As someone who has struggled with weight loss over the past 15 years (after having kids), I know what it's like to want to lose weight and keep it off. More often than not, weight loss is looked as a battle. Not only are you fighting against food cravings and urges, but you are fighting against genetics, your metabolism, your gut microbiome, and your body in general, which might be happy at the weight you are currently at.
Weight loss is not easy for most people. That being said, men have an easier time losing weight than women. Seems unfair, right? And then there are those who have high metabolisms where they can eat anything and not gain an ounce. Again, seems unfair.
But instead of focusing on the negative view of weight loss, I think it's time to shift the focus into a more positive light. My husband and I record a podcast that discusses nutrition and sustainability. One of the episodes discussed our issues with weight loss and gave tips on the best way to lose weight. My tips here are an extension of that discussion.
It should be noted that since we released that episode, many articles were released in the media about weight loss and why it is so difficult to maintain. Researchers have many theories surrounding issues with weight loss, with one being the "set point theory." This theory uses the idea that our bodies are comfortable at a certain weight and even if you lose weight, you will eventually gain it back to the point where your body is most happy. Resetting your set point is not an easy one and it deals with metabolism. Currently, they are doing studies with the contestants on The Biggest Loser, who often regain their weight back after the show has ended. On the show, the drastic weight loss done in a short amount of time is great for TV ratings, but in the long run, contestants struggle to keep it off. Working out 7 hours per day and eating a limited amount of calories is not sustainable and as a result, their metabolisms slow way down and they gained weight.
For me, however, weight loss has been a journey. I gained weight after having my son, then I lost the weight. And then, I gained the weight back (and then some) after having open heart surgery to replace my aortic valve. Since then, I have worked especially hard to lose the weight, but I decided to take it slow. I made a decision I was not going to starve myself. In the past, I have kept track of calories but I found this to be tedious. When it comes to exercise, I don't like to work out, per se. You will not find me at the gym, but you will find me biking around town, walking, or hiking. It came down to me figuring out how to lead a healthy lifestyle that best fits my schedule and life.
Here are my tips:
Focus on healthy eating. Eat your veggies and fruit each day. Drink plenty of water. Eat protein at each meal. Don't skimp on the fat. Make sure you you have complex carbs, protein, and fat at meals, which will help you feel full more quickly and in turn help you to eat less. If you eat a lot of simple carbs, you will eat more. It all has to do with how fast the body digests the food. Count calories? You can, but the focus should be on healthy eating.
Eat until you are almost full. Don't eat until you burst. Pay attention to your body's cues on when it feels full. If you eat more slowly, you will have an easier time listening to your body. Your body releases a hormone that tells your brain "ok, we've had enough to eat," but you need to listen for this cue.
Eat 5-6 small meals throughout the day. Or 3 moderate meals and a couple of small snacks. Doing this will help keep your metabolism in check.
Change your cooking habits and cook more from scratch. Eating a lot of processed foods -- anything in a box or can that needs to be heated up. I'm not talking canned tomatoes, pasta, or beans. I'm talking about those "Helper" meals and convenience foods that prevent you from actually cooking. Taking control of your cooking and meals will help you appreciate food and you will start to see food in a positive light and see the goodness it provides.
Stop looking at food as the enemy and allow yourself a treat. Food is food. Even though some foods are healthier than others (carrots vs. pretzels), stop putting labels on food. If you want that piece of cake, then have the cake and don't feel guilty about it. Now, with that being said, don't eat the whole cake. Remember - everything in moderation.
Don't "diet." Get rid of that word. If you want to try certain "diets" like paleo or clean eating, then go for it. However, most of us don't want to drastically change our eating habits to ban certain foods. The word "diet" has a negative connotation for me. Again, it goes back to the "everything in moderation."
Take small steps to change your eating habits. This is where it might be good to speak to a dietitian about food habits and such. We can give you attainable goals for changing eating habits and to adopt a healthier lifestyle.
Focus on being active. Go on a walk after dinner. Go on a hike. Ride your bike to the store. Get up an move. Don't feel the pressure to join a gym if that sounds like torture to you (like it does to me). Be active throughout the day.
Focus on how you feel, not the scale. Now, I know there are many dietitians that will disagree with me on this one. I weigh myself, but not on a regular basis (maybe once every 2-3 months). Weighing myself every week was discouraging. Either I was losing weight or gaining it back. Instead, I focused on how I was feeling. Tired? Fatigued? More energy? Focusing on how your body feels is a better indicator that you are on the right track than the weight on the scale.
Get plenty of sleep. Your body needs sleep each night. Aim for 7-8 hours per night and take a 20-30 minute nap in the afternoon if you need a re-charge.
