Just wanted to post another invitation to follow me at my new website, lmwellness.com. I notice that there are still a number of people who are visiting this site (kimthedietitian.com), yet I have not posted in many months. I fear they must think I am lazy! Not so. I have just been posting in a different place. Join me there!
Category Archives: Healthy Weight Loss Tips
After years of posting as Kim the Dietitian, I have now taken my blog over to my new website, lmwellness.com. Please follow me there!
My wellness company, Lifestyle Matters, has some great mindful eating tools for individuals and corporate wellness, and I will continue to write on the blog there. Please check it out. Let me know what you think. Thank you for visiting my site over the years . . . health and happiness!
Wouldn’t you like to know?! We all love black and white information, especially about eating. “I want to KNOW,” you may say, “exactly what to eat and what I should never touch.”
I am sorry to disappoint, but you will not get that here. One of the problems I have with traditional dieting is that many of them offer lists like this. As a culture, we love that! “All I need to do is cut sugar (and/or wheat, gluten, dairy, carrots (!), . . . ) completely out of my diet and I will get to my dream weight and stay there for as long as I live.”
Good luck with that. I don’t see that strategy offering long-term success to anyone I have met. Unless a sharply defined eating rule has personal meaning for you, forget it; it will not stick. If, however, you break out in hives all over your body when you eat even a single slice of bread, I would imagine you would have a relatively easy time giving up gluten if you can pin down the cause of your breakout to any food containing it.
What about WHEN to eat? Many diets convey the message that if you want to lose weight, you should sometimes eat when you are hungry (when your diet plan makes it possible), never eat simply for pleasure, and never eat when you are emotional.
Here is how I feel about that:
You should always eat when you are physically hungry. (There is no better reason to eat than this!)
You should sometimes eat for pure pleasure. (Why not? If you can supplement food pleasure with other life pleasures, a healthy diet can include some food for the sole purpose of taste enjoyment. It won’t take much to satisfy a pure pleasure need. Not being able to stop is a reminder that there is something else going on.)
Eating mindlessly for emotional reasons, with no physical hunger, will never resolve the emotional difficulty, but you will sometimes do it anyway, and you should never beat yourself up about it. You will always be human.
How you eat matters. A recent study supports what seems obvious to me: a pleasant, relaxing eating experience leads to healthier food choices and better health.
So many people race out the door, grabbing something as they go, or they graze all day long without ever sitting down to enjoy their food. The study looked at the eating habits of over 1000 college and university students and found that those who prepared food at home and had a set eating schedule ate healthier than those who ate “on the fly,” grabbed food at school or were distracted by video games or TV.
What a shame to miss the experience of eating! It should be pleasurable; in my opinion, eating is one of the great pleasures of life. Being more mindful of the experience is not only healthier, but it’s also much more enjoyable.
I know we are all in a hurry, but we can all stretch ourselves a bit to improve the experience surrounding eating. If you never cook at home, why not try a slow cooker as the weather gets colder? There are easy recipes that take only 10-15 minutes to assemble. It doesn’t take any longer to order and grab takeout food.
And how about just sitting?! If you grab something on the go, sitting really doesn’t take much more effort than standing. In fact it is so much more relaxing. If you are someone who drives and eats . . . bad idea! You could have an accident or arrive somewhere with embarrassing stains on your clothes.
Start where you are and build a more pleasant routine surrounding meals. When was the last time you lit a candle and set the table? Even if you live alone, this transforms a meal into a relaxing moment. It may be the only time you get to relax all day, so making it a habit makes it happen.
Someone once said to me, “Kim, the doctor just told me that I am obese.” She sounded devastated . . . and desperate. “Obese” is such an emotional term for many people. It is technically defined by a certain body mass index (BMI). Defined in this way, it is very mathematical, very exact, and simply factual. It is a number after all, not a feeling, right? Or is it?
In fact, being labeled obese has a very emotional meaning for many people. “Obese” can feel like a judgmental term. When one is told they are obese, it often sounds more like “You are really, really fat.” Panic is a natural reaction, along with shock in many cases: “UGH, I had no idea I was THAT fat!”
Whether someone has just learned they are clinically obese or has just felt “really, really fat,” the results seem to be the same. Feeling unacceptably fat appears to make it harder for people to lose weight; in fact, it looks like it might cause them to gain. Recent research on the subject was really no shock to me.
I have been telling weight loss clients for years that the first step toward improvement is accepting where they are. Then, putting a focus on changing behaviors instead of obsessing over numbers will help with forward movement in a healthy direction. Once this happens, tension releases, desperation lightens, and change is possible. The alternative is lots of stress, often using food as a soother, leading to weight gain, not loss or even maintenance.
The research report states that three studies “found consistent evidence that perceiving oneself as being overweight was associated with increased weight gain.” In fact, even people who just felt overweight (but were not) gained. The perception seems to be the important point. This makes perfect sense, since what we perceive is what affects emotions, not necessarily what is actual, factual reality.
“Individuals who identified themselves as being ‘overweight’ were more likely to report overeating in response to stress and this predicted subsequent weight gain,” according to the authors. “These findings are in line with recent suggestions that the stress associated with being part of a stigmatised group may be detrimental to health.”
