Bathing suit season is fast approaching, and many of us are feeling compelled to go on a “diet” to lose the weight we have gained over the winter. But why gain weight in the first place if we feel compelled to lose the pounds later? Of course, this question is easier asked than answered, but I believe we owe it to ourselves to try.
Part 3 of our spring series is improving our habits for better health (if you haven’t yet, check out part oneand part two), I’ve chosen to explore this often complicated subject. It may be challenging, but it is possible to examine our harmful eating patterns, understand how they contribute to weight gain and poor health, and finally eliminate them. When working with clients, I often ask them these 7 questions to get them started on the path to improved eating habits, and I invite you to join in as well. After all, why wait?
Do you eat when you aren’t hungry?
If we all paused to ask, “Am I physically hungry?” before we put food in our mouths, would we always eat? The answer for many would be no. Sometimes we feel compelled to eat because we feel some emotion, such as happiness, sadness, anger, or boredom, or because we feel out of control or associate food with a particular situation.
I often suggest to my clients this exercise: sit quietly in an area removed from eating triggers and food, fold a piece of paper in half vertically to create two equal columns, and write in the left column all the reasons why they make unhealthy food choices. Then, in the right column, match these reasons with practical strategies they can take to avoid these choices. I ask them to keep this piece of paper with them and review it when they find themselves at an “eating crossroads.” This allows them to acknowledge what motivates them to eat and to employ their own strategies to change their behaviors.
Do you eat frequently throughout the day?
To be successful with maintaining a healthy weight, it is best to eat three modest meals and two healthy snacks at regular intervals through the day. This prevents us from getting overly hungry and overeating when meals are delayed. Make certain that your meals and snacks contain enough protein and healthy fats to keep you full and satisfied. Avoid grazing on processed, refined grains or fruit-based snacks.
Do you ride the blood sugar rollercoaster?
By consistently keeping our blood sugar and insulin levels in a healthy range, we can help to prevent extreme fluctuations in energy levels and lessen our risk of developing metabolic syndrome and insulin resistance, two of the primary conditions associated with increased diabetes risk and its complications. Also, by controlling blood sugar, we can prevent the cravings associated with extreme blood sugar fluctuations. And maintaining healthy levels allows our bodies to transition from a fat-building (anabolic) state to a fat-burning (catabolic) state, making it easier to maintain a healthy weight.
To reach this state, we need to avoid refined, processed starches and sugars, and focus on incorporating sufficient protein, vegetables, and healthy fats in all meals and snacks. In addition, moving our bodies throughout the day helps to keep blood sugar and insulin steady and healthy.
Are you expending enough energy?
Exercise and movement throughout the day are critical for burning calories and boosting metabolism. It’s well known that dieting without exercising isn’t enough to lose weight. When we diet, we shed muscle as well as fat. This loss of muscle mass makes the body go into conservation mode to prevent starvation, which decreases our metabolic rate. Therefore, it is essential to incorporate a combination of aerobic and resistance training into our daily routine, not only to expend energy, but also to build lean muscle mass, change our body composition, and improve metabolism.
Do you order from the menu when you eat out?
You can still indulge in the sensory and social experience of eating out without sabotaging your effort to achieve a healthy weight—as long as you are willing to forgo the menu. When you sit down, ask the wait staff to skip the breadbasket and instead bring you a tossed salad (without croutons, cheese, or fruit), and a large glass of club soda or spring water with lemon or lime. Request grilled vegetables as well, if possible. This will satisfy your immediate hunger and need to graze. Then ask the wait staff which proteins they are serving that are lean and prepared in a clean way—grilled or baked, without heavy oils. Ask which side dishes accompany the entrees and compose your own meal. For instance, you could order a half portion of grilled salmon with asparagus and broccoli sautéed with garlic and olive oil, if these options are already in the kitchen.
Do you know which foods to include in a weight loss diet?
There’s a lot of conflicting weight loss advice and research out there, which means it’s difficult to judge which foods will help us achieve a healthy weight and which will not. So where do you start? I suggest you begin by incorporating the following food types in your diet.
- Protein. Try to include lean protein (eggs, fish, or lean meats) at all meals and snacks. Protein shakes and bars (selectively chosen for their composition) can also be used.
- Healthy oils and fats. Try to include lean protein (eggs, fish, or lean meats) at all meals and snacks. Protein shakes and bars (selectively chosen for their composition) can also be used.
- Green, leafy, and cruciferous Vegetables. Whether you eat them juiced, raw, steamed, roasted, and grilled, try to get at least 2 servings of each per day.
- Other non-starchy vegetables. Color the plate to resemble a rainbow.
- Lean soups and broths. Try to include lean protein (eggs, fish, or lean meats) at all meals and snacks. Protein shakes and bars (selectively chosen for their composition) can also be used.
- Wild rice, red quinoa, and legumes. Mix together 1/3 cup cooked wild rice, 1/3 cup cooked red quinoa, and 1/3 cup of a legume of choice with fresh herbs, sautéed onion, garlic, peppers, mushrooms, and 1/2 cup chopped broccoli. Serve with a mixed green salad. This is a great meal substitution for vegetarians.
- Adequate hydration. Sip hot or iced herbal teas infused with sliced lemon, lime, ginger, orange, and fresh herbs such as tarragon throughout the day.
- Dark Chocolate. Finish your day with 2 squares of 70% or more dark chocolate (about 100 calories) and a calming cup of herbal tea such as chamomile or lavender. Savor the moment and indulge in the sensory experience as the chocolate melts in your mouth.
Our nutrition expert, Peta Cohen, M.S., R.D., has been a clinical nutritionist and metabolic specialist since 1996. Peta specializes in examining the root causes of complex and chronic health issues, and helping clients prevent the diseases caused by lifestyle choices, environmental influences, epigenetics, and aging. With her extensive clinical and research experience, she's been invited to share her knowledge at seminars and conferences worldwide. In Peta's articles for the BoomSpot, the blog of the online store theBoomShop.com, she gives practical tips on how adults 50+ can improve their health right now. Learn more about Peta at PetaCohen.com.