It’s the New Year and the number one resolution on most people’s list is to trim their waistline and lose a few pounds. After a festive holiday break, it’s easy to consume a few too many tasty treats or festive drinks. Unfortunately, the calories and the pounds start to add up. The natural tendency is to want to completely overhaul your eating habits and exercise routine to kick-start your weight loss. Unfortunately, most people fall short of their new goals before the end of the month and research shows only 5-10% lose weight and hold it off by the end of the year.
The key to long-term successful weight loss is to focus on weight loss principles and not get too lost in the latest fads (although, if a fad motivates you to get started, by all means!). Let's review two key underling principles of weight loss; caloric restriction and compliance. The common theme amongst all types of diet, regardless if its LCHF, Keto, Paleo, Vegan, IIFYM, the Cabbage Soup diet (yes, a real thing) is a caloric deficit. Ironically, if you chase artificial sweeteners and zero-fat foods you likely won't see the progress you're after. Far easier to adopt a method that gets you naturally into a caloric deficit and focuses on real food. Next, on the compliance side of things, once again it doesn't matter what type of diet you start, if you can't stick to it you're going to fail. Compliance is fundamental to success.
In this article, I've review three methods my overweight and obese clients have adopted with a high degree of success to support acute and long-term weight loss; low-carb breakfast, no snacking and HIIT training. You can jump in with both feet and adopt all three, or drip-feed them in to suit your schedule. (There is a lot more nuance than these three steps, but it's a great place to start if you're looking simple, effective methods for success). Let's take a closer look.
#1 Adopt A Low-Carb Breakfast
If you’re overweight, out of shape, or in poor health you're more than likely in a caloric excess. Your body will be stuck in "storage" mode due to the excess of calories, converting them efficiently body-fat and unfortunately blocking your ability to tap into your own fat stores for fuel ( a big problem if you're trying to lose weight). The research shows 5 out of top 6 calorically dense foods in the North American diet come in the form of mainly processed carbohydrates; grain-based desserts, breads and cereals, soda pop, pizza and alcohol. If you start your day with the conventional high-carb breakfast, the hormonal signals telling your body to "store" your energy as fat will ramp up (i.e. insulin), putting the brakes on your ability to burn your own body-fat for fuel. Research shows that chronically high blood sugar levels and poor insulin sensitivity contribute to increased risk of weight gain diabetes, cardiovascular disease, cancer, depression, dementia and alzheimer’s.(1,2,3)
A simple and effective strategy to reduce your caloric intake and improve your blood sugar control is to ditch your high-carb breakfast in favor of a higher protein and fat alternative. For example, poached eggs with avocado and cherry tomatoes or plain yogurt with berries and walnuts are great breakfast options, even if you’re busy and on the go. If you prefer breakfast smoothies, add 30-40g of protein along with a source of dietary fat (e.g. avocado or coconut oil), keep fruit to a minimum (i.e. ½ cup) and remember to use water as the base rather than juice to keep the carb and calorie count to a minimum.
The added protein you naturally achieve in a low-carb breakfast is one of the major reasons why this strategy is often so effective; helping to keep you full and satiated, as well as boosting metabolism due to its higher thermic effect of food (a fancy way of saying it "costs more" for your body to metabolize and process the protein you eat). It also provides a more nutrient-dense food option, supplying you with key vitamins and minerals to support overall health.
#2 Ditch The Snacks
You've probably heard the common refrain that eating lots of small meals throughout the day supports weight loss via increasing your metabolism. Context is crucial when considering this generic piece of advice. Like most things in life, the answer isn’t black and white. A recent meta-analysis review over the last 50 years in overweight people (i.e. general population) found eating multiple meals throughout the day (i.e. snacking) did NOT increase their metabolism and did NOT improve their weight loss.(4) In fact, they often gain weight! Lean protein snacks can be beneficial, but in an office setting you probably don’t have chicken breasts, steaks and salmon fillets tucked away in your desk drawers to snack on. Processed carbs and sugary treats tend to dominate the snack options, and these types of foods are hyper-palatable, leading to over-consumption. In fact, research shows overweight individuals can often trigger greater weight loss with fewer meals, rather than constantly grazing throughout the day.(5) (Remember, you still need three meals a day, as dropping to only two will slow metabolism and hinder weight loss.(6)
This New Year, a simple strategy to support effective, long-term weight loss is to ditch the snacks at your desk and re-focus your energy on eating three “high-quality” square meals throughout the day (just like your grandparents used to!). At first, you may struggle with some cravings, so feel free to add coffee (only in AM) or tea as caffeine helps to curb cravings, or a glass of water between meals (mineral water works great) to help prevent the negative impacts of "distracted eating" in this article.
(Note - If you're an athlete or bodybuilder and training frequently, eating multiple meals throughout the day - with protein at each meal - can definitely help optimize training adaptations and body composition. More on this in a future post.)
#3 Add More High-Intensity Interval Training (HIIT)
In January, gyms across the country are full of people doing steady-state cardio in an attempt to lose weight. While a properly periodized plan from a coach can definitely help you get fitter and leaner, most people tend to do the same routine every time they train and this type of “chronic cardio” strategy is a major roadblock to weight loss success. Over time, you burn fewer and ferwe calories to perform the same exercise bout. You're not getting fitter and you're not getting leaner. The solution is more efficiency (not more miles on the treadmill). The research shows that short, intense bursts of HIIT exercise can produce powerful changes in body composition and is far more time-efficient than steady-state cardio. That’s right, HIIT helps build a greater VO2 max (a reliable marker for aerobic fitness), can burn more calories than traditional cardio and is just as good as for your heart as steady-state aerobic training. It's a time-efficient way to get your movement i
The Bottomline: You don't have to completely overhaul your life to achieve your goals. Embrace your New Year's resolutions this year and get back to the fundamentals to achieve success; adopt a low-carb breakfast and ditch the snacks to achieve a caloric deficit and better sustained energy (and satiety), and add HIIT training to improve your cardiovascular fitness and capacity to burn fat.
What will your legacy be this New Year? The answer is much simpler than you think. It’s not about finding the best new exercise regime or trendiest diet, but rather transforming your old habits that hold you back and transform them into new “good” habits that promote weight loss. Make small changes that you can sustain over the long run. Building new habits will enable you to achieve your weight loss and health goals this year and before you know it, you will be set up for long-term success and a better body this year!
Dr. Marc Bubbs ND, MS(c), CISSN, CSCS