Over the past 10 years Judy has lost about 40 pounds but weighs more today than when she started to diet. First, on a low-fat, high-carbohydrate diet, she lost 25 pounds. As she gradually returned to her old eating habits she began to regain her lost weight, plus more. Next came a diet that consisted mostly of cabbage soup; she lost 10 pounds and later gained 12. Finally, Judy tried a high-protein, low-carbohydrate diet that resulted in a 15-pound loss and later a 20-pound gain. Today, at 10 pounds more than her initial weight, she finds the struggle increasingly more difficult.
If Judy's story sounds depressingly like your own, now's the time to get off the dieting treadmill and follow our 10-step eating plan. It helps you customize your eating style so you can manage your weight in a realistic, healthy manner.
Diet when you're really ready to make a healthy change. Ask yourself why you want to lose weight and if this is the right time for you to do it.
Do you want to lose weight to look better or help mend a rocky relationship? If there are problem areas in your life, weight loss alone is not likely to resolve them. What's more, changing your eating style is difficult and can contribute to stress. Losing weight requires a commitment. Do it because you're ready to make a change that is healthier for you.
Do a reality check. Do you really need to lose weight? First, check your Body Mass Index (BMI). Then check your waist-to-hip ratio to find out if your body shape puts you more at risk. Research suggests that it's not just our total body fat, but also the distribution of fat that determines health risks. Specifically, abdominal fat (measured by waist-to-hip ratio) may put you at greater risk for developing heart disease.
To find your waist-to-hip ratio:
• Measure your waist at the navel and your hips around the largest part of your buttocks; and
• divide the waist measurement by the hip measurement to get your ratio.
For men this number should be one or less; for women it should be 0.8 or less. (In other words, men's waists should be the same as their hips or smaller; women's waists should be smaller than their hips.)
Keep a food diary. Write down what you eat, where you eat, when you eat and with whom you eat. Do this for a week or until you begin to notice patterns in your eating. Use your diary to identify areas for change. For example, if you notice that you eat out a lot, look over some restaurant menus for healthier choices. If you're a working mom and find that from the time you arrive home until you put dinner on the table you've already eaten a mini-dinner, prepare healthy snacks for the predinner hour: vegetables with low-fat dip, or a dish of yogurt with fresh fruit can curb your appetite, and both are good low-calorie choices. If you eat potato chips by the bagful whenever you rent a video, change to low-fat popcorn.
Identify your good habits. Work to strengthen them and add new ones to the list. Make one or two changes at a time. Over the course of a year, small changes add up to big ones. For example, if you take time to eat slowly and always enjoy breakfast, you already have two great habits. But if breakfast is sometimes a doughnut or a big, calorie-packed muffin, substitute whole wheat toast and jam or cereal with low-fat milk to make your breakfast habit better.
Don't focus on the bad. Instead of worrying about that one day you ate a chocolate bar, think of the five days that same week when you opted for fresh fruit. In the course of a week, you eat about 21 meals; don't worry if two or three of those are less healthy choices. Look at all the healthy choices you have made.
Identify your eating style. Are you most satisfied when you have larger servings of protein foods - meat, fish, chicken, cheese and eggs? Or are you a carb lover who would never feel satisfied with a large steak alone? Are you a grazer or do you prefer three meals a day?
Work within your own eating pattern, making small changes that you can live with. Instead of pasta and bread at dinner, just eat the pasta. Instead of a 10-ounce steak, make it six ounces. If you like to graze, do so with increased awareness - for example, have a low-fat hot chocolate rather than a handful of chocolate chip cookies. There is no one correct eating style to suit everybody. Do it your way.
Page 1 of 2 — on page 2, read 5 more tricks to staying slim without diets.
Set realistic, achievable goals. You've heard it all before: aim to lose one to two pounds a week and don't be hard on yourself if you occasionally plateau. If you prefer to stay off the scales, find another way to monitor your progress - look at your cholesterol or blood pressure level or the fit of your clothes. Plan to exercise three to four times a week. If you want to reduce added fats, butter only one piece of bread in your sandwich or use mustard or salsa instead. Cut calories moderately - use 2 per cent milk instead of cream in your coffee, remove the skin from chicken or eat sherbet or low-fat frozen yogurt instead of premium ice cream. Trash quick fixes along with the diet books.
Increase your eating awareness. Explore why you eat, what you eat and when you eat. Identify your eating patterns and triggers (stress, boredom, a hard day at the office or a fight with your partner).
If you go out for a brownie every afternoon at 3 p.m. because you're feeling tired and restless, that will become a habit. After a while, you want the brownie whether you're tired or not. Consider whether you're truly hungry and what's happening at 3 p.m. that sends you down for a snack. Take a break, go for a walk, stretch or drink some water, then see if you still want a snack; if you do, forget the brownie and select something healthier. Snacking is often an automatic response - try to get over it.
Perhaps you're eating because you're bored or stressed; find more productive ways of dealing with those triggers. Call a friend, go for a bike ride, take a bubble bath instead of raiding the fridge, or explore some stress management techniques, such as yoga or exercise.
Exercise. Look for excuses to get exercise instead of ones to avoid it. If you can't do something physically active for a full 30 minutes, try three 10-minute sessions. Find something you enjoy doing that makes you sweat - even a little bit. It could be walking your dog, dancing, cross-country skiing, skating or even vacuuming. Try to increase the number of times or the length of time that you're physically active. Exercise, of any kind, helps you feel better physically and mentally and is an excellent partner in any weight-loss routine. It can lower body fat and control weight, manage blood pressure, reduce insulin resistance and build muscle tissue. At rest, muscle burns more calories than fat. As you increase the amount of muscle you have, your resting metabolic rate rises. Make exercise an automatic part of your day; eventually, you won't remember a time when you weren't active.
Find support. If you need reinforcement from a spouse, family member or friend, ask for it. If your partner brings home rich desserts every night, negotiate a compromise so you won't have tempting food around. Suggest eating desserts on weekends only or ask him to bring home something that doesn't tempt you. If it suits you, seek out a weight management group in your neighbourhood. Make sure the program is flexible and can be personalized to suit your lifestyle. If you're beginning to exercise, try to find a partner at the gym or a neighbour to walk with; having a workout buddy makes exercising easier.
Be patient with yourself. Changing eating habits is one of the most difficult challenges you face, and it takes time. Don't beat yourself up over a bad day. If you skip a day, it doesn't mean that you've blown it. It just means you've skipped a day and will be back on track tomorrow.
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