Best Ways to Lose Weight: Food or Exercise?

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Person standing on scale: Best Ways to Lose WeightI’ve read several different percentages regarding exercise, eating right and how the two affect weight loss. I’ve read 75% in the kitchen (what you eat) and 25% through exercise. I’ve read 90% in the kitchen and 10% through exercise. The bottom line is, though, for optimal weight loss, it takes both. How much and the type of calories you eat combined with how many calories you burn will determine how much, and how fast, you lose. It’s important to find a balance that works well for you, but here are a few tips you can keep in mind while searching for your best ways to lose weight and how to feel better in the process.

Making Smart Foods Choices Require More than an App

Apps like My Fitness Pal (download the iOS App) are very popular right now for tracking calories throughout the day. It’s easy to slip into bad habits with these apps. They typically take your weight, height and activity level and tell you how many calories you should be consuming per day to reach your ideal weight goal. If you exercise during the day, you can add the calories you burned back into your available calories. For example, when I downloaded it, I put in that I weighed 135 lbs and wanted to be 125 lbs. I am 5’2″ and active. It said I needed to consume 1,200 calories a day and would reach my weight goal in 4-6 weeks. With the app, I entered my almond milk with Corn Chex, my coffee, my spinach salad, etc. Then I put in my 300 calories I burned while running. By the end of the day, I had nearly 400 calories left. Guess what? Ice cream fits into my allotted calories I have left. So, I justify that it’s fine because I have plenty of calories left. Was that a good decision at 9:00 at night? Definitely not. It’s just way too easy to let yourself eat what you want rather than what you should.

So, are these apps all bad? No. Not at all IF you know what you’re doing and are making smart decisions from the beginning of the day. No, it isn’t good to consume too few calories. It will slow your metabolism down to a crawl and you will not see the weight loss you are working so hard for. And, starving yourself isn’t (and shouldn’t be) sustainable. So, definitely make sure you get your calories THROUGHOUT the day. That way, at the end of the day, you’ll reach, but not exceed your goal. If you have cereal for breakfast with low-calorie almond milk (which is about 130 calories, by the way), have a boiled egg or apples with almond butter for a snack. Focus on good proteins (like eggs and nut butters) that will keep you full until lunch, but have nutritious, high quality calories (and are low in carbohydrates) to add to your tally for the day.

Eating Lighter As The Day Goes On

I’ve read that you should calorie load at breakfast and eat lighter as the day goes on. This is logical to me because you are active during the day and less active in the evenings and during the night. So, wouldn’t it make sense to eat the most when you have the most active part of your day ahead of you? Yet, we rarely actually eat like this. In fact, it’s not uncommon for people to skip breakfast because mornings are often busy or they are “just not breakfast people”. It’s not a good idea at all. In fact, skipping breakfast sets you for feeling hungry for the rest of the day, which leads to making bad food choices. You need food to kick-start your metabolism for the day, and eating a high protein, low sugar breakfast (so skip the donut!) with some fat will stabilize your blood sugar and keep your hand out of the candy jar before lunch.

If dinner truly is the first time you have time to sit down and eat a large meal, fill it with things that fuel your body and keep you full all evening. Filling your plate with mostly vegetables will fill you up without all of the calories you find in processed foods. Large portions of meat should be avoided because they can be hard for our bodies to digest, which affects sleep patterns. Eating too close to bedtime also affects your blood sugar and cause drops and spikes while you sleep.

Healthy Snacks to Help You Lose Weight

We all get the munchies now and then. It’s a long time between lunch and dinner. Sometimes snacking is inevitable and some nutritionists suggest small healthy snacks between meals to maintain blood sugar and metabolism. So, if you’re going to snack, make it count. First and foremost, if you feel hungry mid morning or afternoon, drink a glass of water. It’s filling, calorie free and always a good idea to stay hydrated. Also, it will buy you some time.

Low Calorie and Healthy Snacks

If you are still hungry after drinking a glass of water, try these snacks that fall under 200 calories. They will keep you full until your next meal without spiking your blood sugar.

