Like too many American women, I’ve been on a diet more days of my adult life than not. That’s because — by nature — I’m a self-diagnosed “carbaholic.” I love potato chips, french fries, pretzels, bread, biscuits, croissants, pizza, pasta, cake, cookies, brownies, biscotti, crepes, and … (forgive me; I can go on and on about my favorite foods!). Ahem. Let me correct my last statement: I used to “love” delicious, highly caloric foods, particularly those full of carbohydrates. I’ve learned that I should only love what has the potential to love me back and that, I’m sad to say, is not food.
Most people who know me would dispute the fact that I have a weight issue because I am physically fit. Admittedly I’ve learned to control my weight satisfactorily — although not easily. As a child, I remember my mother walking behind me and telling me to take my hands out of my pockets because my behind was big, or on multiple occasions telling me that I couldn’t wear skirts because they hung under my belly. I loved carbs even then. I started baking delicious goodies (cookies, cakes, breads) when I was seven years old. Being a young cook, preferring to be inside the house instead of outside playing and exercising, and having my father’s slow metabolism all added up to a mild weight problem. Thankfully, I discovered sports (track and cheerleading) and boys (!) in high school which inspired controlling my weight. But then my first year of college brought the “Freshmen Fifteen” [pounds] that stayed and increased until I graduated college. I’ve lost and gained lots of weight over the years, with the last of the major weight-roller-coasters ending after my youngest daughter was born. I made a lifestyle change.
This Real Optimal Living Blog 7 is dedicated to sharing some of my tried-and-true tips for Fighting Fat Over Thirty [years of age, that is]. Keep in mind that I’m no professional dieting expert or nutritionist, but my credibility comes from an extensive “dieting resume,” including weight loss centers (both online and in-person), cleanses, books, all kinds of continuing education seminars on weight loss and fighting fat, plus good ‘ol common sense.
Here are my top 10 sustainable dieting tips:
- Weigh Every Day. Seriously, weigh yourself every day at the same time with the same clothes (or lack thereof) so you prevent any excuses (“My clothes add a few pounds;” “I weigh more because it’s earlier/later in the day than usual). Abandon subjective methods like judging your weight based on how tightly/loosely your pants fit; we all know that jeans stretch! Use the scale as a rudimentary “biofeedback” technique that’s a simple, objective way to monitor your weight.
- Daily Journal. Write down something pertaining to your food and/or weight every day. This recommendation is standard in most weight loss programs and can range from recording every food/beverage you consume, to counting calories, to taking photos of your food/beverages. There are some great apps that help journal your food (and estimated caloric intake). At this point, I only record my daily weight on the family calendar. I’ve given myself a weight range that is satisfactory. If I get beyond this range, I actively diet to get back in my targeted weight zone.
- Dieting? Then Chunk. Break your weight loss goals into smaller, more attainable chunks. Don’t think of it as 20 pounds that you have to lose, but start with 5 and be proud of yourself for losing them. Then try to not to gain any of those 5 pounds back. After you’re able to maintain that initial weight loss, then set a new goal for the next “chunk.”
- Learn a New Food Language. Alter the way you speak to yourself and think about food/beverages. Think about how you think about food. When do you eat? Why? How do you choose the foods you eat? Is it what you feel like you want to eat or what you should eat? If it’s the former, then you need to change the way you think about eating. I used to rely on food as comfort (for joy, sadness, boredom, and frustrated feelings). Now I identify why I’m reaching for the refrigerator door handle (if it doesn’t involve hunger) and try to address the emotion directly. Another habit I had to break was being vigilant about food. For example, when driving, I used to read all the restaurant signs and make a note of their location and specialty. That had to stop because I was preoccupied with food much more than I should’ve been. To help me, I developed a few mantras:
- “Food is not my friend.”
- “It probably won’t taste as good as it looks.”
- “Nothing tastes as good as looking good feels.”
- Which comes first: Diet or Exercise? The diet involves a change in food habits (i.e., calorie reduction) but the exercise increases the amount of calories you burn and helps make you physically fit. I’ve found that unless I first improved my eating habits, the exercise wasn’t very effective in supporting weight loss and body “redesign.” So, if you have to choose only one starting place, start with the way you’ve been eating, although it’s best to diet and exercise.
