Health & Fitness

Take the 30-day challenge: Drop 8 pounds and jump-start your fitness

We all arrive at New Year’s resolutions from different paths, but for many, one goal stands out from all the others: You want to lose weight, and 2017 is the year you’re finally going to do it.

If you have more than 20 or 30 pounds to shed, the prospects of reaching your goal weight can seem impossibly far off. That’s where the idea of the 30-day challenge comes in. Instead of something with no end in sight, you can tough it out for the next four weeks plus a few days.

If you’re willing to stick with eating better, moving more and being just a bit more mindful about diet and exercise, there’s a good chance something else will happen: Those habits you’re developing might become permanent.

While many believe it takes 21 days to change a habit and/or develop a new one, it’s more likely that it’s a minimum of 21 days. One comprehensive study suggests it takes up to two months.

But the idea of the 30-day challenge is to see it as a fresh start on your fitness journey. In fact, we’d like to launch this as an ongoing series of health and fitness stories setting different goals, so please let us know if you are embarking on your own weight-loss program and how you are going about it. If possible, we’d love to share your story with readers in a follow-up installment. Contact me via email: brobertson@sacbee.com.

The good news about losing weight is that it comes down to a few basics with plenty of options. You also don’t have to be perfect.

Before we get into the variety of diets that have shown to work for many, here are a few fundamentals you should try to embrace over the next 30 days.

▪ Drink more water. Many experts suggest drinking a glass of water immediately after you wake up.

▪ Fill half of your plate with fruits and vegetables.

▪ Choose healthier snacks – an apple or nuts instead of a candy bar or muffin.

▪ Control your portions, especially when it comes to meat.

▪ Limit sugar intake.

▪ Deep-fried foods should be severely restricted or eliminated.

▪ Move more. Walk every day. If you live within 10 miles of work, try riding your bike once in a while. If you watch TV, do planks or push-ups during the commercials.

▪ Take advantage of the power of your smartphone. Most phones can keep track of your steps and be customized to help you count calories and even count the number of glasses of water you’re drinking each day. A recent iPhone update can also track your sleep and remind you when to go to bed and get your recommended eight hours.

Now, here are some of the diets that work. Pick one that best fits your routine.

1. Plant-based eating

This used to be called vegan (and still is by many), but the new term makes it seem more inviting and less like the kind of thing embraced by urban farm homesteaders.

This may be the hardest and easiest. Hard if you really dig smoked brisket and oversized cheeseburgers; easy if you’re willing to give up animal-based foods because you have just eliminated many of the foods that made you fat, raised your cholesterol and put your health at risk. A good guide for this way of eating is the Forks Over Knives website. You don’t have to be all-in for this to work. Try meatless Mondays or vegetarian till dinner.

If you’re on a plant-based diet, you’ll find you really don’t need to watch your portions and count calories. There are different versions of plant-based eating. Forks Over Knives, for instance, does not like cooking with oils. Other diets are not as strict. But all of them are essentially high-carb/low-fat. The thing to watch with plant-based eating is sugary desserts.

2. Counting calories/Weight Watchers

This is all about basic math, whether it’s counting calories or Weight Watchers’ proprietary tally of points based on calories. Oprah Winfrey recently announced she dropped 40 pounds on Weight Watchers.

Numerous phone apps track calories, though they can sometimes be clunky or cumbersome. Basically, you set your ideal weight goal and the date you want to get there. Be aware that losing more than two pounds a week is considered extreme.

Then you go about eating the right amount of calories each day to create the necessary caloric deficit. There are many advantages to this way of eating, and the biggest one is mindfulness. When you count calories, you make yourself accountable. Coming face to face with the number of calories in your favorite scone or muffin will probably discourage you from eating another. The bonus? If you move more – a long walk, a run, a bike ride – you get to eat a little more.

The downside of counting calories is that your actual diet can still be out of balance or even lacking in basic nutrition. Try to do it the right way by having whole foods when possible. If cupcakes and Clif Bars are the centerpiece of a meal, you’re doing it wrong.

3. Intermittent fasting

This eating approach has really taken off in the past three or four years, popularized by the 2002 book “Warrior Diet” by Ori Hofmekler. Numerous books in recent years have jumped on the intermittent-fasting bandwagon, bolstered by studies that show it not only works but has several other health benefits besides weight loss. It can also lower blood pressure, curb inflammation and reduce the risk of chronic disease.

There are many ways to customize it, but here’s how it basically works. After you finish dinner, don’t eat again until dinner the next day. Drink plenty of water. Coffee and tea are fine. You can do that once or twice a week and dramatically reduce the number of calories you consume. After the initial struggle during the breaking-in period, many people report feeling more alert while fasting.

Some people do a shorter fast by skipping breakfast. If you’re up for the challenge, it’s worth a try.

4. Low-carb/paleo

While this kind of diet has lots of detractors, many people swear by it and have the results to prove it. The paleo diet is especially popular in CrossFit circles. The emphasis is on eating the way we supposedly did thousands of years ago. Fill your plate with meat, fish, vegetables, leafy greens and nuts, while avoiding high-carb favorites such as pasta, bread, legumes and many grains.

There are plenty of resources to get you going. “The Paleo Diet” by Loren Cordain is a good place to start. Cordain is credited as the founder of this style of eating.

So there you have it: Thirty days to drop some weight and four eating approaches with numerous options to tweak and customize. Pick one and commit to it.

As we move through January, we’ll provide updates and more information to keep you on track. In the meantime, let us know what your weight-loss goals are and how you plan to get there.

Blair Anthony Robertson: 916-321-1099, @Blarob

Share your weight-loss story

The Bee wants to know how you are embarking on your own weight-loss program and how you are going about it. Email Blair Anthony Robertson at brobertson@sacbee.com to share your story, and it could be used in a follow-up installment.

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