It’s January, so get ready to be inundated with the latest diets, plans and cleanses destined to capitalize on your health and fitness desires. Unfortunately, the long-term odds are not in your favor when following these regimens – research shows a significant percentage of people will ultimately see a loss (or regain, more accurately) of those results within a couple of years. Why are so many of us destined to fail before we start?
A few points to consider:
- What’s your motivation for making these changes? Are they being driven by yourself or someone else?
- Are you focusing on the actions you can control (e.g., exercising and eating vegetables) or just the results of those actions, which you have much less control over (e.g., your weight).
- Will you be able to sustain the changes you’re about to make? The speed of results has nothing to do with the permanency of those results.
- Do you have a system in place to keep you accountable?
Here are two easy tips to get your New Year started right!
Honor Your Hunger: Eat As Often As You Need to Avoid Feeling Ravenous
The unsexy but best answer to the question, “How often should I eat?” is: It depends. Research shows we generally make better eating decisions if we eat at least three times a day. But eating more often doesn’t necessarily produce better results. Of course, some people swear by “intermittent fasting,” which shoves all of your eating into an eight-to-12-hour window. So, there are lots of options.
My overarching approach to answering that question is:
- Honor your hunger – if you’re hungry, you should eat something. Otherwise you’ll progress to feeling ravenous, which usually leads to shoving the nearest food into our mouth, regardless of whether it’s healthy or not. Some people do better with a bigger breakfast, while others may prefer an afternoon snack.
- Eat slowly enough to give your body a chance to sense it’s full – at least 15 to 20 minutes. If you don’t have that much time, you’ll need to learn through trial and error how much you can eat quickly that allows you to feel reasonably comfortable, not stuffed, 15 to 20 minutes later.
- If you have a chaotic schedule or feel like you’ve lost touch with your ability to sense hunger, try using a hunger scale. If 0 (zero) = Ravenously Hungry and 10 = Uncomfortably Stuffed, you want to aim to live between 3 and 7 – eating when you’re hungry, and then stopping when you’re comfortably satiated. Track what you eat for a week, noting what you ate, when you ate it and what your hunger was like before and after. You may be able to identify patterns when you end up getting too hungry or eating too much.
Focus on What You Should Eat
When making healthy changes to our diet, we often default to thinking of what we can cut out: sugar, alcohol, gluten, fried foods, etc. The problem with this approach is that it leaves us with a black hole and lots of frustration – if I can’t eat half the foods I used to eat, what should I eat?
Instead, consider what you can add to improve the quality of your diet – and you’ll naturally eat less of the other stuff. Research has identified a number of nutrients that we tend to lack in a traditional “Western diet,” including calcium, potassium, magnesium, vitamin K, omega-3 fatty acids and fiber. Coincidentally, many of the foods that are often recommended for weight loss revolve around similar nutrients – fiber, fluid and protein allow us to stay fuller, longer for fewer calories.
If you’re not sure how much you’re having right now, track your eating habits for a week and then aim to consistently add a certain number of servings of vegetables, fluids (i.e., glasses of water) and/or nutritious proteins (e.g., fatty fish, legumes, etc.) beyond what you’re currently having. Feel free to add in a piece of fruit or two every day for good measure.
While a “food first” approach is ideal, sometimes a basic multivitamin-and-mineral supplement can potentially help improve any existing deficiencies.
Here’s to a healthy 2015!
Through his book and blog, Death of the Diet , Jason Machowsky, MS, RD, CSCS, strongpowers people to live the life they want by integrating healthy eating and physical activity habits into their daily routines. You can follow him on Twitter @JMachowskyRDFit .