How many times have you gained and lost the same five, ten, or more pounds over and over? If you’re like me, probably enough times to make you weary! A hormonal imbalance that took me a few months to figure out after Christmas not only padded me with the few extra pounds I often put on during the cold months, but with more pounds than I’ve ever actually seen when I’ve stepped on the doctor’s scale – except when I was pregnant. That did not make me happy!
Like many of us, I have struggled to maintain a balanced weight, often fluctuating throughout the year, with my yearly struggles beginning with the autumn holidays and culminating with the spring ones when I finally realize that something has to be done before I have to go out and buy the next size up of clothes.
But I’ve tired of the struggle and determined that this is not a battle I want to continue to fight. If you’re ready to be done with diets, too, won’t you join me in my One-Pound Challenge? I’ve challenged some of my friends to make a commitment to making small changes in their eating habits that will result in losing just one pound a week. This is not about losing the extra weight as quickly as possible so we can return to our usual eating patterns. It is about making small changes, with the smallest amount of discomfort possible, that will ultimately help us keep our weight in a healthy balance.
Each of us needs to know ourselves well enough to determine where our dietary excesses lie, and how best to curb, or compensate for them. For instance, there are foods I simply know to avoid, because I cannot eat them with any modicum of moderation. Oreos are one. If they weren’t so evil, I would be certain God himself had created them on the eighth day. But as they are evil, and completely seductive, they were probably the inspiration of satan … or satan wishes he’d thought of them so he could take the credit! I just avoid them because even one Oreo leads me into a slippery slide of gluttony, and before I know it, an entire row of Oreos has vanished, and I can’t remember eating more than four. Sigh. So, after too many oreo induced sugar comas, I realized I should just stay completely away from them! Similarly, General Foods International flavored instant coffees usually set off a month-long eating spree that results in five pounds I hadn’t planned on, or needed. So I stay away from that as well.
If you would like to join me and commit, not to dieting, but learning to manage your eating in a way that is balanced and that feels satisfying to you while you are able to maintain a healthy weight, I urge you to take a couple steps with me:
1.) Record everything you eat. Research shows that the majority of successful long-term weight loss includes recording food intake as part of the plan. How long should you write it all down? I don’t recommend any less than three weeks, and even then, I would urge you to consider doing it until you are absolutely certain you don’t need to do it anymore. Maybe 3 months, maybe six months or a year. Why? Because it helps you see where small, not very meaningful indiscretions are adding up… to a few pounds a year maybe! It’s easy to slip into a couple extra bites, a couple extra servings without realizing what you are doing. Recording makes it easier to catch! And recording it for an extended period of time helps your new habits become deeply ingrained.
2.) Make small changes. Chances are, small choices here and there have added the extra pounds to your frame. It will be the small changes and choices that, by themselves seem almost insignificant that will change your body and your life! Look over your food record and see where you are getting extra calories that you may be able to skip painlessly. Calorie laden sodas or other drinks may be adding hundreds (or more!) of extra calories to your diet every day. Maybe you are having seconds at meals when really, adding an extra vegetable or fruit to the meal would increase your satisfaction by adding variety, and you could even cut portion sizes while increasing overall satisfaction. Or perhaps you are a nighttime snacker … eating while watching movies or reading a book. That mindless eating can pile pounds on faster than you can say, “Popcorn and Ice Cream!” Eating earlier in the day when you can pay attention to your special treat may mean more to you ultimately, in both food satisfaction (you actually notice the treat instead of just ingesting it), and pounds lost.
I won’t suggest hard and fast changes for you here. I do suggest you think about what eating you do that is meaningful to you, and what eating is just habitual. It took me a long time to replace a deeply ingrained daily coffee-drinking habit, which was giving me headaches and other symptoms, with a daily hot tea habit. But in the end, my health is better for it, and I now look forward to my morning cup of tea with great relish! There wasn’t a significant change in calories there, but I mention it to illustrate that you can change habits that may seem impossible to you now. Start small. Your downfall is ice cream? How about making it a once a week treat and really relish it. Pay full attention as you’re eating. Eat slowly and make the bowl last a long time. Love fast food? Try healthier fast food choices, like a 6″ turkey sub on whole-grain bread instead of a double cheeseburger and fries. And eat smaller portions. If you’re careful and savor each small bite, half a sub might even do the trick nicely!
