It’s a bold new year, which provides the perfect opportunity to reprioritize all areas of your life: work, family, friends. Chances are, however, like many Americans, not taking the proper time out for that bold new you gradually settles into the daily norm. As a result, your mental, as well as physical, wellness takes a sluggish turn.
It doesn’t have to be that way. It is actually possible to feel good while losing weight all year long. To start, let’s set the record straight: Everyone has personal struggles. Whether it’s not being active enough, carrying too much weight or struggling to keep a positive outlook year-round, you’re not alone.
Early into the weight loss process, keep in mind the amazing power of patience. When our weight creeps too high, there’s an immediate prescription to enroll in boot camp or starve all weekend, lose five or 10 pounds at a sneeze and look “normal” again.
But weight loss doesn’t work this way. Extreme dieting only slows your metabolism and weight loss to a pace that’s not only agonizing but unhealthy, too. Practicing patience and kindness with yourself leads to improved moods, self-confidence and overall long-term health.
More importantly, this by-the-numbers patience pays off. For instance, if you cut just 100 calories a day (that’s two Oreos or one cup of whole milk or 10 tortilla chips), you’ll lose a pound a month. And that’s without exercise or other food denial.
Patience also reaps surprising, long-term results. Obesity Research published a study that confirmed keeping off weight does get easier over time. Dieters who lost at least 30 pounds and kept off weight for two years found it easier to avoid adding pounds in successive years. In short, little changes add up.
The initial step toward a healthier life is simply accepting yourself for who you are. No positive journey to permanent change ever begins with beating yourself up. Thus, positive actions beget positive goals.
“How you begin your efforts is key,” says Dr. Donald Hensrud of the Mayo Clinic. “You need to set yourself up to succeed. Attitude is extremely important but often not appreciated.”
A truly hidden element of successful weight loss is as simple as a smile.
“The common attitude associated with weight loss is ‘Oh, I’ve got to go on a diet,’ said in a joyless tone of voice,” Hensrud says. “But this negative attitude anticipates drudgery, like you’re constantly trudging uphill toward an elusive goal.”
Strategies of the Mayo Clinic and countless other popular weight loss programs all accentuate the positive. That means there is no stipulated goal or movement to achieve but a directive to follow your bliss: Feel good each day, and try to feel a little better the next.
“Many people find that when they were more physically active, they felt better, so listen to that and use it as motivation to be active,” Hensrud says. “Does it take some effort to move regularly, especially when just starting? Sure. Will it take more time? Absolutely. But it’s well worth it for your weight, health and how you feel. And if you start out with the right attitude, you can succeed.”
Need a little help getting your mind on board with exercising? Here are just a few ideas to get you started.
Keep It Fun
Sometimes the sheer thought of working out is enough to break out in hives. Create a mind flip by not calling any of it “exercise” or “working out.” Relish short, small, helpful movements each day. Choose to walk along the beach, ride a bike, toss a Frisbee, play fetch with your dog (or, ahem, have steamy sex!) and leave it at that. No labels, no schedules, only fun.
The sneaky secret is your body will quickly become accustomed to this new habit of physical activity and even crave it, no longer deeming exercise as “work.” By then, working out won’t be scary at all.
Walk Like A Floridian
In a state as beautiful as Florida, there’s no valid excuse not to walk close to 365 days a year. And
again, the beauty is you don’t have to don an extra overcoat or carry wrist weights. Simply open your door and amble about to convert five minutes you might otherwise spend sitting at the computer or watching TV.
The American Heart Association recommends that adults take 10,000 steps per day to keep fit and fend off disease. If that sounds like an impossible amount, here again is where patience pays off.
“If you are not currently exercising, aiming for 5,000 or even 2,500 steps a day may be more appropriate,” says Chris Jordan, director of exercise physiology for Johnson & Johnson. “When it becomes easy, you can progress gradually to 7,500, then 10,000 steps a day, and so on.”
Walk With a Twist
Many people blame long work hours for not getting out and taking a quick walk. Or in many neighborhoods, while streets may be quiet, there are no sidewalks for safety. In those cases, try these alternatives:
Instead of grabbing the first, closest parking spot for shopping trips, parking 10 or 20 spots farther away adds an eighth-of-a-mile stroll to your errands.
Choose a push lawn mower instead of a power mower, at least for easier yard cuts.
Rather than spending work breaks surfing Facebook or zoning out, walk outside the office to your car in the parking lot a few times a day.
Keep that leaf blower tucked in the garage. Instead, rake or sweep debris off the driveway.
Hop off the bus or cab a few blocks from your usual stop.
At the mall, jet a full lap around. You might even discover a great new store or coffee hangout!
Take the stairs rather than the escalator or elevator.
Unless your plane is already boarding, walk to your gate rather than lazing around on the people-mover. Even your hefty carry-on transforms into weight-bearing exercise.
Consider a charity 5K or a dogs-and-owners walk. By participating, you’ll help raise money for a good cause and possibly meet a future strolling buddy. You’ll simultaneously un-paunch your pet pooch in no time.
“Aim for 2,000 steps before work, 2,000 mid-morning, 2,000 at lunch, 2,000 mid-afternoon and 2,000 in the evening,” Jordan says. “It will make hitting your goal much easier.”
Think about it: If you walk for 10 minutes a couple of times a day, plus fold in one of these tips, you can compile up to 30 minutes of exercise per day without ever feeling like you’re “working.”
