By Jill Fleming, MS, RD/LD
The New Year is here and most of us are interested in adding “lose a few pounds” to our list of goals for 2023. It sounds simple enough, but where to begin? The key to releasing excess weight, almost effortlessly, is to eat real food and stop snacking.
A great goal is to eat real food 75-80% of the time. The term “Real food” may be defined differently according to other health professionals, but my definition is:
- Any whole food that has only one ingredient such as “whole grained rolled oats” or no ingredient label at all, such as fruits and vegetables
- Packaged foods made with no more than 3 unrefined ingredients
- Dairy products like milk, unsweetened yogurt, eggs and cheese
- Wild caught seafood & fish
- Lean meat, chicken, pork, beef; ideally locally raised
- Dried fruits, nuts & seeds
The three F’s to avoid, that are not “real food” include: Fake, Fried and Fast. Fake foods are those that are made with added sugars, refined oils and refined grains. Their ingredient lists are usually long, and they are found in the center isles of the grocery store. Deep fried foods in refined oils are best to be limited or avoided. One of the only good choices at a fast-food restaurant would be a salad with a healthy dressing.
To know if you are reaching the goal of eating real food at least 75% of the time, you will want to look at your plate. If you have 4 different food items on your plate, 3 of the 4 foods should be real foods. If you eat 3 meals daily, plan that 2 ½ of them are real food. This is easy to do when you make half of your plate vegetables or fruit.
White flour and sugar should be avoided if weight loss is your goal. They tend to be addictive according to brain imaging equipment, lighting up the pleasure area of your brain with dopamine. Many people will have a hard time limiting their portion sizes of these foods, making it hard to limit calories. This is especially true when flour, sugar and fat are all combined, as in bakery products.
I used to teach my weight loss clients to eat when they felt hungry, but many people who struggle with their weight have a hard time identifying true hunger. I have found it is much easier to ask them to plan to eat just 2 or 3 feedings daily. I call them “feedings”, as it is a good reminder that you are simply providing nourishment to your body, not eating just for the pleasure.
By eating just 2 or 3 feedings each day, you will cut out all snacks. Snacks provide additional calories and are often less healthy foods. The most important reason for not snacking is that you will also better manage your blood sugar. Every time you eat, your blood sugar goes up, requiring your pancreas to produce insulin to bring it back down. Since insulin is a fat-storage hormone, less snacking means less insulin and less fat being stored.
Your body will tell you when to stop eating, as long as you aren’t eating white flour or sugar, which make you want to overeat. Make your hand into a fist… this is approximately the size of your stomach. Most of us will feel content with 3-4 fists volume at each of our feedings. Notice how much it takes for you to feel satisfied.
If you think you are hungry in between feedings, drink some water and remind yourself that you are not starving or dying. Your body is simply tapping into your fat stores for energy. This is the goal and is normal. Practice saying, “No thanks, I’m not a snacker.”
Resist the urge to go on a short-term restrictive diet. Even if you lose weight on the diet, once you return to your usual eating, you will regain the weight. This cycle is yo-yo dieting and will set you up for a lifetime of struggle with your weight. Instead, pick a few simple changes you can live with forever, such as not snacking and choosing real food most of the time.
Exercising your body daily is important, not just because you will burn calories. You should move your body daily because it feels good and releases stress-lowering chemicals, called endorphins. When you feel better, you will be more likely to eat foods that are better for you and do less emotional eating. Exercise daily will also improve the quality of your sleep, which helps control your appetite the next day.
If one of your 2023 goals is to release excess weight, start treating your body better by fueling it with real food most of the time and not snacking. Listen to your body’s satiety signals and stop eating once you feel satisfied, not full. You do not need to aim for perfection, just a few small changes each day that eventually become lifelong habits.