How to lose weight

Over the last several months I’ve lost twenty pounds. Given the size of the weight-loss industry I thought I’d provide the following public service free of charge. There’s so much silliness and faddishness out there, and this is a serious subject. People need to stop worrying about the relative merits of carbs vs. no-carbs or other tangential issues and stay focused on the bottom line.

As Ronald Reagan once said in another context, the way forward is simple, if not easy. The basic principles are not complicated, or expensive to put into practice. In fact, losing weight will save you money, both in the short and in the long term. And it’s better for the environment too! Overweight people of the world rejoice! You have nothing to lose but a few pounds.

It’s a lifestyle thing.

Just as Aristotle said about cultivating virtue, the way to lose weight is all about establishing habits through a routine. The fundamentals are easy to grasp: eat less, do more. Just remember that these aren’t things you only do some of the time. “Cheating” doesn’t just have a minor impact around the edges. If you cheat at this game, you lose. It’s far easier, faster, and more enjoyable, to consume calories than it is to burn them off.

It’s a lifestyle thing, but diet is the most important component (by far).

One corollary to the axiom that it’s easier to gain weight than it is to lose it is that exercise is less important than diet. Far less important. Indeed, there was a British report that came out this year saying that exercise (or lack thereof) had no relation to obesity at all. I think that’s overstating things, but you get the point.

Exercise provides all kinds of health benefits (for your heart especially), and is the only thing that is going to shape your body, but if weight loss is your goal then you’re going to have to watch what you eat.

If you do want to go the exercise route, keep a couple of things in mind. First of all, remember the importance of routine and how important the little things are to a routine. If you can, walk to the gym. That may do you more good than what you do when you get there. Walking is the best exercise there is. Second, if you’re going to exericse try and work up a sweat. Don’t just go to the gym to stretch and look good in your fitness gear. A rule of thumb is that if you’re on a machine you should barely be able to carry on a conversation with the person next to you. As in, you’re out of breath.

Stop eating at restaurants.

You can’t eat healthy at a restaurant. You just can’t.

You eat too much.

No, I mean it. You do eat too much. Chances are that if you live in North America you’re consuming two or three times as many calories per day as you actually need. That’s too much. You don’t need to take in that many calories. So why do you?

Not only do you eat too much, but what you eat is junk.

Do you abide by the nutritional standards of the Canada Food Guide? Like hell you do. According to one recent report I read, only 2% of Canadians follow these guidelines. Two percent!

Be realistic. There was a health and lifestyle story a week ago where the author was trying to eat like a Victoria’s Secret model for a week. Here are some of the menus:

Breakfast: A Izabel Goulart-inspired green juice with scrambled egg whites and avocado toast on Ezekiel bread
Lunch: Kale salad topped with shrimp, lentils, avocado, raspberries, chick peas, and olive oil
Dinner: Salmon with wild rice, avocado, and roasted sweet potatoes

Breakfast: Overnight oats with chia seeds, cinnamon, a chopped dark chocolate square, and berries
Lunch: A farro salad with spinach, pistachios, sweet potatoes, lentils, avocado, and olive oil
Dinner: Homemade tilapia fish tacos with mango salsa and two corn tortillas

I don’t think any of this was meant as comedy, but it is funny. Now: let’s be serious. You don’t eat like this. You are not a model or a professional athlete and you don’t have an in-house dietician/cook.

No, you eat junk. Why? Because it tastes good and is convenient.

Junk food is junk.

Remember the first of Michael Pollan’s three simple rules for healthy eating: “eat food.” Not everything you stick in your mouth and digest is food. They call it junk food but that’s a misnomer. It’s not food at all. It’s junk. You are literally eating garbage.

Cookies aren’t food. Chips aren’t food. Chocolate bars aren’t food (but chocolate supposedly has some heart benefits so I sometimes indulge). Pop isn’t food. Ice cream (even “real” ice cream as opposed to the label of “frozen dessert”) isn’t food. This crap is the enemy. If you can’t beat the junk food habit, you are in trouble.

You only have to be disciplined two or three times a week.

On your trips to the grocery store. If it’s not in the house you can’t eat it. If it is in the house, you will eat it. Quickly.

If you want to keep the weight off you have to stick with the program that you lost weight with.

It’s a treadmill I’m afraid you can’t get off. You will always feel hungry. I hear lots of people say that dieting doesn’t work because you just gain the weight back again. Well of course you do. You have to stay on the diet to keep the weight off. You can’t lose fifty pounds on a diet and then consider it Mission Accomplished and go back to eating the way you did before. You’ll just revert to your old weight. I would have thought that was obvious, but it surprises some people.

Water is your friend.

It quenches your thirst, has no calories, and is better for you than energy drinks or even most fruit juices. Drink lots of it.

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