The report also noted that the gains may have come from emotional reactions to being considered unacceptable, OR they may have been the result of aggressive dieting. Brilliant! Can we finally all agree that crazy, rigid dieting is not effective . . . unless of course you are trying to GAIN weight.
I have a client on my mind. We met this morning, and the conversation was interesting. “I am struggling,” she said. I found myself asking lots of questions to understand exactly what the struggles are and what is causing them.
What I learned was that she is still having trouble controlling sweets at work. (People bring them in.) After digging deeper, we discovered that she really doesn’t think she can resist eating the treats at work. Although she avoids the room they are typically in, all it takes to trigger the “I can’t resist it” belief is the mention of cake or other treats by a co-worker.
She does feel conscious of the fact that there is a choice to eat it or not, but in reality it is not a choice at all. The mindless part of the habit is in the deeper belief that she cannot resist treats when they are available. Checking with herself in-the-moment about whether or not to indulge is really just going through the motions. The deeper (and less conscious) belief tells her she is not strong enough to really have a choice. Call it a perceived “willpower disability.”
Add to this challenge the guilt that accompanies the inevitable “choice,” and it adds fuel to the fire of the belief: “See, I knew I couldn’t resist. I never can.”
Beliefs are strong. And they are most often unconscious. This can make a “conscious” thought a mere habit instead of a realization of actual choice. There is a big difference between realizing on a superficial level that you can eat something or not, and really believing it. In other words, it is possible to choose to eat something and also truly believe that there was a choice not to eat it. In order for the latter choice to exist at all, one must believe that this is possible, at least sometimes. And, of course, there are all kinds of choices that exist between the two extremes of all and nothing.
Being conscious of thoughts is important, but sometimes it takes looking deeper, especially when feelings of failure and disappointment keep popping up. If the thought of an option to make a self-controlled choice is habitually followed by discouraging thoughts (“What makes you think you really have any choice at all, you spineless disappointment?”), those thoughts probably point to a deeper belief that keeps that habit going.
To be clear, it is still a good idea to keep from deliberately making choices too challenging by surrounding yourself with temptation. Let’s face it – some kinds of food are just really, really hard to resist when they are too accessible. There is no need to test your strength by leaving a whole cake out on the counter. That’s just not very kind!
Choosing to eat any particular food is not the problem. Knowing you could choose not to have something and having it anyway feels so much different than eating it because you feel too weak-willed to have any choice. How much enjoyment can there really be in that?
My daughter has a new dog. Dolly is sweet and cuddly, but there are problems with her roaming the house alone. For one thing, there is another dog, one who is not exactly thrilled to have a newcomer taking away her status as “only child.”
Crating Dolly seemed like the answer. It would separate the dogs while my daughter was away, preventing potential conflict. Sounds like a good solution, right? There was only one problem . . . a BIG one. She cannot tolerate the confinement.
When she was left in a wire sided crate, she managed to open the door and get out. My daughter found her loose in the house. The next step was to try a plastic sided crate. She couldn’t open the small door to it, but – believe it or not – she did manage to CHEW through the side of the crate! She literally ate her way out.
Confinement in the house is fine, because it is a bigger space, but that little box was not at all OK with Dolly. After consulting a dog trainer, my daughter was told that she probably cannot be crated.
I could not help but think about how this applies to setting boundaries with eating. We all have a need for some boundaries. Without them, there is no feeling of control at all, and that feels awful. But boundaries that are too confining are miserable and ineffective.
And, like Dolly, when the rules are too rigid, we too will “eat our way out.” We all are different relative to the amount of wiggle room we need, but we are all similar in our need for comfort within the boundaries. Some dogs do fine in crates – in fact they feel cozy and comfortable – while others like Dolly just need more room.
If you often find yourself eating your way out of your eating plan, you may want to ask if you need a different plan. It just makes sense.
Did you know that Friday was National Donut Day? I did not.
This was brought to my attention – alas, too late! – by a client who updated me on this very important holiday. While giving an update about the past week, she mentioned that she and her husband had to have a donut on Friday for this reason. She chose it, enjoyed it, and did not feel regret later, so this was viewed as a successful choice.
This got me thinking: How many days like this are there on the calendar? I was surprised, but now I am so much more educated on the subject! Yes, there is a National Pizza Day, a National Cupcake Day, a National Cheeseburger Day, and a National Jelly Bean Day. There are also days to celebrate chocolate, chocolate chip cookies, and chocolate ice cream. Is anyone surprised?
Hmmm. Is there a National Carrot Day? It turns out there is . . . AND a National Carrot Cake Day. National App Day? Sure, AND National Apple Pie Day. There is no National Cauliflower Day, nor is there a National Collard Greens Day, but there is a National Brussels Sprouts Day. Go figure!
Anyone looking for an excuse to splurge on sweets every day of the year is probably in luck. Today is probably something like National Cinnabon Day, but don’t take this as a reason to run out and get one . . . unless you decide to consciously choose it, enjoy it, and not regret it later – and you don’t need a special day on the calendar to do that.