Eating smaller portions is one of the easiest, most painless changes to make, and for me, along with having my treats in the afternoon (when I am prone to eating smaller quantities) instead of the evening (when I would eat large quantities without noticing what, or how much, I was really eating) has been the simplest, most positive change to make to my eating habits. After spending some time with an acquaintance who struggles with her weight quite a bit, I noticed that, where I might eat half a sandwich and half a piece of fruit for lunch, she would eat a whole sandwich and a whole piece of fruit. Notice that it wasn’t that she was eating a sandwich, fruit, chips, soda, and cookies… she merely had double the portion size I was having, and it was impacting her weight – she was nearly double the size of me. I think we eat large servings because we can. And because we don’t really notice. We don’t notice we are eating more than we need to feel satisfied, and in fact, after the first two or three bites, we hardly notice what we are eating at all. Then it’s gone and we feel like we weren’t satisfied. And we weren’t! We didn’t pay attention to enough of the food to feel like we’d eaten anything! We may be full, but there is a difference between being full and being satisfied.
In her book, “French Women Don’t Get Fat,” Mireille Guiliano does a wonderful job of explaining our relationship with food, our satisfaction with our food, and its relation to our weight. I can’t recommend reading and re-reading her book enough! She will tell you much more than I can in one blog!
3. Make sustainable changes. My friend, do not… do not make some crazy changes for a few weeks just to shed a few pounds. Please, please… do not do this to yourself. It will make you happy for the few days your temporary weight loss lasts, and miserable until the next time you diet away those same pounds you’ve regained. By sustainable, I mean, eat what you love. If you like hotdogs and ice cream, by all means, eat hot dogs and ice cream. But eat one hot dog and a 1-cup portion of ice cream. Just eat them slowly and pay attention to each bite. If you are distracted, pause your eating until you can give your food your attention. If, after full reflection and immersion in your hotdog and ice cream experience (or whatever food it is you love), you still want another hotdog or another bowl of ice cream, then indulge yourself. But don’t do it unless you are fully immersed in every single bite!
If you don’t have time to give your food the attention it deserves… then it shouldn’t bother you to eat something utterly good for you. I finally figured that out myself. If I’m too busy to really enjoy a good bologna sandwich and chips for lunch, then I should be eating plain yogurt with cut up fruit in it, and an ounce of cheese, or perhaps a green salad with just a couple ounces of cooked chicken breast on top. It would stave off my hunger, taste palatable, and provide my body with much better nutrients than the bologna and chips. We don’t always have time to pay attention to our food. When that is the case with you… make it count! Eat better, and eat less during that time. Save the indulgence for when you have the time to savor and really enjoy what you’re eating!
4. Make a note of the changes you are implementing, review the changes and the results periodically, and adjust as needed. Sometimes a change isn’t enough, it’s not working, or maybe you’re just not happy with the change! You thought cutting out your daily cup of orange juice would be okay, that you wouldn’t miss it, but you really do miss it! Then by all means, reinstate your morning o.j., and maybe lose the toast instead, or cut half of your dessert and/or a second serving of food at dinner. Or drink a smaller glass of orange juice and make it last longer with smaller sips. Or cut your orange juice with water or club soda so it’s more of an “orange drink” than straight juice. This is your way of eating… it should suit you like a well tailored piece of clothing. It should feel just right. If it’s too uncomfortable, you’ll never stick with it, and that’s exactly what this is about… making small changes you can happily live with forever!
5. Get moving. My good friend’s husband Jody is a very straight-to-the-point kind of guy. He doesn’t have much patience for lengthy explanations or fancy plans. When it comes to getting in shape and losing weight, he sums it up with four succinct words: “Eat Less, Move More.” And that is exactly the truth. Forget the low-carb, low-fat, high-fiber, no-fruit… whatever special kind of diet is floating around out there. Forget grueling workouts at the gym. Eat less and move more. If that means making a hard and fast rule that you will always only eat 3/4 of the food on your plate, guess what! You’re eating less! If you always park as far away from the door as you can when you run errands, guess what! You’re moving more. Moving more can mean finding a sport you like and participating weekly or more often, a dance or exercise class to do with your buddies, a commitment to walk or ride your bike into town to the grocery store or library – or any combination. Just get moving! Yes, it’s true that more often, and more intense exercise will boost your metabolism and help you burn fat faster, but getting no farther than just thinking about it because traditional sports or gym workouts seem too hard doesn’t amount to moving more. So walk the dog instead of letting him out, walk up the stairs every time something needs to be put away on another floor instead of piling it on the bottom step, and take a walk to enjoy the sunshine several times a week. It will do you good!