As you finish off the last of the Christmas cookies with an eggnog chaser, you promise yourself that this year things will be different. This is the year you're really going to lose weight, Scout's honor. But a promise without a plan will probably end the same way it did last year: New Year's resolution, abandoned. So how can you make this year different so you can achieve your weight-loss goals? We talked to Dr. Mehmet Oz about setting realistic goals, as well as his tips on the nine things you should do—in addition to cutting calories—if you want to lose weight.
The trap of unrealistic goals
It's not the resolutions you set, it's how you set them. If you aren't specific (and reasonable), you're not giving yourself a real chance to get to where you want to go. "Vague goals are the biggest problem," Dr. Oz says. Instead of saying 'I want to lose a lot of weight and be sexy,' ask yourself how much weight you want to lose and by when?
Next, Dr. Oz says, prepare for a small-but-steady rate of loss. While you may lose five or more pounds in the first two weeks of any healthy eating program, "after that it's a pound a week," he says. "Any more than that isn't rational." If you lose weight too quickly, you're probably losing muscle mass and you'll be likely to put that weight back on.
Weight loss is a head-to-toe process—it isn't simply about cutting calories. Passing on a donut, says Dr. Oz, is only a part of the equation. "When you create a holistic approach to losing weight it makes it easy to do the right thing."
For instance, you've got to get enough sleep every night to set yourself up for daytime success. "If you don't get your full sleep dose, you crave carbohydrates. So when you wake up, you're going to crave sugar for the rest of the day. If you want to make the right decisions about the food you're putting in your mouth, get the sleep you need and it becomes easier."
What to eat (and two things you shouldn't)
So do you have to give up your favorite foods? No. As a matter of fact, Dr. Oz says, you shouldn't. "Whatever foods you love the most in your life, you have to include them in your diet." He suggests eating your favorite cheat food the way he eats his: "I love dark chocolate. So I take a little wedge (a mouth full) and I enjoy it," he says. Then he drinks a glass of water to rinse away the taste. If he craves another piece of chocolate, he does the same thing all over again, but each bite is usually less satisfying than the last. As result, the drive to eat more subsides.
Besides enjoying the occasional treat, Dr. Oz says, "Find the foods you love that happen to be healthy and make them the backbone of your program." (He likes nuts, but not red peppers).
But the two foods you need to stop eating right now are French fries and potato chips. "They are the number one and number two causes of weight gain in America," according to Dr. Oz. "French fries cause 3 pounds of weight gain, independent of anything else, a year." Potato chips are a close runner up, packing on about 2 pounds a year. The saturated fat and salt make an addictive combo "that you cannot get ahead of," he says.
Dr. Oz's favorite alternatives:
- Popcorn sprinkled with brewer's yeast, a little butter or other oils. "It's a big snack in the Oz family."
- Baked sweet potato fries or regular baked potato fries
- Kale chips
Tracking your progress
You should start to see noticeable changes in about six weeks. But aiming for a particular number on the scale may not be the best way to track your progress, Dr. Oz says. "The best goals are the ones that affect the way your body is shaped, not how much you weigh. If you work out you build muscle mass and that weighs more than fat." Charting your dress/pant size is a better way to gauge your success. Your waist size is another. "The formula is pretty clear: You want your waist circumference to be less than half your height at all times."
If your weight loss hits a plateau, don't freak out. Dr. Oz suggests mixing up your diet to stimulate your hormones. "We call it 'shredding weight,'" he says. "Introduce simple carbohydrates every other day or every third day to stimulate your thyroid." Add smart variations to your diet and look for the real signs of hunger, which are felt in your mouth, not your belly.
Dr. Oz's 9-Step Plan for Weight Loss
1. Don’t hit the snooze button: Every time you snooze, you disrupt your hormones and natural cycles through the different stages of sleep. This can make you feel groggy and tired in the morning. So set your alarm to your exact wake-up time and never interrupt your sleep with snoozing—go to sleep earlier instead!
2. Breathe and stretch for 5 minutes: When you get out of bed, reach down and touch your toes, relax your hips, and let your head loose. Close your eyes and focus on your breathing for 5 minutes. This stress busting combo can lower your risk of heart attack, alleviate stress, improve circulation, and add years to your life.
3. Have eggs for breakfast: Research has shown that having protein for breakfast can make you consume fewer calories throughout the day. So have some eggs in the morning to kick start your day. Eat the yolk too as it can reduce inflammation in the brain, which has been linked to Alzheimer’s.
4. Use smart phone health apps: Use the apps on your phone to count calories, access healthy recipes, and track your fitness progress. Download what best fits your lifestyle to help you keep on track.
*Dr. Oz recommends Meal Snap, Breathe2Relax and Clipix.
5. Try black garlic: Garlic can boost your immunity and reduce your blood pressure, and according to a recent study, it can help with weight control as well. Try black garlic as it has twice the antioxidants in normal garlic and doesn’t give you a stinky breath.
6. Fill half of your plate with vegetables at every meal: Vegetables are nutrition powerhouses that can also keep you full for longer. So fill your plate with colorful veggies to lower your blood pressure, keep your blood sugar in check, and reduce your risk of heart disease and cancer.
7. Get 15 minutes of sunlight without sunscreen: Your body uses natural sunlight to convert the vitamin D in your body to its active form, vitamin D3, which helps you build healthy bones and a strong immune system. Get 10-15 minutes of sunlight a day before applying your SPF to reap the health benefits.
8. Call a friend: Social support can do wonders for your health. So when stressed out, call up a friend—sharing your worries with a person you trust releases oxytocin in your body, a chemical that helps combat stress hormones and lower your blood pressure. Remember, a little help can go a long way.
*Dr. Oz says that physical contact also releases oxytocin. Cuddle with your partner, hug your kids or play with your pets.
9. Get moving—but you don’t have to go crazy. A recent study found that moderate exercise may be more beneficial for weight loss than strenuous work out sessions. Aim to get your heart rate up for 30 minutes about 5 times a week with exercises like jogging, cycling, or brisk walking, as opposed to hour-long sessions that leave you feeling fatigued and ravenous.
*30 minutes a day of exercise actually reduces your appetite, but an hour or more will increase it.
A version of this story originally appeared on iVillage.