We’ve all been there – the New Year’s resolutions is to lose weight and adapt a healthier lifestyle. Each year we tell ourselves “this is the year I’ll do it.” The health clubs are jammed with others making the same resolution. You see all your friends and co-workers. Everybody is talking about the latest diet to lose the pounds quickly. They are all basically the same – eat less and exercise more – burn those calories. Like most things in life, there is a lot more to it!

Most people will start with some success. They’ll lose a few pounds and feel a bit better. If they are lucky, someone will even notice! They have cut back on alcohol consumption, ate salads at lunch, skipped a meal here and there, swore off desserts, and worked out hard at the gym. But soon comes the dreaded “plateau” and the pounds are no longer flying off. This is happening for a variety of reasons which I’ll discuss later.

However, along with the plateau comes discouragement. And these thoughts creep in, “I’m working so hard and nothing is happening. I deserve some of those foods I used to love” and the old habits start to creep back in. You have a beer or wine, cheat a little bit at lunch, have a dessert, skip a workout, and before you know it, all the weight you worked so hard to lose is back on and perhaps a few more bonus pounds. Unfortunately you are not alone. This is how over 95% of all diets end. However, there is another outcome. If you read on you’ll learn how you can get lasting results.

Here’s the secret. There is no such thing as a “diet” – there is only a “way of eating.” By that I mean how you eat needs to be sustainable. It needs to be your norm, not the exception that you do every now and then to lose the pounds that your previous splurge put on. Here’s what to do. First and foremost, eat nutrient dense foods. We are told the equation is simple – eat fewer calories and exercise more and we will lose weight.

Truth be told, the formula is much more complex – all calories are not created equal. A calorie is a potential for energy. How and when your body uses that calorie can yield completely different outcomes. I can guarantee you that 75 calories from a hard-boiled egg and 75 calories from a glazed donut will behave completely different in your body. Look back at previous columns I’ve written or go to my blog for a refresher on these healthy foods.

Second, it is not only about weight, but also size! We need to measure body fat, not just weight. I’ve written in the past about the importance of protein. It is protein that builds muscle. Muscle burns fat and weighs more than fat. If we are working out too hard and not providing our body with enough nutrients, in order to keep up with the exercise our body will actually break down muscle. In a surprising number of people, a high percentage of their weight loss is coming from muscle loss disproportionate to fat loss. I always get a chuckle when a client is upset because they have not lost any weight, but they are down two dress sizes!

Third, exercise wisely. Improper exercise will raise cortisol levels. This puts sugar in the blood stream, and promotes fat storage which increases the likelihood of insulin resistance; and lowers DHEA (an anti-aging, libido stimulating, and fat burning hormone). Insulin resistance blocks the burning of fat, causes fat storage around the abdomen, and causes inflammation.

Fourth, be aware of hormone imbalances. Imbalances of estrogen and progesterone in women promote fat storing. Low DHEA and testosterone in men and women reduce the ability to burn fat and build muscle. High estrogen in men promotes fat storage. High progesterone in women promotes insulin resistance. With low thyroid function (hypothyroidism) muscle building is slowed, metabolism is slowed, sex hormones are not produced sufficiently and are out of balance, and general low energy and fatigue is experienced. How do our hormones get out of balance? Too much stress and poor food choices are the major culprits.

The best program for long term health and vitality will be one that addresses your individual needs. Working with a qualified nutrition consultant you can determine what foods you need to add to your diet, what exercise is right for you, and whether or not your hormones are in balance. As these areas are brought back into balance your metabolism will improve, enabling you to lose weight in a healthy manner. It may take some time to get the body back on track. The body has built-in healing mechanisms and with proper nutrition and healthy behaviors the body will heal. As the body heals you will lose fat and weight.

Bernard Rosen, PhD is a Nutrition Consultant and Educator. He works with individuals, groups, and at corporations to create individualized nutrition and wellness programs. His office is in Mequon, WI. To learn more or to schedule an appointment, e-mail at bernie@brwellness.com, call (262) 389-9907 or go to www.brwellness.com.