The start of a new year is great time to focus on improving your health and your diet. For many people, getting healthier involves weight loss efforts. After indulging over the holidays, many people decide to overhaul their diet and start a drastic weight loss plan in January. However, you might want to think twice about starting a restrictive diet this year. While many of these “fad diets” work in the beginning, they often leave people feeling defeated, because these diets are impossible to sustain for the long term without superhuman willpower, unlimited time and energy! What’s worse, people can lose weight too quickly on diets, resulting in muscle loss. Over time this can lower metabolism and lead to regaining even more weight back eventually. Finally, very restrictive diets that call for eliminating entire food groups could potentially lead to nutritional deficiencies, if followed for a long period of time. The good news is you don’t have to spend money on special products and complicated cookbooks, or say goodbye to your favorite foods to lose weight!
A realistic and safe amount of weight loss for most people is 1-2 lbs per week. Each pound of fat stores about 3500 calories, so cutting 500 calories per day will result in a weight loss of about 1 lb per week. You don’t have to follow a drastic diet in order to lose weight. This year, instead of starting a crash diet, try focusing on these seven behavior changes that can add up to big results over time. Following the simple changes below will help you lose weight without feeling deprived and keep extra fat off for good.
Seven Steps to Lose Weight without Dieting
- Don’t drink your calories
Beverages, such as soda, tea, coffee drinks, milkshakes, and even juice are loaded with empty calories from sugar, which quickly lead to weight gain. One 20 oz bottle of soda contains on average 240 calories, and 12 teaspoons of sugar. That’s twice the daily recommended amount of added sugar for one woman, and over one and half times the daily recommended amount for men. Think about dumping 12 teaspoons of sugar on your dinner the next time you reach for a sugary drink! Another culprit to be aware of are alcoholic beverages. While they don’t have as much sugar as soda, they are still loaded with calories that could easily undo all your healthy eating efforts. The quickest way to lose weight is to ditch caloric drinks and replace them with plain old water or unsweetened beverages.
- Fill up on the good stuff
You can still eat your favorite foods and lose weight. Instead of focusing on restricting the “bad” foods, focus on nourishing your body with foods that pack a nutritional punch, including vegetables, fruits, whole grains, legumes, nuts and seeds and lean proteins. To start, eat at least 1-2 cups of non-starchy vegetables, then fill up on lean proteins and healthy carbs such as fruits, beans, potatoes or whole grains. A good rule of thumb is to make half your plate non-starchy vegetables, and to divide the remaining half of your plate evenly between carbs and protein. If most of your meals follow this blueprint, you will be well on your way to a healthier diet!
- Plan treats ahead of time.
Planning what and how much you plan to eat ahead of time can help you not overeat when the time comes to indulge. Instead of trying to follow a Spartan diet with no treats whatsoever, plan treats and splurges ahead of time. For example, you could decide to have a small piece of chocolate every night or a weekly meal out at your favorite restaurant. Planning treats on a daily or weekly basis allows you to incorporate your favorite foods in moderation, and can help stave off cravings, which often derail weight loss efforts.
- Tune into your hunger cues.
The next time you reach for a snack or a treat, ask yourself, “Am I really hungry? Often times, we eat for all sorts of reasons besides physical hunger. We eat when we are bored, tired, sad, happy, stressed, or just because the food is there. One of the most effective ways to lose weight, without feeling deprived, is to learn to recognize physical hunger from other types of needs. Signs of physical hunger include but are not limited to stomach noises, fatigue, lightheadedness or a feeling of having an “empty stomach.” Learn to recognize your own personal hunger cues. If you find yourself reaching for food when you’re not really physically hungry, try figuring out what you really need instead.
- Out of sight, out of mind.
Research has shown that when treats like candy, cookies, chips and other “junk foods” are easily accessible and in plain sight, we are more likely to eat them, regardless of how hungry we are! The best way to avoid overeating tempting foods, is to keep them out of the house, but if that’s not possible, try to keep treats somewhere inconvenient to access, such as a basement or second level closet. For example, hide the junk food in the back of that hard to reach cupboard above the fridge. Making a big batch of cookies? Eat one or two and then freeze the rest for later instead of leaving them on the counter.
- Be a mindful eater
Tune into your food when you eat. Make eating a time to pause, appreciate and enjoy your food, and savor each bite. Eating while distracted by work, or the television or computer can result in eating larger portions but less satisfaction. If possible, try to eat in a distraction free setting. Try putting your fork down between each bite, or eating with your non-dominant hand to help you slow down the next time you eat. Set limits on where and when you eat to help reduce mindless eating between meals. For example, keep snacks away from your desk, and avoid eating in rooms other than the dining room or kitchen at home.
- Track your habits and your progress
Keeping a food journal, tracking your workouts or daily steps, and regular weigh-ins done at the same time of day each week can help you stick with your new habits. Even if you don’t see any changes on the scale right away, you will be able to see all that you have accomplished towards living a healthier lifestyle. Tracking what you eat for a few days can also help you get back on track with your weight loss efforts, if you find yourself slipping back into your old ways.
It can be overwhelming to change your lifestyle all at once. For best results, pick one or two steps to focus on at a time. Once you have those down, move on to the next. Don’t forget to celebrate each healthy choice you make!
If you would like expert advice on personal meal planning and coaching, Digestive Care Specialists offers nutrition counseling services. Schedule an appointment by calling 301-288-1319.