- Exercise is integral not only to looking good, but most importantly to good health. What good is looking good without being healthy? Both pleasantly plump and naturally thin people need to exercise to be healthy. A large part of my commitment to physical fitness is because of my parents’ deaths in their 50’s and 60’s, which was far too early in my opinion. Regardless of how you feel about exercise, it’s a necessary part of living well. The great news is that there are so many options for exercise that you should try different forms until you discover what you enjoy (or at least what you dislike the least!). I consider myself a cross-trainer (doing cardio classes, resistance training, yoga, pilates, and running) and a gym junkie because I like the social support from bonding with other gym members and instructors, plus the regularity of scheduled classes. I don’t necessarily like the exercise itself but “love” the way my body feels after its finished.
- Mirror, mirror. Take a good look at yourself in a full-length mirror, ideally sans clothing. Don’t hide from yourself. What do you like? What do you want to reshape? You can do it! Within reason, I believe we can have the body we want… or at least a close approximation. It takes effort to be the size/shape we are currently, so why not invest a bit more effort in changing our habits to achieve the body we can be proud of… especially when looking in the mirror.
- Maintain Instead of Gaining. Maintaining your current weight may be a more manageable goal than “losing _X_ amount of weight.” Focusing on not gaining weight in adulthood is important because most adults gain weight slowly over time. If you’re adding on a few pounds each year, eventually you’re probably going to be dissatisfied with your weight. I set a couple of milestone dates each year — one being my birthday — to make sure that I am at my ideal weight (which I don’t forget because its the weight on my driver’s license).
- Here are a bunch of my quick — although not-so-novel — weight management tips:
– When dining at home, use a salad plate instead of a dinner plate (the smaller plate helps encourage smaller portions without looking like you’re denying yourself).
– Eat slower. At home, I like to eat using chopsticks because it forces me to eat slowly.
– When dining out, order what you’d like (within reason) BUT before you taste it, divide your meal in half. Either share it with someone, have it boxed to go, or make it otherwise inaccessible. That way you’ve eaten what you wanted but saved yourself 50% of the calories!
– If you’re an evening kitchen grazer, give yourself a time to stop eating in the evening. My sister likes 6:30 pm. I prefer 7 pm.
– Eat to satisfaction, not fullness. And don’t finish other people’s plates. I find this particularly difficult when cleaning my children’s dishes (I hate to see good food go to waste) or when putting away the food after a night’s dinner (I like to nibble). Tupperware is a big help in these cases, as is having someone else put away the food.
– Purge your house of the empty calorie foods/beverages over which you have little resistance or control. If it’s not in your pantry or refrigerator, you’ll have to travel to get the food you crave. The lack of convenience may be enough to resist your craving.
– Once you’ve purged your pantry, if your family complains that there’s “nothing” to eat in the house, then they probably needed to change their diets too. Find healthy-ish substitutes for the unhealthy foods you no longer stock in your home. You may even want to have a family discussion about new foods.
– Drink water. I strive to drink at least 64 ounces per day. I have a refillable Liter water bottle and make sure I drink two of them per day. After I’ve drunk the two Liters for the day, I allow myself to drink other beverages (usually tea). This is a no-brainer: Try to minimize or avoid high calorie beverages. Calculate the calories you’re about to ingest before you drink.
– Sleep. Get at least seven to eight hours of sleep per night. Yes, it is tough to get eight continuous hours of sleep but it is so very healthy. Years ago my mother believed that the two core anti-aging components were 8 hours or more of sleep and drinking 64 ounces of water per day. The more I age, the more I believe this is true (well, combined with regular physical exercise).
- DIET vs. Lifestyle Change. D-I-E-T is a four-letter word for many reasons. It’s best to try to commit to a Lifestyle Change. It suggests that you aren’t just following a fad, but want to implement sustainable healthy habits to improve your life and maximize the number of healthy years you have. Care for yourself from the inside out. We do only have one body. We should love it and love to be in it.