Our Commercial: Keep Moving
Surely you’ve read all the scaremongering over the dangers of becoming a couch potato. But no one is ready to kick TV-watching for good, right? Compromise this: While commercials play, rather than fast-forwarding through DVR content or waiting slack-jawed for programming to return, get up and move a little. Walk to the kitchen, and wash a dish or two. Check on the kids. Select your outfit for the next day. These small efforts encourage you to keep moving. According to recent research, remaining stationary for too long poses an even bigger health risk than no daily exercise.
More formal exercise during TV breaks (or between programs or game halftime) makes perfect sense, too: Jump on the stationary bike or treadmill, skip rope for a minute, jog in place, master a few pushups or biceps curls. These TV breaks can magically accrue into a nifty 15-minute exercise timeout.
And Then There’s Food
If you want to lose weight, healthy eating has to be part of the equation. Here are some ideas for incorporating healthy food into your life—without actually dieting.
The other important component of weight loss is food, of course. But your eating approach can benefit from patience and positivity once more.
Despite the preponderance of restrictive diet books, their basic premises are essentially wrong. Rather than focusing on “diet,” or the food you can’t eat, turn excitement toward hundreds of different foods and drinks you should consume as part of a healthy weight-loss regime. The benefit of this strategy is that during this exploration into uncharted menus, humans are wired to learn to like new foods.
“There are so many traditional, healthy, ethnic foods to explore, from Mediterranean (Greek salad, tabouli, pasta primavera) and Asian (stir-fried vegetables, sushi), for example,” Hunsrud says. “It can be a veritable gastronomic journey around the world instead of a restrictive ‘diet.’”
The rule that generally applies to exercise also fits with diet: Taking away rarely works, but adding in does.
Contrary to the reputation of low-calorie or low-fat foods, unless you are a gourmand or five-star chef, most healthier food alternatives should not taste drastically different (or worse) from what your taste buds expect.
If you have a philosophical objection to eating a steak without trimming the fat or drinking light beer, tweak at common ingredients. Your homemade pizza will taste as delicious with part-skim mozzarella cheese, and nachos should still crunch satisfactorily with multigrain tortilla chips or no-lard refried beans. Seriously, using low-sugar chocolate syrup in a banana split should not ambush your entire endeavor when every substitution still counts.
Fiber Means Full
To many, fiber carries a reputation as a bland, pulpy nonsense supplement that sorrowfully stirs into a glass of water. Lo and behold, it’s whole grains and produce that are the true fibers. A cup of veggies for your pizza adds two grams of fiber, and substituting whole wheat pasta versus white more than doubles fiber per serving at six grams.
Tasty and easy high-fiber foods to incorporate into your diet include beans, peas, lentils, berries, pears, avocados and oatmeal. Feeling fiber-full now means less pantry-raiding later.
Sip, Sip, Sip
Although the notion that a person needs to drink eight glasses (or more!) of water per day for optimal health has been largely disproven, there are ways water can still boost your weight loss.
Anticipating a meal by drinking a glass of water beforehand should leave you feeling full faster and eating less overall. And keep in mind that between-meal pangs can be mistaken as hunger instead of dehydration. Gulp a glass of water instead of grabbing a Snickers to drive away calories.
No one says that reducing your food intake means you can never eat out again. In fact, sharing is a virtue. For those restaurant meals that wow on a ginormous plate, consider splitting servings with a spouse or friend rather than feeling compelled to finish or scraping the remains into a doggie bag. Even divvying a dessert or oversized cocktail scores better than devouring completely solo.
In the category of Too Simple To Be True, controlling what you eat can be as simple as the size of your plate. Try this the next time you make a meal for you and your family: Place a one-cup portion of food on a large plate, then transfer that same one-cup portion but on a smaller plate or saucer. The same amount of food looks like a feast using smaller dishware.
If this sounds like a silly trick, well, humans can be silly beings. The smaller plate makes you feel more satisfied and full and prevents you from feeling cheated and tempted to go back for seconds or snacking.
“People go by physical cues when eating,” says dietician David Grotto, author of 101 Optimal Life Foods. “We know when we’ve had enough because we see the bottom of our bowl or plate. The smaller plate just feels more satisfying.”
This trick applies to eating with tinier utensils, as well.
In addition to convincing your brain that you’ve eaten more, going small can force you to eat slowly and savor, giving your body more time to fill up and prevent overeating.
Adding to the category of simple tricks: Remember Mom’s old mantra of chewing each mouthful 15, 20 or 25 times. You’ll consume less food and savor what you’re eating. And if you habitually wolf down food, try using your less dominant hand (for example, righties eat left-handed) to slow down.
For mindless munchers, Mom would also approve of healthy snacks individually portioned in cupcake baking tins for tiny snacks throughout the day.
One For All
Think alike. Don’t get in the habit of cooking a “normal” dinner for your spouse or kids and a low-cal version for yourself. From a mental standpoint, denying yourself while giving permission for others to indulge only emphasizes denial and tantalizes aplenty when it comes to snitching off of a fatty entrée or sweet-tooth dessert.
Distracted eating is also a weight loss obstacle. When eating in front of the TV, overeating often follows. Idle TV snacking is also a no-brainer no-no. To prevent spacey overeating, snap off the TV, languish over a meal and enjoy some catch-up chatter sitting right at the dinner table.
Schedule Your Stomach
There’s a lot of emphasis on starting an exercise routine, like going for a jog every morning before work. But for some, it’s even more important to eat at the same time every day, including snack breaks. Knowing when to expect a next meal or snack helps curb surreptitious snacking or consuming a midnight feast. Our bodies respond to all sorts of internal and external rhythms, and regular eating times can help.