A Dozen Ways to Nip It in the Bud

January 8, 2013 in Exercise, Foodland, Health Claims, Nutrition, Psychology of Food, Weight Management by Joyce Bunderson

If you’re like millions of Americans, you’re starting off the New Year with some extra pounds. For some, they’re the same pounds as last year, only with some additional ones, perhaps, to keep company with last year’s pounds. Rather than getting tied up in a sad story of how it happened, I wonder if any of you are interested in focusing on changing your habits, essentially creating new behaviors that may help you to stop dieting. When you go on a diet, be it South Beach, Atkins, Paleo, SparkPeople, Cabbage Soup Diet, Grapefruit Diet, Weight Watchers, Glycemic Index Diet, or Mediterranean Diets, it implies that you will eventually go off that eating plan. One of the attractions of a diet is that you assume it is temporary. Once you have lost the pounds, you can go off it; Right?  That is its great attraction, and also it’s fatal weakness. When you stop eating the way the weight loss diet prescribes, what do you do then? Go back to your old eating style that got you where you were before the pain and effort of the diet. But my suggestion is that you, instead, commit to a new eating style, a permanent life-style change.  You can do this by choosing new behaviors to focus on, leading to the creation of your new lifetime eating style. To commit to a life-style change does not mean it needs to be boring or stifling.  You can just as well make it yummy and fun, and make sure you do not have to suffer from hunger pangs.

There are some behaviors and facts that are known – just about set in stone; that work in weight loss and the maintenance of the weight loss.

  • One of those facts is that there is no single diet, eating plan or eating style that works for everyone. But, having said that, we do know that, if you design your own healthy and realistic eating style, that can be maintained long term, you can keep the weight off. So today, I’d like to share some behaviors that can support your goal of creating new habits leading to a sustained healthy weight.
  • Another of those facts is to discard the idea of a super rapid weight loss – what you’re doing is designing new eating behaviors and that will take some time. Unrealistic weight loss goals can be deadly to your motivation and continued progress. Failing at unrealistic goals often leads to giving up. The rate of six to ten pounds a month is a healthy rate of weight loss. A modest goal helps, but more is needed. My suggestion is that you focus on the behaviors rather than pounds. Gaining and losing water quickly can be very tricky and potentially very discouraging. On the other hand, if you consume fewer calories and burn more in exercise, you will lose body fat weight. So I encourage you to keep your effort and your focus on your behaviors.
  • The big payoff of doing it this way is that you develop the skills that make you better and better at weight management during the weight loss period. You don’t have to face “I’ve reached my goal weight; now what do I do? You’ve learned the techniques all the way to your goal weight. You have developed YOUR eating and exercise lifestyle – it’s yours – it’s what works for YOU.

The following are twelve ways to position yourself for long-term success. I’ve concentrated on eating behaviors in this piece, but if you want some ideas for exercise and ‘getting your head’ around it, you may like some of the articles listed under ‘Exercise’ in our blog.

