A realistic goal is one that is both challenging and achievable. If it is too easy, you will lose interest; too hard and you may give up. Research shows that if you are overweight, losing just 10 percent of your body weight can improve your health. Start there and aim to lose one to two pounds per week. If you still need to lose weight once you reach your 10 percent goal, set out for another 10 percent at the same pace.
Build a Support Group
Share your goals with loved ones, and don’t be afraid to ask for help. Consider beginning a weight loss plan with a friend. One study showed that when friends signed up for a weight loss program together, they were more successful at keeping the weight off. It’s also not uncommon for a support group to include people you have never met, such as a gym instructor or people with shared interests on social media or website forums. When you create a healthy environment by surrounding yourself with like-minded people, you build a supportive network that makes it easier to reach your goals.
Give Exercise and Eating Equal Attention
Combining both exercise and healthy eating improves overall health and weight loss while creating healthy habits to keep the weight off long term. Healthy eating and exercise work hand in hand to keep you fit. Nourishing foods fuel your workouts, and exercise improves your mood and brightens your outlook making it easier to commit to healthy choices. Giving both equal attention creates a healthy lifestyle balance. The days you eat a little more, exercise will help burn those extra calories. When you have to skip a workout, healthy eating helps control your calorie intake so you can stay on track.
When you eat mindfully, you put the focus on the food and how you feel during the meal. This helps you recognize when your taste buds are satisfied and when you feel physically full. As you get better at recognizing hunger signals, your portion sizes will grow smaller and choosing healthy foods will become natural. These changes also help you control cravings. With time, you will need two bites of cake to feel satisfied instead of two pieces.
Planning and preparation are essential for making the healthy choices that are necessary for weight loss. Without them, you will fall into a trap of excuses for why you are too busy to make dinner or squeeze in a walk. Plan and shop for meals over the weekend and spend a couple hours preparing meals and snacks for the week. Make calendar appointments for your exercise and give them the same priority as you do work meetings and doctor appointments. Planning will pay off in weight loss success.
Healthy eating starts at the market. Avoid these grocery shopping mistakes to ensure you get the best foods for your health and budget.
Shopping at eye level
A lot of research goes into product placement at the supermarket. The next time you visit, pay attention to the products at eye level. They are often prepared foods or meal kits and they are not always the healthiest option. Look high and low for less popular foods and generic brands with lower prices, which are often less processed. For example, regular dried beans are almost always on the bottom shelf.
Shopping when hungry
It takes self-discipline and commitment to resist the temptation to splurge when surrounded by unhealthy foods. Arriving at the supermarket hungry, makes it even harder to resist grabbing a quick, high-calorie snack. Avoid this scenario and shop right after a meal, or pack a healthy snack to eat on the way. If you must get something at the store, opt for a piece of fruit, a single serving bag of unsalted nuts, or a low-fat yogurt.
Not consulting the staff
Don’t settle for produce that isn’t at its peak. Ask members of the produce department if there is more available. If you know you will use it quickly and it hasn’t completely passed it’s prime, ask for a discount. At the meat counter, ask for the cuts with fat trimmed or smaller portions. Inquire about where the food came from, how it was raised, and when it was harvested. Fresher, more natural foods are often the most nutritious.
Rushing through the supermarket
Poor choices are often made when under pressure. While it is difficult to avoid a quick stop at the store for a last minute item, make food shopping a priority on your to-do list just like you do for your workout. Committing time to search for foods, reading labels, and asking questions will help you find the healthiest options. Sprinting down the aisle will only lead to impulse purchases that you may regret later.
Missing an opportunity to stock up
Fruits, vegetables, and lean meats freeze well for up to two to three months. When these foods are on sale, plan to buy extra to freeze and use throughout the coming weeks. Stock up on berries to add to smoothies and oatmeal. Freeze broccoli and cauliflower for soups and stews. Grab extra naturally-raised meats and sustainable fish when you find the best prices.
It’s frustrating when you find a great sale, but you have to pass because you aren’t headed home right afterward. Keep a small cooler in the trunk of the car and add ice packs before you leave each day. When you run into an unbeatable deal on cold foods, you won’t have to skip out on stocking up. Also, always come to the market prepared with a list. Even if you don’t follow it exactly, it will serve as a guideline for the foods you need to stay on track with your eating plan.
Using food to celebrate good news or to comfort yourself when you feel down is not uncommon. The problem arises when these emotional triggers begin to drive cravings that lead to overeating. If you struggle to control emotional eating, try following these tips.
The first step to controlling emotional eating is to recognize the triggers. When you feel cravings coming on, stop for a minute and assess your situation. What are you feeling? Happy, sad, or stressed? Did something occur before you got hungry, such as a stressful work meeting or an argument with a loved one?
