We have survived another big holiday season! Unfortunately, we may find an unfriendly scale when we return the gym. For many the scale can reveal a five- or even 10-pound weight gain. January is a time for many people to restart a diet program, but most diet seekers don’t understand that calorie reduction alone is a recipe for failure—even damaging to the body. Calorie restriction alone can program the body to store more fat even quicker once normal food intake is resumed (possibly due to epigenomic reprogramming).

In order to be successful at achieving and maintaining an optimum body weight, there are many things to consider: exercise, good quality and quantity of sleep, regular elimination, and stress reduction. Equally important are meals that are higher in protein, fiber, and complex carbs; yet low in simple carbs, trans fats and other processed foods. The ideal diet would be about 80% planted based; rich in micronutrients including vitamins, antioxidants, minerals, trace minerals, beneficial pre- and probiotics, and plant and fruit phytochemicals (there are at least two thousand); while not exceeding more than about 500 to 700 calories per meal.

Here is a short list of helpful tips:

• Minimize eating after about 7 pm (ideally, don’t eat at all after then), so when you start a meal between 6 to 8 am, you are truly “breaking a (small) fast.” This is a major way to reset brain leptin receptors which will direct speeding up or slowing down of metabolism.

• Since we all love carbs (and will likely have trouble in this area), take nutrients and amino acids and special types of fiber that will slow absorption of carbs, maintain healthy serotonin levels, and help boost our energy.

• YOU MUST EXERCISE, even if it is just walking—ideally aerobic activity 4 to 5 times per week, resistance training 2 to 3 times per week, with some stretching and/or yoga. Research has shown there is more muscle loss (up to 50%) when using only calorie restriction to reduce weight. Active muscles suck up extra blood sugar, breakdown fat for fuel, and increase metabolism.

• SLEEP at least 7 hours per night. Sleeping less than 6 hours has been shown to increase weight, and begin calcification of your heart arteries.

• Regular ELIMINATION is also essential for lowering toxic burdens and inflammation, which will desensitize insulin receptors and, thus, increase blood sugar and insulin levels—promoting more fat storage. Regular elimination works best with high fiber, good hydration (about half your body weight (pounds) in ounces of water per day—if you weight 150 pounds, that’s 75 ounces of water), and exercise. If you need more help with elimination, supplement with magnesium and other mild laxatives, especially while losing weight so as to minimize reabsorption of toxins from fat breakdown.

• Check for food sensitivities. Food sensitivities alone can cause you to hold 20 or more extra pounds! Generally, stay away from grains like wheat, rice and corn, and switch to seed-type grains like quinoa, amaranth, millet and buckwheat.

• Take 10 to 20 minutes per day to sit still and watch your breath and thoughts. Direct thoughts to more positive aspects of life and have an attitude of gratitude. It will literally balance your autonomic nervous system, and help digestion, elimination and sleep.

The above program could not only get you an ideal body weight, but also reawaken the hidden athlete in you, from your childhood and teenage years.