When it comes to weight loss, slow and steady usually wins the race. But even dedicated dieters can hit a plateau, or simply become frustrated with what seems like a never-ending journey. That’s when it’s time to examine some behaviors that could be hampering your weight loss, and make some changes. Here are five areas that may need shaking up.
Get enough sleep. Most people need about 7 1/2 hours of sleep a night. Getting more sleep than that isn’t going to help you lose weight, but getting less can definitely interfere with weight loss. Research shows that sleep deprivation leads to an increase in a hormone called ghrelin, which drives you to eat, and decreases leptin, a hormone associated with satiety, that tells you to stop eating. It’s no wonder that people who are sleep-deprived say that they feel driven to eat.
It’s the quality of sleep, not just the number of hours you are in bed, that determines whether your sleep will support your weight loss. If you are not sleeping well, try to make a few lifestyle changes first. Cut back on caffeine, take up regular exercise (if you haven’t already), make sure your bedroom is quiet, dark and cool. If this doesn’t help, see your doctor. You may have sleep apnea, hot flashes, be depressed, or, if you are stressed out, have a cortisol imbalance that wakes you up at night.
Cut out alcohol. The usual thinking is that you can drink alcohol as long as you count the calories toward your daily tally. But research now confirms that alcohol puts the brakes on fat metabolism–your body’s ability to burn fat as energy. That’s a problem in more ways than one.
In one study, even hours after having a drink of vodka, fat metabolism was suppressed by an incredible 73 percent. When you drink alcohol, your liver converts it into a substance called acetate, which your body ends up using for fuel instead of fat or even carbohydrates. That’s a problem if you are trying to lose fat.
Other research shows that when you combine alcohol with meals, you tend to eat more. Try cutting out alcohol altogether for a few months. Your weight loss should speed up.
Rev up your workout. Aerobic exercise is essential to weight loss and maintenance. But lots of dieters overestimate the calories they burn with exercise, or reach a point where they are no longer challenging themselves with their workout. So once it gets easy, crank it up. Do interval training–shorts bursts of increased exertion. Try doing 30 seconds of revved up action for every 2 1/2 minutes of regular exercise. You can do this whether you walk, run, cycle or swim, whether you are outside or on a treadmill. Using a heart rate monitor can help. If you lift weights, circuit training is another good way to boost metabolism. You intersperse weight lifting with short sessions of aerobic exercises like jogging in place, jumping jacks or jump rope. If you’re a walker who tends to slow down, find some music that keeps you walking at a brisk pace.
Fine-tune your diet. Are you eating breakfast, including some protein, fiber and fat? Protein and fiber both help to stabilize blood sugar and make you feel satisfied, so it’s good to get enough of both early in the day. And getting some fat, especially oleic fat (found in avocadoes, nuts and olive oil) helps to prolong satiety. Are you getting five servings (minimum) of vegetables and fruits? If need be, cut back on grains and get carbs and fiber from beans, dark leafy greens, carrots and corn. Are you drinking fruit juice? Switch to whole fresh fruit, but have no more than two servings a day. Sweetened beverages? Switch to water or unsweetened green tea, or use a safe herbal non-caloric sweetener, stevia. Does your whole grain bread contain sugar? Your cereal? Even catsup, spaghetti sauce and salad dressings can be high in sugar. Are you eating sports bars or having sports drinks? Check the calories.
Drink more water. Water is not a weight-loss miracle, but, like sleep, not getting enough water can interfere with weight loss. That’s because being even slightly dehydrated slows down your metabolism and reduces bowel transit time. Having water with a meal can also help you to feel full faster. And people sometimes mistake thirst for hunger. Try having a glass of water next time you feel hungry and see if the water doesn’t take the edge off your appetite. You might be pleasantly surprised.