I want to help anyone reading this today know more about how eating habits and activity levels can impact weight loss. The first point to make, which is what the rest of this conversation will be about, is that weight loss is a matter of taking in fewer calories than you use during the day. It’s sort of like a bank account: In this case, you want to overdraw!
To lose one pound of fat, you need to have a deficit of 3,500 calories. (Or to gain a pound of fat, you have to consume 3,500 more than what you burn off.) So it’s really about the math. However, this math is the math of daily living….small choices that can make a big difference.
Weight loss is best achieved by making specific, deliberate changes to how you eat and how much you move. To make these types of changes, you have to be (or become) a planner. In today’s busy life, we all are juggling jobs, family needs and other activities. Honestly, that busyness is part of the reason many people struggle with their weight…. Eating too many convenience foods, and not fitting in exercise. So to lose weight, it has to be a decision you make, and then you have to prioritize around it in your life. For example, each weekend, you may need to spend some time planning your meals and making physical activity “appointments.”
For me, planning ahead looks a little like this:
For breakfast, it’s a good idea to decide on a few regular “go-tos” that are healthy and balanced. For me, that can be a breakfast shake, Greek yogurt, protein bars, etc. that you can take and go.
If you work full-time, you can save yourself a lot of money and calories by packing your lunch as many days as possible. On the weekends, you can take a bag of baby carrots and portion them out into five little baggies and put them in a basket in the fridge. You can do the same with other advance prep, such as making a low-fat tuna salad and putting it in little containers, or hard boiling some eggs. Then each morning you just grab your individual portions and go out the door.
For dinner time, you can do the same planning on weekends. Make a menu, get your groceries, and if you have time, do some advance prep. Whether it’s pre-chopping vegetables (although I admit I’m a fan of the steam bags for convenience), or going ahead and grilling/broiling several chicken breasts, you can be ready to cook when you get home in the evening, which often leads to better choices.
Planning is key. In the fast/convenient food world we live in, it can be the difference between eating healthy for weight loss, or grabbing what is available right then.
Physical Activity Planning
Planning also applies to physical activity. Exercise, in many ways, requires even more planning than healthy eating because there IS no “back-up.” For example, if you fail to plan a healthy dinner, you can go to Subway and get a light sandwich, or even get a healthy salad somewhere. But there is no “pre-packaged” back-up plan for exercise. You have to do it.
First, consider your exercise options. Does your workplace have a gym (like we do here at Deaconess)? Where is the closest gym? Do you even need a gym? Or do you prefer to just tie on your sneakers and go for a vigorous walk or even a run? Figure out what kind of exercise you want to do, and where you need to do it.
Second, figure out what help you need from other people. In my case, I have to arrange with my husband and/or babysitter to be able to exercise, because I have a 1-year-old at home. Do you need to arrange a carpool with someone for your older kids’ activity, so that you can work out right after work, but then you pick the kids up when their activity is over?
Third, you have to write it on your schedule. If you keep an agenda—daily, weekly, etc.—write in your exercise times. And don’t just think of a blocked hour of alone time. If the weekend is scheduled to have pretty weather, then schedule a Saturday morning bike ride or walk on the Greenway or riverfront with your family.
That leads me to another point: make exercise as much of a family activity as possible. Everyone benefits, and you’re setting a healthy example for your kids. It’s a great way to spend quality time together, too.
In thinking through helpful tips, I want to touch on something that many of my past and present clients struggle with: cutting calories and eating healthy while not feeling hungry all the time. Hunger is the enemy of weight loss. You’re far less likely to make a good eating choice if you’re ravenous. So how can you help prevent feeling hungry all the time while still cutting calories?
- Protein and fiber are your best go-tos for feeling full. You’re much more likely to feel full after eating a hard-boiled egg and an apple than you are after eating the same number of calories worth of a donut.
- Whole grain is always your best option over refined grains. But don’t make the mistake of only eating grains alone with no protein—that’s still a lot of carbohydrates, and protein is what helps you feel full longest and gives you ongoing stable blood sugar.
There’s a theory called volumetrics, which is essentially that your stomach will tell your brain when you’re full, so you need to fill it with low-calorie foods. So drink a full glass of water before you eat anything, and then make vegetables your largest portion of food. The vegetables are full of fiber, and take up space. (And by this, I mean colorful—usually green—vegetables, such as broccoli, red/green peppers, carrots, Brussels sprouts, summer squash, etc. Potatoes, corn, etc. are starchy and won’t have the effect I’m talking about.)
Another good option is to eat small meals frequently. Eating protein, complete carbs and a little bit of healthy fat 5-6 times per day can keep you from feeling hungry. (And with the theory of volumetrics, your stomach will start to feel full with less food over time.)