This time of the year, I’m acutely aware of the challenges that we all face when it comes to this health-giving lifestyle we’re all striving for. Striving is a strong word, but it’s an accurate way to describe how hard we all must fight to maintain our health habits during the holidays. To say it’s a struggle would be an understatement.
Not just about willpower Too often with weight loss, it’s implied that willpower is the deciding factor between who can successfully manage their weight, and who cannot. But willpower is limited and actually plays a minor role in health behaviors. Instead, the keys to success have more to do with arranging your environment and social situations (cues) then it does with willpower. Instead of relying on willpower, which is limited, try arranging your world so that the health habits flow naturally. If you want to eat less calories, serve yourself on a smaller plate and bulk it up with vegetables. If you are trying to make a habit of walking every day, set your shoes and socks by the door the night before.
In order to adopt health habits that work, you need to set yourself up to succeed. Spend time with people who are active and have a diverse range of active hobbies, for example, and you’ll likely find yourself being more active. Peer pressure is a highly under-rated tool. Unfortunately, peer-pressure usually works to reinforce negative health habits. Once you understand the power of social and environmental cues, you will develop strategies that work for you instead of against you.
If you are tired of the yo-yo diet cycle, you’ll have to get off the hamster wheel. Don’t wait until January to start making some changes, but instead, start making tiny changes now and you’ll be way ahead of the game. When everyone else is starting their annual purge-diet, you’ll be in a much better position to establish habits that you can actually stick with.
Diets can produce short-term results, but a lifestyle change requires planning, commitment and a change to existing habits. A lifestyle change requires an honest assessment of current health habits. Scratch below the surface of bad eating habits and likely you will find an emotional attachment to foods. So in essence, it’s not about the right diet or perfect foods, but rather it’s about dealing with the emotional and psychological factors—dealing with the “why” behind the eating behavior and unfortunately, there’s not one magical fix for that. The journey requires deep introspection and honesty. It requires a commitment to work hard, despite some setbacks along the way. If you want “it” bad enough, you’ll fight hard for it. The question you have to ask yourself: is it worth it? I hope you find the answer is an emphatic YES!
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Losing weight is hard; Keeping it off may even be harder. For years, the mantra has been, “Eat less and exercise more,” but that has done little in the way of helping people to KEEP the weight off once they’ve lost it. Two important points I would like to make before we go any further:
1) A healthy weight is not a number on a scale. When we speak of weight loss, each person will have unique challenges and goals that they set for themselves. I don’t set weight goals for clients, they do. And if they set weight goal numbers, we have an understanding that the body composition matters more than the number on the scale. Health comes in many shapes and sizes.
2) Whenever we speak of weight loss or weight gain, it’s important to understand that obesity is not a disease of willpower, and therefore it’s imperative that people who are affected by obesity are not subjected to stigma and bias. We need to embrace these facts. We should also move away from talking only about the diet and expand the discussion to include specific strategies for keeping the weight off. It’s not so much about which diet will work (many diets will work for weight loss in the short term), but instead it’s about which nutrition and exercise habits are sustainable for that individual over time. There’s too much emphasis placed on diets, and not enough emphasis placed on the person’s lifestyle. At Nutrition Solutions, we emphasize a personalized approach to weight loss and provide long-term support and education. Some of the greatest, and yet modifiable factors preventing optimal health are poor nutrition, overeating, inactivity, chronic stress and sleep deprivation and we spend a lot of time working with our clients on these issues. To sum it up, losing weight requires the right nutrition and exercise plan, along with stress and sleep management techniques and this demands an individualized approach. There are some universal strategies that work (see NWCR ), but a one-size-fits-all approach doesn’t work.
The 4 tenets of weight loss success are Nutrition, Exercise, Sleep and Stress Management.
If you want to lose weight, you must cut calories. This is paramount. To lose body fat a person has to burn more calories (energy) than they are consuming. I won’t go so far as to say it’s simply a matter of calories in and calories out, but you can’t out exercise a bad diet. Eat more nutrient-dense foods; Eat less high-calorie foods. Here’s the thing: Eating low calorie does not necessarily mean eating less. When you adopt a diet that includes plenty of nutrient-dense foods, the volume of food you eat actually increases. For example, let’s say you want to make a hearty beef chili. Great. Just make sure to use lean, and preferably local beef and bulk it up with beans or lentils, tomatoes, onions and whatever other vegetables you can cram in. Essentially what you have done is create a lower-calorie, and yet completely satisfying meal. Eat more nutrient-dense, low-energy dense foods.
