Small steps to big results
Overwhelmed by the thought of completely overhauling your lifestyle? You’re not alone. Psychologists say that one reason why crash diets are so popular is that they don’t require that much commitment—it’s scary to jump into a diet program, knowing that you have to let go of habits that you’ve held on to for years.
The secret to overcoming this fear is to start small. What is one eating habit you’re willing to change—don’t think diet, think habit. What about a midnight snack? A handful of chips equals 100 calories. You want to lose 10 pounds. Every pound of body fat is roughly equivalent to 3,500 stored calories. So just by giving up those chips for 100 days, you cut back enough calories to lose 10 pounds. You can live without a handful of chips, right?
There are many other ways to cut calories and bad eating habits out of your everyday routine. Try one today!
Look for “diet” or “reduced fat” brands. Many diets call for cutting out entire food groups (like carbohydrates or fat). If you’re not ready to “quit cold turkey” ease into it for a few weeks by slowly replacing the food you’re used to with healthier alternatives. For example, look for the labels “diet” or “reduced fat” on chips or salad dressing.
Don’t drink your calories. The thought of letting go of a favorite food may make you break into a cold sweat, but what about a favorite drink? It’s not such a “big” commitment, but even cutting soda out of your diet can save you as much as 360 or more calories a day. Switch from whole milk to low fat, exchange fruit juices for water, and take soy milk with your coffee.
Walk. You don’t have to sign up for a lifetime gym membership to get exercise. In fact, you can increase your activity level just by making small adjustments in your daily routine. Take the stairs instead of the elevator. Bike to work. Walk up and down the stairs before hitting the showers. And instead of turning on the television after dinner, grab a sweater and take a brisk walk around the block.
Fitness experts recommend 30 to 45 minutes of moderate aerobic exercise, at least three times a week. But you don’t have to complete that requirement in one session. Aerobic exercise is cumulative, meaning you get the same health benefits from taking three 10-minute walks as you do from taking one long 30-minute walk.
§ Cut down on salt. Almost all diet regimens will tell you to cut down on salt. It’s not easy. Salt adds flavor, and it takes a while to get used to the blander taste. Plus, a lot of processed food contains huge amounts of salt, mainly because it’s one of Mother Nature’s most effective preservatives. To cut salt down from your diet, try these tips:
§ Buy vegetables fresh or plain frozen. If you buy canned vegetables, look for the label “no salt added.”
§ Use fresh poultry, fish, and lean meat, rather than canned or processed varieties.
§ Salt isn’t the only way to add flavor to your food. Experiment with herbs, spices, and salt-free seasoning blends in cooking and at the table
§ Cook rice, pasta, and hot cereals without salt. And as much as possible, don’t use instant or flavored rice, pasta, and cereal mixes, since these already have added salt
§ Rinse salt from canned foods
Only eat until you’re full. Most of us are programmed to finish what’s on our plate, or to keep eating until we’re bursting at the seams. Before you consider going to the unhealthy extreme—taking a crash diet and starving yourself—make the simple change of eating more slowly and deliberately. Enjoy each morsel, really taste your food, and learn to enjoy the process of eating rather than the feeling of being stuffed. Pause in the middle of the meal to gauge if you’ve had enough. It takes a while for the nutrients to enter the bloodstream, and send the signals to the brain that you are full. Eating slowly gives you more time to know when you’ve had enough. You’ll discover that instead of feeling deprived, you actually enjoyed your meal more!
Don’t make a big deal out of cutting out certain food. It’s a lot like breaking up with a boyfriend. If you tell yourself you’ll “never” meet anyone like him, “never” fall in love, “never” be as happy as you were with him—chances are you’ll pick up the phone and beg to have him back, or fall into deep depression. Instead, allow yourself to get used to the idea of eating healthy by saying, “let me try this diet out for a while, it won’t hurt.” Or when you’re choosing between celery sticks or potato chips, say, “I know I can have either of them, but which one would I rather have in the long run?” This approach makes a diet feel less like a punishment than an opportunity to discover a healthier lifestyle.