There are so many different approaches to weight loss and – if you’re like many seasoned dieters – it’s likely you’ve tried many of them. In fact, when I ask people what diets they’ve tried, what they usually tell me is, “all of them!” And, they also usually tell me that “they all work” – as long as they can stick to them. But is a diet really working if you can’t stay with it? There’s no point in trying to follow a diet to the letter if it doesn’t work with your likes and dislikes, your habits or your lifestyle … because the weight you’ve lost is very likely to come back. So, you need to find ways to personalize your plan so it works for you.
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I give a lot of credit to those who keep working at weight loss, especially if they’ve experienced a lot of ups and downs with their weight. It’s tough to keep trying at something when you haven’t been particularly successful. But one thing that these repeated attemptsmight help you do is to figure out what works for you and what doesn’t. And, over time, you learn to apply all that you’ve learned about healthy eating to create a daily diet that works for you.
Making Your Diet Work for You
In order to create your own healthy eating pattern, it helps to ask yourself some important questions, and use your answers to better understand what influences your daily eating habits. It might help to keep a food diary for a week or so and make note of what, when and where you eat; what time you work out and for how long; how hungry you are when you start eating; and how full you are when you’re finished. The more you know, the easier it will be for you to tailor an eating plan that will work for you – and not just while you are trying to lose. As you learn what works for you, and make adjustments as you go, you can find a personalized solution that will help you better manage your weight.
Six Important Questions to Ask Yourself About Your Eating Habits
What is your typical eating pattern? When do you get up and when do you go to bed? The answer to these questions can help you figure out the best meal timing and frequency for yourself. People who have a long day – those who get up fairly early and stay up quite late – are probably going to have (and might also need) more “eating events” during their waking hours. In this case, I might suggest that calories be divided over three meals and three snacks (one mid-morning, one mid-afternoon and a light one in the evening). On the other hand, someone who is a late riser probably won’t need a mid-morning snack, and if they turn in relatively early, their dinner meal should probably be the last eating event of the day.
What time of day do you exercise and how hard do you work out? The answer to this question helps determine what needs to be done in terms of fueling up before exercise, and refueling afterwards. Those who do low-to-moderate intensity exercise of relatively short duration (say, a brisk 45 minute walk) probably don’t need to fuel up before they go – even if it’s first thing in the morning. But, if exercise is more strenuous, and/or longer in duration, it’s a different story. If you work out hard first thing in the morning, you’ll need to set aside some calories to spend on some carbohydrates “top off your tank” ahead of time. Something light and easy to digest is best – a banana, a carton of yogurt, a small protein shake would all work. You’d then refuel at breakfast. If your workout takes place before lunch you’d need to set aside some calories for a mid-morning snack; if you wait until after work, you’d need a snack mid-afternoon; in both cases, the meal you eat after your workout would serve to refuel you. If you usually work out after dinner, then you’d want to spend more of your calories on your mid-afternoon snack and keep dinner on the light side, and then have a small snack to help you refuel afterwards.
Who cooks at home – you or someone else? If you prepare most of your own meals, you have a lot of control over what goes on your plate. That means that you are the one who decides what you’ll eat, how much, and how the food is prepared – all of which can really work to your advantage. Even so, it can be time-consuming to prepare meals, so it helps to make sure your refrigerator, freezer and pantry are stocked with healthy staples. Put together a set of quick, easy and healthy recipes that you can turn to on busy weeknights, and take time on the weekends to plan your meals and do some prep work to make weeknight cooking a little easier. If someone else cooks for you at home, enlist their support in helping you eat healthier meals that work with your plan. A healthy, balanced diet is something everyone in the household can enjoy.
How often do you eat out? If you eat most of your meals out, it can be more challenging to keep your calories in check – primarily because you don’t have the same amount of control over portion sizes or how food is prepared. If you eat out frequently, a good tactic is to start your day at home with a protein shake – it’s quick and simple to make, and you can start your day with a healthy, calorie-controlled meal. Then, lean towards protein and vegetables at lunch and dinner, and pay attention to how foods are prepared. Many restaurants post the calorie counts of their menu items online – check out the information before you go, and use it to plan your meals. If you know portions are likely to be large, ask that half be set aside before it’s served to you and you can have it for lunch the next day.
Are you an emotional eater? If your food diary tells you that you’re eating when you really aren’t hungry, it could be that you’re doing some emotional eating. Eating in response to stress, anxiety, sadness or other emotions may lift your mood momentarily, but the feeling generally doesn’t last long. The best thing to do in these cases is to just experience the feeling – without judgment – just let the feeling be. When you feel the urge to stress-eat, one of the best lifestyle adjustments you can make is to turn to exercise instead. Engaging in activity can be an instant mood-lifter.
Are portion sizes a problem for you? If you struggle with large portion sizes, you may find that eating more frequently can actually help. Many people eat huge portions because they think it will keep them from snacking, or keep them from eating too much at the next meal. What’s more likely to happen, however, is that you’re simply training yourself to feel satisfied only after you’ve eaten a huge meal. Instead, learn to eat just enough so that you’re not hungry any more – not so much that you can’t eat another bite. If you know you’ll be eating every few hours, you can teach yourself to be content with less food at each meal and snack.
Susan Bowerman is Director of Nutrition Training at Herbalife. Susan is a Registered Dietitian and a Board-Certified Specialist in Sports Dietetics.
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