New Ways To Win The
War On Weight
It’s a battle that two-thirds of Americans face—losing excess weight. You might be motivated by an upcoming vacation and the need to wear a swimsuit or a special event like a wedding. But the health reasons to lose weight are even more important and can provide the motivation to make the permanent lifestyle changes necessary.
For both men and women, being overweight or obese increases your risk for many diseases, while losing weight lowers these risks and can make managing many health conditions easier. But you already know that.
There’s as much research on why typical diets don’t work as there is on how beneficial weight loss is. It may be helpful for you to understand why the disconnect between dieting and weight loss exists as a first step to overcoming it.
In a study done in Sweden, women on weight loss diets kept precise journals of their experiences with the goal of uncovering difficulties they had in sticking to a weight loss plan. Researchers found that there were two types of significant barriers—”self struggles” that centered on difficulties in changing food habits, health problems, lack of self-control and insecurity about dieting success and “struggles” that centered on difficulties implementing a diet, both for social reasons like an unsupportive spouse and food-focused reasons such as cravings and the cost of buying healthy food choices. On the positive side, they also found identifiable factors called “facilitators” that lead to success, like having clear goals and getting support for weight loss efforts, especially from family and friends. One problem dieters face is that barriers often outweigh facilitators. If you can find a better balance, you may be more successful.
Weight loss is as much as a state of mind as it is a change in eating habits. To get started, try these three strategies to help begin your diet makeover:
1. Give yourself time to make the change.
Everyday habits are hard to break. You might find that you need to give up a morning snack, cut dinner portions or both (and more). You didn’t gain weight overnight, so you shouldn’t expect to make big changes overnight either.
Since you want to approach weight loss as a permanent way of eating, approach it in increments. For example, maybe your week 1 goal is to cut out sugary drinks and replace them with water, and then on week 2, replace half the grain-based foods on your dinner plate with crunchy vegetables.
Disease prevention or control is a great motivator for losing excess weight. As you lose weight, you’ll literally feel lighter and find it easier to be active—that will also give you motivation. But you might need other forms of encouragement, like fitting into a favorite piece of clothing or feeling more comfortable in swimwear. The more layers of motivation you can commit to paper (or an electronic journal), the better you’ll be able to stick to your plan. And this becomes even more important when it comes to keeping weight off.
3. Set long and short-term goals.
It can be discouraging to think about a very large amount of weight to lose. Regardless of your overall goal, it helps to set small goals that will be milestones along the way. Break it down into 5- or 10-lb mini-goals. Each of these successes adds to your level of motivation to reach the next one. Celebrate each success by rewarding yourself—just make it a non-food treat.
According to experts at the Mayo Clinic, it’s helpful to have “process” and “outcome” goals. Losing 20 pounds is an outcome goal. Process goals, like cutting out packaged foods and cutting back by 500 calories a day, are ways to reach your outcome goal.
The National Institutes of Health also recommend being very specific with your goals—the difference between saying “I’m going to eat less” and “I’m going to cut my dinner portion of chicken from 8 ounces down to 3 ounces.”
Master the mechanics of weight loss. On paper, weight loss comes down to eating fewer calories than you burn off each day. Losing and keeping weight off is tough. It requires a sustained effort, and that means changes in meal planning as well as behavior.
Get healthcare provider guidelines. It makes sense to talk to your healthcare provider before starting a weight loss program. In fact, studies have found that face-to-face counseling from your doctor leads to a greater likelihood of diet success. First, s/he can offer you guidance tailored to any health risks you might have. Then together you can decide on a weight loss goal and what it will take to reach it. Talk about whether an appointment with a registered dietitian makes sense—an RD can offer personalized diet advice that takes into account your lifestyle as well as your food preferences.
Pick a way to track your intake. As we mentioned at the beginning, people who keep track of everything they eat as well as how they feel and the exercise they’re doing, are more likely to take off weight and keep it off. The easiest way to do this is with a journal, written or electronic. There are dozens of diet tracker apps you can get for your smartphone. If you prefer a computer-based program, the USDA’s SuperTracker has many helpful functions. You can set your daily intake limit and then use the site to track everything you eat. It’s connected to the USDA’s Food-a-Pedia listing of the calories in 8,000 foods, so you just type in the foods and quantities of every meal and snack and it tells you how many calories you’ve eaten and shows you when you’ve reached your maximum. It will also let you keep track of daily exercise and your weight loss.
Here is a list of what a journal, written or electronic can help you track:
- Calories. Log everything you eat. Don’t ignore a bite here and there—those calories add up and can get be a reason that you don’t lose weight.
- Portions. Weighing your food is often the only way to know if you’re eating healthy portions sizes. With so many supersized meals available, you might not be aware of what recommended portion sizes look like. Once you get in the habit of using measuring cups and spoons and a small food scale, you’ll begin to know the difference between 3 ounces and 8 ounces of chicken with your eyes. But sticking with measuring tools keeps you honest.
