Most of us are aware of how challenging it is to lose weight (let alone keep it off). For years, health researchers have warned us of the low rates of weight loss success suggesting that approximately 2- to 5-percent of weight losers will successfully keep off the pounds. The diet and fitness industries continue to successfully exploit our hopes (and sometimes desperation) for thinness, but what if there was more to weight management than diet and exercise? What if there were other lifestyle habits that we could implement that would help? Would that be something of interest?
The following list not only includes what we know to be an influence on weight loss, but also highlights the importance of other factors to consider when planning future weight loss. Focusing on just a few tips below may lead to pounds lost, and if we are able to create a lifestyle that includes all twelve, perhaps weight management would become second nature…
Just one night of sleeplessness can motivate us to reach for more coffee and snacks during the day. It can promote us to forgo exercise because we are too tired and stop at the drive through for dinner for the same reasons. Dr. Susan Zafarlotfi, the clinical director of the Institute for Sleep and Wake Disorders at Hackensack University Medical Center, in New Jersey, suggests that sleep deprivation not only promotes the munchies (leading to obesity), it also promotes chronic sleep debt that causes the body to eventually shut down.
Moreover, Dr. Michael Breus, the clinical director of the sleep division for Arrowhead Health in Glendale Arizona, has stated that chronic sleeplessness can have negative effects on the metabolism. From over-snacking and lack of physical activity to a lowered metabolism, one can understand how, overtime, the pounds can accumulate without a healthy dose of the z’s.
2. Eat Veggies
Although we are aware of the importance of eating vegetables many are challenged with adding them to their meal plans. From reducing the chance of chronic diseases like cancers, diabetes, and heart disease to providing us with the nutrients we need to function optimally, vegetables should be a major part of any diet. The Canada’s Food Guide suggests that half of our plate should contain vegetables to gain the full health benefits. For many, the thought of eating half a plate of veggies at every meal is enough to stop eating altogether.
Nutritionists will tell us that adding more vegetables to our plates will help bulk up our meals, provide us with the fibre we need for good health, and is a great low-calorie way to fill up while losing weight. For those “veggie haters”, mixing veggies up with scrambled eggs or throwing them into a stir-fry is a great way of covering them up while reaping the benefits at the same time.
3. Include Physical Activity
Exercise psychology researcher has suggested that over 60-percent of those workout ‘newbies” will fall off the proverbial treadmill within 6 months of beginning their exercise program. Gym parking lots are full and the line-ups to the cardio equipment long, but by Valentine’s Day, the crowds start to thin out. Adding physical activity to one’s weight management lifestyle doesn’t have to be torturous or take too much time and money. If we chose activities that we feel can be sustained for the long term (i.e. something we enjoy) we are more apt to continue.
Even though exercise physiologists have suggested that exercise alone isn’t an effective weight loss tool, when integrated into a larger weight management plan, it can make a significant difference. Lifelong physical activity can have a positive influence on health, weight, and cognition (not to mention reduce our risk of many chronic diseases). The key is not biting off more than we can chew, doing it in moderation, and finding something we enjoy.
What’s the difference between movement and physical activity? Physical activity is sustained activity overtime (like tennis, walking, and biking) while movement is the simple act of moving one’s body. This is especially important if we sit for long periods of time during the day (i.e., have a desk job). Dr. Andrea LaCroix, director of the Women’s Health Center of Excellence at the University of California, attributes chronic sitting to an increased risk of heart attack, heart disease, cancer, and higher death rate.
In her study on the effects of chronic sitting, Dr. LaCroix found that those women who sat the most (more than 11 hours) saw a higher rate of death over the following 12 years. Moreover, she has suggested that sitting for long periods of time can increase our risk of high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and obesity. The message being if we are planning to sit for long durations, make movement a habit by planning for it hourly. A combination of walking around the block or office and a light stretch is all we need to reduce our risk of illness.
5. Manage Emotions
How many times have we found ourselves angry, sad, or bored only to reach for the chips or other munchies as a way of coping with those emotional times? Emotional eating is one of biggest culprits to creeping obesity. Binge eating disorder and food addiction can result from negative emotions and used as a way of self-soothing. For those that use food to cope, it can serve as a (short term) source of happiness and peace, but lead to long-term health consequences.
Holding onto unwanted pounds may be due to psychological stressors influencing eating and exercise habits. Some may need to work with a helping professional while others may decide to record emotions related to eating habits as a way to enhance awareness. Before, during, or after an afternoon binge, for example, recording emotions overtime may be all we need to uncover a pattern and find other (more healthy) alternatives to coping.
6. Beware of Social Environment
When creating a weight management lifestyle, it is important to consider our social environment and the influences it may have on our health habits. Our social environments can include those people in our families, at work, and other social clubs and opportunities we take part in. For example, if we belong to a hiking group we are more apt to be physically active and supported by our peers. Conversely, if our social circles reside at the local pub it not only negative influences our food choices, but keep us from getting the activity we need.
