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Winning at Weight Loss - Part 1

Written by: Tom Nikkola – Director of Nutrition & Weight Management

As we begin the 2011 Life Time Weight Loss 90-Day Challenge, many people may be thinking, “How can I win this thing?” Others may be telling themselves, “Here you go again. You’re going to try to lose the weight and fail like you always do.” Whatever the voice in your head may be saying, you should know that you can lose the weight, you can keep it off, and you can change your health for good.

In the coming weeks, we’ll walk through some points to keep in mind as you try to shed the weight. Your chance of success can be greatly increased with the right attitude. Your outcome can also be influenced by the people with whom you surround yourself and what they say. Before you act on your nutrition and exercise program, consider the following points to get your head ready for long-term change.

Stop listening to your friends

If I had to rank one thing most important for long-term success, it would be this one. It is amazing how often people will take nutrition and exercise advice from friends as if they are  experts. Remember playing the telephone game? In nutrition, it goes something like this:

  • Susan to Julie: “I was just in a nutrition seminar at my club, and they talked about how important omega-3s from fish are. I started taking omega-3 fish oil supplements right away.”
  • Julie to Karen: “My friend Julie said she started changing her nutrition and is taking more omega-3s. She said the Weight Loss Coach at her club recommended them.”
  • Karen to Nancy: “I was just at the store and saw how many products now have omega-3s in them. A Weight Loss Coach at Life Time said they’re important for health and weight management.”
  • Nancy goes to the store and sees a box of cereal labeled “contains omega-3s” and buys it, thinking it will help with her nutrition and weight management goals because “a Weight Loss Coach at Life Time said they’re healthy.”

A box of cereal with plant-based omega-3s is entirely different than the omega-3s found in fish oil, and nowhere near as beneficial. The point is, the more that friends attempt to disseminate nutrition advice, the more distorted the advice gets. It can be even worse when someone reads some of the poor quality nutrition advice found in magazines, tabloids and on television. As that information continues to get passed around, people become even more confused.

Though your friends have good intentions, they probably don’t have the right answers. Use some of the articles on this site to start with, post questions if you’d like, but if possible, connect with a Weight Loss Coach or Personal Trainer and get the right information directly from the source. Bring your friend along.

Face the facts

As overweight and obesity rates continue to rise, it’s easy to look around at others and say “I’m not so bad.” With about 70% of the population overweight or obese, if you’re “average,” you’re probably not “ok.” Being overweight, and making the nutrition and lifestyle choices that lead to being overweight, result in a much lowered quality of life. When extra weight is looked at from a purely aesthetic standpoint, it’s easier to dismiss the need to lose weight. The truth is, a number of health conditions can occur before, after or along with weight gain. Poor nutrition and lifestyle habits and/or weight gain can result in:

  • Increased risk of heart disease. The idea of “heart disease” may not sound frightening, especially if you're still young. But, when an individual and his or her family are told there is a need for bypass surgery, it becomes pretty real. To have your chest cut open and your heart operated on is serious. Most times, it can also be prevented.[i] If not for yourself, consider the impact it can have on your family or friends when this happens. Don't wait until it's too late to change your diet, exercise and lifestyle habits.
  • Havoc on joint health. More and more, conditions such as arthritis and other muscular and skeletal problems are being tied to poor nutrition and lack of exercise. Many back problems and knee problems are directly related to excess weight. Imagine the extra pressure a knee must endure while carrying an extra 20, 50 or even 100 pounds of body weight. Instead of relying on medication to mask the pain, lose the weight and change your diet. Your joints will thank you for it. Even if you're not overweight, your joint health might be improved by committing to changes in diet and exercise.
  • Increased risk of developing Type 2 diabetes. Are you okay with the long-term effects of losing control over your blood sugar? Are you really aware of what can happen? Did you know that Type 2 diabetes can lead to complications such as glaucoma and cataracts, nerve damage (neuropathy), skin disorders, liver disease, hearing loss and kidney disease?[ii] There’s even growing evidence indicating degenerative diseases like dementia and Alzheimer’s disease are related to diabetes with some health experts beginning to call Alzheimer’s “Type 3 diabetes.” For the most part, Type 2 diabetes doesn’t happen by accident. It starts with a poor diet that leads to elevated blood sugar and insulin levels. Once blood sugars hit a certain level, a physician may diagnose diabetes, but the problems had likely been building long before the diagnosis.
  • Increased risk of developing cancer. There are a variety of ways obesity may increase the risk of cancer. The same mechanisms that stimulate storage of body fat like high blood sugar levels may also increase the development of cancer. Fat tissue itself increases inflammation, which can contribute to development of cancer as well. [iii] Most people understand the significant risks of smoking and its effect on cancer development. Just as avoiding smoking can have a dramatic effect on reducing lung cancer risk, getting one’s weight and metabolism under control can have a dramatic effect on their chance of developing other cancers. It won’t be a guarantee against cancer, but it can help reduce the risk.
  • Increased risk of Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia. Though there is a strong hereditary component to Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia, the diet appears to play a significant role. As mentioned above, it appears to be tied to insulin resistance and excessive blood sugar.[iv] If you know someone who has been impacted by Alzheimer’s disease or other forms of dementia, and have seen the effects it has, use it as motivation to change your diet and lifestyle.
  • Shortened lifespan. That should seem obvious based on all the diseases and complications associated with being overweight. However, it’s also been shown that the rate of aging is increased when people are overweight or obese. The actual rate of aging of the body’s cells is increased.[v] Is that big bowl of cereal you eat every day worth it? What about the sugar-loaded coffee? Would you still prefer to enjoy regular sweets if the trade-off might be less time spent with your friends or family down the road? Someday we’ll know exactly how much our lives are shortened by carrying around extra body fat and making poor lifestyle changes. There’s no need to wait until then to avoid shortening your life.

