The partying and revelry are over, and Holiday season 2015 with it’s whirlwind of last-minute frantic shopping, and even more frantic holiday associated eating, is now history! Now comes the reality check, and the dreaded scale that you had been pointedly ignoring awaits. If you are kicking yourself for tossing last year’s weight loss resolution (once again), right through the window some time in February 2015, after getting off to a great start in January, and are pledging that this New Year you will not fall into the same trap again, do check out these smart strategies.
- Vision and a positive attitude: A successful mission starts with a vision of the end result. Try to visualize where you want to be health-wise, and how you would like to look a couple of years from now, or at least 6 months from now, and keep affirming to yourself that you are already there. Bring your vision into the present, and make it crystal clear, almost akin to looking at your future self through a high-resolution camera, and adjusting the lens to bring that vision sharply into focus. You are likely to pursue behaviors that will make this a self-fulfilling prophecy.
- Seize control of your environment: “Bet you can’t stop at one chip, or one Hershey’s kiss!”, as the saying goes. Let’s face it: we tend to seek highly palatable foods when we experience food cravings. When was the last time you heard of someone “bingeing on a head of cauliflower?!!”. Make a conscious attempt, if possible, to remove all such “trigger foods” from your environment. We are all susceptible to easily accessible, tempting foods in our immediate environment, and our environment today consists of “cleverly engineered” foods, explicitly designed to hijack our taste buds. There is some research that shows that repeated exposure to foods containing added sugars, fat and high fructose corn syrup may have an addictive effect on the brain, in ways we do not fully understand. There is some emerging evidence that shows that repeated, intake of such food may impact brain reward pathways. A subsequent, addiction-like, compulsive eating behavior, might emerge, underscoring the need to restrict easy access to these foods in the first place.
- Ditch the juicing: You read that correctly. Juicing has become quite the rage today in fitness circles. Like most fads, some folks hop on board without pausing to think about how it affects one’s body and in turn, one’s metabolism. Let’s think about this for a moment. Let’s say you juiced an apple or an orange, and prudently retained the pulp as that’s the part with the all-important fiber. Since the juice is a liquid, it will pass rapidly through your digestive tract and get absorbed into your blood stream within minutes! This causes a rapid spike in your blood sugar, eliciting a large insulin release from your pancreas, and a subsequent sugar crash, triggering hunger cravings.
- Contrast that with what happens when you eat the whole apple or the orange. Carb, for carb, and calorie for calorie, even though there is no difference between the apple and it’s liquefied version, just the process of chewing the fruit, slows down and prolongs digestion, thus tempering the inevitable sugar spike, and the subsequent crash caused by an exaggerated insulin response. In short, I would not recommend pulverizing your fruit in a blender. Eat it whole, and in sync with how nature intended us to eat. (Might explain why we have teeth:))!
- Don’t get me wrong. There is room for some juicing, when it comes to vegetables, as these are very low in carbohydrates, and less likely to elicit a huge insulin response. Also, it would be much easier to consume a glass of broccoli or kale juice rather than eat your way through a huge bunch of spinach or kale leaves. That said, this argument holds true only if you are already consuming an adequate vegetable intake, but wish to add more, and “drinking” the freshly squeezed juice would enable you to squeeze in another nutritious vegetable serving.
- Get a grip on ghrelin: We all know that although it seems counter-intuitive, skipping meals, starving, fasting or overly restricting calories never works. But why is this so? One contributing factor is that ghrelin, your hunger hormone, rises 2-fold immediately before a meal, and tapers to it’s lowest level about an hour after the meal. Ghrelin levels also rise after an overnight fast, and will keep building up until you eat, peaking just before you eat, then falling. Thus, eating at regular intervals is in sync with your ghrelin cycle, and by avoiding long gaps between meals, you are able to tame the “hunger monster”, aka ghrelin. Now you know why small, well spaced meals help!
- What is interesting about ghrelin is that counter-intuitive as it might seem, low ghrelin levels are observed in obesity, whereas higher levels are seen in anorexia. However, studies show that obese folks may be more sensitive to the appetite-stimulating effects of ghrelin.
- Exercise your way to your goal: Yes, it can be boring, but your best weight loss efforts will be in vain, without some form of aerobic exercise to help burn fat. If you have a tendency to be a sedentary, make sure you do not over reach, and keep your goals realistic, practical, doable, very specific and above all, enjoyable. Look at your calendar, pick a time when you are most likely to exercise, and set an exercise date with the most important person in your life-yourself! The more specific your exercise goal, the more likely you are to follow through!
- Fiber rules! Assuming there is no contra-indication, eat approximately 30-40 grams of fiber rich foods per day. If that seems like a tall order, bear in mind that one medium pear can give you 6 grams of fiber and a medium apple, 4! Toss a cup of kidney beans in your salad for lunch, and that’s a whopping 16 grams! Replace the white rice with wild rice (5 grams), and fill up half your plate with broccoli at dinner (5 grams), and you can see how quickly the fiber begins to stack up! Human beings do not have the enzymes to digest fiber, hence the body has to work hard to digest foods that are highly fibrous, prolonging digestion, and as noted above, promoting satiety, minimizing cravings and facilitating weight loss. Not to mention, indigestible fiber latches on to toxins and removes them as it moves down the digestive tract, working as nature’s own cleanser. Fiber is a sure fire win-win, or rather, with an adequate fiber intake, all you have to lose is the weight!
- While you are at it, do not forget to toss in prebiotic rich fiber foods, and probiotics from yogurt and kefir as discussed in this post.
Were you surprised to discover some of the scientific facts about nutrition and weight management? You may also be pleasantly surprised to discover that the answers to weight management are often within arm’s reach, in your own kitchen cabinet! Armed with these strategies, kick off the New Year with a renewed focus on your health. Eating well does not have to be complicated and tedious, and it is not always about eating less, a very common misconception, but about eating right!
Disclaimer: This blog is strictly for informational purposes and should not be construed as medical advice. Please consult your personal physician or registered dietitian for recommendations tailored to your specific needs.