People tend to believe what they read in the media. Journalists wouldn’t give us bad information . . . would they??
A recent study pulled a bit of a fast one on the media. The apparent results of the study, which were reported in many respected international journals and newspapers, reported that adding dark chocolate to a low carb diet increased weight loss by 10% when compared with the same diet without the chocolate. People also kept the weight off better.
But wait! Before you leave your computer and rush off to the nearest convenience store for your weight loss miracle, you should know just one itty bitty detail. The study behind the study was intended to find out how difficult it would be to get bad science into the mainstream media.
It turns out that it wasn’t hard at all. A strategic press release was all it took to get the journalistic world going. The chocolate study, which had several major flaws, was picked up by major newspapers and scientific journals, apparently without much further review.
The lesson is this: Be careful not to change your diet based on information you get from the internet and the newspaper. Attention-grabbing headlines do grab us. When you are checking out at the grocery store, read a few just to remind yourself what an art it is to draw us in. Until you see several reputable studies that come to the same conclusions, just keep walking.
I have yet to find a “too good to be true” eating plan that isn’t just that – too good to be true.
Everyone I counsel has one goal in common: health. Beyond that the details vary a little, but for the most part, almost everyone wants to lose weight.
The goal seems simple on the surface: be healthy, lose weight (the goal), and it’s all good, right? In other words just follow the plan, whatever plan that is, and your success can be measured on the scale.
Not so fast! There’s one not-so-little detail to consider. Temporarily following a diet without actually changing the long-time habits that have driven eating in the past is bound to be a short-term venture.
Behavioral habits that lead to extra pounds are controlled by habits of thinking. Thoughts like “Oh, just one more won’t matter. They are so tasty, and I won’t be eating these again anytime soon, if ever!” Or maybe “I’m up 2 pounds today and I was PERFECT yesterday! I give up.”
There are endless habitual thoughts that play out like a well-worn tape, and the results we see in our behavior are predictable. Outwardly it may seem like you just lost control and someone else – an alien perhaps? – is driving your choices.
Binges often follow negative or unsupportive thoughts – maybe after taking a bite of the cookie you told yourself you would never eat again? If automatic thoughts were more neutral or positive, the binge would be much less likely. Positive thoughts create more desirable actions. Allowing thoughts to run wild without any awareness of them is simply not a good plan!
Changing habits of thinking is hard – really hard – but also really important. Because so many thoughts are unconscious, and because thoughts affect feelings, it is easy to feel bad without knowing why. When we notice the thoughts, it is possible to see how the feelings developed. Then there is an opportunity to really change – from the root of the feeling – the thought.
As it turns out, we are better off when we just observe thoughts without judging the fact that we are thinking them. We can then use a very useful tool – the brain – to work with us toward finding solutions to problems. The brain is not very creative when it is judging. It is too busy sending uncomfortable emotional messages that affect feelings.
With practice, different kinds of thoughts become more automatic. New habits of thinking can develop – how exciting! That means that healthier habits will play out in actions too, and the body will become healthier overall.
So let’s return to how we measure success. Even when weight loss is the goal, the scale does not have to be the main focus. The number is not entirely within our control day to day – too many opportunities for false conclusions and feelings of failure. It is true that regular weighing is one of the habits associated with people who keep weight off, but I would bet they don’t take the daily variations too seriously.
Drawing attention, without judgment, to thought patterns that drive actions gets to the root of the problem. The scale will take care of itself without a need to fixate on it. This may sound like a subtle difference in focus, but it is really the key to maintaining weight loss.
A long-time dieter I know has been working on this. She is still getting used to viewing progress with her thinking. Her comments illustrate how shaky it feels to change over to a new way of evaluating progress, but the progress is obvious upon a closer look (my comments in bold).
The only thing I can think to say is, “struggling but not giving up.” . . . So I continue on. I am becoming much more aware of my hunger and of what I am eating. (Awareness of hunger – great! And not giving up – essential!)
Work has been stressful but just yesterday I convinced myself that I don’t need to get so hung up with it. It was making me sick . . . . (Yes, other areas of life affect eating – good to realize that.)
I find it hard to understand why I am having so much trouble with this. (At least she is trying to understand.)
I’m grateful . . . that I haven’t given up. (Hooray!!)
Being able to see these glimmers of positive change are so important to moving forward. It would be easy – frankly easier for someone used to thinking negatively – to throw in the towel. That’s the old way of life that lines up with the old habit of thinking. Here is what would have stood out:
The only thing I can think to say is, “struggling
but not giving up.” . . . So I continue on. I am becoming much more aware of my hunger and of what I am eating.
Work has been stressful
but just yesterday I convinced myself that I don’t need to get so hung up with it.It was making me sick . . . .
I find it hard to understand why I am having so much trouble with this.
I’m grateful . . . that I haven’t given up.
It is likely she would have at least temporarily given up.
Picture yourself with a new pair of glasses – perhaps rose-colored ones that notice more positive thoughts developing. Noticing them and giving yourself credit for that important progress is the first step toward long-lasting healthier eating habits.