The Quick Fix Never Lasts
If you’re like countless other Americans, you probably wish there were an easy way to maintain a healthy body weight. This is a struggle that so many of us face year after year and, it seems to be true that, the older we get the more difficult it is. Some people were slim and fit in their younger years and have become frustrated by their inability to stay that way as they age. Some have carried extra weight throughout their lives and have experienced related health problems, especially as they’ve grown older. And others have battled their weight, watching the numbers on the scale go up and down like a rollercoaster throughout their adult lives – jumping on every fad diet bandwagon only to fall back off in humiliation and defeat each and every time.
Now, 3,500 calories equal one pound. And most people (depending on height, weight, and gender) need somewhere in the neighborhood of 1,800 – 2,800 calories per day to maintain their current weight. You can see that if you eat 500 extra calories per day or if your activity level declines, you can easily pack on a pound in a week. And if you keep it up, it will turn into 20 or 30 pounds before you know it.
Fad diets just don’t work. Diet pills and supplements, super-restrictive low-calorie diets, plans that rely exclusively on one type of food (grapefruit, anyone?), or the latest craze like Atkins, HCG, or SouthBeach might result in some short-term weight loss. But they don’t focus on your body’s overall health and well-being over time. They make you feel deprived and hungry. So, eventually (probably sooner rather than later), you will go back to your old habits and any weight you have lost is likely to come right back on.
And what about exercise plans? Have you ever started an ambitious workout regimen on January 1, only to find yourself back on the sofa every night by March? Maybe you over-did it, or chose an activity like running on the treadmill, which you really didn’t enjoy. Most people will not find success by pushing themselves too hard or forcing themselves to do things they hate.
So, is there a real answer to this confounding dilemma? I believe so. Instead of these extreme behaviors, in order to achieve permanent, sustainable weight management, you must take small steps, truly integrate them into your life, and be extremely patient with yourself. You didn’t gain 30 (or more) pounds overnight and you aren’t going to lose them quickly, either. You need to learn and embrace some new habits – ones that make you feel really good – and simply make them part of your lifestyle.
Here are some things you can experiment with. Hopefully, some will resonate with you and help you make the changes you desire.
First, get to neutral. Some patients who come in to see me have been slowly but steadily gaining weight for years. For these folks, simply getting them to stop gaining weight and stabilize the scale is a huge victory. And minor adjustments to their habits can often easily achieve that.
Become aware of your own habits. It’s time for a reality check. While I’m not an advocate of writing down every single thing you eat and adding up caloric values for the rest of your life, it can be a really, really helpful thing to do this for a few days as a baseline. It’s also a good way to learn the caloric values of your favorite foods and activities. Keep a food and exercise journal, and be brutally honest with yourself. Write down every single thing you eat or drink, and the activities in which you partake. If you’re technologically-inclined, there are great programs and apps to help you with this. When most people look back at the evidence, they are shocked. “I had no idea I was eating that much,” they’ll tell me. And knowing is half the battle.
Cut back just a little. If you want to lose some, just cut back a bit every day on what you eat. Some ways to do it without feeling deprived:
- Use caution with the salad dressings and toppings.
- Drink water instead of other beverages.
- Don’t go back for seconds.
- Have half a slice.
- Order the “small.”
- Only one beer or glass of wine.
- Eat more good-for-you stuff – it will fill you up and make you want the bad-for-you stuff less.
Eat consciously. Once you are mindful of what you’re doing, it’s easier to eat consciously. It is all too easy to plop in front of the television and scarf down a huge plate of food without even tasting it, or to eat chips or cookies out of the bag until they’re gone while you read. Instead, slow down and enjoy your food. Remember to be grateful for it. Eat only at the dining table, and don’t do other things while you eat. Really chew and taste your food. Put your fork down between bites, take a breath and notice how your body feels. And when you are full, stop. You don’t have to clean your plate!
Play more. There is no question that exercising within our abilities is good for almost anyone, any time. In addition to burning calories, exercise boosts your mood and makes you feel better. But instead of forcing yourself to do something hard that you dislike in the interest of health, try to find something you do enjoy – something that will call you to do it because you’re having such a good time. Instead of “working out,” try playing. Tennis, golf, water aerobics, swing dance, ping pong, birdwatching…get adventurous and have a good time! Just like cutting back on food, adding in a little more movement can make a big difference over time.
I have many patients who come in with diabetes, high blood pressure, and other chronic conditions which they presume they’ll have for life. But, no--that’s not necessarily true! Even with a 10% drop in weight, I’ve seen massive improvements in health. Some people are even able to come off insulin, blood pressure drugs, and other medications as a result. (But, caution: don’t try this at home – medications should only be eliminated per your physician’s advice.)
You can do this! Discuss it with your doctor then take control of your own health and well-being. You can create healthy habits to last a lifetime.