Americans gain an average of 3 pounds per year, but tend to not pay attention until they are 15 to 20 pounds above their usual weight. What causes that gradual creeping up of weight? More time sitting and less time being physically active. Extra calories taken in. Too much stress. Too little sleep. Together, these factors create the perfect storm of imbalanced hormones, cravings, overeating and weight gain.
In this chemical environment, weight loss is challenging, and in our societal environment, weight loss is even more daunting. While there is no simple approach that works for everyone, there are six significant changes you can make to start this important journey.
While weight loss is neither quick nor easy, you have to start somewhere and sometime in order to protect yourself from diabetes, heart disease, digestive disorders and other ailments. Take the first step of your journey with a positive attitude, and watch for tips from this column throughout the year.
As published in the Fort Collins Coloradoan
Based on statistics and testimonials, half of you will make a New Year’s resolution. Half of those resolutions will not be maintained, though, either because they are too broad or too difficult. But don’t quit before you start! Here is a timely top-10 list of recommendations that are specific and easy enough to lead to success, especially if you start with just one.
10. Get more sleep. Thanks to a powerful combination of hormones and brain activity, sleep deprivation leads not just to fatigue but weight gain and related disorders. People who sleep less than seven hours are more likely to make poor food choices, search for a high-calorie pick-me-up, and snack late at night.
9. Be less inactive. While many resolutions are to join a gym or exercise more, research shows it is just as important to stop being sedentary! Every half hour, get up and walk around the room, the building, or even in place. Add other bits of movement throughout the day while working on a computer, talking on the phone, or brushing your teeth. Take the stairs. Add a walking meeting. Do jumping jacks during commercials. Anything other than sitting all day.
8. Eat less sugar. Simple sugars are everywhere - table sugar, processed foods and sweet drinks, just to name a few. These sugars can contribute to tooth decay, mood swings and fatigue. Consuming less sugar will reduce your risk of cancer, diabetes and liver damage.
7. Allow treats. Deprivation often causes dieters to give up and overeat what they were trying to avoid. Instead of cutting out what you crave, eliminate the word “diet” and allow yourself occasional treats – a small serving daily if you are healthy and weekly if you are trying to manage your weight or a chronic disease.
6. Drink more water. Water is a healthful alternative to sweetened beverages, less expensive than coffee drinks, and a good filler when you are tempted to snack mindlessly. Aim to drink 1-2 cups by lunch and 1-2 cups by dinner, and you are on your way.
5. Make fermented foods part of your eating plan. From yogurt to sauerkraut, fermented foods improve your digestion, immune system and inflammation levels.
4. Consume more functional foods. These are foods that have a health benefit beyond just basic nutrients, such as oatmeal helping to lower cholesterol and salmon improving brain function. Health claims are not regulated so this is not a recommendation to buy fortified empty calories (cookies with added fiber are not the ideal). Instead, some top choices in addition to oatmeal and salmon include beans, nuts and berries.
3. Eat more fiber. Dietary fiber helps regulate blood sugar and weight while reducing your risk of heart disease and diverticulosis. Great sources are raw fruits and vegetables, legumes and whole grains.
2. Eat out less. If you are like many Americans, you spend more money on restaurant food than groceries. That means hidden salt, sugar, fat, calories and food additives, even when you try to make good choices. Avoid these unknowns by spending more time in your own kitchen.
1. Make your portions smaller. If you make no other changes to your eating habits, eating less will benefit your weight, your waist, and your wallet. Most portions served at home and in restaurants are 50 percent to 100 percent larger than you need. No eating from the bag or munching standing up. Use a plate, serve yourself smaller amounts, then leave some on the plate. Your body will soon adapt to feeling content with less, and you will hopefully start to appreciate your food more.
As published in the Fort Collins Coloradoan
By now, New Year’s resolutions may be a long forgotten concept, and it’s a great time to revisit yours. Last month I encouraged you to set realistic resolutions focused on healthy eating habits. If you are finding that your resolve has faded, take the next week (or more) to make eating less, eating only when you are hungry, making healthful choices and planning ahead permanent habits. These resolutions, along with the next four recommendations below, will help you achieve a healthy body this year with a positive, not deprived, mentality. For the next four weeks, set one goal a week to continue your journey.
