The $40 billion weight loss industry has you hooked. Everywhere you look a weight loss guru is selling a pill or a program. Misinformation abounds. But help is on the way; real advice based on real science made easy.
Down to Calories
Every diet ever sold is nothing but a scheme to fool you into eating fewer calories. But reality is simple. You just need to eat well, eat less, exercise and restructure your relationship with food.
Let’s go back to basics. A calorie is a unit of energy. Nothing more. One calorie of broccoli equals one calorie of chocolate. What matters is how many calories you eat. Whether eating chocolate or carrots, if you eat more calories than what your body needs to maintain itself, you will gain weight.
Let’s say you need 2,500 daily calories to fuel your activities and make the supporting materials your body needs. Eat 2,500 calories and your weight will remain unchanged. Chow down 4,000 calories; the excess 1,500 will convert to adipose tissue, stored for future use. You get fat. Munch only 1,000 calories; your body converts the energy stored in fat reserves to make enough energy to fill the deficit of calories you didn’t eat. You lose weight.
Enjoy each morsel of food. Put your fork down between bites. Set portion size before each meal. No more “all you can eat” buffets. Remember to tell yourself, “this is what I have chosen to eat. I might as well extract every atom of pleasure and delight from each bite because when this is gone, I am done until the next meal.”
Plan meals: A good-sized meal, packed with fiber and proteins, can sustain you for hours.
Un-Supersize: Eat more often at home; think small when serving food. Stop eating before you feel stuffed. Choose restaurants with normal size dishes or share your selection.
Drink water: Between juices, sodas and alcohol you can easily drink yourself fat. Water is the perfect hydrator and zero-calorie beverage. Water helps you nix hunger pains.
Practice mindful eating: If you wolf down your food watching TV, walking, checking your cell phone, reading email or calling friends you are likely to eat far too much.
Losing weight means taking in fewer calories than your body needs; doing so in a healthy way requires that you choose well what you eat.
Aim for a balanced diet: Beware any diet emphasizing one food group over another. You need them all to maintain your body’s balance. Eat foods that primarily come from a garden, an orchard, the ocean, or a farmer’s field.
Boost your fiber: Fiber can help you feel full, before you get fat. Fiber-rich foods like most vegetables and whole grains don’t produce the elevated insulin response, that for some people frustrates fat loss.
Eat low-energy-density foods: Energy-sparse foods like vegetables contain less energy than fried foods and sweets. Eat fruit, not fruit juice. If you must eat ice cream then focus on control portion size. One small scoop is sufficient.
Eat foods that you enjoy: Eating well doesn’t mean depriving yourself. Eat what you love in moderation. Explore new foods.
No magic pills can substitute for exercise. Weight loss depends on calories in versus calories out. When playing couch potato you must significantly reduce consumption to maintain your weight. The more we sit watching TV, at our desk, in the car, the more we eat. So we get fat.
Commit to exercise: Do not be ambitious. Something, anything is better than nothing. Be realistic. Sticking to your new routine is more important than the rigor of your exercises. A commitment to do one minute of exercise daily, if you will actually do that one minute, is better than a 30 minute pledge that you don’t do.
Incorporate exercise into your daily routine: Walk every chance you get; exercise at your desk. Burn an extra 75 calories daily by taking stairs; park your car at the far end of the lot. The key is consistency. Consistent activity will keep you trim more effectively than becoming a weekend gym warrior.
Restructure your relationship with food
You are now on the road to a healthy lifestyle. You’ll eat less, choose well and be active. You need just one more final ingredient: restructure your relationship with food. Life is stressful. For many of us food is love, security, and reward. You can learn to eat with pleasure only what you need. Master life without using food as a source of comfort and long-term weight loss becomes realistic.
Do these sound familiar?
- “I’m tired most of the time and I respond to the hit I get from eating the way I would to alcohol.”
- “When I’m bored, I eat.”
- “My kids/spouse/friends don’t eat well and I just go along with that.”
- “I think about food constantly – it’s a struggle not to.”
These common pleas feel real and are difficult to overcome, but you can. Let’s see how.
Typical patterns that maintain an unhealthy weight:
- Snacking at night.
- Eating when stressed.
- Using food for reward or comfort.
- Eating when not hungry.
You can wrestle these habits to the ground with some well-proven techniques:
Self-monitoring: Keep an accurate daily food diary; know how many calories you eat.
Visualization: Imagine yourself eating healthy; walking away from a sweet you otherwise would not resist.
Meditation: Regular meditation can help reduce stress levels, minimizing the need to soothe yourself with food.
Hypnosis: Hypnosis can help those who want to lose weight but who alone cannot change their unhealthy eating patterns.
Now you have enough information to take your first step to better life. Remember: weight loss depends only on reducing total calories in versus total calories you burn. Health depends on the quality of those calories. Eat well, eat less, exercise, and restructure your relationship with food. Simple!
[About the authors: Jeff Schweitzer is a neuroscientist, former White House senior policy analyst and internationally recognized authority in ethics, conservation and development. For more information, please visit www.jeffschweitzer.com. Larry Deutsch is a Family Physician and Medical Hypnotherapist with 38 years of experience helping patients lose weight, quit smoking and enhance their lives. For more information, please visit www.drlarry.com. They are the co-authors of Calorie Wars: Fat, Fact and Fiction.]
Image: Alan Cleaver