I’m writing this in December of 2020, right in the midst of the holiday season and during the COVID-19 lockdown. In the best of times, the holiday season is a challenge to sensible eating, but this year, as we’re all encouraged to stay home, the opportunity to nibble, snack, munch, and taste is just about inescapable.
Here are a few practical, easy-to-follow tips that have gotten great results with my clients, and hopefully, they’ll work for you, too!
First, Do a Self-Assessment
If you don’t know where you’re going, how will you know when you’ve arrived?
Here are three questions to ask yourself that will speed you on your way. Actually writing down your own specifics is a really important first step, because when it comes to body image, most of us fall into two camps. Either we look in the mirror and see physical perfection (even if no one else sees it), or we look, but we only see our flaws. Both views are more of a reflection of our feelings than the truth, and neither is really helpful if you want to make a change. That’s why it can be very revealing to actually make a list and write your answers down as honestly as you can. Come back to it occasionally, since it’s going to change as you make progress.
1. Is my weight mostly constant, or does it change noticeably?
This is a really important question. Most people find their body settled at one specific weight (even though it often increases a bit as we get older). Write down your weight right now. Has it been pretty constant?
It’s unusual for weight to vary considerably over a short period of time, but if it does, write down how it varies. Is there a pattern to it? Do you have any health considerations that affect your weight?
The majority of people have a pretty consistent weight, so this article is more geared towards them, but these questions will also reveal things for people whose weight fluctuates.
2. What are my eating and activity habits right now?
A lot of people say that they’re failing at meeting their physical goals, but this isn’t true! YOUR CURRENT WEIGHT AND PHYSICAL CONDITION ARE THE RESULT OF SUCCESSFUL BEHAVIORS! You are successful, but the habits you’ve been following so successfully are just leading to the wrong results. It’s a matter of finding a better direction. Even the best driver will never reach their goal if they’re driving down the wrong road.
Write down all the things you’re doing right now to achieve the weight you’re at.
--First write down your eating habits and behaviors. Do you snack often? Eat meals at regular times, or haphazardly? When you sit down to a meal, do you feel stuffed when you’re done? Do you eat from boredom or frustration? Does your emotional situation affect your eating?
--Then write down the kinds of foods you consume. We all consume proteins, carbohydrates, sugars and roughage. Begin to notice how much of each you consume. A lot of people find it helpful to actually keep a food diary, at least for a week. You may find your habits are actually different than you think they are.
3. What are my weight goals?
Write them down. It can be anything you want -- lose 5 pounds, gain 10, lose 300 pounds. It’s no surprise that the bigger your goal is, the more time and commitment it may take to achieve it. So the next question is, are your goals reasonably achievable all at once, or would it be better to break it down into several, more achievable steps?
The accurate answers to these question will give you resources to build an accurate plan of action. The answers to these questions will change as you take action, so be sure to reassess them occasionally, and make changes as needed.
Time Travel--Who are You and Who Will You Be?
Right now, you’re probably sitting and working at home, not getting out as much as you’d like, and maybe you’ve arrived at this condition from working a regular job and allowing the mundane demands of life shape your life and fitness. So your eating behaviors have been shaped by that, and that leads to the state you’re getting right now.
Now imagine yourself in your ideal body. First, imagine what the characteristics of it would be. Muscles? Flexibility? Attractiveness?. Now imagine what kind of a person would have that ideal body. Would they be a gymnast, a runner, a dancer, a secret agent? Now imagine you have that body, and you are that person. Feel what that body feels like, feel what that body does for you. Now imagine looking back to how you achieved that body. What did you do to get to that place? What do you do to maintain that body? And what does that body do for you? When you have that knowledge, take it, and begin to use it to steer your behaviors to where you want them to go.
Take this little trip into your future whenever you feel you need a little direction, or want a little motivation.
Really? Yes! A diet is a temporary change in behavior to reach a goal. The problem with a diet is that a temporary change creates temporary results. They also usually need a lot of will power to stick to, and all along the dieters are looking forward to the final day of the diet. Sometimes, they even gain more weight once they’re off the diet! Instead, modify the behaviors that you’re already using to get where you are, but change them to steer you to a better direction. You’ll find that once you’ve streamlined your dietary habits, eating the wrong things, eating too much will seem as out of the ordinary as dieting does now.
For most of us, our bodies find a weight that it thinks seems is best, based on our emotional states, how active we are, and how much we eat, and once it’s there, it tries to keep us at that “setpoint.” It seems like that setpoint doesn’t ever really change much on it’s own. You’ve probably noticed that you might go without eating all day, and feel pretty hungry, but it doesn’t really affect our weight in the long run. It’s also true that we might go to a big thanksgiving dinner and eat much more than we usually do, but that doesn’t really affect our long-term weight either. So a little cheating is allowed.
It takes a slow and steady change in behaviors to convince your body to adopt a better weight and keep it. Even though you might achieve a quick change, maybe from a diet, it’s consistency that will convince your body that it is worthwhile to maintain itself at a better weight, and that’s when permanent change occurs.
Fitness and Exercise
This is worthy of a whole article to itself, but when you can combine fitness and exercise goals with your weight goals, you’ll get better results faster, and feel better. And you may even have more fun, too. Sticking to an exercise program gives you a real feeling of accomplishment every time you do it, and if you aren’t used to regular exercise, you may discover that results start to come pretty quickly.
Watch Out for Landmines!
There are some “landmines” we have from our past that can sabotage our weight loss efforts. Some of us have gotten used to seeking emotional refuge in dinner after a stressful day. Some of us are used to eating until we feel really full. (This is doubly bad, because so much food at one time puts a strain on your digestion and is more likely to lead to further fat formation than a smaller meal).
We may have been brought up in a family or culture whose diets included a lot of carbohydrates--bread, potatoes, rice or pasta. Our bodies generally love carbs, because they are the fuel that makes our muscles run, but unless we’re working on a farm or running marathons, we have no way to use up all that carbohydrate, so it gets stored as fat. Sticking to those old, established patterns of eating might bring us comfort and refuge, but also keeps us in our old, established weight. From now on, let’s move into the future with new, effective habits for a new result.
Build Your New Strategy
Armed with the information you now have, you can start to streamline your current dietary habits to steer your waistline in a different direction. You can tailor your strategy to your exact needs, but it will probably include:
--Being more aware of your snacking and either cutting down on snacks or snacking on better choices, or both.
--Being more aware of what and how much you eat at mealtime.
--Cut down on carbohydrates
--Eat more proteins.
--Eat more roughage, like fruits and non-starchy vegetables.
--Eat smaller portions.
--Enjoy the feeling of being hungry sometimes
You’re embarking on a terrific new project to build something wonderful--yourself! Be excited about the possibilities, and enjoy the process. You’re exactly like a sculptor or a carpenter creating a work of art!
Remember, change can come fast, or it can come slowly, but if you start changing your behaviors, your results cannot help but change. It’s going to come with frustrations, but also rewards. Imagine what happens when you see the first results of your work. Work at it like a long term project, consistently chipping away where it needs it and building it up where you want to.
Make it a fun journey, and also be forgiving to yourself if you need to. Setbacks aren’t important if you don’t let them stop you. Keep plowing forward!
© 2021 Jeff Sauber