Tips for Making Dieting (or Living Healthfully) Easy

02Jan11

Whether you’re on a low-carb diet, or a low-calorie one, you have the power to make it easier or more difficult for yourself. One thing I’ve found on this journey so far is that some people set out to sabotage their own efforts at dieting and find excuses for doing so. The reasons people might do this are many:

(1) Fear of losing the weight and having to come up with a new identity.
(2) Lack of real motivation/discipline.
(3) Lack of desire to develop motivation/discipline.
(4) Laziness.

People then cover over the real reasons they sabotage their efforts to get healthy with a myriad of excuses: “I just don’t have the time,” “I think it might be too expensive,” “There’s no way I can eat all that disgusting health food–it can’t really be good for you,” or “I can just start my diet again on Monday and eat what I want today.”

I know these excuses well because I lived each and every one of them, day after day. Sure, I have a thyroid condition, too, and *maybe* that made the repercussions more serious for me, but the thyroid problem wasn’t the reason I put on weight and KEPT putting on the weight. The painful truth of the matter is that nothing worth having comes easily, and excuses will always be easier to live with than that fact.

As you make your resolutions for the New Year, perhaps you want to live more healthfully, or even lose some of that extra weight that’s dogging your health and looming over your old age. Consider this: by this time next year, you can be a whole new person with an entirely new lifestyle. A lifestyle that reinforces your choices and has tangible rewards. Forget the shame and guilt, put aside the cycle of eating that has left you with regret and low self-esteem – determine today that you want to be the person who makes an active decision in your life tomorrow, who has control over what goes into your own mouth. Stop sabotaging your dieting efforts, stop living in denial, forget trying that unrealistic diet you’ve been attempting for five years that you end up cheating on the next day and has caused you to gain rather than lose, and make the choice to do what it takes to create a new lifestyle for yourself.

In the spirit of that homily, and because so many people asked me over the holiday season what I did to drop so much weight and still be HAPPY, I’ve compiled a few enormously helpful tips. These tips have been my allies in battle. You may see more posts like this one in future, since it occurs to me that it isn’t always about what you put in your mouth, but how you fill the time in between eating, that can make all the difference in the world.

THE REFRIGERATOR

Did you know that your refrigerator can be your friend? YES, IT’S TRUE! Human psychology is simple when it comes to food – we like to eat things right in front of our faces that look good. For this reason, by making a couple changes to how you organize and fill your refrigerator, your resolution to eat better will become that much easier.

(1) Be disciplined at the grocery store.

What you buy for the week at the grocery store is what you will eat for the week. A moment of pain as you put that fattening food you *really* want down and move to something else is much less than the pain of guilt and shame you will feel when you eat it later. I look at my shopping trip as an opportunity to take pride in my lifestyle change. I love to put my fruits, veggies, non-fat chocolate frozen yogurt ice cream, and whole wheat double fiber bread up on the checkout belt. Being disciplined with how you fill your refrigerator has several immediate rewards – you have less access to foods that will sabotage your efforts, your grocery bill will shrink, and your ‘fridge will look prettier (I’ll get to that in a moment). Limit yourself to one small treat purchase. Example: non-fat chocolate frozen yogurt, some chocolate pudding, a pricier but delicious piece of fruit, or a bit of dark chocolate.

(2) Clean out your refrigerator RIGHT NOW.

As you head into this new year and plan to eat better, you need to make an upfront sacrifice. As we speak, you have things in your refrigerator that must see the garbage can. For a Dutch girl like me, this one was painful. I tossed ice cream, full-fat dairy, and full-fat ground beef – just to name a few. You can also apply this to your pantry. Toss or give away those chocolate morsels, the potato chips, the terrible sugar cereal, and the candy bars tucked into the niches of the cupboard. Don’t justify keeping these sabotaging foods because they might be useful in the next several weeks or months, or because you cannot stomach the waste – these excuses stem from denial. You can always buy these things again on your weekly shopping trip, IF you really need them. Take pride as you clean out your kitchen and shine those shelves – make it an inviting place to put your new, yummy, healthy foods.

(3) Be smart about organizing your refrigerator.