1. Slow down.
Eating quickly usually causes us to eat more than we need and makes us miss out on enjoying our food. Mindful eating is the art of giving meals and snacks your full attention. Sit down to eat without the TV, your computer or other distractions. Pause before eating, smell your food, chew slowly, and savor each bite. I am guilty of eating breakfast on the go and eating lunch at the computer, but as I work on mindfulness, I definitely appreciate my food and feel more satisfied when I slow down and focus. Mindful eating lets you enjoy your food without overeating, and helps get rid of the old notion of
cleaning your plate.
2. Drink more water.
Recent research has proven the idea that water can fill you up. When participants drank two cups of water before a meal, they consumed fewer calories and lost more weight than participants who did not drink water before meals. The rest of the day, water works its magic when it replaces high-sugar soda and juice, saving potentially hundreds of calories. So make it a habit to drink before meals in addition to downing a water bottle during the morning hours and another in the afternoon.
3. Pay attention to the two Ps: produce and protein.
Populations with low rates of chronic disease and high rates of good health have something in common: plenty of produce (fruits and vegetables) and high quality protein (lean meats, soy, legumes, nuts, and nonfat dairy) throughout the day. These foods fill you up and keep you satisfied longer than processed foods and simple sugars. Try adding a fruit, vegetable, or protein to every meal and snack.
4. Be a good role model.
If you think nobody’s watching, think again. Your coworkers, friends, siblings and children notice what you eat and how you interact with food. In fact, a recent study showed parents have more potential to influence their children’s eating behavior than anyone else, and not just with their words. Eating healthful foods and working to improve habits such as mindful eating and drinking water will show others the importance and benefits of trying to be healthy. Focus on health, not weight, and keep a cheerful attitude as you adopt healthier habits.
Continue to practice these ideas along with the first four goals. Once these new behaviors are firmly established, you will have more confidence in your healthy lifestyle journey.
As seen in the Fort Collins Coloradoan
As January approaches its end, I wonder how well people have kept their New Year’s resolutions so far, or if they even made any. Part of me applauds the realist who says he doesn’t make resolutions he can’t keep, but the rest of me finds this a cop-out. This is especially true when it comes to nutrition; we can all improve something in our diets, whether to prevent disease, have more energy, or lose weight. Research shows we are most successful when we set small, realistic goals, so join me now in setting one goal per week for the next 4 weeks!
1. Own your dietary choices.
I cannot eat a brownie and blame it on my daughter for baking. Instead, I have to choose to eat better in order to achieve my desire to be healthy. It doesn’t mean giving up all my favorite foods; it just means I want to feel good more than I want that brownie. For you, it may mean you decide you want to lose 5 pounds more than you want chips before dinner. By making it a choice, you avoid feeling sorry for yourself about having to have willpower or go on a diet.
2. Eat less.
Americans are eating an average of 400 calories more every day than we were 30 years ago. Next time you sit down to eat, leave a little food on your plate. The time after, put less on your plate to begin with. You can still have your steak or macaroni-and-cheese, but try a portion the size of your palm. Then skip your evening snack, then your afternoon soda; if you find yourself missing them, chewing gum and drinking water are helpful alternatives. What you do every day is significantly more important than a sporadic splurge, so make a habit of smaller meals and snacks every day, choosing extra helpings only occasionally.
3. Eat only when you are hungry.
Now that you are eating less, you may be feeling hungry between meals, and that’s a good thing. Pay attention to real hunger vs. habit, impulse, or emotions. Many people believe they should graze all day to keep from feeling hungry, but they end up taking in hundreds of unnecessary calories. Instead, embrace hunger as a sign that you are physically, not emotionally, in need of food. Goal #4 is critical for this to work…
4. Plan ahead.
If you wait until you are overly hungry, there is a good chance you will overeat. I know if I go more than 5 hours without eating, I am likely to grab whatever is available, and too much of it. Start paying attention to when you are hungry each day. 3:00? Have a healthy snack on hand to avoid vending machines and drive-through lanes. 5:00? Have a plate of vegetable slices ready to eat when you get home to avoid binging on pretzels while making dinner.
There you go: the first 4 secrets to eating and feeling better without sweeping changes or a special diet. Better get started; the next 4 suggestions will be here soon.
As seen in the Fort Collins Coloradoan
Melissa Wdowik, PhD, RDN, LDN, FAND
is a nutrition educator with over 20 years experience as a college professor, nutrition coach, presenter and writer, as well as a nutrition consultant and founding director of the Kendall Reagan Nutrition Center.