By Emily C. Harrison MS, RD, LD.
When the holidays are over and we are left with a few extra pounds, it’s tempting to want to go for the quick fix such as fad diets, questionable supplements or restrictive eating. But that always backfires and might lead to higher body fat and lower muscle mass in the long run. The best strategy for real weight loss is to make small, sustainable changes overtime. I know it’s not the most sensational or sexy message, but it works. If you want real change that lasts, keep reading.
Small Changes = Big Impact
Little changes add up, leading to big results that are easier to sustain. Cutting 100-200 calories per day can lead to 10-20 lbs weight loss in a year. This doesn’t mean starvation or restriction, just being mindful where extraneous calories come from. For example, some coffee drinks and smoothies from national chains can have 400-800 calories, one pat of butter can have 100 calories, and just two slices of bacon adds 108 high fat calories. Instead of bacon or sausage for breakfast, have ¼ cup of almonds or walnuts on oatmeal. Instead of a burger for lunch, have a wrap with veggies, beans and rice, instead of a protein smoothie for a snack (potentially 700 calories) have an apple, granola bar and some soy milk.
Strategy 1: Start off right
Studies published on the National Weight Control Registry show that 78 percent of people who lose weight and keep it off eat breakfast. Eating breakfast is associated with eating fewer calories later in the day, better athletic performance and decreased binge episodes1. Many of my clients who have trouble controlling cravings or food intake find that when they start their day with a good breakfast and a morning snack three hours later, they have a much easier time losing weight. Breakfast eaters have lower body weight and lower body fat percentage because they burn more fat3. Mornings can be busy times, so plan ahead and get up just five minutes earlier.
Strategy 2: Understand what may be affecting the desire to overeat
Overeating high fat and high sugar foods can lead to a decrease in the brain neurotransmitter dopamine which affects the foods you desire and the quantity of those foods because it is connected with the areas in the brain associated with “reward”4. Sugary foods result in an addictive response for more. The more you eat, the more you want of these highly rewarding foods4. Don’t worry, all is not lost, we can get back to a healthy balance again by eating mindfully and consuming less of these rich foods. At first, it might feel hard, but stick with it. It does get easier as the days go by. Take one day at a time.
Strategy 3: Vow to eat fresh, real food
What if you didn’t go to a fast food restaurant for the next 21 days? What if you didn’t eat fast food for a whole year? Tastes and cravings change over time. When you eat more fresh fruits and vegetables in the place of less processed junk, and less buttery, creamy or fried foods, you can actually change what you desire and crave. Significantly reduce sugar and butter for 21 days, then see how you feel. That gooey cream sauce might not be as appealing. Make your health a priority this New Year by pledging to fuel your body with food that doesn’t come from a box, a powder, a bar or passed through a car window. Pledge to get a new cookbook or follow a vegetarian food blog.
Strategy 4: Know your triggers
If ice cream is your downfall, don’t keep it in the house. Accessibility is key. Make healthy snacks accessible and easy and it will be much easier to resist unhealthy foods. Keep fresh fruit washed and ready for a quick fix.
Strategy 5: Watch Portions
Serve yourself on a smaller plate, put snacks in small to-go containers for quick bites on the run, and don’t buy the bargain super-size foods. It’s not a bargain if it isn’t good for your health.
Yes, it takes a little planning, and a little extra time. But studies show healthy eating actually costs less. We all lead busy lives in this hectic modern world. “Those who think they have no time for healthy eating, will sooner or later have to find time for illness.” You are worth it.
Emily Cook Harrison MS, RD, LD
Emily is a registered dietitian and holds both a bachelor’s and master’s degree in nutrition from Georgia State University, USA. Her master’s thesis research was on elite level ballet dancers and nutrition and she has experience providing nutrition services for weight management, sports nutrition, disordered eating, disease prevention, and food allergies. Emily was a professional dancer for eleven years with the Atlanta Ballet and several other companies. She is a dance educator and the mother of two young children. She now runs the Centre for Dance Nutrition and Healthy Lifestyles. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
1. National Weight Control Registry: http://www.nwcr.ws/Research/default.htm.
2. Masheb RM, Grilo CM. High Caloric intake at breakfast vs. dinner differentially influences weight loss of overweight and obese women. Obesity. 2013 Dec;21(12):2504-12.
3. Stevenson EJ, Astbury NM, Simpson EJ, Taylor MA, Macdonald IA. “Fat oxidation during exercise and satiety during recovery are increased following a low-glycemic index breakfast in sedentary women.”
4. Liebman B. Food and Addiction. “Can some foods hijack the brain?” Nutrition Action. Centre for Science in the Public Interest. May 2012.
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