As you may or may not know, this week marks the 21st annual Healthy Weight Week, a nationwide awareness week designed not only to celebrate healthy living and prevent eating and weight problems, but also to denounce many popular fad diets and the myths associated with them. While these diets gain lots of attention and followers, the simple truth is that, for most people, diets just don’t work for the long term. That’s not to say that weight loss is hopeless, or that remaining overweight or obese are good things. However, it does mean that often the approach people take to dieting and weight management needs to change in order to lead to any lasting success. For instance, many people take a painful, short-term approach to eating and exercise that often is complicated, uncomfortable and unrealistic to maintain for very long.
Blount Memorial registered dietitian Angie Tillman says so-called “dieting” often can do more harm than good. “According to the book ‘Intuitive Eating’ by Evelyn Tribole and Elyse Resch, chronic dieting can lead to increased binge eating, a decreased metabolic rate, an increased preoccupation with food, an increased sense of failure and a decreased sense of willpower,” Tillman said. “The solution to achieving a healthy weight seems to involve focusing more on three specific areas, as opposed to simply ‘dieting.’ First, it is crucial to realize that your weight is not a measure of your self-worth. Your self-worth is how you view yourself as a total person, including how you treat others; how you treat yourself; the contributions you make to your family and friends; your community; and society in general,” she said. “Your weight is just your weight. If you have weight to lose that is affecting your health, small changes can be helpful, but losing weight will not solve all of your problems. Therefore, instead of obsessing about the scale, remember to focus on healthy behavioral changes and weight management,” she added.
“Second, try to make small, realistic changes to your eating and exercise habits,” Tillman said. “Eat more fruits and vegetables, specifically trying to eat one of each at every meal and every snack. Try to eat a nourishing breakfast. Plan your meals in advance, and work on reducing or eliminating sugary beverages. Also, try to limit your intake of processed, packaged foods and practice cooking simpler recipes at home. It also can be beneficial to practice eating more mindfully, which includes slowing down while you eat and focusing on hunger and fullness cues from your body,” she explained. “The other side of the coin is, of course, increasing your physical activity. Try to do this in a way that you can live with. Pedometers, smartphone apps and devices such as Fitbits can help you with your accountability. Finally, if you’re new to exercise, or need direction, consider joining a fitness center and seeking out the services of a qualified personal trainer,” she said.
The final area of focus for healthy weight loss involves self-care and coping patterns, Tillman says. “Coping patterns have a huge effect on weight management,” she said. “For instance, if you are an ‘emotional eater,’ learning proper nutrition may not be the solution. These people often cope with stress or their emotions with food. For them, learning other methods of controlling these feelings will be more effective. Some people, however, are ‘people-pleasers’ and often are too busy doing things for others to take time to care for themselves. No amount of dieting knowledge will help you if your life is too busy. Having an overbooked life can leave little time for healthy grocery shopping, cooking or physical activity,” she added.
“Other people fall under the category of ‘self-scrutinizers,’” Tillman explained. “These people often get mired in negative thoughts that can sabotage their weight loss efforts. For them, the practice of building themselves up, instead of beating themselves up, can lead to more success. Finally, there are the ‘overreaching achievers.’ They tend to set their goals too high and give up when they don’t reach their high ideals of success. Remember, the key is to focus on making small, attainable goals, and build upon your successes. If you haven’t exercised in 10 years, commit to a goal of taking a 15-minute walk two or three days a week. This is much more realistic than diving into a six-day-per-week workout routine. Once you’ve achieved that goal, you can begin gradually setting more challenging ones for yourself,” she said.