Reaching a healthy weight is a great goal to set for yourself. I get excited for anyone that sets that goal because I have personally experienced how much better life can be at a healthier weight.
Most people have tried dieting, probably had some success, and regained weight after the diet ended. It is hard to lose enough weight to reach your ideal, and even more challenging to keep a healthy weight over time. Having as much knowledge as possible before starting a weight loss plan increases your chances of success. Here is an overview of some weight loss topics to help you make the right plan.
Most importantly – you are in charge and control of your weight.
You are most likely to successfully lose weight and keep it off when you believe you are in control of your body weight. Every choice made, like starting or ending an eating plan, each time you eat, what you choose to eat, the activities you do, and exercising are your choices and in your control. There is an endless list of things that may make the best choice harder for each of us, and it is in our nature to give in to one of those excuses occasionally. So don’t get discouraged if you stray from the plan or even if your isn’t plan isn’t perfect. You are still in control and can choose what to do next! Your next choice might be the thing that works for the rest of your life.
Changing your lifestyle and behavior involves more than just eating habits; it also involves managing stress, finding people around you to support your weight loss, learning to resist temptations, and fighting the excuses we make that sabotage ourselves.
Finding people around you to support your weight loss:
A friend or family member available to support, encourage, and reinforce good behavior is priceless. Only some people will be supportive, and some may even impair your progress for their own conscious or subconscious reasons. The people and family closest to us are often the people that make this change more difficult. If this happens to you, remember that they may not understand the impact that behavior is having on your health and happiness or might even be subconsciously afraid of your progress.
Learning to resist temptations and resisting the excuses we make that sabotage ourselves:
Thought patterns are the conversations people have with themselves in their heads. These may be self-sabotaging thoughts, excuses, or negative thoughts. As a very common example of self-sabotaging thoughts, almost everyone underestimates the calories they take in. The average difference in calories estimated vs. the accurate calories eaten adds up to a monthly difference of around 8 lbs. Another common mistake is related to “cheat days” or cheat portions, especially if we consider that a “reward for “being good.” It is easy to undo all the progress from a week of carefully controlled diet in that single cheat meal. These can also be positive or negative conversations you can control with yourself. When (not if) you go off your eating plan or miss a workout, you might think, “You’ve blown it, and it’s over!” and sabotage yourself. Positive thoughts at that moment could be, “OK, so I ate cake when it was not on my plan, but I can get right back on track. This isn’t easy and takes practice, but your life will be better when you learn this skill.
Managing Stress without overeating:
Stress is a part of everyone’s everyday life and can trigger unhealthy eating in some people. Finding a way to get through these difficult times without unhealthy eating is essential. This is a massive topic, but there are many great resources like counselors, apps, and websites to manage stress in healthy ways.
Identify triggers that make you want to eat so that you can have power over those triggers.
Each person has unique things that trigger them to overeat. Finding your triggers involves figuring out what foods you tend to over-eat, which circumstances, what places, and when you eat them. To help figure this out, record your foods and drinks for a few days, the places where you eat meals and snacks, how often you eat, and the emotions you are feeling. For some people, that is a specific time of day, night, place, event, or activity (like working at a desk, driving by a fast-food outlet, or a social gathering.) Once you know the trigger, you can change your eating habits by breaking the chain of events between the trigger for eating and the act of eating.
Here are just a few examples of some strategies to control specific triggers: if you don’t finish eating until a plate is completely cleared, you might use a smaller plate for meals; or if you don’t you don’t feel full until after you have already eaten more than planned, you may make a conscious effort to eat more slowly or plan a ten-minute break at the halfway point of the meal. If you grab high-calorie snacks or maybe are busy and wait until you are starving then overeat, you could keep healthy snacks (like chopped raw vegetables, fruits, and nuts) around to have between meals.
Healthy long-term eating plan
Many diets claim to be the best or have some special “secret,” but studies of different diets have not found a “best” weight loss diet; the truth is that basically, all diets will cause weight loss. Following a very restricted diet would help you lose weight quickly, but it may not be something you can live with long term. It is essential to have a healthy eating plan that you can live with and includes foods you like.
While any food can be part of healthy life in the right portions, the foods we eat regularly can help or hurt long-term weight control. Foods like whole grains, fruits, vegetables, nuts, and yogurt help maintain a lower weight, while foods like French fries or chips, sugar-sweetened beverages, and red or processed meats can easily cause weight gain. Some foods should be avoided or only eaten in rare, small portions; these include high sugar/fructose beverages, trans fats, and highly processed foods.
Many diets might be right for you, and a few are proven to have health benefits beyond weight loss.
• A Mediterranean diet is associated with a longer, healthier life. It emphasizes fruits, vegetables, beans, nuts, and seeds with small amounts of olive oil as a source of healthy fat and a moderate amount of fish, poultry, and dairy. This diet lowers the risk of heart disease and stroke and helps control diabetes. It may also reduce the risk of certain types of cancer. This is like the DASH (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension) diet supported by many national medical associations.
• Plant-based diets improve or avoid obesity, heart disease, high blood pressure, diabetes, and some cancers with a focus on vegetables, fruits, grains, beans, and nuts and limit, or altogether avoid, food from animals, such as meat and dairy. There are different types of plant-based diets, including a macrobiotic diet with plant foods and limited lean animal meat or fish once or twice a week, semi-“vegetarian/ “flexitarian” eating poultry and/or fish meats occasionally or limited milk/eggs, and vegan means avoiding all food products that come from animal sources, including eggs and milk products. There are risks of certain anemias, low vitamins, or dementia, which all can be avoided by ensuring you are getting enough nutrients overall, especially protein, calcium, and vitamin B12.
• Low carbohydrate, high protein diets emphasize protein sources like meats and plant proteins while restricting carb sources like grains and eliminating processed carbs like sugar or bread. These diets can help avoid muscle loss during weight loss and help improve diabetes, but in the long term, they may be less healthy for the heart and kidneys than the other diets. BUT the risks to the heart and kidneys are MUCH less than the risks of obesity. The risks can be minimized by choosing lean white meats, poultry, and fish with high-fiber foods like vegetables, beans, and nuts.
• Portion control diets do not select any food group but control the total amounts of food or general categories of food (also called macros). There are many, but some examples are using small plates for meals, assigning servings of macro types (protein, carb, veggie, fat), and intermittent fasting (usually limiting food to one or two controlled portion meals daily). These diets do well at limiting calories but allowing flexibility which can help some people stick to that lifestyle in the long term.
Now that we have started on the thoughts and eating side of a healthy weight, you will be ready to start an activity and exercise plan. We will explore activity, exercise, and more details of a healthy life in our posts!