Anyone who’s tried to lose weight can attest to the fact that it’s easy for the best-laid dietary plans to go awry-at least temporarily. Not to worry. This is a long-term project, and occasional lapses are to be expected. In the meantime, a few smart strategies can help you peel off those unwanted pounds.
Control the Calorie Crunch
Researchers have recently noticed what seems to be a curious trend: According to a number of national surveys, the proportion of fat in the average American diet has actually gone down, even as rates of obesity have gone up. This has come to be called the “American paradox.” Does this mean fat isn’t the villain we’ve been led to believe it is? No. The explanation: While the percentage of fat in the diet may be dropping, the sheer amount of fat we consume as a nation is going up because we’re eating larger portions of everything.
Controlling your calorie intake is the bedrock of all weight-loss plans. But how can you stay the course when food is abundant and the temptation to overindulge is strong? Start by making a few small adjustments to your dining and snacking habits. For instance:
- Keep food off the table. If you portion out servings on plates at the stove or kitchen counter and don’t set food out on serving platters, you’ll be less tempted to take more once your plate is empty.
- Don’t eat from packages. It’s all too easy to lose track of how much food you’ve gobbled if you’re nibbling straight from the box. Instead, portion out crackers, pretzels, and other snacks on a plate to give yourself a visible sense of what you’re consuming.
- Downsize your dishes. Smaller plates and bowls make portions appear larger.
- Take it slow. It takes about 20 minutes for the brain’s appetite-control center to register that there’s food in the stomach. To wait it out, put down your fork between each bite and take small sips from your drink.
- Work for your food. Eating foods that require some effort-peeling an orange, cracking open crabs, or cutting open a baked potato, for example-slows you down even more, giving food a chance to make you feel full.
- Socialize outside the kitchen. People seem to congregate in the kitchen, but you’ll be less tempted to nosh if you move the action to the living room.
Shop Smarter in 10 Easy Steps
You came, you saw, you shopped. But then you got home from the supermarket and started unloading fatty snack items and deli meats. What went wrong? You fell back into the habit of shopping like an average American rather than a person with a dietary purpose. In an enticing palace of eating designed to lead you astray, here’s how to stay on track:
Make a list.
The meal plan you develop with your dietitian will help you figure out which foods you should be buying. Before you shop, write down what you need to reduce the chances of buying what you don’t.
Limit your trips.
Make your shopping list long so you have to make only one or two trips to the store per week. Besides being more efficient, doing this provides less opportunity to make impulse purchases.
Avoid shopping on an empty stomach.
When you’re hungry, you’re more likely to grab high-fat snacks and desserts.
Follow the walls.
Limit browsing to the perimeter of the store, where you’ll find the freshest, most healthful foods: raw produce, low-fat dairy products, fresh lean meats and fish. Venture into the interior aisles only when you’re after specific foods, such as pasta and dried beans, to avoid picking up extra items not included in your diet plan.
Pay attention to portions.
Those cookies look great-and hey, eating them only costs you 12 grams of carbohydrate. But check the serving size: one cookie. Eating “them”-say, three cookies-brings your total carb count up to 36 grams, more than the flesh of a baked potato.
Ignore the pictures.
Golden sunshine glows on heaps of freshly harvested grains-an image of good health that signifies nothing. Look at the side of the box instead for the facts, and choose foods that are high in fiber and low in fat and calories.
Grade your grains.
Want high-fiber bread? Look for the words “whole grain,” “100 percent whole wheat,” or “stone-ground” on the label. Breads labeled simply “wheat”-even if they are brown in colour-may not contain whole grains. True whole-grain bread contains at least two grams of fiber per serving.
Watch the language.
Beware of foods labeled “no sugar added”-the wording is carefully chosen because the product may be loaded with natural sugar. You’ll find the real story on the label, under “Sugars.”
Add some spice to your life.
Instead of creamy condiments, load up on such spices as basil, chives, cinnamon, cumin, curry, garlic, ginger, horseradish, nutmeg, oregano, paprika, parsley, and Tabasco sauce. They’re so low in carbohydrates, fat, protein, and calories that they’re considered “free” items in meal planning.
Keep your eye on the cashier.
You’re waiting in line, nothing to do-a captive audience. It’s no accident that supermarkets pile their impulse items next to the registers. Keep a couple of items from your basket in your hands: It’ll stop you from reaching for the candy bars.
Exercise: Your Secret Weapon
To shed a pound a week, you need to subtract 3,500 calories from your current total, or 500 calories a day. But that doesn’t necessarily mean you have to eat 500 fewer calories. Instead, you can eat 250 fewer calories and burn the other 250 through physical activity. In fact, studies show that combining diet with exercise is the surest way to lose weight and keep it off for good. Burning additional calories allows you to eat more and still meet your weight-loss goals.
Recent research finds that you need at least 40 minutes of moderate physical activity-or, better still, 60 minutes-every day to lose weight and keep it off. Don’t let those numbers scare you. You can break up your activity into 10- or 15-minute sessions and still get results.
Exercise-especially strength training-offers another big bonus: a faster metabolism. A pound of muscle burns about 45 calories a day, whereas a pound of fat burns fewer than 2 calories a day. So by building up your muscle mass, you can turn yourself into a virtual calorie-burning machine. Researchers at the University of Alabama found that middle-aged adults who worked out with weights three times a week for six months built enough muscle to raise their resting metabolism by 80 to 150 calories a day-the equivalent of a 20- to 40-minute workout.
Attitude Makes the Difference
Some researchers say that losing weight and following a meal plan are as much a psychological challenge as a physiological one. And one of the primary tasks is accepting that your health can improve-but maybe not by tomorrow.
Diets that promise quick results seem to be everywhere. But it’s counterproductive to expect change to happen quickly. While it’s true that some diets can take pounds off fast, few can guarantee that the weight will stay off. For that to happen, you need to view dietary change as a permanent adjustment in the way you live. Some researchers, for example, refer to the “100/100 rule”: If you eat 100 fewer calories a day (the amount in half a candy bar) and burn 100 more calories a day (by walking 15 to 20 minutes), you’ll lose almost half a pound per week, or 20 pounds a year. It’s not fast, but it’s easy, it works-and it’s significant.
Accepting good eating habits as a permanent part of life protects against a number of other attitude snags that can hinder your progress. For example, if you see your diet as a temporary measure you take until you drop a certain number of pounds, you’ll tend to think of yourself as either “on” or “off” your diet. That promotes a sense that dieting demands special willpower and that eating a food you like or an occasional item that’s not in your meal plan means you’ve cheated or failed. You’ll have better results with a more forgiving attitude that lets you make mistakes and quickly move on to make better choices next time.