Our parents, peers, and colleagues have great influence on the way we think and behave. Studies have demonstrated that those parents who support and demonstrate an active lifestyle will be more successful at planting the healthy seeds of physical activity in their children for a lifetime. Moreover, a study published in the Cochrane Database System Review highlighted the positive role of schools that promoted physical activity in the prevention of obesity overtime.
7. Reduce Screen Time
Without taking an inventory of our screen time, many of us have no idea how much time we spend in front of the TV or computer. According to a report issued by eMarketer in 2013, the average American adult will spend over 9 hours peering at a TV or digital screen (with the digital screen taking the lead of over 5 hours per day). Not only does this behavior take a toll on our posture—it can most certainly negatively affect our health and weight gain overtime.
Scientific American reported on a study published in the Journal of American Medical Association – Pediatrics and suggested a parent’s cutting of children’s TV time had positive health and lifestyle outcomes lasting into adulthood. It could be safely assumed that these results could translate into the adult population reaping many positive benefits from switching off. Perhaps it’s the difference of an hour or two or maybe it means an entire overhaul of lifestyle, either way, we can be assured many positive results including the potential for lost pounds.
8. Pick Up an Interest or Hobby
In relation to emotional eating, one of the main sources of our overeating and snacking come from sheer boredom. Whether it is watching TV, long road trips, meetings, or dull desk work, we tend to curb our feelings of boredom by finding something fun to munch on. Additionally, there is a strong relationship between screen time and snacking making it safe to assume the more we watch, the more we snack, and the more we weigh.
Having interests such as reading, gardening, recreational pursuits and the like, turns our attention to something other than food. Picking up an activity that interest us not only creates more life engagement, but it can also keep boredom at bay and leave us more fulfilled than binging on TV and nachos.
9. Be Critical
Critical thinking can simply be defined as the ability to objectively analyse and evaluate something without bias or judgement. How many of us jump on the next fitness and diet trend because it showcased on our favorite talk show? How many of us reach conclusions without assessing both sides of an argument? Critical thinking is a necessary skill (and practice) than will enable us to make informed and healthy choices.
As it applies to weight management, we need to engage in critical thinking before we make decisions on our exercise programs and menu plans. Although there are some effective and healthy programs for weight loss offered, there are as many that can hinder our health and leave us sick, ill, and injured. If something appears too good to be true we can be assured it is. By making critical thinking a habit, we will not only have the ability to weed through the snake oil, but save money, and precious time doing only those things that will help us achieve lifelong weight management.
10. Shift Attitudes
Linda Bacon, researcher and author of the book, Health at Every Size, presents her argument for shifting attitudes towards health rather than weight loss. Research has demonstrated that those that exercise and eat for extrinsic rewards (i.e. looking good naked) are less successful than those who do it for more intrinsic motives (i.e. feeling more energetic and healthy). Although, after years of focus on weight loss, it may be difficult to make the leap, it is a necessary step we need to take if we want our success to last for a lifetime.
In addition, if we are approaching our lifestyle change with the belief that we will eventually fall off the wagon because of our history of failure, we will probably fall off the wagon. While it may be true that we have tried year in and year out to lose pounds, this time will be different because we are approaching the same goal with a new plan. It is important to change our story and not replay the same “failure” messages in our heads. Our thoughts, attitudes, and beliefs will make a big difference—positive or negative.
11. Managing Stress
How many of us, when attempting to lose weight, consider implementing a stress management plan at the same time? Interestingly, when we are stressed out, the healthy resolutions and goals are the first to go. Stress can cause overeating, sleeplessness, and fatigue. If we have implemented a workout schedule, the chances are good we will skip the gym for the couch. Moreover, our lack of attention to our health creates more stress—it’s a vicious cycle.
If weight management (or loss) is something we truly want for ourselves, we will need to create an action plan for those stressful times in life. From deep breathing to taking mini-breaks, there are many stress management techniques we can use to help us stick to our healthy behaviors even if we feel we don’t have time to breathe. Check out the many aps for mind/body relaxation or peruse the Internet for helpful tips and ideas. Although effective stress management planning isn’t rocket science, it does demand our mindfulness and attention to the present to have a positive impact (something that is challenge when we find ourselves putting out fires). Make no mistake; this is non-negotiable when it comes to weight management!
Leaving one of the most challenging tips for last, acceptance may be the hardest thing for us to do. It may mean accepting that our bodies won’t change even if we exercise for hours a week and eat salads. It may mean accepting ourselves for who we are now instead of always focusing on our future selves (ten pounds lighter). Acceptance is hard, but necessary if we desire a life free of self-hate, emotional eating, and over exercise. To accept our bodies, our emotions, our financial realities, and our friends and families as they are means to live free of the many stressors that can bring us down.
When it comes to creating our weight management lifestyle, we must focus on healthy practices no matter what the outcome may be. Generally, when focused on healthy eating, exercise, stress management, and the rest, the results will be positive. For others, however, these healthy habits will provide great health benefits, but may not have the desired effect on weight. Unfortunately, this poses a huge challenge for those of us living in a society that values the importance of thinness over body acceptance. For those bodies that don’t respond accordingly, desperation for fat loss may override acceptance and healthy behaviors.