Solving the American Obesity Epidemic Part II: The Secret to Lasting Weight Loss (Hint: It’s not Starving Yourself)
In order to achieve and maintain a healthy weight, we need to commit to permanently changing some of our deeply held beliefs, and thus our habits. But the changes need not be drastic. Anyone who has ever traveled to Continental Europe has seen that the obesity epidemic there is not nearly as bad as it is here in The U.S. Yet their lifestyles are not that different from ours. They enjoy fine foods including desserts, they consume even more beer and wine than we do, and they do not spend the majority of their day on a treadmill or lifting weights. Two major factors contribute to their ability to maintain healthy body weights:
- Portion Control
- A less sedentary lifestyle
The secret to permanent weight loss is really not a secret at all. Just as the experts have always said, the trick is to take in fewer calories than your body burns on a daily basis. Of course that is easier said than done, but it may not be as difficult as you think. The key is to rid yourself of the age-old assumptions that our culture has instilled in us. Hunger is your body’s way of telling you that it needs nourishment. Trying to ignore it may work temporarily, but only when conditions are ideal as mentioned in the first article in this series. The hunger will get progressively worse and lead to irrational eating, ultimately resulting in more weight gain. Your body also has mechanisms in place that will begin to protect your fat stores if it believes you are being starved. Limiting yourself to the traditional three meals per day can also lead to feeling hungry between meals. Then you will overeat when the time for a meal finally arrives. You need to have healthy snacks available throughout the day to keep your hunger in check. Then you will eat a controlled and reasonable portion at mealtime. You also need to control the portion sizes you eat during meals. Marketing giants like fast food restaurants have capitalized on formulating their meals to increase our appetites to make sure we order more and return more frequently. Restaurants in turn have increased their portion sizes to keep up with our perception of what constitutes proper meal sizes. But if you go to a European style or fine dining restaurant, you will notice the average portion size is much smaller. That is because we have developed the incorrect assumption that it takes a larger portion size to satisfy us. Portion sizes of certain courses (such as vegetables) can be larger, but our meals are typically focus on the wrong course.
The other factor that leads to achieving and maintaining a healthy body weight is a less sedentary lifestyle. Notice I did not say exercise. Most of us do not have the time or motivation to spend hours on end at the gym. Exercise has also been over-emphasized as a means to lose weight in the past, leading to disappointment and eventual failure. Just like changes to your diet, you must incorporate something you can live with and not overly disrupt your current routine. The Europeans are famous for not using their cars as much as we do and walking to more places. That is not often practical in The U.S., but you can incorporate an activity you enjoy into your routine like taking a walk after dinner or playing basketball with your kids. The trick is to make sure it is something you can live with on a daily basis.
Obviously, you cannot make an effective and lasting lifestyle change by just adjusting a few things here and there. You need a plan. Many are available, and books such as The Zone and The Abs Diet come highly recommended. But what has been most effective for me personally has been the Weight Watchers plan.
I am not employed by, nor am I paid to endorse Weight Watchers in any way. But I have now lost over 47 pounds on their plan in a few months and will reach my goal weight in less than a month. I can see myself maintaining the healthier eating habits I have learned from them for life, without ever feeling deprived. This may not sound like a very impressive accomplishment, but one factor made weight loss an ongoing and uphill battle for me. I am the owner of a gourmet food store that specializes in Cheese and Chocolate. I spend every day seeing and smelling a selection of culinary delights. It took us years to refine our selection to only the very best products we can offer. That presented quite a challenge, but it also helped me to discover a plan that even a passionate lover of fine gourmet foods could adhere to. I did become more sensitive to the needs of a healthy lifestyle and incorporated a “Skinny Alternatives” section to my store, stocked with lower calorie foods that were delicious alternatives to the fruits and vegetables I usually had for snacks. But given the proper portion size, nothing was off limits.
I am confident that with commitment and motivation, anyone can achieve and maintain a healthy weight the same way I did. I am not saying there will not be challenges. But I believe that if I was able to do it, anyone can.