Exercise is EXTREMELY important for health, but in terms of weight management, its role is most important in the weight maintenance phase. Exercise is wonderful medicine and it’s totally free for anyone to use. To prevent weight regain, the ACSM recommends a minimum of 150 minutes of exercise per week, but stresses that some individuals may benefit from > 250 minutes a week to prevent weight regain. Exercise helps to prevent muscle loss that can occur with weight loss, which is important since a decrease in muscle tissue would mean a decrease is resting metabolic rate (slowed metabolism). This is why we do body composition testing for all of our clients.
One overlooked side effect of exercise can be an increase in appetite. Pay attention to how exercise affects your appetite and your thinking. Does exercise lead to increased hunger and eating? Do you find that hard workouts lead to rewarding yourself with food? Pay close attention to how exercise affects your eating. It’s not uncommon for people to overestimate their calorie burn with exercise.
The role of sleep in weight loss is getting more and more attention, and for very good reason. If a person is not getting enough sleep, they likely won’t have the energy to spare towards meal planning and exercise. Under stress, they are more likely to succumb to food cues in their environment and tend to crave sugar and high-calorie snacks. Chronic sleep deprivation impairs your decision-making ability and affects your appetite regulating hormones, (the most famous being ghrelin and leptin). This means you tend to feel hungrier and remain less satisfied when you do eat.
Chronic stress affects weight both directly and indirectly. A person under stress rarely has time or energy to think about planning nourishing meals and they certainly don’t have time for exercise. The biological effects of stress creates a strong drive to eat highly processed food-like substances (aka, junk food). Junk food is cheap, legal and socially accepted as a way to medicate emotions. If you want to get a handle on your food choices, you’ll first have to identify and eliminate sources of chronic stress in your life.
Losing weight for life requires a complete transformation in all areas of mind, body and soul. Long-standing habits and behaviors must be challenged and replaced with life-giving behaviors. People who are successful at losing weight and keeping it off are determined to get at the root of their negative behaviors. They are persistent and tend to surround themselves with people who are also committed to improving their health. There’s a special quote from author Steve Maraboli and he says, “if you hang around chickens, you are going to cluck and if you hang out with eagles you’re going to fly.”
Are you a successful loser? Join the national study at the National Weight Control Registry: http://nwcr.ws/
Happy Holidays! It’s that time in the year when everyone is stretched thin in many different areas, but health and wellness initiatives must go on. Undoubtedly, November and December are challenging times for people who are trying to lose weight. Food and folly is everywhere. Stress levels rise. It’s almost as if we’re all under a spell until New Year’s resolutions come and break it. Not all is lost though. This time of year can be a time of deep reflection and self-assessment. Just as trees stop putting out new growth to focus on strengthening their root systems, so too must we bring our focus inward with the intention of identifying our true needs for wholeness–body, soul and spirit.
This week in our groups we discussed how our personal history with food impacts our eating behavior today. Some common family patterns discussed yesterday:
“Clean your plate” club which taught us early on that we can’t trust our own feelings as it relates to hunger and satiety
Parents over-restricting or placing child on a diet
Parents with disordered eating themselves
Working parents–child left alone to binge on sugary, high-calorie foods
Parents too busy and relying heavily on fast food meals
Above are some of the more common ones, but if this doesn’t describe your situation then keep reading. You cannot change your past, but if you dig deep you will begin to understand what drives your eating habits. A famous proverb reads, “to know where you are going, you have to know where you’ve come from.” We discuss this a lot, but it’s worth repeating: weight loss isn’t just about reaching a number on the scale. Many of the people I work with are experts at losing weight–their determination is truly admirable, but keeping the weight off requires an entirely different set of strategies. In fact, it’s almost an entirely different game. Keeping the weight off requires this deep understanding of what drives personal health choices.
What motivates you?
Motivation to change is more complex than simply wanting to do something. When a person says, “I want to lose weight,” I follow up with, “but why?” They may cite reasons such as health or to feel better, and I follow up with “why?” I’m sure it may seem like a redundant question to the client, but I’m trying to get the person to dig a little deeper because when challenges arise, motivation must come deep from within. Losing weight requires an investment of time and energy and the rewards of changing must outweigh the cost. You must fall in love with the rewards of being healthy and vibrant, otherwise you’ll return to familiar habits, even if they are destructive.
Finally, change is a process and not an event. The weight loss journey is rarely straightforward and a person will often make many mistakes before it actually clicks for them. Although each person’s journey is unique, the challenges are universal. Jim Rohn: “If you really want to do something, you’ll find a way. If you don’t, you’ll find an excuse.”