The New Year is a good time to ask ourselves, “How can I be a better person?” For some, this leads to the quest to achieve a desirable weight. Yet, we all know what happens when we go on a diet and lose 20 pounds. Or should I say we know what happens when we stop the diet. That’s right, we gain it all back, plus a little more. So why do we do this to ourselves? The fundamental problem with “a diet” is that it always has an end. This year, let’s try a different strategy. Instead of a diet with a beginning and an end, let’s commit to making positive long term improvements in our lifestyle. Because this is a long term approach, we break it down into daily choices and we focus on forming good habits one at a time.
Habit number one: Activity helps everything. Being active burns calories, mobilizes stored fat, improves sleep, lowers blood pressure and cholesterol, reduces our risk of diabetes, releases endorphins improving our mood and builds endurance. Walking 30 minutes 5 days a week is one of the best lifestyle decisions I can make. It’s not how fast I walk or how far. Duration is what counts. After the first 20 minutes, I have burned up the fat floating in my blood and now am beginning to burn stored fat on my body. As I continue to walk each day, my endurance improves and I can begin to add 5 minutes here or ten there. Every minute over 20 burns more belly fat.
Habit number two: Don’t eat more calories than I can walk off today. So what are my frequent high calorie choices? Calories are concentrated in meat and dairy products. These food groups have valuable nutrients but also a lot of fat. So we limit meat serving sizes to 3-4 ounces once or twice a day and we replace whole dairy choices with low or non fat. Most people can trim 400-600 calories a day just by reducing meat portions. That’s equal to one pound of weight loss per week. Limit fried and sweet choices. Fruits are low calorie but limit juice servings to ½ cup. Sodas have 150 calories in one 12oz drink. Be conscious of calories in beverages. My brain does not register that I consumed them if I didn’t chew.
Habit number three and more: Manage my appetite. There are many strategies. A starting place is to eat more frequently. When I skip meals, I am telling my body that food is scarce. It responds by stubbornly holding on to every calorie. And when I am hungry it is almost impossible to limit serving sizes. Start with a simple breakfast (whole grain cereal, fruit, nuts); have a small apple at mid morning; a light lunch with no more than 3 ounces of lean meat; a mid afternoon snack (perhaps a low fat yogurt with ¼ cup nuts); and enjoy a balanced dinner containing lean meat, starch and vegetable. When I combine foods from different groups (meat, starch, vegetable), the meal is more satisfying and I stay full longer. High fiber foods stay with us longer. People who eat more slowly eat less. Try to take more than 15 minutes to eat. After 15 minutes our brain starts telling us that we are full. Practice putting down my fork between bites.
Set a reasonable weight target. If I am more than 20 pounds overweight, I’ll start with losing 10% of my current weight. Studies show that we gain the most health benefit from losing the first 10%. Gradual weight loss of 1-2 pounds per week will stay off. So be patient and keep walking.
This year throw out the diet books and start making life promoting choices. By discarding the diet notion, I have begun to take back control of my health. This is a long term journey. Take one step at a time. As I gradually replace less desirable choices, I’ll look for the things in life that bring joy. Who are the people that are important to me? Maybe they would like to go walking with me.
Tim Scallon is a registered dietitian nutritionist and Director of Clinical Nutrition and the HC Polk Education Center at Memorial Health System in Lufkin. The Polk Center provides education on diabetes, heart disease and weight loss and sponsors monthly classes and support groups on healthy lifestyle. In cooperation with Sodexo Food Service and the City of Lufkin, the Polk Center produces the nationally viewed TV series Memorial Cooking Innovations featuring Tim Scallon and the celebrated Chef Manuel Marini. Memorial Cooking Innovations celebrates the joy of fresh food and healthy eating and can be seen on cable in 46 cities and online at http://www.memorialhealth.org. On the website find healthy recipes, past cooking shows and sound nutrition information. Call 639-7585 for more information.