As we get older, get busy with families and work, go to one too many office parties, happy hours, and cupcake shops, we often don’t notice the slow creeping on of pounds. Or maybe we do. Or maybe you wake up one day and can’t get the jeans to fit or the shirt over your bellybutton. Short of buying an entire wardrobe, you’re faced with a dilemma.
Understandably, the last thing most of us want to do is go on a diet or reduce calories. The very thought of doing so sends some of us into a tailspin, feasting “last supper” style, or running to the donut store before we begin a weight loss diet “tomorrow.” The good news is that you can make gradual, small changes and lose weight effortlessly. The same way you allowed small changes in your diet that added the pounds on gradually (the extra wine at happy hour, the chocolate kisses at the front desk, the cupcake at the birthday party, the desert you could have split, the caramel machiatto, etc), is the same way you can effortlessly lose weight by making small changes.
You can start by making these changes at home, and in the kitchen. This is where a lot of mindless behaviors are created. Think about it; you get home from work, it’s been hours since you ate and you inhale a bag of chips and party nuts before you’ve even started dinner. Or you sit in front of the TV to watch the game and chug a few beers and happen to order a pizza that you’ve devoured and don’t even remember it. Or you wolf down some Girl Scout cookies you bought for (or from!) your kid, because it’s “there.”
And at the end of the day/week/year you’ve consumed a bunch more calories than you remember, and simply ate more than you thought. Mindless eating is a big problem when you’re busy and on the go all the time (most of us). So, what can we do eat mindfully, and thereby lose some weight effortlessly?
1) Make the declaration vocal: Say: “I’m not hungry but I am going to eat this anyway.” It makes you sound silly, and possibly greedy too. Honor real hunger, not a suggestion from a commercial.
2) Think 20% less “other stuff,” 20% more veggies. Take a look at your dinner plate. Could you trim off a small amount of the extra pork loin, or a portion of your pasta, and replace it with some grilled or green leafy vegetables?
3) We eat with our eyes, so visual cues for portion sizes are important to repeat. If like my dog, you’re capable of licking up entire jars of peanut butter or for eating an entire tin of nuts, perhaps it’s better you start buying the single serving peanut butter packets or those 100-calorie packages of nuts/snacks. Some people will just portion out the tin of nuts into mini ziplock baggies to cue their appetites when their eyes are done eating.
4) Volumize your food to make it look bigger. I’m not talking about taking a hair dryer to your bowl of oatmeal, BUT you could do things like lessen the amount of ground beef you consume in a burger patty or meat sauce or taco by adding lots of chopped vegetables (onions, celery, spinach, etc.). Even though you pour or serve the same portion size, this time you’ve pumped up the fiber content of the serving.
5) Take as much time as you can to eat your food; at least 20 minutes. Okay, okay, I’m not talking about at EVERY meal (though that would be ideal), but at the very least, find ONE meal that you can enjoy at a relatively slower pace than normal.
6) Use smaller plates and glasses. Instead of filling 2 scoops of your ice cream into a cereal bowl, could you use a smaller bowl? Many of us have been conditioned to naturally fill our plates, so a smaller vessel will yield a smaller serving. Same thing with trading in your margarita glass that’s the size of a fish bowl with something that can only hold 6 to 8 oz.
7) Pace yourself with the slowest eater at the table. If you have a lot of business lunches and dinners to attend, or like to eat out socially, there’s always that person at the table who labors slowly over their meal (hint: that won’t be me). See if you can slow down to meet their pace.
8) At elaborate meals out, use the pick two rule outside of your main course. Again, for those of you who eat out a lot socially or for work, instead of bread, wine, appetizers, main course, and desert, try to stick with one or two “play” foods rather than the four you might normally consume outside of the main course. So, wine+main course+desert or appetizer+main course. Just do the math right.
9) Designate an eating only room. Ideally this is the kitchen dining table or the main dining table; some room where the distractions are minimal. Plus, you won’t have to clean up frosting stains off your pillows.
10) Don’t deprive yourself of comfort foods. From early childhood, for better or worse, we’re all conditioned to feel a sense of comfort from certain foods that have been associated with feeling better/rewards. Like pizza after your team wins the game, or a lollipop at the doctor’s office after you’ve been vaccinated, or using ice cream to distract a whiny toddler meltdown. I’m certainly not advocating that you bury your sorrows in a pint of Chunky Monkey, but depriving yourself of EVER having it once you begin your “diet” isn’t sensible either.
11) Allow a positive association with a non-comfort food, a healthier option, or even a non-food reward. Let’s say you’ve just lost your first 5 lbs and have got another 40 to go. Reward your mini-milestone with something other than a food treat (buy a new pair of shoes or whatever form of “retail therapy” makes you happy, or a new set of smaller sized plates and glasses) or a healthier food treat (filet mignon instead of a burger, or a decadent chocolate truffle instead of an entire box). If we’re able to connect macaroni and cheese or cookies with happiness, our brains are probably capable of creating other positive associations.
12) Let your kid pick out a healthy treat in the grocery store. This is one of my favorites. Every single time I check out of the grocery store, my daughter is instantly drawn to the strategically placed candy. While you are shopping, encourage her to pick a healthy treat, then let her look for the better/healthier choices that are there at the store too. Let her pick something like the pre-sliced apples or fruit salads, pre-packaged carrots, or single servings packets of animal crackers (I’ve even seen string cheese individually sold). Then, at check out, remind her she’s made a good choice as far as a treat is concerned. You’re not always going to win, but you might, and the choices she makes might be better than the twizzlers or lollipops she’d normally hunt for.
13) Beware the health halo. Just because they call it Fat Free or Lean Cereal or Healthy or Nature-Friendly or Organic or Raw or whatever doesn’t make it the best or healthiest choice for you. You can eat a pint of organic, cow-friendly ice cream that is also perfectly fattening.
14) Be the “groceries gatekeeper.” If someone else (spouse, roommate, whatever) is responsible for grocery shopping for the house, he or she may not be picking the best choices for you. Even though you may write “fruits and vegetables” on the list, a non-dieter might hear “bananas and potatoes” rather than fruits and vegetables with more fiber (berries, apples, or leafy greens.) Similarly, they might not be as inclined as you might be to read labels. Therefore, things like salad dressing (reduced fat rather than regular), light, greek, or no-added sugar yogurt instead of the full fat versions, higher fiber breads and wraps instead of the highly processed white breads and tortillas might make it into your house, when you don’t intend for them to be there. Read the labels at the store, shop the perimeters, and try to be the one who does the shopping, as much as possible if you can.
Finally, recognize that if you’re that person who has tried every trick or tool on the planet to shed the pounds gradually and NOTHING seems to work, it may be indicative of a more serious problem. Whether it’s thyroid or other metabolic issues, or if chronic fatigue or sleep issues make it difficult for you to make good choices during the day, perhaps it’s something worth bringing up with your doctor. Seek out a therapist if you think you might have an eating disorder or emotional issues tied to over eating, because even the best tools and tricks in the kitchen won’t help address habits that are embedded deep in the psyche. Just remember, there’s always the choice to make that first step, even if it’s a small one.
Sumi Singh is an Austin-based personal trainer with nearly 2 decades of experience in fitness. She holds specializations in pre-and post natal fitness, group fitness, and sports nutrition. She’s the author of Stay at Home Strong, a complete workout program for new moms. She’s also an online diet coach, a busy single mom, has set various world, National and state records as a powerlifter, and holds an BSc from Tufts, and a Masters from Duke University.