- Nutrients. Nutrition counts when you’re cutting back on calories. Choose the most nutrient-rich foods so that you still get your daily requirements. Read the “Eat Healthy” section on the Self chec website for ideas, but as a general rule, choose foods in their natural state, whole fruits and vegetables and whole grains. Avoid or at least limit all packaged foods.
Determine your calorie starting point. Use the USDA’s Adult Calorie Needs and Body Mass Index Calculator to determine the number of calories needed each day to maintain your current weight.
A short-term “diet” that you “go on” and then “go off” is not the answer to long-term weight management. To create a daily sustainable diet, you want to draw from the five main food groups — grains, fruits, vegetables, dairy and protein. Also, you should do a clean sweep of your pantry and fridge to clear out unhealthy and/or high-calorie, high fat choices. Don’t feel compelled to finish them off—you’ll not only delay weight loss, but could risk more weight gain.
Key Habits of people who have lost weight and kept it off according to the National Weight Control Registry:
Reduce calorie and fat intake.
- Get enough sleep
- Eat regular meals, including breakfast.
- Weigh yourself regularly, from once a day to once a week.
- Don’t let small slips turn into large weight regain.
- Get regular exercise.
Food Shopping Savvy
Shopping for food and preparing your own meals lets you have better control over your new way of eating. Make a shopping list based on a week’s worth of low calorie meals and stick to it.
While it’s important to minimize packaged foods, it’s not always possible to completely avoid them. Whole grains, like oatmeal, barley and couscous and whole-wheat flour, are typically bought packaged. So it’s best if reading labels can become second nature to you—make it the step right BEFORE food gets into your cart.
Food labels can help you make better choices. Most packaged foods have both a “Nutrition Facts” label and an ingredients list. On the Nutrition Facts label, compare the calories per serving/portion to the size of that serving/portion. Are you getting a reasonable portion for the calories? If not, think twice about buying it.
When looking at the percentages of the “daily value” of fats, especially saturated fat and trans fat, and of carbohydrates, especially sugars, keep in mind that these are based on a 2,000 calorie a day diet. If you’re eating just 1,000 calories a day in total, you’re getting twice the amounts listed for every serving of the item that you eat. (Note that the daily values of vitamins, minerals and fiber remain constant for good health, regardless of the number of calories you’re eating.)
When looking at the ingredients list, check for added and often unwanted ingredients like sugars and chemicals. “Code words” for added sugars include sucrose, glucose, high fructose corn syrup, corn syrup, maple syrup and fructose. In general, the fewer ingredients, the better. Expect that “fortified” foods will include added vitamins and minerals on the list.
Eating out is fun, but can present many temptations. If you’re going to a restaurant that’s part of a chain, first go to the chain’s website and look for menu items that have the least amount of calories and fat. At fine dining restaurants, try tactics like ordering an appetizer instead of an entrée, sharing an entrée or taking half home if portion sizes are large. Save calories for food by not having an alcoholic drink. Keep calories in check by not eating bread or, if you do, skipping the starchy side that comes with your dinner—have two veggies instead. It’s not always easy to do at a restaurant, but be aware of when you feel full and then stop eating, regardless of whether you’ve cleaned your plate.
Record what you eat as best you can in your journal if you decide to keep one, estimating portions and calories if needed. Again, having a record will help you make good choices in the future.
Some of the reasons behind weight gain aren’t only a love of food. Many have to do with learned behaviors—eating from stress or boredom or when socializing, not recognizing healthy portion sizes and developing an overeating habit, not exercising and rewarding yourself with food.
You might find it helpful to get support—or at least understanding—from family and friends so they aren’t always pressing you to eat more and can bolster your efforts. Some people find that joining a support group helps—fellow dieters may be more likely to understand what you’re going through and provide a forum for exchanging tips. A support group, especially one that includes a weigh-in, can also offer accountability, a good motivation to help you stick to your plan.
Going hand-in-hand with developing new, healthy lifestyle habits is using them to replace negative ones, like soothing stress or anxiety with food. Stress can push you toward unhealthy behaviors, like eating for comfort and skipping exercise. But you can turn this around: Nutritious food and regular activity may help you ease the stress in your life.
- Get enough quality sleep, usually between 7 and 8 hours per night.
- Practice deep breathing while relaxing your muscles one at a time.
- Add a few breaks to your day and go for short walks.
- Try a new hobby or any activity that sparks your interest and keep your hands busy and your mind off food.
- Surround yourself with people you like, but plan activities that don’t revolve around food.
Studies suggest that the most successful way to keep lost weight off is to continue to consume fewer calories. Think of the approach as still dieting but with a little more leeway to avoid a return to all the habits that put the weight on to begin with. Remember, too, that it’s not just being at a healthy weight that keeps you healthy. It’s about eating in a nutritious way and trying to exercise more. For some details, go to https://selfchec.org/prevention/eat-healthy/ and https://selfchec.org/prevention/exercise/
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