Living Well: Mid-year check-in — Have diet and exercise fallen off the priority list?
It’s technically bathing suit season, but seven months into the year is a time when New Year’s resolutions have become long forgotten.
Since so many Americans make New Year’s resolutions to lose weight, in addition to setting more vague goals such as “exercising more” or “eating healthier,” we thought it might be time to revisit some tips for anyone who may have gotten derailed from their weight and fitness goals.
Focus on nutrition
Madysen Jourgensen, registered dietitian at Memorial Regional Health, said that people don’t need to “diet” and deprive themselves while trying to lose weight. Instead, anyone trying to embark on a healthier eating routine should focus on nutrition.
“Focus on fiber,” Jourgensen said. “If people are choosing high-fiber foods (fruits, vegetables, whole grains and beans) and lean protein sources (tofu, nuts, chicken, turkey, fish, etc.), then they should be able to get the nutrition they need for fewer calories throughout the day.”
That’s because fiber and protein fill you up, she said, making it much more difficult to consume 500 calories worth of vegetables — such as 25 cups of raw broccoli — than 500 calories of fast food or sodas.
Here are some tips for eating and serving smaller portions:
- When cooking at home: Offer the proper “serving” to each member of the family, then put the extra food away. Save leftovers for another meal.
- When dining out: Skip the appetizers and split a large salad or main dish with a friend.
- When ordering takeout at home: Eat one slice of pizza instead of two, and order a small instead of a medium to split among the family so the pieces are smaller.
- Watching movies at home or at the theater: Don’t eat while watching TV or a movie or when you’re on the computer. It’s harder to control how much you’re eating if you don’t pay attention to what you’re putting in your mouth, and when. At the movies, share a box of popcorn and avoid the free-refill tubs, and skip the candy.
- At snack time: Never eat straight from the bag or box. Measure out snacks, including fruits and veggies, into appropriate portion sizes before giving them to your kids.
- All the time: Tracking your calories helps you monitor your weight. It helps to know what the appropriate serving size is so you can correctly estimate the calories in your portions, especially if you dine out a lot. Using a food diary can help you pay closer attention to what you’re eating, how much and how often.
Portion control and avoiding excess
Portion sizes are another important factor in achieving weight goals. American adults today consume an average of 300 more calories per day than they did just 30 years ago, and we eat out much more than we used to, according to the American Heart Association.
Jourgensen said it’s important to pay attention to food labels to determine the appropriate serving size of the food you’re eating.
“Our environment today is engineered in a way that tends to indirectly contribute to over-eating — such as more than one portion per package of packaged foods, easy access to foods with low nutrient-density, fast food restaurants at every corner and most with delivery services, etc.,” she said. “It is important for us as consumers to be aware of what we are eating.”
We all get cravings for certain foods, and sometimes the foods we crave aren’t the most nutritious. Jourgensen recommends satisfying a craving for something like ice cream, but in a mindful way. Using ice cream as the example, she said to enjoy it while also focusing on the serving size — ½ cup — and sticking to that portion.
“If you continuously are craving a food that you know does not fit into a healthy eating pattern, and continuously deprive yourself of this food, it is likely that when you decide to give into this craving, you are going to do so in excess.”
Another area of excess that’s easy to reduce is calories and sugar from beverages. Soda drinkers, for example, can consume an extra 300 calories per day.
“Shifting the beverage focus from soda, juice and sugary sports and energy drinks to water can really make a major difference in terms of weight loss,” Jourgensen said.
Many weight loss resolutions include some kind of quick-fix fad diet, which research shows is one of the worst plans a person can follow in terms of long-term success. Fad diets usually claim to help you lose weight quickly — more than 1 or 2 pounds per week — often without exercise. Fad diet marketing campaigns show promising before-and-after photos, contain boasting endorsements from people who are likely being paid as part of the advertising, and usually require you to spend money on things like pills, books, seminars, prepackaged meals, protein powders and more, according to the American Academy of Family Physicians. These so-called weight loss tools make up the $66 billion diet industry in America.
By focusing on nutrition and lifestyle choices, people can get into better shape over the long-term, which research shows is the safest and healthiest way to lose weight. It’s also the best way to lose weight and keep it off.
Jourgensen said focusing on getting carbohydrates from fruits and vegetables rather than breads, pastas, rice and other processed carbs is a great place to start. She also said to focus on choosing lean protein sources and to fill half your plate with non-starchy vegetables such as broccoli, asparagus, Brussels sprouts, etc.
“Replace all sugar-sweetened beverages with just water and drink plenty of water throughout the day,” Jourgensen said. “It is important to stay hydrated while exercising to prevent early fatigue and cramping.”
Jourgensen said her rule of thumb is this: if you don’t think you can eat a certain way for the rest of your life, then you probably shouldn’t start.
“Quick results are much more exciting and satisfying than long-term lifestyle changes,” she said. “I think all of us enjoy instant gratification, so it is much easier to get discouraged when you aren’t seeing immediate results.”
Fighting abdominal fat happens with aerobic exercise, strength training and a healthy diet, but the benefits of exercise include more than just weight control. It can help combat health conditions and disease, improve mood, boost energy, promote better sleep and it can even be fun.
For most healthy adults, the Department of Health and Human Services recommends:
- At least 150 minutes a week of moderate aerobic activity or 75 minutes a week of vigorous aerobic activity, or a combination of moderate and vigorous activity. The guidelines suggest that you spread this exercise throughout the week. Examples include running, walking or swimming. Even small amounts of physical activity are helpful, and accumulated activity throughout the day adds up to provide health benefits.
- Strength training exercises for all major muscle groups at least two times a week. Examples include lifting free weights, using weight machines or doing body-weight training.