If you do nothing else, do this. Keep the healthy stuff where your eyes will find it first. For example, I have a pic of my current ‘fridge setup.

We just went shopping today, so this reflects most the food we’ll eat for the week along with a few staple sauces, dressings, et cetera. Note that the refrigerator (a) contains almost entirely healthy food staples and snacks, (2) looks clean and tidy, so that almost all the good foods are visible, (3) the good stuff that will have the best impact for snacking are front and center.

Once you make that first leap and clean out your ‘fridge, tidy it up, it is remarkably easy to maintain. I don’t pretend that this is easy for someone with children at home, but it is still helpful. If you *do* have kids, I recommend giving them a little snack shelf, from which they can always be free to pilfer food. Fill it with carrot sticks, fruit, and string cheese. Doesn’t hurt to do the same for yourself. And presentation is a good tactic, too. Make sure those carrot sticks look fresh and delicious, those hard-boiled eggs so tempting, the apples clean and sweet. The best way to eat healthfully and be happy is to make the healthy stuff not just visible, but also easy to grab and nicely presented.

If you do have, by some necessity, sabotage food in your refrigerator, keep it out of sight. Stick it in a little shelf at the very bottom, or tuck it behind other food. This applies to your countertops as well.

If you must have crackers or potato chips, don’t leave them on your countertop. Leave out the good stuff–healthy breads, fruit, or cereal for munching (believe it or not, KIX is one of the healthiest cereals around).

NUTRITION

While studies and my own personal experience have proven that a low calorie diet trumps a low-carb or other novelty diet any day of the week, some elements remain consistent. Some foods will curb your hunger, keep you feeling full and satisfied for longer, and give you a lot of nutritional bang for the buck, especially when eaten at certain times of the day.

(1) Fiber

Fiber is the most important element to dieting successfully. Not only does it help those with constipation or chronic loose stools gain regularity, perhaps the two most important features of fiber are these: (a) it takes a lot of time and energy for your stomach to process it, which means you feel fuller and satisfied longer, and (b) it helps your body absorb nutrients and excrete the leftovers efficiently. You simply cannot do better than eating a bunch of fiber–at least 25g a day! Some days will be easier than others to accomplish this goal, but there is scarcely anything better that you can do for your diet or your health than get plenty of fiber. For those who do not get sufficient fiber currently, and haven’t been for awhile, the first few days that you DO get enough fiber might be a little uncomfy, but your body adjusts rapidly (because it loves it!), so don’t give up if you feel a little gassy. That’s normal.

(2) Protein

I hardly need to tell about the importance of protein, I’m sure. Though each gram of protein has exactly the same amount of calories as a carb, it takes more time and energy to burn that gram, which again, means you’ll feel fuller and satisfied for longer. A high-fiber, high-protein diet will feel like a breeze. Numerous studies indicate that starting your morning with a hard-boiled egg is one of the best ways to feel less hunger throughout the day and get a good boost for the morning. I like to get a good dose of fiber, protein, and a bit of natural sugar in the morning: I credit this morning breakfast routine for much of my success.

Toast 1 slice Oroweat double-fiber bread (70 calories), spread a wedge of light laughing cow cheese on it (35 calories), and top with 1 sliced hard-boiled egg (70 calories). You can serve with a banana or some light yogurt on the side. Total calories amount to between 250 and 275.

(3) Water

Diet foods are notoriously high in sodium. It’s just a fact. While sodium doesn’t necessarily hinder your body’s ability to burn fat, it *does* take a toll on your body’s willingness to shed weight. Not to mention there’s plenty of good reason to avoid sodium for the sake of your heart health.

For this reason, and so many others, aim to drink a gallon of water a day. This goal is a commitment, I know. I’ve been drinking between 1 to 1.5 gallons of water consistently for 6 months. Though difficult at first, it became routine rather quickly. Now I can’t do without it!

Water – along with fiber and potassium – helps your body excrete excess sodium, along with other toxins. Additionally, dehydration stimulates hunger in our bodies, and can leave us feeling exhausted by about 2pm. Hydrating well will dramatically reduce hunger pangs and leave you feeling more energetic throughout the day. You will pee a great deal at first, but over time, your body will adjust. You’ll find that you don’t struggle with water weight and that any indulgences you do have will have much less effect on your body. Did I mention your skin will improve, too?

