Diets work. You will lose weight if you follow a diet. Guaranteed. Good news, right? Hopping on to Amazon.com as you read this to order the latest diet book?
Hold that thought: Diets work, and you will lose weight, guaranteed… so long as you continue with the diet. If you go back to a less-than-healthy inew news eating plan after your fabulous diet’s weight loss result, then you’ll most likely just put it all back on again. A lot of the time, you might even add a few pounds for luck.
So let’s scrap the idea of a diet with prescribed meal plans, and daily calorie counting, and cutting out food groups. Instead, if you want healthy, lasting weight loss which you can maintain, then think about overhauling your lifestyle instead. The key to ending up with a healthy lifestyle that suits you, where you barely have to think about your daily food intake and exercise because it’s so ingrained, is two-fold. First: make small changes incrementally. Second: make sure your lifestyle choices are uniquely suited to you and the way you live.
The first thing I’ll have a client do when they want to change their eating habits is to keep a food journal, for at least 10 days or so (I like to make sure we can see the difference between weekdays and weekend eating habits). Include amounts/servings, time of day, any liquid calories, and hunger level. For a complete lifestyle overhaul, it would be a great idea to also jot down exercise and sleep habits in the same journal. Then you can review for the habits you can change for good, without it negatively impacting your life. For example, if you really feel like a life without chocolate is a life not-lived, and you cut out chocolate completely from your lifestyle, what do you think is going to happen? You’re going to fall off the wagon at some point – HARD – and go into a chocolate binge overload, and possibly give up on any and all healthy changes you’d managed to make.
Making small changes incrementally:
Every week, try changing one habit. The first week, maybe you can cut back on excess liquid calories. Once you have that under control, try adding an extra serve of vegetables to one of your meals every day. When that becomes a habit, think about changing your eating-out habits (eg: cocktail OR dessert, not both; skipping the bread basket; having 2 appetizers instead of an appetizer and a main).
Then you can add one extra exercise session of at least 30 minutes once a week, until that becomes just a given part of your week. The idea here is to make a small change, live with it for a while, ensure it’s become a habit, then move onto the next change. You’re not going to lose massive amounts of weight every week doing this. But the changes you’re making in small steps will lead to a slow, sustained weight loss over time that you are able to keep off and maintain.
Making sure your lifestyle choices are suited to you:
This is a major reason why it’s hard, if not impossible, to remain on a specific diet for the rest of your life. Those diet books and plans you hear about, or try to follow are generalized plans, not specifically catering for your exact situation. Things to take into account before you make changes to the way you eat and exercise could include:
Do you cook? Can you cook? Do you even want to cook?
Do you have to dine out a lot for your job?
What kinds of exercise do you enjoy, or have you enjoyed in the past?
Why have you fallen off the wagon with previous diets? What was it that you missed too much, or weren’t able to incorporate into your life?
Are there certain times of day when you feel like you’re better at exercising?
Is there anything cropping up in your food journal that you just eat because it’s there, or you don’t think you’d miss if you didn’t have it again?
Do you get grumpy when you’re hungry, or crave high-calorie, low-nutrient foods when you feel like you’re starving?
See what works for you. One client I work with recently told me she’d finally realized that she gets hungry every 3 hours, like clockwork. She’d been ignoring it for a while, thinking she should wait and eat at prescribed times of the day, then end up over-eating, or making poor choices. So now she has a little cooler bag she throws in her purse or backpack with small meals she can munch on every few hours, whenever she feels hungry.
She’s lost weight without even really trying. Another of my clients cannot stomach the thought of breakfast, and has never eaten breakfast as long as she can remember. She doesn’t eat until about 1pm, has a healthy lunch, and then overeats in the evening. I had her try drinking a low-fat smoothie in the morning along with her daily coffee, since for her the idea of solid food before the afternoon was never going to work. She notices that on days she manages to get her smoothie in, her other meals during the day are normal portions, and she feels less likely to over-eat at night.