Trying to lose weight? It takes more than just exercise.

Fitness, Nutrition
Jan 8, 2020

St. Joseph’s/Candler dietitian and massage therapist offer tips on diet, sleep and stress that can contribute to your weight loss goals

Did you set a weight loss goal for 2020? If so, it may require a little more than hitting the gym several days a week.

The smart way to lose weight – and maintain it – is to think in terms of whole fitness. There are other factors besides exercise to consider including diet, sleep and stress.

Julia Gammon

“If you are in the gym exercising every day, you might see a little change, but without the proper healthy diet, you’re not going to reach the goals that you want to reach,” says Julia Gammon, RD, LD, education specialist/dietitian with the St. Joseph’s/Candler Wellness Center. “You don’t want to go to the gym and put in that hard work and then backslide when you go home and eat poorly or don’t sleep well.”

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Exercise

Of course exercise is important when it comes to weight loss and maintaining a healthy weight. The general recommendation is 150 minutes of moderate aerobic activity a week, or 30 minutes a day, five days a week.

Aerobic activities can include running, jogging, cycling, swimming or walking, for example. Gammon says to get creative, especially if you do not like going to the gym. Walk the stairs in your office building; even house work and yard work can count as aerobic activity.

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It’s also important to add some resistance or weight training to your workout two or three days a week. The more muscle you have, the more calories you are burning because muscles burn more calories than fat at rest.

Diet

Speaking of calories, diet and exercise go hand in hand when it comes to weight loss, Gammon says. How many calories you should consume a day varies depending on many factors including height and activity level. Most average adults should aim from 1,600 to 2,000 calories a day, Gammon says. A dietitian, like Gammon, can help you determine how many calories you should aim for daily.

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What’s important is to watch how we consume those calories. Are they empty calories – meaning they add no nutritional value to your diet, such as sugary beverages and fatty foods? Be sure your diet includes a large portion of fruits, vegetables and whole grains with lean proteins to provide vitamins, minerals and other fuel for your body to operate.

Gammon also likes to talk to clients about when they eat. In our society, we are accustomed to three meals a day often with the largest meal at dinner. Gammon recommends equally disturbing calories throughout the day with a snack or meal eaten every two to four hours.

“A lot of times if you are not consuming enough energy or calories in the first part of your day, then later in the day you may find you are more hungry and snacking after dinner because your body is making up for it,” Gammon says. “When we eat late and then go to sleep, we are not going to have as long to burn off those calories.”

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Sleep

It may surprise some to know that sleep affects your weight. But think about it. When you don’t get enough sleep – between seven to eight hours a night for adults – you feel fatigued and are less likely to exercise and eat healthy.

Sleep also directly affects the hormones that regulate our appetite. Leptin is the hormone that decreases our appetite. Ghrelin is the hormone that increases it.

“When we are sleeping, our bodies increase the hormone leptin to tell us you have the adequate amount of energy so we can sleep,” Gammon says. “If you stay up late or don’t get enough sleep, that leptin level lowers and the ghrelin increases making you feel hungrier.”

Gammon’s suggestions for a better night’s sleep are give yourself plenty of time between your last meal and bedtime and then have a nightly routine. That routine will serve as a cue to your body that it’s about time to go to sleep. She also advises to stay off phones and electronics right before bedtime to relax our brains.

Stress

There are clinical studies that show a correlation between stress and weight gain, says Matthew Wojciechowski, St. Joseph’s/Candler massage therapist. When we are stressed, the stress hormone cortisol rises. This can have an impact on our blood sugar and insulin response, Wojciechowski says, causing us to crave sugary, fatty foods.

But instead of grabbing that doughnut or cupcake, Wojciechowski offers some other suggestions for stress management. One of the best things you can do is find a physical activity that you enjoy doing and do it on a regular basis.

“Whether it’s sitting on an exercise bike in the gym or walking the stairs, find something physical to do because on a very simple level if you are focused on that physical activity then you are not focused on that stress,” Wojciechowski says.

Wojciechowski also recommends meditation. He offers a meditation class through the Wellness Center. In it, he focuses on practices that help lower the emotional response to stress and staying focused on the now.

“There are things we can do through meditation so that when something stressful does occur, our first reaction isn’t to jump over that desk,” Wojciechowski says. “Instead, it’s to step back and realize this is not good. I need to respond appropriately and make more appropriate choices.”

If you are interested in Wojciechowski’s meditation class, call the Wellness Center at 912-819-8800.

Gammon also offers outpatient nutritional counseling through the Wellness Center. The initial, one-hour long meeting is $68 and then $42 for each 30 minute follow-up. No insurance is required. Make an appointment today by calling 819-8800.

The Wellness Center also offers competitive prices for gym membership that includes numerous fitness classes and health seminars. Personal training also is available. Learn more on our website.