March 19, 2019

Guest Column

The path to weight loss

March 31, 2011

By Dianne Lamb

Spring is officially here and reality is setting in that you did not shed those five extra pounds – or more – over the winter.

Were your good intentions for eating less and moving more thwarted by thoughts of too much snow or too cold outside? You probably rationalized, “I will begin tomorrow.”
Well, tomorrow has arrived, so what’s the best way to deal with those unwanted pounds? Losing weight and keeping it off boils down to making lifestyle changes. Weight gain doesn’t happen overnight, although it seems that way.

You can gain an extra 10 pounds a year by eating 100 extra calories a day. So the reverse is true. If you eat 100 fewer calories a day, you’ll shed 10 pounds in a year.

A weight loss of one to two pounds a week is a safe way to lose weight. Six weeks of paying attention to what and how much you eat could mean you’ll see a loss of five pounds or more when you step on the scale.

The art of losing weight is based on the principle of eating less and moving more. When you eat fewer calories than the calories you burn, you lose weight. Even a five percent reduction in body weight can result in a positive change in blood pressure, blood glucose and general feeling of well being.

Sometimes it’s not what we eat, but how much we eat. As a result, keeping track of every bit of food and beverage you put into your mouth helps. One pound of body weight is equivalent to 3,500 calories, so to lose weight, portion control is important.

When it comes to making changes, make realistic, attainable goals. It’s better to start slowly with one or two goals and master those so they become a habit. When you’ve achieved those goals, pick one or two more. Think of these individual goals like chapters in a book. One chapter builds on another.

Individual goal setting also applies to physical activity.

The National Weight Control Registry ( collects and studies successful weight control strategies of adults aged 18 and over who have lost at least 30 pounds and kept it off for at least one year. On average, people in the registry averaged a weight loss of 66 pounds and kept the weight off for 5.5 years. Ninety-eight percent reported that they had modified their food intake in some way and 94 percent increased their physical activity with the most frequently reported form of activity being walking.
Walking is a great inexpensive way to get moving. As a general guideline, you will burn about 100 calories walking a mile. Expending an additional 100 calories a day will help you lose about 10 pounds in a year, or allow you to eat 100 more calories per day without gaining weight.

Your fitness level, weight, and age influence how many calories will be expended during walking or other physical activity. If you are not used to walking, you need to progress slowly and increase the distance over time. If you have medical issues or have not been active recently, see your health care provider to get the green light to get moving. Walk before or after eating. Sometimes just moving away from the table will help you not think about food. A 15-minute walk can satisfy you more than having dessert.

Making a written plan will help you achieve your goals. While you may not always be successful, listing your eating or physical activity goals on paper makes the proposed action more concrete and easier to follow.

Keep a written record of the food and beverages you consume as well as a log of your physical activity. Record the minutes you spent on a particular activity or count steps or distances that you walked or ran. Sometimes I find if I have to write it down I may decide not to eat something, or I will be sure to “move,” so I can write it down. It’s human nature to think that we eat less and move more than we actually do, so writing it down accurately paints a more complete picture.

Be selective about what you put on your plate. Eat slowly, putting your fork down between bites to really savor the taste of your food. Remember, it takes 20 minutes after we consume food for our brain to tell us we are full.

Eat smaller portions. Consider using a smaller plate to trick your mind into thinking you have more food than you do.

Also, get a good night’s sleep. Healthy adults need eight hours of sleep a night on average. Chronic sleep loss has been shown to make it difficult to maintain or lose weight because it affects metabolism that influences hunger and weight gain.

Dianne Lamb is the University of Vermont’s Extension Nutrition and Food specialist.

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