I have certain articles of clothing in my closet that shrink every winter. They fit me when I wore them the previous summer, but after a long winter, during that first whiff of spring when the sun beckons me to wear something other than corduroy or fleece, every pair of shorts I own have betrayed me by not getting past my hips.
Okay, I admit that I have a hand in this, and while it seems unlikely to have happened to me (!) the answer to this mystery is that obviously I’ve eaten a few too many acorns over the winter. And, rather than buy a whole new wardrobe, I need to drop a few pounds.
While losing a few pounds may sound simple on paper, we all know it’s not easy. Most of us have tried to lose weight at one time or another—some of us actually are successful; some struggle with weight on a daily basis; and some have just given up. Through personal experience and by working with many patients who have figured out how to lose or maintain their weight successfully, I offer up my best weight loss tips:
-Plan ahead. You know you’re going to come home from work hungry. It’s a given that you’ll eat lunch tomorrow. It’s not that difficult to plan for those meals and have something healthy on hand. Stock your refrigerator and pantry with healthy foods that you like. You can also make meals ahead of time and freeze them in meal-sized portions.
-Watch what you’re drinking. For some reason, many people think that if they drink it, the calories don’t count. Think again. Fruit juice, alcohol, pop, lattés, and chocolate milk all have the potential to derail your weight loss efforts.
-Make small changes you can sustain. While you may not be able to stick to a strict plan, you can cut out that pop you have every day with lunch. And while you may be too busy to get to the gym, you can take the stairs to your office on the sixth floor.
-Think lifestyle, not diet. A diet is something you undertake for a limited period of time. When you reach your goal, you go off your diet. (And weight inexplicably reappears). However, if you think about making lifestyle changes, you will need to choose those that you can maintain for the rest of your life. This tip goes hand in hand with the one above—make only those changes that feel doable long-term.
-Quit snacking. Or if you must snack, plan ahead and have healthy snacks on hand.
-Get your emotions under control. Strong emotions, especially stress, cause an imbalance in a number of hormones in your body, including cortisol and insulin. These changes mess with how you metabolize food, cause you to gain weight around the middle, and cause cravings for those fat-laden sugar bombs that you always regret eating.
-Get moving. Exercise is key to losing weight. It burns calories, relieves stress, helps you sleep better at night, and dampens your appetite. Bonus tip: Build muscle by lifting weights. Muscles burn more calories than fat.
-Eat for good digestion. You may be eating the healthiest diet in the world, but if your digestion is funky, you might as well be ordering your meals at the McDonald’s drive through. If you have heartburn, gas, rumbling, bloating, constipation, loose stools, stomachaches, or nausea, your digestion could definitely be better. The first step is to slow down and chew your food. The second is to prepare your foods in a way that they will be better digested. Generally cooked foods, in the form of soups, stews, stir fries, and fruit compotes take less energy and are easier to digest than cold or raw foods.
-Eat foods that are locally grown and in season. First of all, they taste better than something that’s been on a truck for the past week. Second, according to Chinese medicine, foods should be eaten during the season in which they are grown. For example, during the spring, your diet should be full of rich green shoots and baby lettuce. In contrast, during late summer and early fall, you should be eating the yellow and orange veggies, like carrots, squash, sweet potatoes, and corn. Trust me on this—it’s better for you.
-East mostly vegetables and fruits with whole grains, a little protein, and small amounts of everything else. This is the ideal diet according to Chinese medicine.
-There are really no bad foods unless you eat them all the time. We tend to label foods as heroes and villains, and sometimes try cut out entire food groups we perceive as unhealthy. However, we need fat in our diet; we need carbohydrates; and we need protein. So, while you may want to beat yourself up over that doughnut you had at yesterday’s staff meeting, in reality, once in a while won’t kill you, so get past it.
-Exception to the above tip: Grease-laden fast foods.
-Eat breakfast. Get up in time to have a breakfast that includes whole grains and a little protein; it’s the best way to get through the morning without hunger pangs, sugar cravings, and low blood sugar.
-Set attainable goals. If you have a lot of weight to lose, it can feel overwhelming to set a goal to lose it all at once. However, if you set a goal to lose ten pounds, and once that’s done, then lose ten more, you’re less likely to give up, and more likely to feel successful with each goal you reach.
-Don’t go to a party hungry. Ditto for the grocery store and out with friends. In every situation, your hunger will derail all your good intentions, especially when combined with cocktails.
-Eat foods that haven’t been processed to death. There are a couple of tipping points here. If you look at the label on the package and it lists more than ten ingredients, put it back on the shelf. Also, if the food is unrecognizable as to what it once was, put it back.
-Pack your lunch. If you buy your lunch each day, you are eating one meal out of three in which you have no control over the ingredients, caloric content, preparation, portion size, or freshness. Think about it.
-Try something new. Check out some new recipes, try a food you’ve never eaten, rethink your meal menus, and try a new grocery store or farmer’s market. It will bring you new motivation to eat more healthfully.
-There is no magic bullet or miracle food. There are lots of good, healthy foods, but there is no one single food that you can eat every day that will peel off the pounds, give you boundless energy, immortality, and keep you disease-free. For those things (except the immortality), you need an assortment of foods, with their variety of nutrients.
-Eat as many differently colored foods each day as possible. This is especially true for darkly colored foods. The colors in natural foods represent their inherent nutrients. Think red peppers, tomatoes, cherries, grapes, blueberries, dark leafy greens, yellow squash, carrots, sweet potatoes, black beans, sea vegetables, eggplant, white mushrooms, turnips, and brown rice. You can’t go wrong.