4 Tips for Healthy Weight Loss

03/18/2015 04:57 pm ET | Updated May 18, 2015


Your health and weight are intimately connected. The good news is you can eat more and weigh less -- that's right, you can lose weight without feeling deprived or hungry. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, if your Body Mass Index falls into the range of overweight or obese, you are at a higher risk for the following diseases and conditions:

  • Coronary heart disease
  • Stroke
  • Type 2 diabetes
  • Cancers (endometrial, breast and colon)
  • Hypertension or high blood pressure
  • Dyslipidemia (high blood cholesterol, high blood triglycerides)
  • Fatty Liver Disease
  • Gallbladder disease
  • Sleep apnea and respiratory problems
  • Osteoarthritis (degeneration of cartilage and its underlying bone within a joint)
  • Gynecological problems for women (abnormal menstrual periods and infertility)

During the past 20 years, there has been a dramatic increase in obesity in the United States. Rates remain high and in fact, the latest Gallup Healthways Well-Being Index reported that in 2014, 27.7 percent of the nation moved into the obese category. According to a new report from the Dietary Guidelines Committee, more than two-thirds of adults, and nearly one-third of children and youth, are overweight or obese.

Here is a handy BMI calculator to help calculate your BMI. For those who are overweight or obese, even a small weight loss of 10 percent of body weight over a period of 6 months can improve health and reduce risk factors for disease. Weight loss can also increase energy, and improve your sleep, mood, self-esteem and overall quality of life.

If your BMI is less than 18.5, it falls within the "underweight" range.
If your BMI is 18.5 to 24.9, it falls within the "normal" or Healthy Weight range.
If your BMI is 25.0 to 29.9, it falls within the "overweight" range.
If your BMI is 30.0 or higher, it falls within the "obese" range.

Experts agree that the key to successful weight loss with sustainable weight management is adopting a healthy lifestyle. For example, exercise has been shown to be a significant factor for weight loss and weight management, and when included as part of a balanced, integrated approach, the outcomes may be even more sustainable and comprehensive. This includes lower cholesterol and other quality of life improvements such as better sleep, enhanced energy and mood from feel-good brain chemicals released during exercise. The research conducted by Dr. Ornish and his colleagues in the Lifestyle Heart Trial showed an average weight loss of 24 pounds in the first year with sustained weight loss in most after 5 years.

Achieving Healthy Weight Loss

The pace for healthy weight loss is half a pound to 2 pounds a week. The first one to two weeks you may experience a more rapid weight loss due to loss of water weight in addition to fat loss and some muscle loss. For healthy and successful long term weight loss, however, the pace should slow to a steady and more moderate rate that supports a decrease in the percentage of fat without sacrificing lean (muscle) body mass.

This initial weight loss drop from water weight is the result of the body's initial need for extra energy when calorie intake drops, along with perhaps increased expenditure. The body responds to this extra need for energy by releasing stores from a type of carbohydrate found in the muscles and liver called glycogen. Glycogen is partly made of water so when burned for energy, it releases water, which results in the initial weight loss. This tends to taper off after the first week when the body adjusts to the lifestyle changes.

After the first couple of weeks, weight loss should taper to a moderate loss of half a pound to 2 pounds. Even though the goal is to achieve continued weight loss, a too rapid loss that exceeds 3 pounds a week can increase the risk of gallstones and gallbladder disease.

Rapid weight loss can also lead to unintended loss of lean body mass, which cause a slower metabolism that inhibits continued weight loss and often results in a rebound of weight gain. This rapid weight loss and gain can lead to yo-yo dieting, which results in an increasing rate of the percentage of body fat to lean muscle weight. Slower weight loss results in more effective weigh loss from fat and a preservation of lean body mass. In addition, one study showed that a slower and steady weight loss lead to improved triglyceride levels and blood pressure.

Five Tips for Healthy Weight Loss

1. Choose Plant-Based, Low-fat, Nutrient-Rich Foods Instead of Calorie Dense Foods. When following a plant based approach, weight loss is a natural outcome, often without even trying to lose weight. As the title of Dr. Dean Ornish's book, Eat more, Weigh Less, indicates, it is easy to eat more and weigh less when eating nutrient dense foods versus calorie dense foods. One can have a high volume of food and not feel deprived because of the difference in calorie density. For example: 1 teaspoon of olive oil (or any oil) has 120 calories. You can have almost 5 cups of vegetables for the same amount of calories, or a large salad with one-quarter cup of garbanzo beans.

Dr. Ornish has recommended:

An optimal diet for preventing disease and staying healthy is a whole foods, plant-based diet naturally low in animal protein, low in harmful fats, and low in refined carbohydrates.

An optimal diet for reversing disease and staying healthy is a whole foods, plant-based diet, low in harmful fats, and low in refined carbohydrates (no animal protein).

little or no red meat;
high in "good carbs" (including vegetables, fruits, whole grains, legumes, and soy products in their natural forms);
low in "bad carbs" (simple and refined carbohydrates such as sugar, high fructose corn syrup, white flour);
sufficient "good fats" (4 grams/day of omega‑3 fatty acids found in fish oil, flax oil, plankton-based oils);
low in "bad fats" (trans fats, saturated fats, hydrogenated fats);
more quality, less quantity (smaller portions of good foods are more satisfying than larger portions of junk foods, especially if you pay attention to what you're eating).

2. Eat Small, Frequent Balanced Meals and Snacks Throughout Day, But Remember that Total Calories Count the Most. The evidence is mixed about whether eating small, frequent healthy meals and snacks effects weight loss. This approach has many advantages, especially for those with diabetes. Planning for smaller, more frequent healthy and balanced meals can help ward off hunger because you will avoid overeating. This approach also keeps your blood sugar level stable throughout the day. A recent study at the University of Warwick showed that regardless of the size and frequency of one's meals, the total calories are what contributes most to weight loss.

3. Stay Hydrated with Water, Not Liquid Calories.
Staying well hydrated is important for health and supports weight loss. That's because our brains can miscommunicate thirst for hunger, leading us to consume extra calories when we really need hydration. Studies support the importance of staying well hydrated for weight management and health. Drinking a glass of water prior to eating can also curb our appetite, which helps to limit excess calories.

Liquid calories in beverages such as soda, sweet tea, lemonade, and even juice can be quickly consumed, but do not satisfy hunger and therefore easily add excess calories. Liquid calories can also have a negative impact on blood management. Eating a whole fruit such as an apple provides fiber that slows down the release of sugars and absorption into the bloodstream. This approach will level blood sugar versus the quick rush and blood sugar spike that can result from liquid calories such as juice. Studies show that limiting liquid calories supports weight loss and effective weight management.

4. Practice Mindful Eating
Being mindful and aware of what, how and when we are eating can make a significant impact on weight management, along with making healthy choices that affect our over health and well-being. A study published in the Journal of Academic Nutrition Diet demonstrated that by learning and applying mindful eating, participants eat less, lost more weight, and had better managed blood sugar levels..

Are you at a healthy BMI? If not, what's the first step you can take to move towards a healthier weight?

This article was originally published in Ornish Living.