ACCOUNTABILITY

The mind is a funny thing. It likes to shield us from painful truths, and we like to let it. Don’t kid yourself – you are responsible for eating that entire chocolate cake; you are responsible for downing that entire bag of chips; you are responsible for eating half of that pizza; and you will suffer consequences for doing so. Dieting doesn’t mean depriving. A diet is about a lifestyle.

And when it comes to lifestyle, it’s not just acceptable to indulge, it’s required for good mental health. But to enjoy an indulgence, you need to free yourself from internal feelings of guilt and shame, which will only drive you to eat poorly more often, and the only way to do that is to take responsibility for them. Don’t make excuses to justify an indulgence. Don’t try to deny its consequences. Being aware of what an indulgence costs will make it less appealing to have all the time, but will also free you to enjoy it more fully when you do choose to partake.

Peter and I adore the holidays because we can eat full-fat pies and chips and all that stuff we love but avoid. We can fully enjoy those indulgences because we know that we do well the rest of the time and that this indulgence is just that – a special occasion. I haven’t put on a single pound this holiday season and I ate a ton of pie and turkey and mashed potatoes and ham and all sorts of fatty foods. How did I avoid the holiday 10? I didn’t use the season as an excuse to eat poorly every day of the week: that doesn’t fit my lifestyle anymore. Rather, I relegated those delicious seasonal foods to the parties and gatherings and ate according to my lifestyle all the other days. I never once felt deprived. For me, it was a meaningful and tangible reflection of my year of hard-work. That can be your holiday season next year.

(1) Weigh yourself regularly.

Some people get discouraged weighing themselves daily. Personally, I do not. By weighing myself daily, I have learned how my body responds to high-sodium foods, how long it takes to get rid of water weight that results from them, and have seen the degree to which one day of healthy eating assists my weight-loss goals. It also helps me own up for days I fell of the wagon.

Others choose to weigh themselves less frequently than me, however, and that’s fine. I think there’s no solid, concrete recommendation for every person. However, you do need to weigh yourself – daily, weekly, or monthly. It needs to a routine for you. When you step on that scale, you cannot hide. You face the consequences and rewards of your actions in that moment.

Additionally, weighing yourself regularly helps you see when you’re in a plateau, when you’re really losing in high gear, and when you need to kick it up a notch. All around, it’s helpful and essential to the process.

(2) Educate yourself.

One way we like to sabotage our own efforts and continue living in denial is by keeping ourselves ignorant about what we put in our mouths. Whatever diet/lifestyle approach you take, it’s important to understand the caloric needs of your body, the nutritional values of your favorite foods and indulgences, and the best ways of putting your body to work for you.

If you’re taking the low-cal approach, track your calories every day, especially for the first six months. This doesn’t just keep you accountable, it also educates you on foods so that you can make right and healthful decisions on the fly. Look at nutrition labels and really compare fat, saturated fat, calories, and fiber content. Look for alternatives – like replacing the fat in baked goods with applesauce. I recommend Calorie Count or Livestrong as great free resources for easily tracking calorie intake and finding out about foods. They have great databases and communities!

If you’re eating low-carb, don’t neglect your fiber. Your body will have difficulty processing all the fats and oils without a good fiber intake, which will in turn hinder your weight loss and result in intestinal discomfort.

So that’s my enormous post on the matter. As other thoughts and suggestions come to mind, I’ll post them!

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2 Responses to “Tips for Making Dieting (or Living Healthfully) Easy”

  1. Thanks for the tips Shel! I really admire how well you’ve done and its motivating to hear a little more “behind the scenes” info on how you’ve lost weight and kept it off. I see now that my fridge needs a lot of work… 🙂

  2. 2 Deanne Likkel Guthrie

    Very sound advice Shelly and very encouraging! I like how you broke it up in step by step considerations. Thanks for sharing what you have learned and are putting into practice. Its good motivation on how to develop healthy eating habits and why to tackle certain chores (I can’t believe how clean and tidy your fridge is! :-).


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