10 Simple Steps To Losing Weight & Eating Healthier
Eating healthy today isn’t as easy as it might have been for those in generations past, as waistlines expand and mortality rates climb healthy eating is no longer a cosmetic concern but an important factor in the quality of our lives. Given the unfortunate biological reality that our bodies were designed to store and not shed body fat, losing weight and getting in shape is indeed a daunting task. Like Sisyphus, cursed to push his rock up that steep mountain every day, only to see it fall back to the foot of the hill with the setting of the sun, many of us toil away trying to eat right and exercising regularly only to see downward movement on the scale reversed over time. However, unlike Sisyphus who was doomed to pick up his rock with the dawn of every new day, most of us quit in frustration after several weeks, months or years of seeing our weight climb back up in spite of our best efforts. Sadly, it is this very act of defeat that confines us to forever continue the cycle. Eating well, like so many other things is a matter of patience and persistence, and it doesn’t come overnight. It took me the better part of 15 years to really eat consistently well and not for the lack of trying! There are some useful steps that you can take to make the transition to healthy eating a bit easier and I have compiled ten such tips to help you get started on your journey. Remember though, that losing weight and getting in shape is like climbing a mountain. You don’t try to look at the summit of the mountain, as doing so will only make it easier for you to fall Instead you focus only on the next handhold you need to pull yourself up. By taking a seemingly insurmountable task and breaking it up in to manageable pieces- we can indeed achieve that which seems to be almost impossible.
Here are 10 steps to help you stay on your path towards healthy eating:
Step 1: Educate Yourself
Most if not all of what passes today for conventional wisdom with regards to losing weight and getting into shape has no little foundation in science or truth, but instead is based on advertising and the self interest of those in the food industry. Understand that it isn’t a matter of advertisers being inherently evil or that there is a plot to keep us all fat and out of shape, but simply a matter of economics. There is only a limited amount of food that any one person can eat and in a market saturated with thousands of different food products the only way that food manufacturers can keep their profit ratios high is by doing everything they can to convince you to eat more. (See my article on the Economics of Obesity). Take great care when evaluating any health or fitness claim and always ask yourself “Cui bono?’ or who stand to gain when you hear a study mentioned in the media touting the benefits of some new ‘superfood’ or claiming that something that you know is unhealthy is all of a sudden good for you. Don’t be fooled by intrinsically meaningless labels such as ‘natural’, ‘fat free’ or ‘organic.’ The huge variety of foods that have kept humans in good health for the past 150,000 years haven’t changed and if you eat them exclusively you’ll do a lot better than someone eating foods with great claims on the labels. Understand as well that there is nothing that happens quickly in nature and that the laws of thermodynamics are very simple- if you eat more calories than you need, regardless of what it is- you will gain weight. It’s a lot, but there are a lot of great sources of information out there and great authors, bloggers and real authorities who aren’t afraid to say it like it is without the glamor and glitz that works well to sell products to large audiences.
Step 2: Eat A Large Healthy Breakfast
Eat a large breakfast. My experience has been that individuals that skip breakfast almost always have difficulty towards the afternoon to evening avoiding junk foods. A good breakfast will do wonders to regulate your appetite, and you will be surprised at how quickly the late night cravings disappear! The mantra I keep repeating to my clients is to always breakfast like a king, lunch like a prince and eat dinner like a pauper- follow that rule and you will be in shape in no time. You can download my free weight loss ebook on healthy breakfast choices here!
