The latest research is clear: There is no such thing as a one-size-fits-all approach to weight loss. Who you are is the greatest variable if you’re trying to shed pounds, and there are innumerable factors that will make it easier or harder for you — poor diet, lack of exercise, genetics, medications and other lifestyle and environmental factors can all play a role.
Specific physiological circumstances, however, inflate the importance of certain approaches to weight loss. For that reason, focusing your efforts on what will give you the most bang for your buck is key. As with most things, once you get some traction and the pounds begin to fall off, taking on additional strategies can lead to additional weight loss. Here’s a quick guide on weight-loss strategies to fit some common life challenges — perhaps at least one of these applies to you.
The Challenge: People gain weight for different reasons as they age. Chief among them is a decline in physical activity. When you move less, a greater number of calories get stored in the body as fat, instead of getting converted into energy to fuel activity. What’s more, we naturally lose muscle mass as we age — upwards of 3-5% after age 30 if you’re inactive — which, in turn, leads to a slower metabolism.
The Solution: Strength training can help put the brakes on the loss of muscle mass, as well as build new muscle. Since muscle cells are far more metabolically active than fat cells, they burn more calories. As you increase your muscle mass, you also boost your metabolism.
Be sure to warm up before training, and start slow to build strength without injuring yourself. Begin with two sessions a week of 10 reps of 8–10 different exercises for the upper and lower body and the core. Utilize your own body weight for things like pushups and pullups and 5- to 10-pound dumbbells for other exercises. You should feel like you can’t do more than an extra rep or two at the end of each exercise — if you can, it’s time to increase the weight.
The Challenge: Shedding baby weight when you’re sleep-deprived and overwhelmed by a newborn is perhaps one of the biggest challenges of new motherhood. Recommendations for weight gain among women who are of average weight hovers between 25–35 pounds, but many gain more. While most lose around 10–15 pounds in the first week after delivery, the rest can be slow to go.
The Solution: Good nutrition and a healthy amount of physical activity (once you’re recovered) is important for new moms for a number of reasons, especially if you’re breast-feeding. In the beginning, light aerobic activity is a great way to boost your mood and begin the process of shedding that extra weight you gained (make sure you have the go-ahead from your doctor). What’s more, you can bring baby along, so it doubles as a bonding activity. When you have the go-ahead from your doctor, start with 1–2 miles of stroller walks. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that just 30 minutes of walking at 4.5 miles per hour burns around 230 calories for a 154-pound person.
The Challenge: People with a lower basal metabolism can eat the exact same diet but burn fewer calories than someone with a normal metabolism. Worse yet, the fatigue that comes along with a slow metabolism makes exercise the last thing you want to do.
The Solution: If you suspect you may have a below-average metabolism, getting your thyroid checked is essential. For those diagnosed with hypothyroidism, the proper combination of medications can make a big difference in assisting with increased activity and weight loss. As far as the best exercise regimen, while it may be hard at first, research suggests that high-intensity interval training has the potential to boost metabolism. This type of workout involves short bouts of all-out effort followed by periods of rest. The American College of Sports Medicine suggests doing 3–5 bouts of 30-second sprints followed by 4–4.5-minutes of rest in between each 3 times per week (be sure to include a warmup and cooldown).
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The Challenge: Hypoglycemia (aka low blood sugar) can cause weakness, headaches and fatigue. These things make it especially tough to be physically active, which often contributes to weight gain and the inability to shed extra pounds. Fortunately, the same dietary changes that can make a big difference in terms of regulating blood sugar also contribute to weight loss.
The Solution: Staying away from too much sugar and fat will help regulate your blood sugar levels, while simultaneously forcing you to cut out some of the highest-calorie junk foods. Work on taking in more low-glycemic index complex carbohydrates, foods high in soluble fiber and healthy protein, like steel-cut oats, whole-grain pasta, nuts, fish, apples and eggplant.
The Challenge: Not only do you not burn calories as efficiently as you once did, your metabolism also slows with age. This means many people pack on the pounds once they hit middle age, even those who have previously never struggled with weight.
The Solution: Research published in the Journal of American Medical Association found that middle-age women had to log an average of 60 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise to maintain weight over the long haul. While this is twice the typical prescription of 30 minutes a day, other research supports the importance of aerobic training for middle-age adults for weight loss and overall health. This could include walking, jogging, swimming, cycling and time spent on the elliptical.
The Challenge: When hormones like cortisol, testosterone and leptin aren’t functioning the way they should, everything from your appetite to your energy levels can be affected. This can make it feel impossible to slim down.
The Solution: While experts are still working on how to address this issue, lifestyle and dietary changes go a long way toward balancing your hormones, which can boost energy and help control cravings. Start by logging your nutritional intake in the MyFitnessPal app to determine if you’re getting the right balance of nutrients. Make nutritional adjustments depending on your particular situation, which can help pinpoint the root of the problem.
Sleep is another aspect of your daily life that requires your attention. Research shows that when you don’t get enough of it, you crave more high-fat and high-carbohydrate foods. Getting an adequate amount of rest will help balance out the levels of leptin in your blood to curb those cravings.