Weight loss goes beyond "eat less, move more"

Published: January, 2015

The start of a new year often rouses a resolve to lose weight—a goal that's especially important for people prone to heart disease, reports the January 2015 Harvard Heart Letter. Carrying too many pounds can boost blood pressure, blood sugar, and cholesterol, all of which burden the heart.

For many people, coaching that transforms eating, exercise, and other habits can make a difference. Known as intensive lifestyle intervention, it involves working closely with one or more trained experts, including a dietitian or nutritionist, exercise professional, health educator, and psychologist.

A good goal is to lose at least 1% of body weight a week for the first four weeks of such a program. "Reaching that goal requires a major lifestyle change, and that takes a lot of work," says Dr. George L. Blackburn, professor of nutrition at Harvard Medical School and director of the Center for Nutrition Medicine at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center.

Many major medical centers throughout the country offer intensive lifestyle coaching. For example, a program at Harvard-affiliated Massachusetts General Hospital, known as Healthy Habits for Life, costs $550 and includes 12 group support and education sessions, a customized eating plan, and two visits with a personal trainer. Some programs also include counseling by telephone, email, or text message.

Lifestyle changes and tips that can help with weight loss include:

Plan ahead. Pick one day a week to devote to planning, shopping, and prepping the coming week's meals and snacks.

Go for convenience. Take advantage of low-calorie frozen dinners and supermarket salad bars.

Pay attention to portion size. Measure common foods like cereal, peanut butter, and salad dressing to avoid eating more than a serving. Using smaller plates, bowls, and even utensils also helps people eat less.

Exercise in 10-minute bursts. Bursts of moderate activity—brisk walking, biking, or even just marching in place or doing jumping jacks—for 10 minutes, three times a day, is just as effective as exercising once a day for 30 minutes.

Keep a food diary. Smartphone apps can make this task easier. Look for a user-friendly one that has a large database of foods.

Track daily activity. Pedometers and digital fitness monitors—whether worn as wristbands, clipped onto clothing, or slipped into a pocket—can help. Basic ones measure steps and calories, while others capture heart rate, skin temperature, and sleep patterns.

Step on the scale. Regular weight checks, done daily or weekly, aid weight loss.

Read the full-length article: "Do you need weight loss coaching?"

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