One of the things that brings people to gyms, exercise studios, bike paths, and personal trainers is the desire to reach or maintain healthy body weight. Overweight at a level that has health consequences is common. Worry about weight pervades our culture. It would be hard to get through a day without seeing at least one magazine cover about weight loss, or hear at least one ad about it. For many thinking about their weight is as integral to their day as brushing their teeth. But because weight is such a difficult thing to control (for all sorts of evolutionary, biological, and societal reasons) there is an awful lot of input and advice on how to make it happen. I am not qualified to give a plan for weight loss. But I would like to suggest a few things I think are helpful in terms of deciding where to go to get help, guidance, and information when one is ready to take on the process.
I think it is important to decide how much information and or help you want, and what kind of help you need.
Mutual support within one's circle is the base of the pyramid: Friends going grocery shopping together, supporting each other in trying to avoid buying junk food, friends swapping recipes on Facebook, friends going to the gym together. Maybe one has worked out for years, and the other just starting. This kind of relationship can be really helpful. It is the base of the journey to behavior change. If one spends time with friends who smoke, or drink and drive, or live on twinkies and chips, it is harder to avoid those things oneself. Conversely, finding walking buddies, and recipe buddies, and yoga buddies, and dog walking buddies, and buddies just to talk with when the white noise of the day gets to be too much, make a world of difference.
However, remember that your friend has been in the gym working on their own body. Perhaps they are taller. Well, the type of equipment they have used will reflect their body type. They might love a piece of equipment that might put pressure on a shoulder tendon for you. And if your family has a history of anemia, or gluten intolerance, and your friend does not, some of their diet might not work for you. So although mutuality is the base it needs to be strengthened with knowledge.
It is important to keep up with current science, though sometimes difficult with the sheer number of published studies, and opinion pieces, and most especially people with a motive to sell something masking advertising as science. Most of us can remember a study coming out and people rushing to take something, or avoid something, and then backtracking when another study comes out saying the opposite. That some science is not well performed does not imply that science does not work, but that the particular study was amiss. It is better not to restock your kitchen until the result has been replicated in other studies. Given that it is hard to read and understand technical articles if you are not in that field, and given that plenty of people will try to make things appear a certain way to get you to buy their products (like the word “natural” on food labels that is not regulated, and thus has no real meaning), having someone to help get to the truth is helpful.
You may have a friend who is really knowledgeable, but it can be extremely helpful to go to a professional for some guidance. But what sort of professional? After all, if you went to your chiropractor and they cheerfully told you you needed achilles tendon surgery, and they had just taken a two week online training in foot surgery, and would be glad to take care of it for you..... well, I think most of us would choose to find a trained foot surgeon. And that friend in the gym is great, but having a session with a certified athletic or 'personal' trainer, will provide you with someone who learned how exercise affects people with lots of health histories and goals. Professional training in a field is important, and respecting the scope of practice within that field also matters. And remember: if you go to someone for a diet or fitness plan that includes expensive supplements that the person will sell you directly you at least need to ask whether the money they make from selling these products drives their interest in selling them.
There will be many types of professionals that will be interested in helping you with food choices. Your physician is a good place to start. They can provide baseline testing, such as blood work, and give you a go ahead for exercise or diet, and often provide referrals. Most physicians though do not have the time or training to do meticulous diet plans. Where you go from there, I think, can vary.
One option is to find someone to provide support, general information on fitness or nutrition, suggestions for further reading, and a network of referrals in other fields. One professional who can help you here is a personal trainer. If they have a nationally recognized certification and/or a degree in fitness they will have training in the connection between food intake and exercise and metabolism, and the mechanics of personal change and habit, and so on. Quite a number of trainers do additional training and certifications on diet and weight loss. This can be helpful. A life coach can also be helpful, either as a source of good recommendations or referrals, (though keep in mind life coach is a broad category, and is not always well regulated. Personal charisma can be very motivating, but make sure they also have knowledge. Just remember that there is a difference between a weight management certificate, which may only take a couple of weeks (or days) to get, and a certified nutritionist or dietitian. There are dozens of weight loss certifications. Some are very thorough, and some are worth maybe the paper on which they are printed.
As far as yoga and weight loss goes, I am inclined to agree with William Broad's contention that research does not show that even the very athletic forms of yoga have a strong calorie burning effect. (and that is the basic, after all. Weight gain comes down to: if more comes in than is spent it gets stored. There is a lot about this that is complex, but the basic principle is simple). However, yoga broadly speaking in promoting self acceptance, self control, self regulation, stress reduction, and mind body connection helps forge inner mechanisms that help promote healthier eating along with other healthy lifestyle choices. A great number of yogis (not just people who do some yoga, but people who live yoga) are vegetarian. And that is associated with physical health also.
Mental health is definitely a part of weight loss strategy. Stress, anxiety, depression,.... things like this can affect one's food intake greatly. Yoga, meditation, tai chi, and things like that are great, but just as you may do well with a personal trainer with a certificate in lifestyle management giving general guidance, or you may want a dietitian giving specific diet plans, you may find it extraordinarily helpful to hook into a support group, or work with a therapist.
If what you want is actual meal plans, and analysis of nutritional intake then you want a nutritionist, or a dietitian. And how do you find one? Physical therapists, personal trainers, physicians: lots of people with whom you may already have ties of trust within the allied health field will know of people they can recommend.
So where does this leave us?
Create a base of friends for walking, shopping, cooking, and other forms of mutual support. Join a group if that works for you. Read widely, with particular attention to current research, but don't base your actions on any one study or book. Have a physical if you have not done so in some time. Start with one professional you trust and get some referrals and recommendations. See a trainer, if not regularly, at least once to start you on an exercise program based on your needs and goals. (exercise and attention to food are both important in this process). See a nutritionist, if not regularly, at least once to give you a good base of knowledge. Include some mind body work in your daily routine. Use a life coach if it appeals to you. Seeing a massage therapist is wonderful. If there are interpersonal, or emotional issues affecting you work with a therapist. Avoid quick fixes, promises of magical transformations without any work on your part, especially if they involve you buying lots of stuff.
And finally, ask yourself, “Am I really ready to do this?” Because you being present in this endeavor is the final, absolutely vital part of the journey.