5 Surprising Weight-Loss Strategies that Work (Hint: Diets Don't)
By Melanie Haiken, Contributor forbes.com
Nope, sorry to disappoint, but diets don’t work. None of them. Really. I’m not even going to waste time proving it; just google recent studies on diet success and let’s get on with it. If you, like most of America, added 5 pounds or an inch or two to your waistline over the past two months, it’s easier than you think to re-set your metabolism. And if your number 1 new year’s resolution is to get svelte before you hit the beach for spring break, persist in these strategies and you can take off 10, 20, even 50 pounds. Here’s what really works to lose weight:
1. Set up a strength training system
The more muscle mass you have, the more effectively your metabolism burns calories. A common misconception, though, is to mix up muscle-building with aerobic exercise. Aerobic exercise is great for burning calories, but what you really need to do to reset your metabolism is engage strength training. My secret to success: I hate the gym, so I don’t bother with it. Instead, I keep a basket of kettle bells, hand weights, stretch bands, and other supplies next to my TV and get them out while I indulge in my favorite guilty pleasures. Work on building up triceps, biceps, abs, deltoids, and glutes, and you’ll have some key allies in burning away fat.
2. Trick your metabolism with fat-fighting foods
The reason diets don’t work is that it’s not about counting calories, or cutting carbs, or pounding protein, but which foods you focus on. There are plenty of fat-burning foods you can eat all you want of, and you don’t have to carry around carrot sticks. Instead, boost your intake of foods that fight fat and banish those that trigger your body to store it. Then eat other foods in moderation, and you should be OK.
3. Get at least eight hours of shut-eye a night and solve sleep problems
There’s one piece of advice every weight loss guru now agrees on: getting plenty of sleep is one of the biggest secrets to losing weight and keeping it off. (Try these effective sleep-boosting strategies if insomnia is responsible for your lack of sleep.) Research now shows that the body is most metabolically active during sleep, so the longer we sleep, the more we rev up our fat-burning engines. Lack of sleep also plays havoc with two key metabolic hormones, leptin and ghrelin, which control hunger and satiety. Deprive yourself of sleep, and ghrelin levels increase while leptin levels decrease. The result: more craving, less feeling full. Even worse, when you’re weary you crave “energy” foods, which usually means chips, sweets, baked goods, or soda. Put the two together and you can see how the typical type-A lifestyle gradually puts on the pounds.
4. Beware the Underactive Thyroid
Hypothyroidism, in which the pituitary gland produces too little of a key hormone that regulates metabolism, is one of the key reasons for weight gain that stubbornly refuses to reverse itself. And it’s surprisingly common; endocrinologists say as many as one out of five adults over age 40 suffer from an under active thyroid. If you think this might be you, get a thyroid test. But beware: The first-line thyroid blood test, known as the TSH, is controversial and the cut-off for “normal” used by most labs may be too high. In 2003, the American Association of Clinical Endocrinologists began recommending that the cutoff for normal TSH should be 3.0 versus the older standard of 5.5, but this news hasn’t reached many labs or doctors. So check your results yourself and if they’re between 3 and 5 and your doctor notes them as normal, make sure she’s aware of the new recommendation. Pay attention to other signs as well; if you feel tired and lethargic and notice that you’re cold all the time, or have poor circulation in your hands and feet, or hair loss (including eyebrows and eyelashes), these are all symptoms of hypothyroidism. Not to mention uncharacteristic weight gain that stubbornly refuses to respond to typical weight loss strategies such as making dietary changes, increasing exercise, and trying the strategies outlined here. You can also ask for further testing; there a number of additional tests that many experts believe give more accurate readings of thyroid function. And lots of endocrinologists think having a TSH between 1 and 2 is ideal for maintaining normal body weight and function, so if your doctor isn’t sympathetic, get a referral to an endocrinologist known to treat thyroid disorders aggressively.
5. Trick the Rebound Reaction with a Slow and Steady Approach
Chances are, you read The Fat Trap in the New York Times a couple of weeks ago, in which Tara Parker-Pope demonstrated how typical weight-loss strategies backfire, leading people to regain the lost weight, usually within months. What happens is that most popular weight loss regimens trigger the body’s starvation alert, which in turn triggers hormonal changes that essentially set up a rebound reaction. So forget fast-track weight loss plans and instead make small, gradual changes that allow your metabolism to adjust once and for all. Once your system is used to the new regimen, it won’t react with rebound.