  • An apple paired with a protein (e.g. a glass of low-fat or skim milk or a scoop of all natural (only nuts) peanut or almond butter)
  • A half an avocado (Avocados are high in fat, but it’s good, unsaturated fat)
  • Whole wheat crackers with a protein (low-fat cheese or tuna are good choices)
  • Edamame
  • A hardboiled egg
  • Some protein bars have all natural ingredients and are sweetened with dates rather than refined sugar (I recommend Luna Bar’s)
  • Plain, unsweetened Greek yogurt with fresh fruit. I find if I puree the fruit first, it sweetens the yogurt nicely. I particularly like berries with Greek yogurt
  • Carrots/celery and homemade hummus (super easy to make and stores well in the fridge for up to a week)

Need a good and easy hummus recipe? Try this one out!

Can You Eat Well and Lose Weight Without Exercise?

So, can you eat healthy, whole foods, focusing on eating lighter as the day goes on and lose weight? The simple answer is yes, you can. If you have a physical limitation and can’t exercise, food choices will help you reach for your goals. You will feel better if you eat well, which may lead to allowing you to be more physical than you once were. However, it’s likely weight loss will be slow going if you don’t exercise. And, many people lose their resolves pretty quickly when they don’t see results. If you want the most bang for your buck (well, for your exercise), a half an hour of cardio a day will burn about 200 calories (this, obviously varies depending on intensity). Not only will you burn calories that would otherwise be stored in your body, but you will firm up muscles and your body will begin to change in good ways. There’s a meme floating around that says, “Losing weight means you’ll look good in clothes. Exercising means you’ll look good naked.”

losing weight means you'll look good in your clothes. Exercising means you'll look good naked.It’s like eating a metaphoric cake (since we limit how many real ones we eat!) without the icing. Sure, it’s tasty, but it isn’t the best it can be. Exercise will help you lose weight faster, it will help you feel better, it will improve your cardiac health, it will reduce stress, it will give you more energy and more. Bottom line, if you CAN exercise, you SHOULD exercise. Start out with light exercise (like walking) and work your way up. Rome wasn’t built-in a day. Your body can’t be sculpted in a day either.

The Bottom Line for the Best Way To Lose Weight

If you lose weight the correct way through a lifestyle change, you will feel better and be a healthier you. Is it the cure-all for everything that ails you? No, probably not. But, less weight will mean less pressure on your joints, less pressure on your heart and a happier you. In order to truly be successful you must make a lifestyle change and take on eating better and exercising for life, not just until you lose the weight. I actually got concerned I would lose TOO much as I got closer to my goal weight. I wondered if I needed to add back in some of my old habits. And, I did cave and found myself eating more ice cream and cookies and cakes and… you get the point! Haha! Guess what happened? I put 5 lbs back on and I felt bloated and gross.

I do not believe it is ever a good idea to 100% deprive yourself. I do eat a cookie when I bake them for my kids. The difference is it is 1 cookie, not 3. I do eat ice cream once in a while, but it’s once a week, not every night (and it’s a small portion). I don’t eat fast food anymore, but that has more to do with not wanting to put that much sodium and who knows what else into my body than worrying about the calories. Just be conscious. I allow myself one dessert night a week (usually on Friday). If I get a sugar craving during the week, I tell myself that I can have whatever I want on Friday and then eat an orange or an apple. Food is good. I enjoy sweets, a lot. I just limit them because they aren’t good fuel for my body.

As a result of eating better and running 3-4 miles (plus a cardio class or 2) 4 days a week, my last doctor weigh in was 124 lbs. I’ve hovered right at 125-130 for the last month. So, I haven’t kept losing too much weight. I’ve found my body’s happy place and I’m maintaining. I promise you. I have very little willpower. I face temptation often, but I really have no desire for processed food anymore. At all. Eating out doesn’t appeal to me like it used to because I like to know what’s in my food. (Although I do wish I had someone around to clean up after meals in my house! Dishes for 6 people 3 times a day is exhausting!) I feel better physically, I look better physically, but, most importantly, I feel better about myself. My body and my choices make me proud, not ashamed. Trust me. If I can do it, you can do it!

Take it one meal (and snack at a time), one day at a time, one month at a time. Be a better you for you by taking charge of your life in the kitchen and in the gym (or your living room if that works better for you). Find the balance for you that is the best way for YOU to lose weight and keep it off.

What are the best ways to lose weight for you? Any tips to share?

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