If you’re a parent, maybe you can remember a time when you constantly worried about how your child or children could get hurt. Their health and safety was always on your mind. If your kids are older and you’ve let your body weight creep up over the years and your health deteriorate, your children may be in the same frame of mind worrying about you and whether these and other preventable diseases will lead to a medical emergency. You can help them avoid the need to worry about you by improving your health with exercise, the right nutrition and lifestyle plan, and shedding the excess weight. If your kids are still young, set an example for them and make your health more of a priority. There’s far more to weight gain than just how it looks.

Accept that you need to change your diet, but don’t diet

Imagine how silly it would be to stop smoking until your lung cancer was under control, and then starting smoking again once treatment got it under control. While that probably does happen for some smokers, most people would have a hard time understanding why. It’s no different with those who “go on diets.” If eliminating heavily processed foods and eating only quality protein, vegetables, nuts, seeds, healthy oils and when appropriate, some whole grains, leads to the kind of weight loss people are hoping for, wouldn’t it make sense that the other foods should be avoided all the time, not just for getting the weight off? The idea of “going on a diet” means making short-term changes for a short-term goal.

Change means turning your back on the junk that increases the rate of obesity, stimulates hunger, causes blood sugar problems and everything else associated with a poor-quality diet. It’s possible to lose some weight on a low-calorie diet, but the chance of maintaining the weight loss is very small. Many of the foods found in the Standard American Diet do little to curb cravings or enhance metabolism. Sticking to a diet often means counting calories, eating small portions, and then spending the rest of the day wanting to eat more food. Changing your diet to quality foods can help reduce cravings, support lean body mass and provide the body with necessary nutrients. Nutritional supplements can play an important role as well, but eating a poor quality diet and taking supplements is not a good long-term strategy. Stop depending on frozen meals, boxed dinners and fast food. Eat real food. Use high-quality supplements. Exercise regularly. When you make the right choices, you can shed the weight without calorie counting. Stop dieting.

Mute commercials and ignore labels

This follows up on the previous section about changing your diet. If you listen to the average commercial, you’ll be led to believe many processed foods are healthier than real food. The following are some examples of front of label claims you may come across while you shop for groceries. Don’t be misled by examples such as these. If you see a package of food that says the food does something similar to what a drug or supplement might do, it’s probably worth leaving on the shelf. A few label claims to stay away from are the following:

  • As much protein as an egg. You can find this on some boxes of cereal. The protein quality isn’t close to the same as an egg, and most people need more than egg’s worth of protein with breakfast anyway.
  • Can help lower cholesterol. Many processed foods with some added whole grains have this label claim on them. Not only is this claim suspect, but processed carbohydrates like cereals can actually make lipid profiles worse, not better.[vi]
  • Low in fat. After years of low-fat diets getting more credit than they’re due, there are still companies putting this on labels.
  • Contains omega-3s. With the popularity of fish oil supplementation, many foods have added omega-3s to their formulations. The omega-3 fatty acids are usually in very small amounts, and they’re not the same type as what are found in fish. Instead, they usually contain the omega-3 ALA which doesn’t provide the same benefit as EPA and DHA omega-3s found in fish.

Food labels and commercials are designed to get you to buy the food. The truth is often stretched as far as possible. Though some of the companies do get fined from time to time, it doesn’t stop them from pushing the envelope with their label claims. Don’t be misled by them, and don’t let your friends be misled.


Achieving long-term health changes and healthy weight management requires a shift in thinking. The shift in thinking means disregarding the way the average person thinks about food, exercise and lifestyle habits. It also means gaining a clear understanding of the possible results of keep the weight on and/or eating the way most people do. A significant number of the health problems people today are facing are preventable. The solution is not taking another drug or falling a quick weight loss program. You can change your health, change your body and change your life, but the first step is changing the way you think and avoiding discussions with those who may turn your thinking in the wrong direction. Once you’ve done that, you’re set up to start making the right choices, which we’ll talk about next week.

