Weight management is about so much more than food.
Source: John Hain/Pixabay, used with permission
When I started studying and working in the field of dietetics and nutrition, we were taught the mantra “There are no bad foods, just too much of a good thing.” In other words, don’t deprive yourself of the foods you enjoy; just don’t overdo it.
That was reasonable advice—but we also taught dieting and calorie restriction as the way to avoid overdoing it and to lose weight. Now we know better.
Now, when dietitians and nutritionists talk about weight control, we talk about managing your weight, not dieting to lose it. It’s an important distinction. We emphasize life-long approaches to healthy eating, like following a Mediterranean or plant-based diet.
We talk about food patterns and behaviors. We emphasize physical activity and stress control. We include improving sleep habits and the psychology of weight control in our counseling.
All of these factors contribute to a lifestyle more conducive to healthy weight management. Calorie-counting and food restrictions do not. Here’s what you can do to get on the path of healthy weight control.
1. Choose foods that fill you up.
One of the extra benefits of many healthful foods is that they are very filling. When you include foods like avocado, beans and lentils, bananas, sweet potatoes, and whole grains in your meals or snacks, you feel satisfied when you’re done eating. You’ll feel full longer and be less inclined to eat between meals. And all of these foods are included in Mediterranean and plant-based diets, eating styles that science has proven to be the most healthful.
2. Have a plan.
Try to plan and prepare most meals and snacks in advance. Whether you cook from scratch, take home prepared foods, or eat out at restaurants, planning your meals—say, for the entire week ahead—makes it easier to stick to a healthier diet. (One age-old tip that always stands is: Refrain from food shopping when you’re hungry!)
Having healthful food on hand all the time, wherever you are, and planning when and where you’ll eat in advance, helps you avoid random eating or grabbing fast foods and adds consistency to your food life. Of course, leave a little room for spontaneity; don’t let healthful living take the enjoyment out of your life!
3. Be as active as you can.
Exercise, in all of its forms, is the basis of weight control. Walking as much as possible, especially in situations when you might normally drive or take public transportation when it isn’t necessary, may not help you lose a lot of unwanted weight—but it is key to maintaining the weight you’re at and not gaining anymore. And it is very helpful for your overall health and fitness.
To get the most out of going to a gym, playing a sport, or working out at home, choose activities you enjoy, in situations where you feel safe and comfortable. That way you’re more likely to stick to your exercise routine.
4. Learn to relieve tension.
Stress may be inevitable but succumbing to it is not. Mental, physical, or emotional stress negatively affects the balance of your life, including your eating habits, ability to get a good night’s sleep, energy level, and ability to focus on the things that matter most to you.
Stress also distracts you from building and maintaining healthy habits. You may overeat or under-eat, lose sleep, drink more alcohol, or indulge in behaviors that mess up your plans for a healthier lifestyle. Yoga, meditation, deep-breathing exercises, and finding healthy distractions such as relaxing music or walking in nature, along with making sure you get enough sleep, are just some ways to manage stress in the moment.
5. Improve your sleep hygiene.
Losing sleep has a negative effect on your weight, your metabolic rate, and the hormones that manage your metabolism. A comfortable bed, a dark and quiet room set with moderate temperatures, and consistency in bedtime and waking time can all help you sleep better. Create an inviting bedroom oasis you can go to when you need to escape both day-to-day and unique circumstantial stressors.
6. Understand the behavioral psychology of weight control.
Cognitive-behavioral psychology looks at why you behave the way you do and analyzes your patterns of behavior. That includes eating behavior and other behaviors that interfere with your ability to maintain a healthier lifestyle.
Behavioral psychologists recommend a variety of tools and techniques to help you recognize self-defeating thinking and behavior patterns and also help modify or change them. These tools may include reasonable and attainable goal setting, diversifying your interests, practicing healthy amounts of self-monitoring, and reaching out for social support from family, friends, or group programs.