Sustaining weight loss requires mental and physical commitment.
By Paulette Lambert, RD, CDE
If you have ever tried to lose weight, you know it’s not easy. To be successful you need some understanding of your behavior, knowledge of the science of weight loss and calorie intake, and some creative problem-solving skills. Even though it’s difficult, you can achieve sustainable weight loss—not the usual “few pounds lost and more gained back” kind of weight loss, but permanent weight loss that improves your health and well-being.
To be successful at weight loss, you must adopt the following mind-sets.
- Forget About Fads, Pills, And Diet Schemes. Give up the idea that there is a magic bullet out there that will make this happen quickly and easily; it just does not exist or someone would have found it by now! Losing weight is a process that occurs over time and with much work. Although people occasionally have short-term success from a crash diet, more times than not the lose-weight-fast diets fail in the long run. They could actually do more harm than good, putting you in even more peril from new health problems.
- Prioritize Your Health. When you decide that being healthy is one of the most important things in your life, you can lose weight. Your health needs to be the highest priority and requires total focus—but that does not mean ignoring other things such as work and family responsibilities. That said, weight loss needs to be first and foremost in your life. This is where being a creative problem solver comes in.
- Accept The Science. That means accepting the reality of weight loss: to lose weight you must consume less and burn more. Learning what to eat and how much to move is the first step in being successful.
- Engage In Habit Change. Work on changing bad habits into healthy ones, one step at a time. There are no shortcuts here. Science tells us that it takes approximately 66 days of focus and effort to change a habit. It’s important to prioritize what habits need immediate attention to help you lose weight. For example, if you drink two sugar-laden sodas per day, which can cause a 30-pound weight gain in a single year, that should be a priority to change. If you do not eat a good volume of fruit or vegetables, make that a priority. Unless you eat plenty of produce, you will be too hungry and look for carbohydrates and protein to fill you up. If cookies out of the vending machine are a daily afternoon routine, eat an apple instead.If your willpower and control are in limited supply, you can learn techniques that will help you change your habits; for lots of good ideas, check out The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business by Charles Duhigg (Random House, 2012; $16). Focus on habit change, not the actual weight loss. When you change your habits, weight loss will occur. Work on substituting good habits for bad ones, one day at a time.
- Be Honest With Yourself. Instead of saying “I just can’t lose weight,” be truthful about your actions. Are you really doing what you are supposed to do?
- Make Sure You Are Medically Fit. Confirm that there are no physical issues that could hinder your weight-loss efforts. After that ask yourself, How accurate and consistent am I with my food intake and exercise? If you are having trouble keeping track of everything, look for an app to help you monitor intake and output. Also use a kitchen scale and measuring cups to be sure your portion sizes are correct.
- Have Realistic Expectations. We think that if we walk for 30 minutes three times a week, we should be able to eat what we want and still lose weight. For most of us with less than 50 pounds to lose, 2 to 8 pounds per month is a realistic weight-loss goal. We often get discouraged because we buy into the hype of losing large amounts of weight quickly and do not want to accept the truth that it takes time.
Overcoming Poor Eating Habits
If you are trying to lose weight, see if you engage in any of the following bad food habits. Recognizing these pitfalls is important because knowing you have a bad habit is the first step to changing it. If you have any of these bad habits, you are not alone. These common problems plague millions of us!
Eating Large Portions
What it looks like: You eat too much food. The food itself may even be healthy, but it’s just too large a portion, therefore more calories than you need. Overeating is a common problem with protein and carbohydrate foods. An extra cup of pasta can cost you 20 pounds per year in weight gain.
The solution: Weigh and measure the right portion sizes of protein and carbohydrate foods for you for a few days to establish correct visual perception. Adding more vegetables to meals does not add appreciable calories but will help fill you up.
What it looks like: You do not miss a meal, which is a good thing, but you are eating too often. When you snack continuously, even if you choose healthy foods, it adds up to excess calorie intake. You feel you need something in your mouth constantly.
