Published on January 09, 2017

Pick a sustainable plan to weight-loss and better health

By Bonnie Brost, licensed and registered dietitian at Essentia Health.

Resolutions to lose weight and eat healthier often come with the New Year. As you begin your journey, I encourage you to look at how you are going to be successful well into 2018 and beyond.

Whatever approach you choose must be sustainable. It cannot be just about losing weight. It has to be just as much about finding, gaining and maintaining health. Consider addressing stress up front with your healthcare provider. Find a popular phone app that tracks calories and exercise. Check out the free lifestyle change classes that begin in January throughout Crow Wing County at CrowWingEnergized.org.

Eating healthy means consistently eating the same foods: vegetables, fruits, beans, legumes, nuts, seeds and whole grains. Some plans include low- and non-fat dairy, fish and lean meats. All banish processed foods that deliver concentrated doses of refined starches, sugar, trans fats, saturated fats and salt.

There is no one successful diet program to lose weight. Research published in 2013 in the Journal of the American Medical Association, titled "End to the Diet Debates," said the assumption that one diet is optimal for everyone is counterproductive because it ignores the wide variation in food preferences, cultural or regional traditions, food availability, and food intolerances. The most important question, it says, was how to improve adherence to certain behaviors. "Adherence is key, and the way to destroy adherence is forcing foods on someone that they do not like, do not know how to prepare or can't afford," the researchers wrote.

Our current relationships with food include behaviors that we selected without a great deal of conscious thought. If doughnuts are offered at a morning meeting, we may be on auto-pilot to have one. Fast food can be an automatic response to eating on the run. Pizza is the quickest meal to put on the table when there is no time to cook. Candy is used for stress management.

We cannot divorce ourselves from food. We need to non-judgmentally look at our relationships with food to figure out what is going to work for each of us in the long term.

We can learn some successful strategies gleaned from the National Weight Control Registry. This research organization follows more than 10,000 individuals who have lost a significant amount of weight (more than 30 pounds) and have kept it off for more than a year.

Registry members have lost an average of 66 pounds and have kept it off for more than five years. Forty-five percent lost weight on their own, while 55 percent had the help of some type of program. Ninety-eight percent modified their food intake and 94 percent increased their exercise. Many track their food intake and exercise. To maintain their weight-loss, 78 percent eat breakfast every day; 75 percent weigh themselves at least once a week and 62 percent watch less than 10 hours of TV each week. Ninety percent exercise, on average, about one hour per day.

It takes real effort to eat well and be active, especially in the modern world, writes Dr. David Katz, director of Yale University' Yale-Griffin Prevention Research Center and the author of "Disease Proof: The Remarkable Truth About What Makes Us Well." He points out that throughout most of human history, calories were relatively scarce and difficult to get, and physical activity was unavoidable. No one needed willpower to avoid eating too much and moving too little. Eating the right amount and being active were called survival. In our world, it' easy to be sedentary and consume excess calories.

In his book, Dr. Katz agrees that we need willpower to start our new journey and we need to combine it with some external discipline to develop new skills or "skillpower." Here are his "Ten Rules of External Discipline" to improve our relationship with food and exercise:

  • Avoid fast food. Fast food is a fast pass to weight gain and health problems. Avoid it while you initiate a lifestyle make-over. It' too late once you're at the drive-through asking, "Should I or shouldn't I?" If, for some reason, you can't avoid fast-food restaurants use www.healthydiningfinder.com to upgrade your choices.
  • Drink water. Liquid calories don't usually fill you up, but they can certainly add up. Soft drinks, juices and the like are very sugary, encouraging your sweet tooth to grow into a sweet fang. Put soda out of bounds; when you're thirsty drink water (dressed up with lemon, lime or orange slices, if preferred). Steer clear of diet soda, except as a brief transition from regular soda to something truly wholesome such as water. Artificial sweeteners in diet soda can propagate a sweet tooth, and the sugar and calories you've saved tend to sneak back in elsewhere.
  • Eat salad. Mixed greens are loaded with nutrients and have almost no calories. Including a mixed green salad with just a tablespoon of dressing at start of every dinner will help fill you up so you eat fewer calories overall.
  • Get some exercise every day. As you start your health makeover, you should get moving. Begin with at least 20 minutes of any form of exercise, as intense as walking briskly, no fewer than five days a week. Make it a rule and honor it.
  • Make sleep a priority. If you sleep enough and soundly, you will have more control over your appetite and more energy for exercise. Commit to a consistent eight hours per night if at all possible. Use good sleep hygiene to help you stay on course.
  • Mind your mouth. Avoid mindless eating. Eat only when eating is your primary activity; don't munch while you're doing something else. It' easy to eat too much or the wrong foods that way without realizing it. This is often referred to as "eating amnesia."
  • Eat foods with identifiable ingredients. Avoid foods that contain ingredients an 8-year-old can't pronounce. Otherwise, you may end up consuming a mouthful of additives and chemicals that offer little or no nutritional value. With real food, you can tell what the ingredients are. With manufactured foods, you often can't.
  • Plan all eating occasions. Go off the "see food" diet. Eat only what you intended to eat, when you intended to eat it. Don't eat just because food -- say a slice of cake at an office birthday party -- is there. Eat when you're hungry and stop when you've had enough, before you're truly full.
  • Tell everyone your plan. Tell the most important people in your life what health-related changes you want to make and why. And tell them about these rules so they can help you stick to them.

Choose what you chew. Take control of your choices, both at home and when you're out. Use an insulated snack pack to take wholesome foods wherever you go, so you always have them at your fingertips.