The most common greeting this time of year is “Have a happy and healthy new year.” Is this just a knee jerk reaction to the overindulgence of the holidays or a well intentioned attempt to just pay attention to our health since we are a year older and a year closer to death?
However well-intentioned our resolutions are, they are often short-lived. Life is busy, stuff happens, you lose motivation when you lose only 2 pounds a week, etc. This doesn’t mean that there is no way to achieve a healthy weight. It just means you are either going about it the wrong way or that you have unrealistic expectations. Here are some tips to help you achieve your health goals in 2013.
1. REPEAT AFTER ME: There is no magic diet that will sustain weight loss
Even bariatric surgery doesn’t work if you don’t comply with a rigid protocol. While there are many who do well on this program, it is by their choice – not because they had a “magic” operation. Diets are temporary. Lifestyle is permanent. Change your lifestyle – change your health.
2. Health is more than eating right. While diet is an important part of good health, so is exercise, not smoking, and getting enough sleep. Studies show that sleep deprivation messes with your hunger and satiety hormones, making you crave bad foods and disconnecting the “I’m full now, stop eating” button. Exercise improves all bodily functions regulating appetite, metabolism and sending oxygen to all you cells. It also reduces stress – another trigger for poor eating (think “comfort food”). Muscles built by exercising utilize more calories than fat. Yes, if you sit on the couch after a workout, your body will burn more calories than if you stand around while unfit.
3. Breakfast is the most important meal of the day. Your mother was right. Your body has been at rest for 8 or more hours since last being fueled. Your metabolism has slowed down. A healthy breakfast jumpstarts your metabolism for the whole day! That’s right! Skip breakfast and your body never revs up, keeping metabolism slow all day, to protect energy (and fat). A healthy breakfast includes a protein, a carb and some fat. Protein and fat keeps you satisfied longer so you aren’t hungry for lunch prematurely. Carbs are needed for brain and muscle function. (Did you know that your brain lives on glucose, broken down from carbs?) Just make your carbs healthy ones – whole grains like whole wheat bread, brown rice, oatmeal, cream of wheat, bran flakes, etc. Look at the labels to be sure the grains are whole. “Multigrain” does not mean whole. The ingredients must say “whole” to derive all the nutritious benefits of a whole grain: protein, fiber and the slow release of carbs, keeping your blood glucose from spiking.
4. Drink, drink, drink. Dehydration is more common as we age because our thirst mechanism starts to fail. Don’t rely on thirst to be sure you get enough fluid. Even a small amount of dehydration affects your ability to perform well at any task, may lower your blood pressure to unhealthy levels and make you constipated. Also important is that the need for fluids often masquerades as hunger. You reach for food when in fact you need fluid. The amount of fluid needed varies from person to person but a good rule of thumb is 8 glasses per day. All liquids count (even coffee and tea) and many foods contain fluid. Fruit contains a lot of fluid (think oranges, watermelon, etc.). BUT BEWARE. Not all drinks are created equal. Those flavored mocha latte whatevers have a high calorie and fat count. Be smart about how you get your calories. Reserve them for foods that also carry nutrients with them – not empty calories like junk foods.
5. Eat slowly. People who eat slowly consume fewer calories because they give the body a chance to register fullness. Scarfing down your food before the signal comes means you are already too stuffed.
6. When you eat out, order a takeout container when you order your meal. Putting aside half the meal before you even dig in will cause you to stop before the plate is empty.
7. Use smaller plates. Psychologically, a full plate is more appealing. Loading a large plate with a reasonable portion may make you feel less satisfied. Go ahead, fill that bread and butter plate with healthy food and you can clean it without guilt.
8. Eat more meals. Eat three modest meals each day, with a small, nutritious snack between breakfast and lunch, and lunch and dinner. You will be less likely to overeat at any meal because you won’t be as hungry. Skipping a meal has the double negative impact of making you ravenous and slowing your metabolism. Don’t skip meals to manage weight. Studies have shown time and time again, that those who eat small, frequent meals and eat breakfast, weigh less than their peers who starve and binge.
9. Read labels and record what you eat. I can’t emphasize this enough. Awareness of what you are putting into your mouth is the secret of those who lose weight successfully. We think twice before downing a handful of nuts when we know how many calories and grams of fat are in them. If we choose to eat them, and record them, we have a better handle on what we can consume the rest of the day.
10. Follow the 80/20 rule. If you are careful about what you eat 80% of the time, you can safely indulge the other 20% of the time.
Have a happy and healthy new year!