Millions tune into the “The Biggest Loser” TV show each season, inspired by watching the changes in contestants’ bodies, lives and even spirits every week.
Obesity – defined by a body mass index of 30 or over – is a concern for a growing number of Americans. According to a 2010 study by the National Center for Health Statistics, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the prevalence of obesity in 2007-2008 was 32.2 percent among adult men and 35.5 percent among adult women. A 2008 CDC survey found that 25.4 percent of U.S. adults did not spend any of their free time being physically active, including activities such as walking for exercise, gardening, golfing or running.
These numbers show that millions of Americans need to start moving and making healthier food choices. But getting started can be a daunting task and, unfortunately, reality is that not everyone who has a significant amount of weight to lose can be a contestant of the reality TV show.
Hopefully, the following expert advice will serve as food for thought for those looking to replicate the success of their favorite contestants at home.
1. Determine why you eat. Most people who overeat or have weight issues are emotional eaters, says Dr. Talia Witkowski, a former eating disorder psychologist and the current director of marketing and outreach for the Nelson Center for Emotional Healing, Los Angeles.
“It is not only important to address the emotional issue when losing weight – it is essential,” she says. “Without healing the emotional need for food, a person cannot lose all the excess weight they carry, and even if they do get down to a bottom weight, they will eventually put it back on.”
Or they may develop another addiction or compulsive behavior to fill the hole that overeating leaves in their lives, says Witkowski, who strongly advises seeking help from a professional experienced in food addiction.
2. Don’t diet. “People tend to associate ‘diet’ with deprivation and other negative feelings,” says Melissa Buczek, a registered dietician, nutrition and wellness consultant, and founder of Right Start Nutrition. “When working with clients, I encourage them to think of the changes they make as lifestyle modifications.”
She recommends building a foundation of healthy habits, which will provide the education and tools needed to lose a significant amount of weight, as well as the motivation and confidence needed to stay on course.
Buczek believes rethinking portion sizes and keeping a food journal are both keys to success. “You can still enjoy your favorite foods butâ€Żchoose smaller portions,” she notes. “You’ll feel less deprived and find it easier to stick to your healthy eating goals, in the long run. Then, write down what you eat daily, including when, where, how much and how you feel at all meals and snacks. It’s a powerful tool that allows you to stay accountable and increase awareness of your daily habits.”
Need help? Seek out a registered dietician, who must meet academic and professional requirements, she notes, or a group like Weight Watchers to provide accountability on a weekly basis.
3. Find a workout buddy. Working out as part of a team also brings accountability, as well as support and camaraderie, says Rocky Snyder, a certified strength and conditioning specialist and personal trainer based in Santa Cruz, Calif. “It is by working with other people who are overweight and who are looking to do something about it, where the power to change lies.”
Buddies can be found in many places, such as at work, the gym, at church and in the family, Snyder says. “The parents of your children’s sport teams that normally sit on the sidelines and watch may be inspired to get off the bleachers and move.”
Think about it: there are very few things in life that are done alone, and most youth physical activities take place in a group setting, he points out. “Being in a group gives you a sense of belonging. It also makes you feel part of a team. It says that, you are not alone!”
4. Take advantage of health club fitness classes. Exercising in a class setting “gives you a feeling of safety, that you are not being singled out as right or wrong,” says Donna Cyrus, senior vice president of programming for Crunch Fitness health clubs. “You have the ability to progress quicker, come back to [the] same class, get better and better.”
Plus, health clubs design most classes to make working out fun. Camaraderie often develops between classmates who exercise together regularly, as well as between students and the instructor, she says. In addition, students end up attending regularly when they realize someone notices when they’re not there.
Intimidated? Shorter classes, like those 30 minutes in length, that aren’t overly challenging can serve as group setting “safe havens,” Cyrus advises. “Go three times a week. Start with a reasonable choice of what can do first week, then slowly, but surely take yourself to the next level.”
5. Set a reward. “A veritable ‘carrot on a stick’ can be a very motivating tool for some that are goal oriented,” Snyder says. “It also allows those trying to lose weight to shift constant focus off their weight loss goal and more on something else they would like to acquire or achieve.”
He notes that some people choose rewards that make them feel better about their new and improved bodies, such as massages, manicures and pedicures, or a new hairstyle. Others might choose a trip or even an overnight stay at bed and breakfast.
Snyder recently worked with a group that set a non-self-centered prize for its six-week challenge: to donate dog food to a local shelter in the amount of weight lost multiplied by 10.
“A prize that focuses on helping others is not just altruistic but, from a spiritual perspective, quite powerful,” he says. “Thinking of how we can be of service to others creates gratitude in our hearts. Gratitude is a great way of right-sizing our own problems and getting out of our own way. When we are experiencing gratitude, the likelihood that we sabotage our progress is much less.”
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