We’re coming to the end of January, and a lot of my friends have made resolutions to lose weight in the coming year. I had started a blog post a long while ago about how to maintain a healthy weight, but I never put it up for a variety of reasons, primarily because I’m not a dietician or nutritionist and so was skeptical that people would find value in what I have to say. What I am, however, is a logic-based research nut who’s managed to maintain a very nice body at the age of 43, even after giving birth to two healthy-sized babies who are now seven and eleven, and I’ve decided (with the encouragement of John Scalzi–thanks, John) to post this anyway. I hope that people find it useful.
These aren’t rules about calories or about what you can’t eat. This is not a diet. (And it’s not about exercise, which is also important but would be a whole different blog post.) It’s nothing more than a set of healthy dietary habits to help you listen to your body but avoid being ruled by it. I could probably go on about any one of these habits for pages, but I’ll try to keep my comments about them brief for now.
My first bits of advice are especially applicable to anyone who works at home or sits at a desk all day.
Never bring more than a handful of food to your desk.
This is really a very big deal, and it’s not hard to implement. You should never keep food at your desk, and you should not bring more than a single handful of food to your desk at once to eat immediately. Even if you are certain you’re going to eat three handfuls of food, bring only one to your desk. If you want another, get up and get it. Even if the food is only a few steps away, the act of having to get up will help you realize whether you’re truly hungry, because at some point you’re going to decide that you’re just not hungry enough to get up and get yet another handful. If you have an entire bowl or bag of food in front of you, you can eat unthinkingly, and in order to maintain a healthy weight, you must eliminate unthinking eating.
Always keep a large glass of water at your desk.
Even if you are fond of zero-calorie sodas, you need to focus on drinking water instead. Artificial sweeteners have been proven to promote weight gain by making you more hungry, and your body needs water. The way to increase your water intake is not to make yourself force it down as though it were medicine, but to make water the most convenient drink available. Just as you should have no food at your desk, the only beverage at your desk should be a large glass of water. This does not preclude you from getting up and having a small glass of something else if you prefer; just be careful with liquids, because there’s evidence that your body doesn’t achieve satiety from the calories in them in the same way that it does calories from food.
Exercise restraint at the grocery store, where it’s easiest.
Junk food should be something you buy occasionally, as a treat, and not every time you visit the grocery store. Once it’s in the house, it is far too easy to eat, and much harder to say no to. Neither you nor your kids nor your significant other need junk food in order to make you healthy or happy. If a significant other insists on keeping junk in the house, they need to buy it on their own, and you need to treat it as theirs only: a roommate’s food that you don’t touch.
Buy healthy snacks and make sure they are convenient to eat.
Part of the problem with junk food is that it is so damned handy–it’s very little work to grab a bag of chips if you’re hungry. You have to make sure that the healthy foods you buy can compete with junk food for convenience, whether through choosing convenient items like cheese sticks and yogurt and easy-to-peel tangerines or by taking the time to put the food in easy-access form when you get home from shopping. If you like melons, for instance, be sure to peel them and cut them up into cubes when you get home, so that they’re ready to eat when you are. The most convenient snacks in your home should also be the healthiest.
Junk food you do have in the house should be out of sight, and any food in plain view should be healthy.
If you see a food you like, you are likely to want to eat it, even when you’re not particularly hungry. Having your favorite but unhealthy snacks is plain view is going to cause you to eat more of them: You see it; it looks good; you want it. Keep junk food out of sight, and any food that you see as you walk into your kitchen should be good for you.
If you eat dinner at a restaurant, save enough for your lunch the next day.
It’s a rare American restaurant that doesn’t serve dinner portions large enough to get both a lunch and dinner from. When you eat dinner out, you should save enough food on your plate to take home for your lunch the next day, thereby extending the enjoyable meal. If you are still hungry when you’ve eaten your dinner portion, get a dessert to share with the table!
Learn to listen to your body.
Eat when you are hungry, and stop eating when you are not hungry anymore. This sounds so simple, and it’s so important, and yet it is the one issue that people have the most trouble with. You should not let yourself be hungry, but you should also not try to get “full”–the goal is simply to not be hungry anymore. If you eat a few handfuls of food and find that you’re hungry again half an hour later, then eat another handful of food, keeping in mind that your food choices can be balanced through the day and don’t have to be balanced all in a single big meal. If you eat so much that you have the physical sensation that you shouldn’t eat anymore, then you’ve overeaten. Eating small, nutritious meals or snacks keeps your metabolism revved up, and you’ll feel better keeping yourself on an even keel.
Get over the notion that not finishing food means you’re wasting it.
When you learn to listen to your body about when it’s had enough, you will find that you are often leaving food on your plate. Resist eating that last bit of food, whether it’s one bite or twenty. If you can’t save the food in the fridge for later, you absolutely must realize that putting it into your body when you don’t need it is far more of a waste than throwing it down the garbage disposal. Putting excess food in the disposal doesn’t hurt anything, but putting it into your body causes it to turn into fat and does not in any way accomplish anything positive. The money has already been spent; putting the food to a negative use is worse than throwing it away, and even the calories in that one extra bite add up over years.
I hope this is helpful. In essence, you can still have food that you love; just form habits that help you not eat too much of it.