Step 3: Get A Support System
Let everyone at work know that you are trying to eat better and actively recruit them. Not eating what everyone else is eating can be a real strain at times and it helps to have people around who understand and support your endeavors. You can also get some real motivation from friends online who may be thousands of miles away on Facebook or Twitter. Finding people who are on the same path you are on in terms of getting into shape can be daunting, but the internet does make it a lot easier these days. (Get motivating and inspirational updates daily from Kevin’s Twitter account @BATMANNYC)
Step 4: Set Realistic Goals
Set realistic expectations for yourself by remembering to practice moderation, and don’t feel badly if you indulge from time to time. The guilt that we feel after eating something that we should not will work against you, in that it will cement the idea of eating the wrong food in your mind for a long time afterwards, as you keep on beating yourself up for slipping. In so doing you are actually more likely to do it again. The best bet is to forget about the past, (since there is nothing that you can do about it unless you have access to a working time machine) and instead just pick yourself up and keep on going. Everyone slips sometimes and we forget instantly how well we have eaten for the day and instead focus on the one bad food that we may have eaten. So be patient with yourself and keep things in perspective and most importantly- don’t beat yourself up if you fail. (See my articles- Why Is Staying On A Diet So Hard & Controlling Your Eating Habits)
Step 5: Know Your Problem Times & Triggers
Identify those times of the day when you’re most vulnerable to a junk-food attack and plan to do something about it. Is it that relentless 8 pm craving while home watching TV? The phone call from your client-from-hell that creates a sudden need for donuts? Stress at work? Stress from the kids? Whatever the trigger, prepare ahead of time by having healthy, flavorful meals always alternatives on hand. Better yet, learn to distract yourself during those difficult times. By doing something positive such as going for a walk you’ll have time to evade the desire to eat as a way of comforting yourself. (See my article on Distraction As A Weight Loss Strategy) Many of us were raised with the idea of food being a comfort when things get bad by very well meaning parents- however part of growing up is learning that everything we learned isn’t always good for us and that we need to sometimes change behaviors that we have always carried with us.
Step 6: Make Good Choices When Eating Out
The best part about our current health problems is that there are more and more healthy choices to be made when eating out. Always avoid fast food restaurants and the ones that market themselves as ‘healthy fast foods’ (see my article on Subway here). That being said there are great places to eat out but you do have to be a bit diligent in making your choices. For example, when eating out always choose grilled or broiled versions of foods that are typically fried, don’t eat the bread or fries that may come with the main meal and ask for all the sauces on the side. In the better restaurants, you can ask to have your food cooked without salt but almost everywhere (except fast food restaurants) you can find entrees that are mainly natural foods sources like chicken, fish, or lean meats that can fit in with any healthy diet. For more details on eating out check out at my posts on Eating Out & Staying Healthy and my Restaurant Guide For Eating Out & Staying In Shape)
Step 7: Never Let Yourself Get Too Hungry
Even the most disciplined among us will consider yielding to the temptation of unhealthy foods if he or she is ravenously hungry and feels like there aren’t that many choices. The same applies to a trip the supermarket on an empty stomach- as you will buy foods that appeal to your immediate desires. We are slaves to our evolutionary traits to crave foods that are high in salt, fat or sweet and the food industry is well aware of our tendencies. We live in a world that is abundant in all the foods we shouldn’t eat and are often pressured by others to eat them as well. It’s an uphill battle in really bad weather and so you have to do your best to stay on point at all times. How do you do that? By not letting yourself get too hungry. Cramming 24 hours worth of nutrition into 2 or 3 meals will always leave you with long stretches of low energy levels where you will feel hungry. From an evolutionary perspective the key the losing weight is actually eating more- not eating less. (See my article on eating more to lose weight). That being said, try to eat a small meal every 3 to 4 hours with an adequate ratio of protein, fats and carbohydrates so your body always has a steady stream of nutrients. That will help keep your blood sugar nice and level and help keep the cravings away. Nuts are also a great way to keep yourself satisfied without putting on extra pounds as studies show they can help you lose weight. (Check out my article on Nuts- The Ultimate Weight Loss Snack) That being said, don’t give in to the temptation to eat to the point of being stuffed either as you can still gain weight if you overeat healthy foods as well.