Recognize true hunger
Once you recognize the cause of your food craving, assess your hunger level. How long has it been since you ate? Is your stomach grumbling? True hunger usually occurs about four hours after a healthy, balanced meal or snack. If you are truly hungry, eat something. Choose a meal or snack that is balanced in protein, healthy fat, and complex carbohydrates. If you simply cannot put off your craving for a sugar-filled treat, limit it to a few bites. The goal isn’t to deprive yourself. It’s to slow down and stay in control of your food choices, which can save you from downing a whole bag of chips or a box of cookies. Often just a taste will satisfy a craving and it will save you from overdoing it on calories.
If you identify that your hunger and cravings are directly connected to an emotional trigger, the best course of action is to distract yourself. Respond to the email in your inbox, run an errand, or take a 10-minute walk. If you can get your mind off of the situation that created the craving, even for a few minutes, you can often bypass the urge to overeat.
Find healthy substitutes to satisfy cravings
If you can’t seem to kick the cravings caused by emotional triggers, create a healthy list of substitutes that you can keep on hand. Do you crave salty foods when you are stressed? Try lightly salted, air-popped popcorn. Need a sweet treat when you feel like celebrating? Have one square of dark chocolate or make a natural frozen yogurt. Vegetables with hummus are great for crunchy food cravings, or try a slow cooked oatmeal for something rich and creamy.
A new season provides an opportunity to get back on track and accomplish your weight loss goals. A few changes to your plan and environment will refresh your attitude and give you a renewed sense of motivation.
Revamp your menus
As seasons change so does the availability of fresh, nutritious foods. Don’t stay in a rut of canned green beans and frozen pineapple when you can incorporate fresh asparagus, pea pods, strawberries, and raspberries. Take the opportunity to lighten up your menu with soups, salads, and grilled fish.
Take things outside
Whether it’s shopping, exercise, or dining with friends, take things outside and enjoy the warmer weather. Farmers markets offer some of the freshest, best tasting fruits and vegetables to add to your meals. A light and healthy lunch is more satisfying when enjoyed outdoors whether it’s a picnic or on a patio. Hiking, biking, tennis, softball, and even yard work are all ways you can blast calories while enjoying the pleasant weather.
Out with the old
Take stock of the things in your closet and get rid of clothes that no longer fit, whether they are too big or too small. Keeping your “fat pants” around means you think one day you might need them again. Eliminate that option by donating them. Rid yourself of unrealistic goals and the pressure of fitting back into the dress you wore 10 years ago. Even if your weight loss goal is similar to the weight you maintained back then, your body changes with weight gain and weight loss. You may become leaner in one area and develop larger muscles in another. Focus on a new you and avoid trying to go back to something you once were.
Grow your own
You don’t need a large garden to grow some of your own foods. A few herbs on the windowsill or a potted tomato plant on the patio is fun for the whole family. A sprinkle of herbs in your sauté and a few of your tomatoes on a salad, not only tastes delicious, it adds a nutritional boost and growing it yourself saves you money.
Renew your support system
Surrounding yourself with people who share your interests in health and support your goals makes your journey easier. Step out of your comfort zone to find new sources for this support. Find a group that meets regularly to do an activity you have always wanted to try. Leisure and training clubs for rowing, nature hiking, rock climbing, distance running, or a triathlon can introduce you to new activities and to new people to keep you accountable for your exercise.
Recognizing hunger cues is the key to controlling your appetite and reaching weight loss goals, but hunger can be deceiving. Pay attention to how these four things affect your appetite to prevent overeating.
Too much alcohol
Despite the grumbling stomach you might feel after a few drinks, most research doesn’t directly link alcohol to increased hunger. But alcoholic drinks gradually decrease your inhibitions making it much easier to order nachos instead of a salad or add dessert at the end of a meal. These extra calories, plus the calories in your drink, can result in weight gain. Pay attention to how much you snack while sipping.
Lack of sleep
Surveys show that most people get only five to six hours of sleep per night, but research suggests you need seven to nine. Skimping on sleep causes an increase in appetite stimulating hormones and a decrease in hormones that signal fullness. The increased cravings and hunger that result can lead to a higher calorie intake and weight gain.
Stress causes spikes in cortisol levels, which lead to increased hunger and emotional eating. Cravings for high-carbohydrate, high-fat, and high-sugar foods are common during times of stress because these foods trigger feel-good chemicals in the brain that help relieve tension. Without alternatives to relieve stress, like deep breathing exercises and physical activity, emotional eating becomes difficult to resist.
Refined carbohydrates like sugar, white bread, and pasta can cause a spike in blood sugar that is quickly followed by a drop, often called a crash. This crash results in hunger making you feel as if you didn’t eat an hour ago. You can help to stabilize your blood sugar and reduce spikes and crashes by eating complex carbohydrates, such as whole grains, and including lean protein with your meals and snacks.