Weightloss by Habit Changing, not Dieting
If you’re like many of my patients, you’re focused on staying healthy this year. For many people, that means losing some of those stubborn extra pounds. So I’ll tell you the same thing I tell my patients –the latest fitness gadget or diet book is not going to magically melt away pounds. If anything, trendy exercise fads and the diet du jour set you up for failure. Unless you have money to burn, don’t fall for the clever marketing, because that’s all it is. Instead, use your head!
That’s not just a figure of speech. Weight loss begins in the brain. This is especially true for anyone who shudders at the thought of broccoli or is reluctant to give up the Standard American Diet (SAD), even though the alternatives, like the Mediterranean Diet, are flavorful and satisfying. In fact, here’s a very good reason to stick with a Mediterranean-style eating plan— a new study in the prestigious Annals of Internal Medicine found that individuals who stayed with the diet during their 50s and early 60s were nearly 50 percent more likely to celebrate their 70th birthday without chronic disease or physical limitations.
The Mediterranean diet focuses on fruits and vegetables, fish, legumes, nuts, whole grains, and healthy fats, like olive or grape seed oil. You can even have a glass of wine two or three times a week. If you’re interested in learning about the Mediterranean diet, there are dozens of books and websites where you can get recipes and meal plans.
Maybe you’re worried about making a major dietary shift. Believe me, I get it. Change can be intimidating, and it’s not easy to give up the instant gratification of fast food or restaurant favorites, even if those foods are loaded with sugar, salt, and fat. So here are a dozen methods that have helped my patients retrain their brains and stay motivated while working on weight loss.
Have an Egg: For breakfast, that is. A recent study found that individuals who ate eggs for breakfast had better weight loss results than those who consumed a bagel first thing in the morning. It’s thought that the protein in eggs prevents hunger later in the day.
If eggs aren’t your favorite food, try adding protein powder to a morning smoothie or to a bowl of oatmeal. Many of my patients find that taking a few bites of protein before turning to the rest of the meal helps send your body a positive, “food’s on the way” message which prevents overeating.
Be NEAT: It’s easier to stay motivated when you’re seeing weight-loss results. And one good way to kick-start a weight loss program is by increasing your non-exercise activity thermogenesis (NEAT). In plain English that means to lose weight, sit less, and move more. There’s no need to sit down while talking on the phone, for example. You can walk through your house and still have a conversation. Similarly, couch potatoes can march in place while watching a favorite television program. If you spend a lot of time sitting at a desk, there are a number of different “treadmill desks” available that allow you to walk while performing normal desk-type functions.
There’s no shortage of science to back up this recommendation. In fact, health authorities now consider excessive sitting to be a serious health hazard, as damaging to your well-being as smoking.
Get Real: Setting a goal of losing 50 pounds in a month is a one-way ticket to failure. As a general rule, losing two to three pounds each week is much more achievable and healthier. These types of realistic goals make a huge difference in weight loss motivation and success.
Another helpful tip: Post your goals and your progress in chart form where you will see them every day. Maybe the ideal spot is on the refrigerator door, the bathroom mirror, or on your computer.
Tracking changes can be rewarding, and it can also show you how various alterations in your plan affect weight loss. You may discover, for instance, that the pounds fly off when you eat five small, low-calorie meals during the day or that they stay put when you take a day off from workouts. A patient I’ll call Jake who was charting his weight-loss progress learned that going off his meal plan to have a couple of beers cost him a week’s worth of weight loss. “I didn’t think it would be such a big deal,” he told me. “But then I realized that alcohol is nothing but empty calories and carbs, so what did I expect?” Jake went on to meet his goal of losing 30 pounds. Now he has an occasional evening beer, but he’s learned to offset those calories by cutting back a bit earlier in the day.
Go Public: Announce your weight loss intentions to family and friends. Ideally, you’ll have their support – who knows, they may even join you! In addition, it’s more difficult to fall off the wagon when others are watching. So go ahead and tell the world what you’re up to. The only things you have to lose are those unwanted pounds.
Celebrate Success: Make a list of favorite non-food treats – for instance, going to a movie, visiting a museum, or buying yourself a gift that you wanted. Link this list to your goals chart, so you receive a reward when you reach significant achievements.
My long-time patient, Gail, found that allowing herself small indulgences – a relaxing bubble bath or a foot massage, for example – at the end of each successful day kept her on track. “Just having something to look forward to at the end of the day was all it took to keep me honest,” she explained. Gail managed to lose more than 70 pounds in less than a year by rewarding her daily achievements.
