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Weight-Loss Action Plan

In the September 2007 issue of Body+Soul, one writer chronicles her weeklong experience at the Kripalu Integrative Weight Loss program in Stockbridge, Massachusetts. Her most important lesson? Losing weight isn't about finding a diet that works -- it's about creating a life that works.

Kripalu's program tailors plans to participants -- but anyone can use their core nutrition, exercise, and relaxation principles for lasting, healthy change. Here they are:




Prepare
Lasting weight loss isn't just about the body, Kripalu's experts say. You've got to get your mind on board, too, and take an honest look at your life. The following exercises will help.

Start with Intention
Journal about your deepest wishes and hopes for where you will be in three months, six months, and a year. Don't think in terms of scales or sizes, says Aruni Nan Futuronsky, senior life coach at Kripalu. For example, maybe you see yourself taking long hikes or planting a garden. Maybe you see yourself simply full of energy and joyful.

Determine Where Your Energy Goes
Before you shift your habits, draw a pie chart that shows how you've spent your time in the last six months. How much of the pie goes to work, your family, your friends, yourself? How might you reallocate your energy to make room for changes?

Think Positive and Start Small
Base your changes on self-love, not deprivation. For example, instead of resolving not to eat ice cream at night, sign yourself up for an evening Pilates class. And keep in mind that for many people, "details ground us in success," says Futuronsky. Rather than saying, "I'm going to get in shape," think about how, when, where, and with whom you'll exercise.



Choose Wisely
Eating a whole-foods, plant-based diet sets you up for healthy weight loss, says John Bagnulo, Ph.D., Kripalu's fitness manager and nutrition instructor. High concentrations of the essential amino acids found in animal proteins, particularly red meat and dairy, slow the body's metabolism, says Bagnulo. "There's room for small amounts of animal protein," he says, but aim to make 75 percent of your diet plant-based.

Think Fresh
Load up on veggies and fruit in the produce aisle or at a local farmers' market. Make veggies and whole grains -- barley, quinoa, brown rice -- the centerpiece of your meal. That said, don't force yourself to eat things you don't like. If you hate broccoli, for instance, try new recipes with a vegetable that you love -- perhaps Swiss chard? Snow peas? Eggplant?

Find Healthy Replacements
If you're hooked on pasta or white rice, start by substituting a whole grain a few times a week. If meat usually takes center stage at mealtime, experiment with vegetable proteins like beans and legumes (curried red lentils, for instance, cannellini beans with escarole, or black bean soup). "Beans are a great weight loss food," says Bagnulo.




Eat Right
Managing your blood sugar helps reduce cravings and binge eating and keeps insulin levels low and steady. "When insulin levels are high, your body will store more of the food that you've eaten as fat," says Bagnulo. "Keeping your insulin levels lower allows your body to use your fat stores as fuel for your energy needs."

Go Easy on Sweets
Minimize consumption of added sweeteners, such as sugar, fructose, honey, and especially high-fructose corn syrup.

Eat a Hearty Breakfast
Try to eat at least 25 percent of your calories at your morning meal, says Bagnulo. And choose low-glycemic foods (those that won't spike your blood sugar), like whole-grain oatmeal and blackberries or poached eggs with a slice of whole rye bread. "Studies show that when people have a low-glycemic breakfast, they're not as likely to binge on the wrong foods later in the day," says Bagnulo. They're also more likely to choose whole foods for the rest of their meals.

Avoid Flour-Based Foods at Dinner
Flour puts glucose in the bloodstream, so eat flour-based foods like breads or pastas only when you're more active and will burn it off-after breakfast or lunch. At night, even a couple of slices of bread can "counteract the weight loss you're after," explains Bagnulo. Don't mix fats and simple carbs. "Fats consumed with insulin-raising foods are more likely to be stored as fat," says Bagnulo. When eating avocado or olive oil, for instance, choose whole-grain breads and brown rice over refined carbs. When eating beef or lamb, Bagnulo advises avoiding flour-based foods, choosing whole grains or beans instead.

Rethink What You Eat When -- and How Much
Undereating, especially at midday, can backfire, says Bagnulo. "I'm not a big fan of having just a salad at lunch," he says. A plate of lettuce may make you feel full temporarily because "you've eaten a lot of bulk," he says, but you'll crave those calories later. At lunch, toss tuna and avocado with olive oil and lemon juice and pile it on a slice of whole-grain bread. It's fine to include salads with your meal, but save main-course salads for dinner. As for portion control, Kripalu takes a novel approach. With a whole-foods diet -- vegetables, whole grains, healthy protein -- "you have the freedom to eat until you're full," says Bagnulo. On the other hand, flour-based products like pasta and bread or refined foods like white rice require more attention. These foods affect your blood sugar, so keep the portions small (half a bagel, a cup of whole-wheat pasta).




Exercise
Prioritizing exercise is essential for weight loss, but that doesn't mean you have to become a gym rat. Kripalu's fitness philosophy is "do what fits into your life," says Jennifer Young, director of Healthy Living programs at Kripalu. "We try to give people things they can do at home." Get your heart rate up. Cardiovascular exercise is critical for weight-loss, says senior fitness trainer Bianca Wallen. Jogging, speed walking, and biking are all good choices since they're "portable." When setting priorities, choose three intense workouts each week over five gentler ones. "If you're walking and having a nice conversation, you probably aren't walking fast enough," says Wallen.

Build Strength
Strength training helps weight loss because it builds muscle (which burns fat), says Young. If you don't go to the gym, keep a set of three-and five-pound weights in an accessible place at home. Need a break from what you're doing? Instead of heading to the fridge, put on one of your favorite songs, grab the weights, and do a few sets of arm exercises. Need a change of scenery? Embrace yard work. Mowing the lawn with a push mower, digging in the garden, and carting mulch around in a wheelbarrow will get your muscles working.

Practice Yoga
Maintaining a regular yoga practice can enhance your weight-loss regimen, says Wallen, primarily by toning muscles and reducing stress. (High levels of stress hormones, such as cortisol, may be linked to abdominal weight gain.) Aim to practice for at least one hour, two times a week. Wallen recommends varying the type of yoga you do, from gentle to more intense styles.



Reconnect
"We can't know if we're full if we aren't connected to our bodies," explains Futuronsky. Breathing exercises and meditations will keep you grounded in your senses and help change habits.

Life-Force Breathing
You can increase your energy and connect to your body by learning to breathe more fully, says Futuronsky. Take 10 minutes a day to practice the following exercise: Lie on your back with your hands on your belly. Relax your abdomen, chest, and face. Let your bones get heavy. Then draw a breath in through your nostrils and feel your belly rise and expand. Next, direct the breath to your ribcage and feel it expand. Then fill the top of the chest with air. As you release the breath, feel the upper chest, then the ribcage, relax and fall. Let the belly release and fall at the end of the exhalation. Squeeze the last bit of air out of your lungs, and then relax and start again.

Conscious Eating
When we disconnect from our bodies during meals, either because we're multitasking or using food to numb our feelings, we tend to overeat and choose foods that provide quick rushes instead of long-lasting nourishment. Find one meal a week to consciously slow down, says Futuronsky. If you can, take the meal in silence. Turn off the TV and radio, and light a candle. Put the food on the table and then take a few minutes to breathe deeply. Notice the smells and colors of the food. Then slowly take your first bite. Take time to appreciate the taste and textures in your mouth. Chew slowly and thoroughly. Set your fork down between bites. Take your time. Listen to the signals your body sends as it moves from hungry to full.

Text by Celina Ottaway; photography by John Dolan

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