  1. Keep a food and exercise log. This is the single most effective behavior to help you first discover both what you are eating too much or too little of. I’ve been counseling a friend and she is using the MyFitnessPal program. There’s quite a bit to like about this particular program. First, what I like most is that it is free. It works on iPhone; Androids; BlackBerry; Windows and can transfer and be accessed at your home computer. It’s nice because it calculates calories for food and calories for exercise. If you don’t have a portable device, you can still use the program. Just jot it down on a pad and then get all the calculation power at a computer. I like the quote by Jack Hollis PhD Kaiser Permanente’s Center for Health Research that the MyFitnessPal site includes. “The more food records people kept, the more weight they lost. Those who kept daily food records lose twice as much weight as those who kept no records. It seems that the simple act of writing down what you eat encourages people to consume fewer calories.”
  2. Eating more fruits and vegetables is the second habit that I’d like to mention. The reason this habit is so high on my list is that when you fill up on low-calorie vegetables (not starchy veggies) you end up eating fewer calories from the high calorie sources. While starchy vegetables like potatoes, beans, corn and peas are good for you, you can’t eat them in large amounts, because the calories add up too fast with larger portions. So include the starchy veggies, but don’t eat with wild abandon like you might with tomatoes, cucumbers, summer squash, greens and strawberries. Don’t worry too much, you will very quickly learn which ones to eat lots of, when you put the food into the MyFitnessPal program. Oh! I better not eat the entire avocado on my salad or the 10-ounce steak, for example. Note: If you’ve missed the last two blog posts you may want to catch up on them. They were focused on moving toward plant-based menu ideas and more ideas. Eating a plant-based menu not only helps to reduce the calories, but in addition, it helps keep your nutrient intake in high gear. The goal is to not only lose weight, but to do it in a way that will support long term health – an eating style that you can maintain for life.
  3. Controlling your environment. Get the goodies out of your sight AND bring in items that help you succeed. A couple of low calorie treats that I’m presently keeping right in view are yellow cherry tomatoes and Cuties (little tangerines – easy to peel and no seeds). It might be nice if we could go to any gas station, fast food establishment or the mall without being confronted with junk foods and fatty snacks; but can we afford to wait for a new law? We need to make our own rules and make our healthy choices the easy choices. You decide what you allow yourself. If you think it’s just a matter of self-control read one or more of the articles listed at the link at the beginning of this paragraph. Don’t torture yourself! Set yourself up for success – be kind to you!
  4. Consider creating a new habit that limits the number of drinks with calories – sweetened sodas, fruit juices, shakes, whole milk and alcoholic beverages. If you decrease the amount of calorie-containing drinks; you may be pleasantly surprised that not only do you lose weight, but in addition, you discover that your appetite has also diminished. More info? TryDrinking Trouble or one of the numerous other articles about the calories in beverages.
  5. Let’s say that as a result of your record keeping, you’re convinced that too many of your calories are sneaking into your records from restaurants and fast foods. Have a LaraBar, an apple, or some nuts in a plastic bag in your purse, briefcase or car; it may help you get home without popping into the fast food shop. If you find yourself in the fast food or restaurant drive-through, learn what the options are that can make it less painful when you get on the scale the next day. Consider the grilled chicken, clear soup (not creamy), salad, and water instead of soda – how about the kids’ meal with fruit instead of French fries? Maybe you can take half of your restaurant meal home. Try to have a little food before the restaurant meal so you won’t be overly hungry. Think about a goal in restaurants as not being how to maximize how much food you get for your money; but how you can get good nourishment and enjoyment while keeping your calories as low as possible. Contemplate skipping the bread and chips at the table.
  6. Switch your snacks to lower calorie choices. If you have a few nuts, a piece of fruit, a low fat cheese like Laughing Cow Light (35 calories) on a few whole grain crackers, you may discover that it nips your appetite in the bud. Eat a small snack and then distract yourself. Get the cookies, chips, candy out of your sight and reach.
  7. Pay attention to what and how much you eat. If you’re keeping records (see the first habit change above) fill a snack cup or plate with what you allow yourself and write it down. Putting a bulk container or bag of food on the coffee table in front of the TV or next to the computer at your desk is a disaster waiting to happen. Make your own individual snack-sized bags or cups.
  8. Become a breakfast eater. It can be fast and easy. I used to take the train from the Moorpark, California Metrolink station to Children’s Hospital Los Angeles. It left at 6:30 am. I had a hardy piece of whole wheat bread with seeds, a non-fat yogurt and a piece of fruit. By the time I arrived at the office, I was prepared to walk right by the office doughnuts and rolls. Design your own safety net. Eating breakfast is a well-researched predictor of successful weight management. Not eating breakfast on the theory that this is a way to cut calories is an exercise in self-deception.  It makes you hungry and you end up eating more than you would have with a good breakfast.
  9. I really like Trio bars and LaraBars for emergencies; they’re already measured and I can’t make a mistake in amount. You can discover your own emergency foods that can rescue you from a late work night; errand night; or the kids’ sports practice; or dance class.
  10. Shrink your portion of meat, cheese, and sugary, starchy and fatty foods. Remember the Mindless Margin – read my article Making a Difference in the Mindless Margin. Dr. Brian Wansink has done wonderful research that shows how effective it is to decrease calories by only 200 calories a day, which yields weight loss without the body sending out its strong hunger pangs. This is really worth understanding; it’s a technique of incremental change.
  11. And one of the most important new behaviors is not feeling like it is the end of success if you make a poor choice. Certainly it happens – we had no intention of eating too much; making a poor choice; ending up in a conversation next to the cheese tray or next to the candy dish; running into an old friend right outside the deadly Burger King; and on and on and on. I never kept track of how many people I’ve counseled in the past that had an unexpected bad experience and threw up their hands in defeat – they gave up all their success and hard work.  It’s heartbreaking! And it is not necessary. The very moment that you move away from the cheese platter, or the very next meal; you’re back to your newly developing behaviors. It can be fixed and you can do it. Just don’t give up.
  12. And last, don’t think that you need to start all the behaviors at once. Changing behaviors is a little like learning to juggle. First, you get the feel of one ball, then two, and so forth. Focus on one or two behaviors for two or three weeks, and then move to another when you feel that it’s becoming a habit – that’s realistic.

The idiom of nipping something in the bud began as a gardening metaphor. Being a gardening hobbyist, I think it is such a great metaphor for designing new eating behaviors. Like plants, if we nip the bud end here and there, we can stop the plant from growing where we don’t want it to, while nourishing and encouraging it to grow where we desire it to be – we can design it to be the size and shape we want it to be. We can do the same with eating and exercise behaviors. I’m sending you my best wishes for a healthy, happy New Year – Let the Nipping Begin, just nip and nourish wisely and well.