Don’t think of zebras. Ok, what just happened? Did you imagine a zebra? Of course you did. As soon as we’re told to reject, remove or deprive ourselves of something we automatically begin to obsess about that object.
And, that’s why diets don’t work. From day one on our new diet we are told to eliminate carbs or fat or dessert or fruit or red meat or coffee and we immediately start to crave bread and cheese and cake and strawberries and a hamburger. We’re just wired that way.
So every minute we spend on our diets we’re battling our urges and feeling deprived and resentful. Eventually, we give in – usually by overeating the object of our desire -- and then we feel weak and defeated. And what happens when we’re sad or depressed? We eat more.
Most dieters end up gaining back more weight than they we able to lose in the first place. In fact, a recent study of obesity in the U.S. cited dieting as a primary cause of weight gain. Seriously.
But, I’m here to tell you that each and every one of us can shed the extra pounds we’re unhealthily carrying around without going on a deprivation diet.
Exactly one year ago, I embarked on a new path of health and wellness and in the process I dropped approximately 32 pounds (and kept it off so far!) Friends and acquaintances were startled when they saw me and perhaps equally surprised when I told them how simple it was. I remember one guy said to me, “what, are you a vegan now?” As if that was the only way to lose weight.
The fact is that I didn’t follow any prescribed diet, and I continued to eat my favorite – usually forbidden – foods like pasta, cake and coffee with half and half.
My journey started in a nutrition class when we were asked to track our food. I used the popular app My Fitness Pal. I thought that I was a healthy eater and that my extra weight was just the normal (although unwelcome) consequences of being middle aged. Oh perhaps I could lose 5 pounds if I tortured myself, I thought, but there was no way I could ever be as thin as I was in my early thirties. After a week of tracking I observed that I was eating a lot more fat than I realized. After a couple of weeks, I had to concede that I ordered in a lot more indulgent comfort food than I thought. The pizza, fried chicken, Chinese and Mexican had indeed added up.
I soon learned that weight loss would come from gradual but personal changes. I wanted to lose weight but on my terms too! No one was going to take away my morning coffee with half and half – which is akin to a spiritual devotion for me. So losing weight became about portion control, cooking more at home, eating more mindfully (not grabbing snacks when I was bored) and crowding my plate with veggies to fill me up.
There was even a place for the fried chicken and pizza deliveries, but instead of once a week, they became more special occasion foods (like once every couple of months) which led me to enjoy them even more.
I began to appreciate the wonders of sweet potatoes, chick peas, barley and kasha, almonds and pumpkin seeds, lentils and other deeply satisfying, fiber rich foods.
After a couple of months, I had so much more energy that I decided to add more exercise into my life. That helped burn extra calories in addition to adding muscle which raised my metabolic rate.
Because I have an active social life and couldn’t solely rely on my healthy yummy home-cooked meals, I began to strategize meals before I even arrived at a restaurant. By choosing beforehand I avoided the zebra trick. If I don’t read “fries” I don’t think about “fries.”
I know that for some even this strategy can seem overwhelming. I couldn’t have done it without moral support. And that’s where health coaches come in. We are the ones that provide simple suggestions, ongoing encouragement and help you break down you identify and break down the barriers that stand in the way of meeting your goals.
So if you’re ready to change your body and start a healthier life, start with small steps. And if you need help, I’m here.
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