If you took a green smoothie to work every day this week, meal-prepped for the next week and a half and have done your HIIT, your LISS (as active recovery days, of course) and maxed out your reps for every one of your workouts then…
This article probably isn’t for you.
But if you’re wanting to get healthier and that first sentence left your head spinning, this article is definitely for you.
Here’s the problem with the way that weight management and weight loss is usually approached: the education isn’t done in small enough steps. Most people don’t go from eating fast food for every meal to drinking green smoothies and working out daily overnight. Is it possible? Yes, but that is the exception rather than the rule. For most, this is a journey.
You need to start thinking of your weight management as a series of baby steps.
Otherwise, you’re going to overwhelm yourself with all the things you think you “should” be doing. You also need to be realistic. Everyone has strengths and weaknesses when it comes to their dietary and exercise habits.
So first, you need to assess where you are. Try not to let emotion come into this—treat it like a scientist would treat their starting conditions for an experiment. The following questions might help get an accurate picture of your “starting” point:
- Do you know how to read a nutrition label?
- How often do you eat out?
- Do you know how to cook? If so, how comfortable are you with cooking?
- What are your time constraints? (How many hours are you at work, are you primary caretaker for children etc.)
- What activity level does your work require? (Most individuals with desk jobs are considered sedentary)
- How would you prefer to lose weight: by increasing your activity or decreasing your intake?
- Are you open to changing your dietary and exercise habits?
These questions are some of the things that I assess in my clinic. My patients’ answers determine the design of their program. It doesn’t help for me to launch into a section on cooking if someone doesn’t cook. The point is moving the person from where they are at to where they need to be, but it’s done in an individualized, step-wise fashion.
Of these questions, the last one (regarding your openness to change) is the most important. You don’t have to be excited and jumping up and down about changing your habits, although enthusiasm is always welcome. You just have to be open to the concept of change.
Now, assuming that you are open to change, the main thing I want to emphasize is that change takes time. There is a reason that my program and other weight management programs like mine take a year. It’s education and forming healthy habits. Both of those are processes—they’re not things you can do in a blink.
So if change takes time, is there a way that we can make the transition easier? There is. Start identifying small changes that you can make. This could be dropping the sugar from your morning coffee, swapping a glass of juice for water, going for protein-rich breakfast options like eggs rather than carbohydrate heavy fare or changing out your regular yogurt for Greek yogurt. Even adding in five minutes of walking every hour you’re at work is a positive change. It may not seem like much, but these small changes really do add up.
Let’s say you drink eight ounces of orange juice every day. If you swap that juice for water, you will save 100 calories a day and 18 grams of sugar. Over the course of a year, that is 36,500 calories and 6,750 grams of sugar.
If this was the only change you made to your diet, you could lose about 10 pounds in a year and eliminate about 1,600 teaspoons of sugar from your diet!
The other “small change” you can make today is shifting your mental state. We all get caught up in “all-or-nothing” thinking. This is that thought process of: “if I don’t meet these specific expectations regarding my diet or exercise plan, then I’m a failure and therefore I’m not going to try at all.” Weight management is not like that.
My patients who do well and achieve their goals have one thing in common: they’ve dropped “all or nothing” thinking.
When you were learning to drive, did you quit driving the first time you had to try fifteen times to pull into a parking spot straight? If you have your license today, probably not. You learned from your mistake and you kept trying to be a better driver. This is the way you need to think of weight management. It will make the process infinitely easier in the long run.
Finally, realize that everything is dependent on the individual. What works for your friend, family member or co-worker might not work well for you. This doesn’t make you a failure. It means that you need to find what works right for you. Stop comparing yourself to other people and begin with your journey.
In the end, weight management is not about extremes. It is about making small changes that you can live with in the long term. For your homework, think up two to five small changes that you could make to your diet or daily activities that will add up in the long run. Write them down and for extra credit, calculate how many calories you’ll save or burn in a year.