The solution: Adults need to eat every five hours, so for most of us that means three meals and one or two snacks. It’s helpful to assign a time for meals and snacks and then stick to it. If you get an urge to snack at the “wrong” time, find a replacement activity that does not involve eating anything—not even chewing gum because it reinforces the act of eating. Calling a friend, playing a game on your phone, or putting on a coat of clear nail polish are activities that do not reinforce eating and help occupy you for a short time just as the constant snacking did. It is also helpful in the beginning to make yourself wait an extra 15 minutes for your designated snack to get more comfortable with not responding immediately to the urge to eat. After not responding for a period of time, the urge lessens, which means you are on the road to breaking the bad habit of continuous snacking.
Unbalanced Food Group Intake
What it looks like: You have a tendency to consume too much of one food group and do not have the right balance at mealtimes. For example, you will have a large portion of a particular food group, but nothing else, so to be satisfied you need a large amount of that one food. By having the right amounts of protein, carbohydrates, vegetables, and fruit at each meal, you are able to fill up on some of the lower-calorie foods and can get more mileage from a meal that helps you control your appetite. If you eat only carbohydrates at a meal, you will be hungry in a few hours; if you eat only protein, you have to consume a large quantity of a high-calorie food to be satisfied. The more balanced a meal is, the better for appetite control.
The solution: Make sure each meal has protein, healthy carbohydrates (whole grains), and a fruit and/or vegetable. More-balanced meals mean being less hungry over a period of time and more satisfied between meals.
What it looks like: You go long periods of time without food, often eating very little during the day. This increases the appetite so that when you finally do eat, it’s almost impossible not to overeat. A starve/binge pattern results from erratic eating that is associated with getting overly hungry. Feeling and being out of control with food volume is a biological response to not having adequate nutrition throughout the day.
The solution: Make sure your calorie intake is somewhat even throughout the day. Make your breakfast, lunch, afternoon snack, and dinner calories similar in quantity, versus consuming only one-quarter of your caloric needs all day and then consuming the remaining calories in the evening. Also, remember that most of us need only one snack per day. Going for more than five hours without adequate nutrition makes it very difficult to maintain control at your next meal. Plan your meals during the day and have a snack in the late afternoon to help you stay in control in the latter part of the day.
What it looks like: Food has become the way to cope with life’s everyday stresses or particularly difficult situations. The more you use food to calm down, the less you use other coping skills, so over a period of time food becomes the main way you cope. Often emotional eating starts out with a stressful situation you are wrestling with, such as a family illness or difficulty with a new boss, but it can become habitual after a time. You know you are an emotional eater when you feel compelled to eat when you become unhappy or anxious.
The solution: You may be able to break this habit by using the same techniques outlined in the context of eating constantly. If you are going through a difficult situation and are feeling anxiety or depression that drives you to eat, try a different relaxing activity. If you feel you have chronic depression or anxiety that makes you binge frequently for a long period of time, seek professional help. Therapy can be a helpful tool for learning to cope in a healthier way.
Eating Too Many Treats
What it looks like: Your food choices are healthy and your portions check out right for you, but you are consuming too many “treats,” which increases the average daily calorie intake. A couple of glasses of wine nightly or two of scoops of ice cream after dinner is all it takes to have a 30- to 40-pound weight issue.
The solution: Limit your indulgences to 500 to 700 calories per week, saving treats for the weekends or special events. It is helpful to track the “indulgence” calories you are consuming each week. If you crave sugary treats, limit your indulgence to once or twice a week—and not on two consecutive days so as not to overstimulate a “sweet tooth.” Remember, one bite of sweet is generally 50 calories, and those bites need to be included in your calorie intake.
Paulette Lambert, RD, CDE, is director of nutrition for California Health & Longevity Institute, located within Four Seasons Hotel Westlake Village (chli.com). With more than 27 years of private practice after an extensive clinical education, Lambert has wide-ranging experience in clinical nutrition and the development of individualized dietary plans.
Excerpted from The Wellness Kitchen by Paulette Lambert. © Copyright 2015 by Westlake Wellbeing Properties, LLC, and published by F+W Media, Inc. Used by permission of the publisher. All rights reserved. Photos courtesy of Harper Smith Photography, Daydreamer Productions. Cover design by Frank Rivera.