America did not become the most obese nation in the world overnight. And the damage won’t be undone quickly either, but while there may be larger cultural and economic factors that led us here as a nation, the road back to health is made of many personal journeys, filled with small changes individuals will need to make each and every day.
In 12 seasons as the nutritionist for The Biggest Loser I’ve had the opportunity to play a part in some remarkable transformations, and while not everyone faces the extreme challenges the Biggest Loser contestants do, the mistakes they make are the same that many of us fall into.
When I’m asked, as I often am, “What can I do to help me lose weight and/or improve my health?” I definitely make my recommendations based on a list of common denominators that have helped overweight contestants win a place on The Biggest Loser. As the nutritionist for show since its start, I’ve identified the key factors that have led America to earn its top ranking among obese nations of the world.
I found that most of our contestants:
- Had absolutely no idea how many calories their body really needs (and how many more they are actually taking in)
- Skipped breakfast and often, many other meals
- Didn’t eat enough fruit or vegetables
- Didn’t eat enough protein (lean protein)
- Didn’t eat enough whole grains
- Ate too much white stuff: white flour; white pasta, white sugar, white rice, simple carbs
- Didn’t feel they had time to plan ahead — they found themselves grabbing something quick for a meal — often consumed in the car or at their desks.
- Often had enough calories in beverages alone to meet their daily caloric needs — but didn’t drink enough water
- Didn’t exercise enough (if at all)
- Prioritized their spouse, partner, children and/or their jobs over their own health and well-being
These ten factors helped me to co-write the the Biggest Loser eating plan, the same plan I’ve shared with contestants (and my own clients) since the show premiered in 2004.
I can tell you now that the BL weight loss plan is based on the following basic recommendations:
- Learn your body’s calorie needs — you must burn off more calories than you are taking in
- Don’t skip meals; you must develop a regular eating schedule of 3 meals and 2 or 3 snacks per day.
- Eat plenty fruit and vegetables
- Eat plenty of lean protein
- Eliminate white stuff; white flour; white pasta, white sugar, white rice, simple carbs
- Choose whole grains
- Plan everything ahead: your meals, your snacks and your exercise. As Jillian has said, if you don’t plan ahead, you plan to fail
- EAT (don’t drink) your calories — with the exception of milk
- Include exercise as part of your weight loss plan
- Prioritize your health and well-being; if you don’t have your health, you can’t take care of your loved ones
And even on the show, it’s not just the biggest losers who win.
Some of you may remember Jerry from season 6 of the Biggest Loser. Jerry may have been voted off in week 3 of that season, but he was on the Ranch long enough to know exactly how to keep the scale moving downward at home by following these guidelines. Since that season Jerry has lost 70 pounds to date (!), so you know these recommendations work!
Jerry’s calorie budget was determined to be about 2,000 calories. The way for him to divide those calories up throughout the day is to divide 2,000 by 4 = 500 calories.
Breakfast = 500 calories
Lunch = 500 calories
Dinner = 500 calories
2 snacks = 500 calories /2 = 250
He can choose to have his two 250 calorie snacks in the morning, afternoon or evening — whatever works best for his schedule and his energy level.
This is just one example of how, over time, the choices we make every day add up. Jerry’s choices are adding up to weight loss, other choices could add up to the needle on the scale going the other direction.
This article originally appeared at The Huffington Post.