Don't get discouraged. Remember, weight loss is journey, not a sprint. By focusing on health rather than that number on the scale, you will feel better about yourself and the weight will come off eventually. Starving yourself and exercising like crazy will bring the weight off but for only a short period of time.
And... learn to love yourself. I know I will never be the weight I was on college and I'm ok with that. I know that I live a healthy lifestyle. I walk nearly everyday. I don't eat much processed food except for the occasional potato chip (my weakness) and I cook nearly everything from scratch. No matter where my weight is on the scale, I like who I am and I feel good.
I have two children, ages 14 and 10. A common misconception among my friends and family is that my children are the best eaters ever. This is only half true. My 14-year-old, Caitlynn, is a good eater, while my 10-year-old boy, Miles has declared war on carrots. Caitlynn is the adventurous eater, the one who has grown up to eat most vegetables as long as they are doused in Sriracha sauce.
“Brussels Spouts!? Sure! Pass the Sriracha, please!”
Hey, whatever works, you know.
Miles, on the other hand, is stubborn, thinks carrots are his mortal enemy, and is skeptical about healthy foods. He waged war on carrots when I put them in chili and he has never let me forget how much he hated the carrot laden chili. So, moral of the story, do not put carrots in your chili. Miles will hate it.
Now, I am not the type of parent to force my child to eat anything, including vegetables. If Miles doesn’t want my chili (I usually make it sans carrot), he doesn’t have to eat it. Of course, he might be hungrier than the rest of us, but he’s exercising his right to live a carrot-free life. Plus, he knows how to make some of his own meals – sandwiches, toast, etc. He can even heat up an Amy’s burrito if he wants.
I am sure there are moms out there who can relate. A picky eater lurks around the dinner table picking out every last pea out of the pasta dish. Should you worry? Will your child get enough nutrition? What do I do if my child does not want to eat his vegetables? Force them? Bribe them?
Well, I tend to side with Ellyn Satter, the feeding expert. Her research shows that creating a positive feeding environment is better for the child and better for you as the parent. The parent is “responsible for for what, when, and where” to eat. The child (toddler or adolescent) is “responsible for how much and whether” to eat.
So, what do you do?
Offer healthy food (vegetables, fruit) at each meal. If kids see the vegetables at each meal, they will start to realize that this is the norm. Eventually they’ll come around and start trying new foods. And remember to lead by example. Kids mimic their parents. So, if they see you eating the healthy foods, they’ll likely follow suit.
Encourage children to listen to their body. I grew up in a family that prized the “clean plate club.” Kids should be able to step back from the plate when they feel full. They need to learn from their internal cues when to stop eating, even if they have not finished their green beans yet.
Figure out how kids like the vegetables cooked. In my case with Caitlynn, I had to pay attention to which vegetables she was willing to try. At first, she turned her nose up at everything. Then I made leek and potato soup and she ate a big bowl. It was at this point I realized she liked vegetables pureed in soups. From there I was able to introduce her to more vegetables and to encourage her to explore different foods. She moved from only eating vegetables in soup to eating them as a side dish.
Do not bribe your child into eating healthy. I think parents fall into the bribe trap too many times. “If you eat the broccoli, you can have ice cream for dessert.” Sound familiar? This puts broccoli in a negative light and ice cream in the positive. Ice cream already has a lot going for it. Do not pit vegetables against ice cream. Ice cream will always win.
Be positive and pick your battles. Keep the dinner table a battle-free zone. You’ve worked hard getting a good meal on the table, so you feel the need to make sure everyone enjoys it. If your child does not want to eat everything you’ve served, that’s ok. Keep things positive. Meal time should be fun and chance for the family to catch up on the day’s events, not fighting about whether or not your child is eating all her carrots.
Encourage your child to explore the world of food, not just vegetables. Bring in different flavors and textures from around the world. Utilize the spice cabinet to introduce different cuisines. Have a special night dedicated to certain cuisines – Greek, Indian, Italian, Thai, etc.
Grow vegetables in your backyard (or porch) or take the kids to the farmer’s market. Let them see how fruits and vegetables are grown. They will be more likely to try something if they’ve grown it or picked it themselves.
Let them help with meal time. Cooking is a skill that should be taught early in life, so that kids will grow up with an appreciation for food. Ok, so that’s the food-nerd in me talking, but the more the kids are around food either growing it or preparing it, the more likely they will be to try new things.
So, don’t fret. Your picky eater will come around eventually. Miles is starting come around. He’s been eating carrots without even knowing (they hide in my cream of tomato soup). Shhh… don’t tell him.