Diet and weight control is probably the biggest issue most people face when it comes to their health. You would think that with the multitude of options available, everyone would be at their ideal weight. The issues that most people face however comes from sticking to a diet or what to do after the diet ends. Weight loss (or gain) isn’t a 12 week program or challenge, but a lifelong journey. What we are going to establish are a set of tools that will help you develop your own nutrition plan. There isn’t one plan that works for everyone. So you have to find what works best for you.
This can be done by working through some small steps every day to build up habits that work for you. Each step has smaller steps that you can easily do each day until they become part of your routine. Each small easy step builds on the last and eventually snowballs into a big result.
This will just be an overview of what we will be talking about in the coming weeks. We’ll dive deeper into each idea in future posts. So let’s take a look at the basics!
Good intentions to lose weight won’t get you there alone. We have to plan ahead. In this case, planning is just the simple practice of setting aside time to plan out what you want to eat or planning out your grocery list. You can’t eat what you need to eat without going to the grocery store and getting healthy choices.
The plan doesn’t have to be perfect, it just needs to happen. To start out, just set aside roughly 5 minutes to put together what you will eat the next day. Use that time to start a grocery list. Look at where things didn’t go as planned in the past few days and plan out how you can do better next time. Get a notebook, daily planner, or use an app in your phone to keep track. The key here is to make sure you set aside time to plan what you are going to eat.
2) Pay attention to your meals
When was the last time you ate a meal with no distractions? Do you often get up from a meal feeling like you ate too much? It is very easy to get distracted these days and not focus on what you are shoveling into your mouth. Paying closer attention to what you are eating and how you are feeling will help you to recognize how hungry or full you are during the meal. If weight loss is the goal, we need to eat until we are just satisfied. Slowing down while eating will help you pay closer attention to your hunger cues. This can be as simple as setting down the fork between bites.
3) Match intake to your goals
This one takes some trial and error, and it really helps to have a good grasp of the hunger/full cues. You have probably heard the term “calories in vs calories out.” This is where that term applies and is the goal of any diet. If your goal is to lose weight, you need to eat fewer calories than you burn in a day. There is no secret ingredient or diet. Everything comes down to this basic formula. This doesn’t mean that you need to count calories or macros throughout the day. In fact, without a decent amount of experience in that area, you might end up with count that is completely off. There are several simple methods of keeping up with your food intake and we’ll get into detail in another post. The main idea right now is to focus on how full you feel after eating. We also want to pay attention to how you feel during the day and how you perform for exercise. We don’t want to eat too much, but we also don’t want to eat too little. If you are feeling like crap and performing poorly, it’s going to be tough to keep eating that way.
Another point that needs to be put made here is that most diets only focus on this one step. At most they may gloss over some of these other ideas. Calorie balance is only one piece of the puzzle. It is a very important piece, but alone it won’t complete the puzzle.
4) Eat Higher Quality Foods
This means whole food over processed. Whole foods have lower caloric density, are more satisfying, and carry a lot more nutrients than processed food. The satisfying part has to do with hunger. Sure, ice cream might seem more satisfying than an equal caloric amount of kale, but your hunger could be satisfied by eating that much kale (1/3 cup vs 3 cups).
Switching from a diet that is mostly processed food to a whole food diet is not something that happens in a few days. The key is to start adding more whole foods to your meals. An example would be to add a piece of fruit to your sandwich and chips at lunch. Maybe finish the fruit before you start the chips and only eat until you’re about 80% full. If that works like it should, you cut down on the processed chips and ate more fruit instead. Adding more whole foods this way can help to switch you over to a much healthier way of eating.
5) Get more nutrients
This leans more towards overall health instead of weight loss, but good health is part of that goal too, right? Now that we are adding in more higher quality foods, we need to add variety to that mix as well. Filling out our diet with different sources of protein and carbs will help us to get a variety of micronutrients. This if often relayed by saying “eat all of the colors of the rainbow.” Micronutrients are vitamins and minerals that our bodies need to function. We can and probably will go into the details of each of the micronutrients, but your needs can be met by simply eating a variety of whole foods.
6) Get more exercise and movement
This is one of those things that everyone “knows” they need to do, but never get started doing. This is one of the simplest steps to do though. Most people reading this will have a smart phone that can track steps or a watch that can count steps. A simple start is to set a goal and start working towards that daily. That can be a good starting point to move towards a regular exercise routine. Getting a new gadget to help here can also make it more fun.
Working through a training plan will give you a scheduled routine to keep you accountable to sticking with a fitness goal. Finding others to train with will really help keep you on track as well. You could perhaps join a gym with a coach that is always around (I know a place).
The important part is to keep moving and make it a point to keep moving. Earlier we talked about matching food intake to your goals. Movement and exercise helps to burn through the calories you consume and helps keep your energy balance leaning towards weight loss.
7) Rest and Recover well
Recovery is the key to improvement. Workouts are a stress. When we exercise we stress our bodies, and that is by design. You don’t get stronger when you lift weights in the gym (you actually get weaker). If you are familiar with exercise you know that the longer or harder you go, the weaker you get until you are taxed. Rest and recovery afterwards is when your body uses the nutrients you have taken in to rebuild and bring your body back stronger. If you don’t allow yourself to fully recover, you will not receive the full benefits of your training.
You would think that in general the rest part should be pretty easy. The couch and Netflix are not hard to get sucked into. However, that is not effective rest. Sleep is crucial to this process. Just in conversations with clients and friends, sleep is probably the biggest issue facing most people. We don’t get enough, it’s not restful, and we are always tired. This is a big topic and we will get deeper into it. The key for now is to know that it is more important than you probably realize and we are going to have to put a focus on it.
8) Build a supportive environment
When you are working towards a goal it really helps to have an environment that makes it easier. We can’t change everything about our environment and we need to figure out how to work around that. Other people and our local culture are part of our environment and we can’t change that. We can change parts of it though. We have to look at what is within our control and work to improve that.
First thing is to put healthy foods that fit our plan within reach. This involves that planning we had talked about earlier and going to the grocery store. If food is within easy reach you will most likely eat it.
The people around us directly influence the choices we make, so building a social circle of people who have similar goals can be incredibly helpful. Getting family and friends on board can be difficult and we can’t expect them to change. We can ask for support and work towards moving in that direction. Joining fitness groups either online or in person can help offer support. Also, working with a coach works well too, (again I know a guy).
Building this environment doesn’t happen in one step, but it is something that can be established over time. Working toward this can really help your long term success.
9) Keep feelings and emotions separate from eating
Food is a powerful way of self medicating life stress. Food is easy to come by and can have powerful emotions attached to it. Eating to feel better is ok, as long as it is within reason. It can be easy to quickly overindulge when we are sad or stressed. Managing our intake in these times and working towards separating food from emotion is another long term goal. It takes daily work to successfully separate.
To get a start on this simply keep a log of how you feel when you eat. (A food journal is going to be an incredibly powerful tool in this whole process). Identifying when emotions are overpowering what you planned on eating will help to prevent that from happening. Before you eat take a moment to analyze how you are feeling. If you are aware of how you are feeling you can begin to have an idea of how to manage your eating.
Work towards other options to manage stress. Exercise is a great way to help reduce stress. In some cases it may be a good idea to seek outside help, and that is perfectly normal.
That’s the basics!
Long term weight loss or gain isn’t as simple as just following a diet, but it isn’t that difficult. Working through each one of these in small steps can get you to your goal. We will discuss each of these some more and you can always reach out if you have any questions!