By Chuck Connell
I am a 50-year-old man with a desk job. I used to be active and fit, and it was easy for me to maintain a healthy weight. Now, I have less time for exercise and began to accumulate some extra poundage a few years ago.
The problem is that I hate dieting. If I wake up in the morning, determined to start a new diet, I will stop on the way to work for a cheese Danish or sticky bun. I figure, “This is going to be a miserable day. I’m going to be hungry all day. So I better eat something substantial to ward off the misery.” Needless to say, my diets don’t work very well with this approach. I suspect many other men have a similar attitude.
Over the last year I have lost significant weight, however, while feeling healthy and fairly relaxed. What made the difference? I learned that I need different weight-loss strategies than women, but that much dieting information is aimed at women. Through trial and error, and some expert advice, I found approaches that work for me. I am passing on these ideas with the hope they will be helpful to other men who have no more notches left in their belts.
Some disclaimers: I am not a doctor or nutritionist; these are tips from a non-expert. I stole some of these ideas, primarily from Nancy Clark RD in Brookline MA and Dieting for Dummies by Jane Kirby, along with finding a few of my own.
Don’t diet to lose weight. Weight loss is boring and there is no good reason to do it. The usual reason for losing weight is so you look better. But if someone is judging you by your looks, that is their problem, not yours. Dieting also leads to increased consumption of cheese Danish to make it through the day. Instead of weight loss, think about being healthier. Think about living longer and being around to play with your grandkids. Think about having more energy to have fun. Deep down, I could never get motivated to lose weight. But I did get motivated to be healthier.
Change what you eat, not just how much you eat. Your goal is to be healthier, not just thinner. For example, you can lose weight by eating bacon and eggs for breakfast, pepperoni pizza for lunch, and a Big Mac for supper, every single day. If you are eating less than you are burning, you will lose weight. But it is unlikely you will be healthy with this diet. So learn the Healthy Eating Plate and put it into practice. You won’t be able to change your eating style all at once, but you can change it gradually over time.
Eat three satisfying meals every day, plus a couple snacks if you want. You need to finish breakfast, lunch, and supper feeling that you ate a good meal, so you don’t obsess about food for a few hours. Never skip a meal; it will backfire on you and you’ll eat more that day.
Never be starving. Whatever changes you make in your eating or exercise habits, make a pledge with yourself that you will never get overly hungry. This one idea was very important to me. I could eat less at each meal than I previously did, because I knew that I could have a snack later if I really wanted to. Besides feeling lousy, the other problem with getting too hungry is that it causes you to over-eat at your next meal. You should be somewhat hungry at mealtime, but not feeling feint.
When you need a snack, eat about 200 calories that are reasonably healthy. This will take the edge off your hunger for a couple hours. A small package of Fig Newtons, or a granola bar, or two pieces of fruit fit the bill. Watch out for 500-calorie snacks (such as two Mrs. Fields cookies) when you are hungry between meals.
Get regular, moderate exercise. You cannot lose weight and keep it off by sitting on your butt all day, no matter what you eat. Your goal is to be healthy, and that means moving your body. (If you are significantly overweight or have been sedentary for years, talk to your doctor before beginning an exercise program.)
Find an exercise you like. If you exercise because it is “good for you” or is part of your diet plan, you will stick with it for about a week. You need a sport that you truly want to do because you like doing it. If you love hoops, find a pickup game or league that fits into your schedule. If you enjoy being outdoors, take up walking or biking or jogging. If you like to exercise alone, do it alone. If you need friends to get you motivated, join a club or start a neighborhood jogging group.
Watch out for exercising too hard. This was a key for me, which I had to figure out on my own, because I have not read it anywhere. When I exercise too hard, I am overly hungry for about 24 hours. I eat more calories than I expended trying to “catch up” on my hunger. Example: If I ride my bike at a moderate pace for 10 miles, I need a snack or a larger meal afterward to replenish my energy. If I do the same bike ride at a hard pace, I am even hungrier for supper that night and for breakfast the next morning. This is counter-productive, since both bike rides use about the same number of calories.
Make it a team effort. My wife was tremendously supportive of my efforts to lose weight. She helped me make a list of everything I ate before my diet and to analyze the list looking for places to cut calories. She expressed concern for my health and gave me motivation to improve it. If you are married, get your wife involved. If you are single, enlist your significant other or a set of friends who also want to lose weight.
Make health a priority in your life. You can’t get healthier while working 70-hour weeks, or sleeping 5 hours a night. Stop burning the candle at both ends. Think about what is important to you. You can’t do much else unless you are healthy anyway, so make it a top priority. If the ideas in this article aren’t right for you, experiment and find some that are. Being focused on the goal of overall good health is more important than any particular weight-loss strategy.
Nancy Clark, RD -- http://www.nancyclarkrd.com/
Dieting for Dummies, by Jane Kirby -- http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/0764551264/
USDA Healthy Eating -- http://www.choosemyplate.gov/
Mrs. Fields cookies -- http://www.mrsfields.com/misc/nutrition/
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