There is a LOT of diet advice out there to take if we’re looking to make changes to our bodies. Do paleo, cut carbs, go vegan, eliminate sugar, count macros. They make the advice list because they all work: people see results when they follow those rules! Changing our eating in any extreme way will typically result in weight loss — at least temporarily. For as long as we can sustain it, most likely we will see the changes in our body we want to see. But often when a diet is NOT sustainable, we see 3 things happen:
- Our body stops changing or “plateaus”
- We crave foods, have a hard time managing hunger, and eat impulsively
- Weight regain occurs after we stop following the rules
Any of those three signs means it’s time to adapt your diet to something more long term. Any of the diets listed above — paleo, vegan, reducing added sugar, macro counting, and others — can be modified to achieve smaller changes over a longer period for more long-lasting change. Check out the 10 steps below for some guideposts to follow when adapting a diet for long-term change.
- Re-establish your “why.” Losing weight can sometimes take huge behavior shifts that can be a struggle if there are other important things going on in your life (demanding career/finances, family, relationships). The reason you’re losing weight has to be internally driven and motivated. If you’re doing it because “everyone’s doing it,” or “I feel like I’m supposed to,” or “I’m worried what other people think about me” — that is not going to take you very far. Connect to the reasons and values weight loss is important to you.
- Be proactive with your hunger. In a weight loss mentality, hunger can be seen as an ally: “If I’m hungry, that means I’m not eating enough, so it must mean I’ll lose weight.” That type of weight loss only works for certain people, at certain points in their lives, for certain amounts of time. For long-term sustainable weight loss, hunger is the enemy. It almost inevitably leads to overeating, which can then lead to guilt and undereating, creating a cycle in which the body’s metabolism can never get a clear picture of whether it should store body fat for a starvation “famine” or whether it’s okay to utilize it in exercise. Plan to eat 3 meals a day plus 1-3 snacks, and eat to your fullness. Avoid eating “just enough” — this will lead to hunger within an hour or two after eating, and will set you up to overeat later in the day.
- Create a system for meal prep. Meal prep is most well-known as a Sunday or weekend thing, but to do it all in one day is a lot. Break it into 3 steps: recipe searching/list making, shopping, and then prepping and cooking. Commit to create time every week to doing these 3 things to make sure that you have nutritionally dense and satisfying meals to eat all week long.
- Prioritize water, fiber, and protein. Use the color of your urine to determine the amount of water to be drinking (light yellow — if it’s clear, you’re probably drinking too fast for the body to use the water you’re consuming). Get enough fiber through 5 servings of fruits and veggies daily and 1-2 servings of whole grains at each meal and snack. Include protein at every meal and get a mix of plant- and animal-based proteins.
- Revisit portion sizes. Eating well-balanced, appropriately portioned meals is the key to a satisfying day of eating that doesn’t end in relentless snacking at night! Look online or meet with the dietitian here to get a guideline for visual estimation; no need to bring measuring cups, spoons, and scales into this. Learning how to estimate how much food is in front of you will help you understand and internalize how much food you need to feel full and satisfied.
- Eat 80%+ of your meals at home. Even if it means frozen or quick-made meals ready from the grocery store, you have more ability to evaluate nutrition information and ingredient quality in products with labels as opposed to food out at restaurants and takeout. There are some establishments that take food quality to the highest degree, however, so use your judgement — and don’t be afraid to ask what sauces, spices, salt, and fat sources your favorite menu items are made with!
- Don’t skip breakfast. Ideally eat within an hour of waking up, even if you’re not hungry. It will help with moving your food intake to earlier in the day rather than having it stack up on you in the evening.
- Reduce screen time. Either in front of the TV or our phones, we tend to be stationary. Move any way you can think of: walking, stretching, foam rolling, dancing, squatting, whatever it takes!
- Log your food. I typically recommend just 2 days a week: one “planned” day and one “unplanned” day to compare how you’re eating on those two types of days. Aim for consistency through those days. Consistency tells your body that food is plentiful, it does not need to keep fat stores, and becomes much more adept at burning them through exercise.
- BE PATIENT. Resorting to drastic weight loss measures like over-exercising, cleansing, eliminating carbs, or other drastic food reductions may have temporary success but will only set back long-term weight loss with more weight gain once you return to normal eating. Stay the course!