By Benjamin Goodin
The turning of the new year finds most of us with a bit more of ourselves to love. Many also see a new year as a chance at becoming a better version of ourselves. Unlike the arrival of a new year, we can’t change our habits at the tick of a second hand.
Keeping pounds off requires more than just a eating veggie sticks for a few months. For those that find losing a few pounds difficult, the biggest obstacle is usually habit. If your eating habits don’t change, your waistline won’t see much progress either. For a long-term solution, you need long-term change.
It helps to think of dieting in its noun form, as a pattern of choices that are made when selecting foods, rather than thinking of it as a verb that means being selective about consumption for a fixed duration. The noun “diet” indicates a long-term pattern of eating preferences and selection, which can be very effective at maintaining your desired number on the scale. This should not, however, imply that dietary revolution is easy; if it was, we would all be our ideal weights.
The focus here is on the dietary element of weight loss. This is not to imply that eating right is more important than physical activity, rather, diet regulates the amount and intensity of physical activity needed for weight loss: if you eat like garbage or overeat, you’ll be working twice as hard to burn it off.
Plan to succeed
The first step in revolutionizing your diet is to examine what your current eating habits look like. Keep a food diary for a week or two before making changes to track your consumption. Chances are, you already know what your weaknesses are. Overall, you’re going to want to observe where, what, and when you eat.
What you are looking for are habits. Do you eat out more than once or twice a week? Is your chosen side dish always the fries? A slip or indulgence every once in a while won’t really have a noticeable impact on weight, but our consistent choices are what cause the line on the scale to creep. Disrupting or replacing unhealthy eating habits is the key to sustainable weight loss.
Make many, small objectives that lead to your ultimate weight loss goals. Choosing tweaks that lead to your overarching goal has the potential to lead you through many victories, instead of expecting wholesale dietary change from the get-go. Is it easier to cram an entire sandwich into your mouth at once and swallow, or would consuming the sandwich bite-by-bite, giving yourself time to chew each mouthful be easier on your digestion?
The where aspect of a new diet is the easiest to control. If the answer is anything but “from home” (even if you only pack a sandwich) more than twice a week, then it has to change. You get plenty of choices when eating out, but not much control. Restaurants lure you back with tasty food, but not necessarily healthy fare. Even the “healthy” options at most restaurants are barely that. Reserve eating out for a special night or occasion, even then, choose carefully. Eating at home doesn’t guarantee that you will be eating healthy, but it does give you control over your choices.
The choices you make about what you eat and how much you consume are two of the largest influences on weight loss.
Portion control has proven troublesome to many looking to lose weight. Eating something that is not necessarily “good for you” becomes less problematic when you are not eating very much of it. If you have to indulge, opt for a smaller portion. Those that struggle to not sneak in an extra drumstick might consider switching to smaller dining ware, that way you physically cannot put much on your plate. Make sure that the serving dishes are out of arm’s length, this will give you a pause to reconsider if you compulsively reach for seconds.
The other half of what consists of the type of foods you choose to eat. This is probably the first thing that people think of when they consider dieting: they envision baggies full of veggie sticks rather than the fries they crave. Unfortunately, if you want to create lasting, substantial change, you will probably have to give up some of your favorite food-vices. The foods that do your diet the most damage are as individual as your music preferences, but there are general guidelines to follow. One of the healthiest and most challenging steps you can take is to transition your choice of foods to the right of the fried-raw continuum of preparation. Can’t pass up fries or fried chicken? Try them breaded and baked instead. Most vegetables and fruits lose nutritive value as they cook, so the closer to raw they are, the more nutrition they provide.
Transition to lean proteins, choosing fish and non-animal sources like beans and nuts. Eat fruits and vegetables more often, making up to 75 percent of your diet plant sources. Choose a smarter balance of carbohydrates — opt for fiber over sugar and reduce overall sugar intake. Replacing less healthy choices with lower-calorie, higher-nutrition foods can be tricky — our brains love the taste of fatty and sugary things for their high calorie content: a hardwired preference that is no longer relevant to our modern lifestyles. Healthy habits and choices become easier to make the longer you maintain them.
The last dietary hobgoblin that remains is when you eat; adjustments to timing, especially frequency, can help you maintain a healthier, more positive relationship with your food. Eat breakfast; it is old advice, but eating early in the day starts your digestive system earlier and helps you make better, less impulsive choices later. Snacks between meals are fine, but plan to have them. Unplanned snacks often become bags of chips and chocolate bars. Conveniently, many grocers stock prepared, 100-calorie snacks. Alternatively, snacks you can grab and take to work (fruit, veggies and dip) make for choices that are healthier and less battered than the items that fall out of the vending machine. It’s slightly more efficient for your metabolism if you eat less, but more frequently throughout the day. Lastly, make meals and snacks a devoted activity. All of us have probably accidentally inhaled a whole bag of chips mindlessly when watching television. Turn off the media and pay attention to your meal, or share the meal with another person; not only will you be impelled to not attack your food like a starving lion, but the conversation should slow down the process so you can more accurately gauge when you are full. Unless you happen to chew while talking, in which case, you will likely be dining alone.
If you are looking to finally keep a New Year’s resolution for weight loss this year, you may want to consider changing your diet (noun), rather than dieting (verb). Small, consistent changes are more realistic and easier to turn into lasting change. Hopefully, with some of these strategies, this year will see a lasting change in your health and waistline.