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When it comes to losing weight, there are a few basics you just can’t get around.

Funny thing is, the weight loss advice that sounds the most reasonable to me came from one of my favourite TV doctors – Doc Martin, the rather peculiar main character of a British show by the same name. An annoying patient (although, to be honest, Doc Martin considers all patients to be annoying) asked him for help to lose weight, and he replied something like, “Eat less, exercise more and stay away from carbohydrates. Now get out!” Nothing I’ve ever read or heard from more serious sources seems at odds with this basic wisdom.

We’ve talked a good deal about health and wellness programs in the workplace, and one thing that seems to come up every time is fitness and weight management. It seems to be at the core of most of the successful programs I’ve seen at the organizations we work with. Now, first of all, I’m not a health care professional, and I can’t give anyone advice about their health; but what I can do is pass along some of the basic wisdom I’ve picked up from working with the kind of programs – mostly in the workplace – that seem to be working for people.

It’s maybe not quite as simple as Doc Martin made it sound but, at a time of year when a lot of our New Year’s resolutions are starting to waver, there do seem to be some fundamentals about weight loss that can help us stick with it.

No magic bullet: Let’s face it, there’s no magic bullet for weight loss. If there was, we’d all know about it, we’d all be at a weight we were happy with, and we would not be talking about weight loss all the time. But the fads just keep coming. Remember the grapefruit diet? Or the oatmeal diet?

Easy does it: Here’s something I’ve read in every serious article on the subject: Don’t expect miracles. If it takes you months, or longer, to lose 10 or 15 pounds, that is actually pretty good. First of all, if you’re losing weight slowly, you’re also not gaining any, and you’ve successfully turned the trend around! And, yes, you’re getting healthier all the time. But most important, if you lose weight slowly like that, you are much, much more likely to keep it off in the long run. The goal here is to gradually reset your appetite, your eating habits and your metabolism, and to get comfortable with some fairly moderate lifestyle changes that allow you to maintain a reasonable weight without worrying about it all the time.

Cut out sugar: Everyone seems to agree that cutting out sugar, as much as possible, is a good idea. Sugar is pure calories, nothing else, it goes straight into your bloodstream, and your body has no choice but to turn it into fat in order to control your blood sugar. (We’ve talked about diabetes before, and those two issues – weight and diabetes – do overlap here.) With other carbohydrates, such as bread and potatoes, which quickly get turned into sugar by the body, there seems to be only slightly less agreement. I’m guessing that a few carbs, like half a baked potato at dinner, or a slice of toast with breakfast, aren’t going to kill you. But we really need to cut down.

Exercise more: Another piece of advice I see repeatedly is that exercise is more likely to work for you if it is something you can work into your lifestyle in the long run. In other words, joining a gym and going for workouts three times a week is great if you like it and you can stick with it. But more modest changes can work, too, and are easier to maintain. Not too long ago, I was talking to a lady who takes the GO train to Union Station in downtown Toronto. She used to then get on the subway up to Queen Street, where she works. Now she walks. It’s a little under 15 minutes, which means that it doesn’t really take her more time, and it gives her 25 or 30 minutes of exercise every day. That’s the kind of small change that can make a big difference in the long run.

Eat less: Not as easy as it sounds. I think it’s more a case of “get in the habit of eating less.” And one thing I keep hearing is that you can make a big difference if you eat nothing in the evening – say, after 7 PM. There may be some scientific explanation of why that works – something to do with metabolism and circadian rhythms – but I suspect it may have a lot to do with the number of “little” high-calorie snacks we munch on every night. A few grapes. Just a couple of crackers and cheese. One little piece of left-over chicken. Handful of chips…

Whatever works for you: Fads notwithstanding, when it comes to weight loss programs, a lot of doctors will tell you, “Whatever works for you.” And that’s probably very good advice. If you like a plan or a diet or a program, and you believe in it, then it’s more likely to work for you. Atkins diet? South Beach Diet? Mediterranean Diet? Ketogenics? This exercise plan? That fitness regime? Hey, I don’t know, and I can’t tell you what will work for you. But my expert friends tell me, whatever you choose – stick with it long enough to give it a chance. Your body – not to mention your brain – both need some time to adjust and get comfortable with the changes. Whatever you do, don’t flip-flop between different approaches.

In the end, I think I’m with Doc Martin on this one. Eat less, exercise more, and cut out the carbs. (But I won’t tell you to get out.)

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