Step 8: Go To Bed Early
Sitting in front of the television late in the evening can be a formula for bad eating habits as well as insomnia. The most dangerous period for anyone trying to lose weight or get in shape are the evening hours when you are home from work and decide to unwind by watching TV or surfing the internet as overeating, and snacking on the wrong foods usually goes hand in hand with these activities. The problem is that if you eat too much at night- especially high carbohydrate processed foods- you’ll not only have trouble falling asleep (See my article on sleep and weight gain), but you’ll also have no appetite in the morning for breakfast. And skipping breakfast is a major causative factor of overeating later in the day (See my article on Night Eating and The Importance Of Breakfast) In addition to exercising at least three times a week- you should find other activities to keep you occupied. (I don’t recommend any more than that and as great as exercise may feel, if you train too often you will end up being overtrained and diminish any potential gains you are getting from the activity.) Instead find a hobby over simply going home and watching television night after night, as it will indeed help you stay on track, diet wise. Keep in mind as well that it is almost impossible to resist the temptation of unhealthy foods when you are up late with few good choices in sight. There is an old saying that ‘locks keep honest men honest’ and the same goes for anyone trying to get in shape. By removing yourself from temptation by going to bed early, you bypass the risk of eating the wrong foods or overeating at night- the time that you are most vulnerable.
Step 9: Prepare Your Own Meals If You Can
Learn to cook. There is perhaps no better way to be sure that you are eating exactly what you should than by preparing your own meals. Not only is there the sense of satisfaction that comes with taking full responsibility for what goes into your body, but there is also the convenience of always having what you need on hand. It is not easy to always find healthy foods when you have to always eat out and very often you either end up giving in to the ever present junk foods or find yourself compromising with foods that aren’t quite what you need, but are rather the best that you can do under the circumstances. Cooking your own foods and bringing it with you bypasses this problem entirely and for those of you who are pressed for time- a great idea is to cook large quantities over the weekend and pack away your meals for the week in the refrigerator. With some containers handy you’ll always have the food you need with you at all times and thus have more control over your calorie intake.
Step 10: Plan Ahead!
Plan ahead. Whenever an aircraft takes off not only do the pilots have information as to where the plane will land, but also what other airports are available if for some reason there an emergency along the route. Extra contingency fuel is also loaded onto the airplane so that there is enough fuel to get to an alternate airport if there is a problem at the intended destination and in case the aircraft has to spend more time in the air than anticipated due to holding caused by weather or traffic. Still more fuel is stowed on the aircraft- known as reserve fuel that the pilot must always land with unless there is a dire emergency of some sort. You may not have thought that all this planning goes into a flight that takes you from airport A to B, but it does and the same strategy should apply to your food supply if you are serious about getting into shape. If you know that you are going to be away from home for a certain period of time, always carry enough food to eat for the duration, and then some extra stores just in case. Simple snacks like fruit are always good first choices to have along with your meals as well as non-perishable snacks like nuts and seeds that you can keep with you as a reserve at all times. Equally important is your food supply at home. Don’t wait until your fridge is empty to go grocery shopping so you will always have what you need on hand. Parties and social events can be a bit more of a challenge- but if you make it a practice to ALWAYS have either a piece of fruit or some protein BEFORE going to a dinner or event, you won’t have the temptation to eat the wrong foods as your ‘pre-meal’ will take the edge off of your hunger. That way you’ll make better choices and be less likely to eat the wrong foods or eat more than you should.
In the end these are some very basic tips on staying on point with your diet and the list is by no means exhaustive. What’s important is that you understand that getting in shape is very much a series of failures that you have to keep getting up from without losing your determination. It’s a marathon event , not a sprint, where all that matters is that you cross the finish line. So don’t be overly concerned with how often you fall- just keep getting up and stay the course. There is a prevailing trend of thought these days that it takes 10,000 hours to get really good at anything and I would thing the same applies when it comes to losing weight and getting in shape. Excelsior!
Kevin Richardson is an award winning health and fitness writer, natural bodybuilding champion, creator of Naturally Intense High Intensity Training and the most sought after personal trainer in NYC. Visit his official website at www.naturallyintense.net.