These days, we’re fed so many conflicting messages about how to stay slim and fit—Hollywood beach bodies and celebrity diets abound. But the secret to maintaining a healthy body weight doesn’t lie in deprivation or fly-by-night fads. Thankfully, it’s a lot simpler: Eat healthy, fresh, seasonal foods in moderate amounts, and get lots of exercise, fresh air, and sleep. Make this a way of life (not a short-lived diet strategy that you’re bound to blow off) and steer clear of the five most-common weight-loss landmines, and this year, your lose-10-pounds resolution will actually become a reality.
Trap #1: Dieting
Does anyone really diet anymore? The whole concept is, for lack of a better word, depressing. Here’s why: Fat-free, calorie-restriction, zero-carb, and other popular weight-loss programs are too difficult to sustain—mentally and physically—over long periods of time. Yo-yo dieting has been linked to high blood pressure, diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and compromised immunity.
Instead…Make eating well a lifetime goal, not something you do for three months or a year. Set realistic goals like shopping your local farmers’ market or joining a CSA (community-supported agriculture) program for fresh produce and grass-fed meat. Read the labels at the grocery store—you’ll be shocked at how many foods contain sugar, from salad dressings to so-called natural cereals—and avoid processed foods as much as possible. James Hill, PhD, and director of the Center for Human Nutrition at the University of Colorado Health Sciences Center in Denver, created the National Weight Control Registry to study dieters who kept off 30 or more pounds for more than a year. Hill found that a majority of those people—80 percent of whom are women—share four healthy habits that are worthy of imitation: They eat breakfast every day, weigh themselves weekly, watch less than ten hours of TV a week, and average one hour of exercise per day.
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Trap #2: Skipping Meals and Binge Eating
You overslept and didn’t have time for breakfast. You worked through lunch and were ravenous by 4pm. You grabbed a yogurt on your way to the movies and then scarfed down a tub of butter popcorn. Been there, done that. Whether you’re late, lazy, or just trying to shave calories from your bottom line, skipping meals is a bad idea that leaves you more vulnerable to overeating. We’re especially prone to bingeing on weekends, says a study published in the fall 2009 Journal of Public Policy & Marketing that found people consume on average 37 more calories on weekend days, and those who overeat at all six weekend meals could push that number to 400.
Instead…Schedule meals and snacks every three to four hours—it helps you eat more regularly. “People worry that if they eat more regularly they may gain weight,” says Lynn DeBar, PhD, senior investigator at Kaiser Permanente Center for Health Research, “but in fact they end up binge eating because of a misguided attempt to go long periods without eating as a means of dieting.” If you still feel the urge to splurge, find alternative activities to eating—go for a walk, work in the garden, or write in your food journal. To avoid weekend bingeing, create a weekly, not daily, budget for calories. “This will help you maintain your vigilance and take corrective action in the following day or two if you overdo it on Day 1,” says J. Jeffrey Inman, associate dean at the University of Pittsburgh’s Katz Graduate School of Business, who co-authored the 2009 study.
Trap #3: All Work, No Playing
Whoever coined the term “working out” gave exercise a bad rap. Apologies for channeling Richard Simmons, but fitness should be fun, not work. Why? You’re bound to bail on something that feels like a chore, and that’s a surefire way to pack on the pounds. In a 2008 study conducted by Berkeley Lab’s Life Sciences Division, Paul Williams found that people who exercise erratically, quitting for long periods of time, have more trouble losing weight than those who stick with a regular routine.
Instead…Shift your thinking. Figure out what brings you joy in a physical way and do it. It’s called playing, people! Don’t sweat the details—it is more important to find something you love and get after it on a regular basis. You want to learn to tango, climb Mount Kilimanjaro, or ride your bike across Iowa? Researchers at the Mayo Clinic say that writing down your fitness goals is key to achieving them. Are you social? You’ll think twice about blowing off your after-work trail run if you’re meeting a friend. James Annesi, PhD, author of Enhancing Exercise Motivation, found that people who choose their own exercise program are far more likely to stick with it than those who follow others’ suggestions. Remember, you know you’ve got the right attitude if you are having fun. After all, wouldn’t you rather play tennis, golf nine holes, or dust off your Rollerblades (yeah, they’re back in vogue) than do real work?
Trap #4: Feeding Your Food Allergies
Many of us live with food allergies without knowing it. While anaphylaxis reactions to peanuts and shellfish are severe and often very dangerous, hidden food intolerances are more prevalent and more insidious, causing inflammation, fatigue, moodiness, congestion, bloating and many other symptoms that wear the body down over time. Ironically, we often crave the very foods we are most sensitive to. Why? “The body secretes endorphins when in danger, and we become addicted to these endorphins,” explains Catherine Ziegler, HHC, a holistic nutrition counselor in
San Francisco, who identifies the top culprits as gluten, eggs, dairy, sugar, soy, yeast, and corn. Once the offending food is out of your system, there’s no longer a trigger to induce inflammation, and you’ll often see a natural drop in weight.
Instead…Ask yourself: Is there a food I just can’t live without? Try to live without it for 14 to 28 days and see if you feel better. If you do, that is probably a sensitive food for you. “To keep track,” says Ziegler, “it is really helpful to create a food journal.”
Trap #5: Skipping Your Greens
It doesn’t matter how many times you’ve heard us say it—eat your vegetables—greens still have a sneaky way of sliding off the plate. “They’re a key building block for successful weight loss, giving us strength and energy while helping to shed excess weight,” says Ziegler. A 2007 study supported by the National Institutes of Health discovered that people who eat more water-rich foods like vegetables reduce their “dietary energy density” and lose a third more weight after six months than those who only decrease their fat intake.
Instead…Ziegler suggests chopping and rinsing all your nutrient-packed greens— spinach, kale, chard, collards—in a salad spinner as soon as you get home from the grocery store or farmers’ market. Drain water and store in the fridge for clean, easy-to-grab greens all week. Or try juicing your veggies to make them more palatable, such as mixing fresh greens like arugula with celery, apple, ginger, and lemon for a healthy drink. Ziegler recommends buying frozen organic veggies to throw in stir-fries for dinner or smoothies in the morning, see her favorite recipe below.
By Katie Arnold