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Entries in healthy habits (1)

Wednesday
May162012

Just One Thing

My dad once bragged about how he lost ten pounds on “the grapefruit diet.”  Basically, this diet consisted of eating a grapefruit for two out of three meals a day. No real surprise he lost weight, also since he was biking forty miles to and from work a few times a week. But it’s easier to believe it’s just one thing that will make everything right.

I think we all do it. Sometimes that one thing is a tangible, money, for instance. For years my mom has spoken with starry eyes about what she would do if Ed McMahon showed up with a gigantic Publisher’s Clearing House check (even after he died, at which point, when I reminded her he wouldn’t be showing up, she frowned and waved her hand and said “Or whoever!” refusing to burst her fantasy bubble.). Our just-one-thing mentality can apply to lots of things, and shift at any time. For some people it’s meeting the right guy or gal, or having a baby, as if somehow if this one thing fell into place then everything else would fall in line, like slipping on that glass slipper.

Nutrition certainly gets this fairy-tale treatment pretty regularly. Every week there is some new “magic formula” for weight loss. There are fasts, and cleanses, and “no white stuff”, and no sugar, and only whole grains, fruits and veggies, flax seed, fish, raw food, etc. We all fall for it at some point or another—the idea that doing this one thing will radically fix our bodies and make them ideal, forever. Salmon is Mom’s dietary version of Ed McMahon; she is quite convinced that eating a lot of salmon is the key to good health, and no matter what I say about variety or vegetables, or portion control, she falls back on that fish.

But we all also know better. The human body dislikes sameness. Our brains don’t like it, and neuroscience tells us that as we age it is important to challenge ourselves to learn new skills that involve our mind to keep it sharp. Our bodies don’t like too much repetition either; a good majority of my Pilates clients come to me because their jobs require them to sit or drive for hours at a time, and the body tends to get out of balance when in one position for too long—even if it’s an active one. Sitting for long periods of time, over time, can lead to tight hip flexors, shortened hamstrings, weakened abdominals, tight pectorals, and kyphosis (curvature) of the upper back.

I won’t pretend it’s always easy. I tend to do those things I like most often: bike, use the reformer, use my legs and abs. I tend to avoid the things I am less strong at—like pull ups. And yet, I know as I practice at something that I dislike, that challenges me, I find I get better and like it more; eventually the exercises I hated become my favorites.

As I am embarking on losing weight again, I have been freshly reminded of how tricky it is to avoid making weight loss about one thing, and instead I am trying to manage as many things as I can. Long ago when I hit my goal weight at Weight Watchers, a Meeting leader asked me this question: What was the one thing could I pass on to other members that worked for me? And in that moment I realized that the one thing was realizing that there isn’t just one thing. The more things that I can fit in that can help with healthy eating, nutrition, calorie burning and metabolism, the better my success—both at losing weight and later maintaining—because if there is one thing I know for sure, it’s that I’m going to drop a ball somewhere, and I’d like to have a hold of a few others when that happens.

So here are a bunch of One Things I know for successful weight loss:

Eat more veggies (and fruits)- 5 servings a day minimum, a serving being a half-cup of most, and a cup of leafy greens. Sneak some into every meal. The fiber and water content in veggies and fruits help fill you up and control cravings, and I swear a body that is getting enough veggies and fruits really does not want to hold on to extra weight.

Get most of your carbs from fruits and veggies- A small amount of whole grains, bread, rice, or pasta, is fine, but try for ¾ of your carbs coming from fruit and veggie intake.

Eat a healthy breakfast—Really, how many more times do you have to hear this one?

Eat a small amount of protein in the morning and at lunch- Added to carbs and a wee bit of fat, these three together give you energy and stamina.

Drink lots of water, and calorie free beverages- Try for 6, 8oz glasses a day, minimum.

Watch your portions sizes- It’s takes 20 minutes for the body to register that it is full, and most portion sizes in America are obnoxiously large. Think in cup sizes for veggies and fruit and start with one cup (about a tennis ball); think in half cup sizes (or less) for grains and protein. Eat. Wait.

Learn to listen to your gut, not your head- Tough, but focusing on portion sizes helps limit emotional eating. Why are you really eating? Because you are hungry? Bored? Because it tastes good?

Move—As much as you can get up, get down, get up again. Take the stairs, walk, park as far away as you can. Take public transportation or bike, hike, roller blade, etc. Try some new exercise class, or join a Meetup group in a sport you like. Get friends in on it to help motivate you.

Write everything down- Yeah, I know. This one is tough for a lot of people because it’s where you stop kidding yourself, but that’s why it helps so much. Also, it gives you a nice map of what works as you lose, and when you might need to add variety.

Eat snacks- a mid-afternoon banana, bunch of nuts, skim latte, or something else in a less than 200 calorie range—high in fiber or protein—will help control cravings.

Avoid packaged and processed foods- You know this too. The more processed the food, the more added salt and sugar. Yuk.

Keep busy at night after dinner—I like something that keeps my hands busy, reading, writing, knitting, puzzles. Hard to eat mindlessly when your hands are occupied.

Watch the booze- Not only is it high in calories, but it comes with a sidecar of bad snack decision making. 

Avoid impulses, satisfy cravings- Impulses go away, cravings don’t. If you want that Chocolate malt a week later, do it, but get the small, or make it yourself with low-fat yogurt, or better yet, a frozen banana. If you feel like you are in prison, you are likely to want to break out, so plan some leeway.

Stock your house with everything you need for success- Be sure to have a variety of good choices ready.

Avoid buying large portions of things you can’t control- I still like some chips now and then, but only buy a single-portion bag so I’m not tempted to overdo it.

Don’t beat yourself up for mistakes. Just move forward.

 

Do you have to do ALL of these? Heck no. I once recall a WW Meeting Leader drawing a line on a sheet of paper and pointing out that one end was making all the right choices, all of the time, the other end was making all the wrong choices all of the time. His point? You need to find the center mark and make more choices on the right side than the wrong. You don’t have to make every choice correctly, but if you just do one thing right, maybe that’s one thing more than what you were doing yesterday.