This article is not intended for the treatment or prevention of disease, nor as a substitute for medical treatment, nor as an alternative to medical advice. Use of recommendations in this and other articles is at the choice and risk of the reader.

Share thoughts and post comments below.

[i] BMJ-British Medical Journal. Obesity is heart disease killer in its own right, irrespective of other risk factors. ScienceDaily 14 February 2011. 27 March 2011­/releases/2011/02/110214201844.htm.

[ii] American Diabetes Association. Living With Diabetes. ADA Online:

[iii] Cell Press. Obesity ups cancer risk, and here's how. ScienceDaily 25 January 2010. 27 March 2011 <­ /releases/2010/01/100121135713.htm>.

[iv] Matsuzaki T, et al. Insulin resistance is associated with the pathology of Alzheimer disease. Neurology. 2010;75:764-770

[v] Moreno-Navarrete JM, Ortega F, Sabater M, Ricart W, Fernandez-Real JM. Telomere length of subcutaneous adipose tissue cells is shorter in obese and formerly obese subjects. Int J Ob. 2010;34:1345-1348

[vi] Appel LJ, et al. Effects of Protein, Monounsaturated Fat, and Carbohydrate Intake on Blood Pressure and Serum Lipids. JAMA. 2005;294(19):2455-2464

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Reader Comments (8)

I love the direct manner in which you address some of the biggest failings of people when it comes to Weight Loss. I am a trainer and I see it every day in all my clients, "my friend said", "I read". I always tell them that everything should be taken with a grain of salt and that if they are truely eating a clean diet, they will not have to diet. I will be sure to share this with all my clients this week.
Thanks Tom.

April 4, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterCori

Unfortunately, since this article is supposed to be about weight loss, it misses the biggest point. As Mark Haub's 'Twinkie diet' demonstrated, when it comes to weight loss, the *quality* of the food you eat is secondary to *how much* you eat and how many Calories it contains. His experiment also demonstrated that weight itself can be the primary mover for blood chemistry (cholesterol, triglycerides, etc.) and not the quality of nutrients.

I agree whole-heartedly that eating better quality food is better for you than processed junk food. I have said for years that the only diet that works is a changed diet. However, the if the topic is weight loss, you must understand that simply replacing what you eat with the best alternatives in the world won't drop a single pound unless you burn more Calories than you consume which means eating less and exercising more.

April 6, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterGreg

Hi Greg

While we understand excessive calorie consumption can keep people from losing weight, counting calories is not a great way to achieve lifelong weight management. We've seen time and again that when people start eating quality foods, they begin managing their nutrient intake much better. There are other factors that affect weight management, too, aside from calories in, calories out.

While the Twinkie's Diet was interesting (you can view our take on it here:, or just put "Twinkie's Diet" in the search box at the top the page), a study of one does not mean a whole lot. For those who have insulin resistance or are diabetic, simply counting calories and eating poor quality foods is unwise. Instead of spending a lifetime counting calories, we'd prefer people eat good food and choose high-quality nutritional supplements. When they do that, the calories tend to take care of themselves. Some people can lose weight through calorie counting, but not everyone.

April 6, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterTom Nikkola

This was a great way to get one's mind set on getting healthier. I believe a healthy mind leads to healthy change in diet and exercise..

April 7, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterB

I am gearing up to start the 90 day weight loss challenge and this article was just the encouragement that I needed. I really want to make the change to a healthy way of life and not just do another diet (which has never been a long term change for me). The topic that spoke to me the most was not taking advice from friends. I can't believe the number of people who have tried to tell me how to lose weight. Don't eat carbs, eat carbs, no fat, lots of fat, the list goes on and on!! It's nice to hear that I can ignore all of this well intentioned advice from my friends and co-workers. Thanks for helping me to get into a good frame of mind as I get ready to start a change for good!

April 9, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterLF

Thanks this article inspired me to commit myselt to the 90 day challenge. I have tried in the past to do the calorie counting and it doesn't work for me. I am glad this article spoke about changing your mind set.

April 12, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterSteph

For those of us out there who have spent a lifetime with poor eating habits, going back for 2nds and 3rds, eating junk, this article is great. I am very committed to changing what I eat. But I do agree that tracking the calories has been very beneficial too. It has really opened my eyes the number of calories I was actually consuming in the past! Even when I thought I was being good (feeling deprived!) I was probably still eating 3000 calories or more! It is no wonder I'm not more over weight than I was when I started. The calories tracking has really helped me get a handle on what the right portions should be. The good news is that when we eat the good foods we can have more of them for the appropriate amount of calories and feel satified. I think I am going to be tracking calories and quality of food And exercise for a while. I have a lot of bad habits to kick! Thank you for the great articles!

April 20, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterSandy

The article is very good! I like it very much,but If you can add more video and pictures can be much better, I have never read such a lovely article and I am coming back tomorrow to continue reading.

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