By Janis Jibrin, M.S., RD, Best Life lead nutritionist
Here’s a secret from a nutrition insider: Even experts find weight loss fraught and confusing. A recent paper by The Obesity Society, a scientific organization devoted to researching causes and treatments for obesity, says as much. In an attempt to provide clarity, the organization published core guidelines. Not earth-shattering by any stretch, they provide an un-faddist view of the basics of weight control.
BMI is just a screening tool, not a diagnosis of 25 to 29.9 is considered “overweight” and 30-plus is “obese.” If you’re at 25-plus, you don’t necessarily need to lose weight. But if you also have a waist circumference greater than 35 inches for women or greater than 40 inches for men, you likely do need to shed pounds.
Focus on percent of weight loss, not ideal BMI. Not everyone needs to drop below a BMI of 25 to be healthy, and some just cannot. Instead, if you have too much body fat, focus on losing at least three to five percent of your starting weight—it can significantly improve blood pressure and other aspects of your health. Losing more, like 10 percent, can be even more helpful.
Weight loss requires three tracks. If you’re trying to lose weight, focus on the big three: Reduce calories, increase physical activity, and switch over to behaviors that make the first two elements easier to achieve (such as avoiding doughnut shops, watching too much TV, and so on).
There is no one “best” diet for weight loss. Find a diet that works for you. The two key elements: Calories must be low enough to lose weight, and it should be nutritionally balanced. “Balanced” basically means you’re eating fruits and vegetables, lean protein, whole grains, healthy fat and getting enough calcium from dairy or other foods, and minimizing junk food.
Do a combo of aerobic and strength exercises. Your minimum aerobic exercise minutes: 150 per week. More (200 to 300 minutes) might be required to lose weight and maintain the weight loss. Add in strength training to stem muscle loss as you lose weight. The more muscle, the higher your metabolic rate, the speed at which you burn calories.
The ideal weight loss program offers at least 14 sessions. With a “trained interventionist” (such as a registered dietitian) as your counselor, the program should include tracking food intake, exercise and body weight, and teach behavioral techniques (some great examples here). Face-to-face is ideal; phone or internet counseling is next best. Weight loss is typically about 18 pounds over six months.
To maintain weight, continue good habits and get support. Ideally, you’d stay in touch with a counselor at least once a month while keeping calories on the low side, exercising (200 or more minutes weekly is best), and weighing yourself regularly.
Bariatric surgery is an option if diet and exercise don’t work. You’re a candidate if your BMI is greater than 40 or if it’s over 35 and you have obesity-related conditions, such as heart disease.