Think Small: There’s nothing quite like seeing a big plate brimming over with a delicious meal. But calories count and portion sizes do matter. If you’re serious about weight loss, mega-servings are not helpful. You could serve small portions on regular plates, but research has shown that the brain perceives small servings on big plates as deprivation. So here’s how you trick your brain: Downsize your plates and bowls. Use 8” salad plates for meals to make smaller portions look substantial. Your brain will never know the difference.
Avoid Portion Creep: My patient, Joel, shared this technique and many other patients tell me it works. Don’t guess at serving sizes – measure! It’s way too easy to incorrectly guesstimate what one cup of pasta looks like. And before you know it, you’re telling yourself that a little extra isn’t such a big deal, or that you’ll indulge now and make it up tomorrow. Right. We all know that tomorrow never comes. It’s much easier to buy a couple sets of measuring cups and stick with the appropriate serving sizes to stay on track. Joel, by the way, shed more than 40 pounds in less than a year and is now helping other people do the same at his gym.
Be Seated: Make mealtime special, even if you’re dining alone. Put down a nice tablecloth, light a candle, and do whatever you can to make the experience more like eating in a restaurant. Too often, patients tell me that they eat standing over the sink, or have breakfast in the car. These bad habits take the enjoyment out of dining and that means you’re likely to eat more to make up for it.
Instead of rushing through meals, take your time and pay attention to what you’re eating. Being mindful of what you’re doing increases satisfaction, an important factor in staying with an eating plan. So save the television shows, books, and Internet surfing for later and simply enjoy your food.
Start with Supplements: This is one of my favorite weight loss suggestions because it performs triple duties – hydration, nutrition, and satisfaction. Taking supplements, along with 16 ounces of water, before a meal means that you’re not only preventing nutrient gaps, but also you’re getting a healthy amount of water. The end result: You’ll notice that you feel full sooner and are less likely to get hungry before the next meal. That’s an impressive pay-off for a small amount of effort.
Keep it Out of Your House: If it’s not there, you can’t eat it. The secret here is to train your brain to resist supermarket and food manufacturers’ clever marketing ploys. One of the best ways to do that is by writing out a shopping list while you’re at home and after you’ve eaten. Shopping, or even planning what to buy, on an empty stomach makes it easier to fall for marketing nonsense like fake health foods (think “fat free” desserts that are loaded with sugar) and similar products.
Sample Less: The standard advice for anyone hoping to lose weight is not to get so hungry that you make bad choices. But sometimes, hunger happens, no matter how good your intentions. You come home late and hungry. While you’re cooking, you start nibbling. A handful of crackers, a glass of wine, a few bites of cheese — before you know it, you’ve inhaled 500 calories and you haven’t even eaten your meal yet.
Pass the Probiotics: The beneficial bacteria in our intestinal tract are constantly under attack. Poor lifestyle choices, like eating processed foods and drinking alcohol, can take a toll, and so do antibiotics. For several years now, researchers have been studying the link between certain types of intestinal bacteria and obesity. Animal studies have revealed that substituting good bacteria for the bad ones results in weight loss, and early human trials support those findings. Since weight management is very important to good health, I’ll keep you posted on future developments in this area. But for the time being, if you’re interested in losing weight, probiotics could be one of your best friends.
Probiotics are found in most fermented foods, including yogurt, kefir, sauerkraut, buttermilk, kimchi, miso, tempeh, and Roquefort or blue cheeses, but the amounts are likely to be quite small. Furthermore, supermarket yogurt is not a good way to get these nutrients; it contains very little probiotics and is usually loaded with sugar. This is why supplements are the best way to be certain you’re getting plenty of these health promoting organisms. For best results, look for a product containing at least 10 billion living organisms per serving.
One final thought: if you follow all the guidelines and are not getting results, I suggest having a physical with a comprehensive blood panel that includes your HbA1c levels. This test provides a “snapshot” of your average blood glucose (blood sugar) control for the past 2 to 3 months. If it turns out that you are pre-diabetic or diabetic, that could easily be why it is so difficult for you to lose weight. Being diagnosed with either of these conditions should be all the motivation you need to stick to a healthy eating plan.
If you’re interested in losing a few pounds this year, I applaud that decision and hope you follow through. My patients who have lost weight tell me it’s the best thing they have ever done. Even losing as little as 10 pounds can make a huge difference to your overall health. For example, studies have shown that a mere 5 to 10 percent reduction in weight has a significant positive effect on blood sugar. Just remember to take it slow and stay healthy in the process. It’s taken years to put the weight on, so please don’t be disappointed if it seems that the scale just isn’t budging. There are no shortcuts in this process, but plenty of rewards for those who hang in there and realize their goals.