a lot of calories, when in reality, you don't burn a lot of calories unless you're doing lengthy, strenuous exercise. People underestimate how much they eat and overestimate how many calories they burn when they're exercising."
Drake said losing weight is a matter of measuring your metabolism to determine how many calories you need to maintain your current weight and then reducing that number in order to lose weight. Doesn't exercise burn calories? Yes, but for some people, it can also stimulate their appetite.
"The problem with a lot of people (who start a weight-loss program) is that they haven't been used to exercising," Drake said. "(After exercising), they become hungrier and they eat more. People think, 'I exercised, so now I can eat more,' and that can slow down the weight-loss process."
But it's not that you should skip exercise altogether and only monitor your food intake. Mazzia thinks those trying to lose weight might want to focus on being more active throughout the day and increase their activity levels in small amounts each week.
"Sometimes I don't like the word 'exercise,'" Mazzia said. "People equate the word exercise with pain and bad experiences. There are a lot of things that people (could) count as activities. People should just move their bodies more. Those little changes are going to have lasting results because people are changing their behavior. People are most successful if they make small changes. If you don't exercise, start with 10 or 15 minutes a day."
Fad diets make headlines and might help you drop a few pounds in the short term. But if you're seeking lasting weight loss, it might be hard to know what you should and shouldn't be eating and when. Mazzia said one of the biggest roadblocks people face in losing and maintaining a healthy weight is lacking the time to prepare their own food.
"We have a lot of availability and access to convenience food," Mazzia said. "It's hard for people to lose weight because they work, they don't have time, and it's convenient to get already-prepared food."
Mazzia said convenience food often has more calories than what you would cook at home. Drake also said people's diets can get derailed when they don't schedule their meals in advance.
"People's lives can get very hectic and stressed, and that can lead to overeating," Drake said. "When people don't plan ahead, it leads to eating erratically and eating the wrong things."
Mazzia and Drake both agreed eating a balanced diet focused on vegetables, fruits and unprocessed foods is the best way to lose weight and maintain it. Mazzia suggests that for lunch and dinner your plate should be 50 percent nonstarchy vegetables, 25 percent protein and 25 percent whole grains or starch, such as brown rice, quinoa or sweet potatoes. Drake advises eating small meals every three hours, making sure that each meal includes some protein.
"Eating protein helps maintain muscle mass, since protein is the building block of muscle," Drake said. "I've seen people who don't eat enough protein and their metabolism starts to drop, making it more difficult for them to maintain weight loss."
As for foods to avoid, sugary drinks such as iced tea, soda and even juice are loaded with calories that many consume unconsciously.
"When I show someone how much sugar is in a 20-ounce soda and how many calories they're getting out of that, it makes an impact," Mazzia said. "People think that juice is healthy, and it is. But even (drinks) that are 100 percent juice, I would recommend no more than one cup per day."
For some, losing weight is the easy part, but keeping it off can become the real challenge. Mazzia said people who maintain their weight loss have a few healthy habits in common. The National Weight Control Registry surveyed people who lost at least 30 pounds and kept it off for a year and came up with these statistics:
• 78 percent ate breakfast every day.
• 75 percent of people weighed themselves at least once a week.
• 62 percent watched less than 10 hours of TV a week.
• 90 percent exercised at least 1 hour per day.
Mazzia said in terms of the last statistic, it is unknown whether survey respondents were using the term "exercise" to describe a workout routine or simply an overall amount of physical activity each day. While weighing yourself once a week can seem problematic for some, Mazzia thinks people should see it as a way to hold themselves accountable.
"The number on the scale is just a number," Mazzia said. "It's just like getting your oil changed on your car so it stays a fine-tuned, well-oiled machine. It's a way to keep yourself in check and see if you need to make changes."
While being the biggest loser might get you the grand prize, the truth is that "rapid weight loss does not result in long-term success," Mazzia said.
When it comes to weight loss, it's best to think like the tortoise rather than the hare.
"Small changes are going to result in smaller amounts of weight loss, and that's not a bad thing," Mazzia said. "As long as you're moving in the right direction, whether it's half a pound or two pounds, celebrate the success that you're having."