Losing weight inevitably requires changing eating and exercise habits. Interestingly, it’s not always a simple calculation of calories in vs. calories out. Fortunately, there are ways to achieve eating less without feeling deprived, and sometimes it is the time spent being still that is just as important as the time spent moving.
Be mindful. There is a lot of attention on the benefits of being mindful, and this includes eating. Enjoy your food. Slow down. Savor every bite. If it’s not enjoyable, don’t eat it. Don’t just eat because food is in front of you. If you can be mindful around food, you will eat less. People eat mindlessly when they focused on something else, like while watching television. Eat if you are hungry. But be conscious of what you are putting in your mouth.
Another situation where people tend to eat mindlessly is free food at work. When food shows up at work free, people feel almost obligated to eat it. Don’t. Or at least consider whether you want it or not. If you do, eat it and enjoy it. But often it’s unsatisfying and unhealthy, and after eating whatever it is you regret it. But then do it again the next time.
This happens to me more often than I would like to admit with donuts and cupcakes. I don’t even like donuts but there they are, free at work, and I cannot seem to resist. The cupcakes look delicious and are usually tasty for a few bites but if I eat the whole thing, which I inevitably do, I feel at best just queasy but more often nauseated and uncomfortable. If you think about what you are eating, whether you truly want it or not and slow down, you will eat less.
Yesterday, there were cupcakes at work to celebrate December birthdays. This time, I refrained. It helped that I had eaten enough nutritive food, and was not hungry. The cupcakes looked delicious. They were beautiful gourmet cupcakes from a local bakery, not the grocery store. I love cake and especially icing; and, these cupcakes had at least an inch of frosting. But I thought about it. I knew that I probably couldn’t take just a few bites. If I ate the whole thing, I would likely be sick. I decided that it wasn’t worth it for me. I chose feeling well over indulging my sweet tooth. Maybe next time I’ll choose the opposite, but it will be a conscious choice.
Sleep. With good reason, we associate weight loss with movement and exercise. Decrease calories in, increase calories out. But getting enough sleep can be just as important. Poor sleep habits are associated with higher food intake, unhealthy food choices, and obesity. Lack of sleep changes appetite hormones that make food cravings more likely and when you’re tired you are more likely to succumb to these cravings. Because you’re tired, you don’t have any energy. To increase your energy, you eat. Not only does lack of sleep increase eating, but it also increases stress hormones, which cause us to preserve potential energy sources (so we are ready for a fight or flight scenario) as much as possible. Thus, our caloric intake gets converted to fat, especially around the middle. So without healthy restorative sleep, more calories come in and less go out.
I love sleeping. Even so I have to work to make sleep a priority in my life. I am a night owl, so it is hard for me to get to bed early enough. Before my breast cancer diagnosis, I was stressed and did not sleep well. Partly because of my job as an OB/GYN required me to be up all night working, and partly because I had become increasingly stressed and anxious. I would not sleep well the night before I was supposed to work being anxious about what might happen. This became a vicious cycle of sleep deprivation, the more anxious I got, the less I would sleep, which only increased my anxiety. I noticed at the time that the waistband of my clothes was getting tighter and tighter. Believe it or not, my cancer diagnosis put an end to the cycle of sleep deprivation. I started sleeping better, reducing my stress and anxiety and my clothes started to fit me again.
Meditate. Meditation has a virtually endless list of benefits. Much like restorative sleep, it helps to reduce stress. Meditation also helps you to be more mindful so you can focus on eating healthy, tasty food when the time is right, not because there is food in front of you. It helps you train your brain to be more focused and less susceptible to fleeting food cravings.
I cannot seem to get into a regular habit of meditating. I read all the science that supports it. I understand how it works. I understand why it works. I understand you to need to do it regularly to reap the benefits, and it only requires 10-20 minutes a day. But I can’t seem to commit to it. I’ll do it for a few days or even a week, not enough time to appreciate the value. Then I get distracted and stop. I think it is like quitting smoking. You have to keep trying, and eventually you will succeed, so I’ll keep trying.
Losing weight is hard, it requires work. Changing habits is hard. Reducing stress and being mindful should be easy compared to the hard work of diet, exercise and habit changing. Adding these simple strategies may be all you need to succeed.