Most people struggle with their weight at one point or another, even nutrition experts. Achieving sustainable weight loss isn't easy, otherwise everyone would sit at their most comfortable weight. Most of the time, we turn to quick fixes- diets that leave us feeling deprived and restricted - that might work short term but ultimately result in disappointment and defeat, as well as a growing mountain of metabolic and weight issues.
It wasn't until after I had finished my undergrad nutrition degree and started my private nutrition counseling practice that I realized the keys to sustainable weight loss and refined my own relationship with food. In fact, it turns out that achieving and maintaining my healthiest weight came down to trusting my body and allowing myself to eat foods that I loved (crazy, I know). It's important to remember that different strategies work for different people, so what works for me might not work the same for you. However, as Dr. Yoni Freedhoff mentions in his book "The Diet Fix
" (which I recommend as a great resource) over 90% of diets end in failure, so it might be worth trying something new if you've experienced failure in the past.
Here are eight sustainable weight management strategies that I live by:
There's no such thing as "falling off the wagon"
So much of why diets don't work is because people beat themselves up for "failing." When that happens, they usually throw in the towel, then plan to "start fresh" later. This all or nothing mentality
often translates into weight gain and guilt and puts you right back on the dieting rollercoaster. The key to not falling off the wagon is two-fold: First of all, make the wagon really hard to fall off. In other words, your goals should be realistic and not feel too restrictive. On the other hand, if you do "fall off," jump right back on at the next meal or snack. Real life isn't perfect, and neither is real eating. It's when the towel is thrown in and unhealthy indulging carries on for days, weeks, or months that weight gain happens.
I don't eat something just because it's healthy
It's important to eat foods you enjoy and not force yourself to eat something for the sake of health (or lack of calories, carbs or fat). Otherwise, you'll feel as though you're on a diet. Even though broccoli is nutritious and healthy, I'm not a huge fan of it, especially when it's raw. Instead, I choose green vegetables I enjoy such as arugula, bok choy, brussel sprouts or asparagus -veggies I love to work with in the kitchen and love to eat. I realize fat free yogurt has fewer calories, but I still eat 2% because it satisfies me more (and tastes a lot better). There are no rules that you must eat salad at every meal to lose weight (sauteed or grilled veggies are just as healthful!), or that you must choose whole wheat pasta over white pasta (for the record, I always choose white). It's more important you love what you eat and you try your best to achieve balance in an enjoyable way.
I put my fork down
In order to experience "comfortable fullness," you need to slow down at mealtimes (which can be hard if you're used to rushing through). Most of us power through meals and snacks because we're anxious to get to our next task, so we either don't eat enough (which increases the chances of overeating later) or eat too much (and feel guilty afterwards). At meals I've formed the habit of consciously putting my fork down in between each bite, chewing my food and savouring it. I no longer rush through my meals (especially when I'm eating out) and almost always leave a few bites on my plate (if not more) because I give myself the opportunity to feel comfortably full before my plate is clean (which is when most people stop).
I'm a picky eater
When it comes to sweets like candy, donuts, cake, or ice cream, I could take them or leave them (which means that I usually leave them--they're not worth it). Chocolate on the other hand, I can't live without. This is why I make room for it everyday (and don't feel guilty about it). Instead of eating a sweet treat just because it's there, or just because you see it, be picky with your indulgences. Decide which treats will bring you the most satisfaction, and don't waste your time or calories on the mediocre ones.
I don't rely on my will power
Many people blame themselves (and lack of will power) for not sticking to their diet. Darya Pino Rose, PhD, author of the book "Foodist
" (which I highly recommend for anyone wanting to reach a healthy weight) writes on her blog "Summer Tomato,
" that will power doesn't have an on/off
switch. In other words, we (no matter who we are) can't rely on our will power to get us through times of restriction. This is why diets don't work. Every time you deprive yourself of a certain food (this could happen hundreds of times a day) you drain your willpower little by little until you experience what Darya calls the "what the hell effect,
" whereby you over-indulge and throw your diet out the window for a certain period of time. This can undo days of restrictive eating and create unhealthy habits long-term. Instead of relying on my will power to keep my eating in control, I control my environment at home so that tempting treats aren't accessible all of the time (they appear on special occasions or once in a while for fun), otherwise, I would mindlessly eat just like anyone else. I also give myself permission to eat all foods, which makes it easier to say no, unless it is 100% worth it.
Restriction (and/or constant exposure to tempting foods) --> will power drain --> over-indulgence --> guilt.
Protein appears in each meal and snack
Protein-rich foods such as meat, poultry, fish, beans, lentils, eggs, and dairy products are not only nutrient-dense, but also satiating. This explains why you might be fuller longer if you have eggs for breakfast rather than breakfast cereal. Including protein in every meal and snack helps to fill you up, preventing over-eating (and excess calorie consumption) during - as well as after - a meal. Try to fill about 1/4-1/3 of your plate with protein-rich foods at meals and try to always include some protein if you have snacks in between.
I trust my gut
Although it's taken years of practice, I'm now able to ignore external cues to eat (for the most part) and focus on my internal eating cues (how physically hungry or full I am). Evelyn Tribole, RD and Elyse Resch, RD coined this phenomenom "Intuitive Eating" (another book that I highly recommend). I trust my internal hunger scale, meaning that I eat when I feel subtle hunger and I stop when I'm comfortably full. This takes time and practice, and means paying more attention to my body and forming some new habits such as eating slowly, recognizing the see-food syndrome, and not worrying about what other people think or do when it comes to food. Which brings me to my next point...
I'm not worried about offending people
When it comes to my eating, I don't care what other people think. If I'm offered a dessert at a dinner party that I know I won't love, I almost always politely turn it down. If I don't love something that I've been served, I don't finish it to be polite. I don't worry about being judged, wasting food (it can always be packed up) or hurting feelings, because ultimately, I'm in charge of what goes into my body and care enough about it that I'm not willing to let external cues (or other people, even if they are family) take over. And quite frankly, most people don't care and are not offended in the least.
When you've grown accustomed to following diets and equating weight loss with restriction, it's challenging to think beyond those terms and give yourself permission to eat foods that you love and trust your body. With some practice and great resources (check out those books that I mentioned above), you can achieve lasting weight loss without deprivation.
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