Successful long term weight loss means not only changing how much you eat and exercise, but changing some pretty ingrained habits and behaviors. Certain behaviors have been more strongly linked with obesity, while certain healthier behaviors are connected to successful weight loss and lifestyle changes.
In one study, the following “habits” were identified as the most commonly associated with severe obesity:
“eat faster than most people”
“leave the plate empty”
“have long fasts” i.e. skip meals
Clearly our eating behavior has a significant impact on our weight. Aside from cutting calories and exercising, we need to address behavior habits that perpetuate weight issues.
Eating too quickly means that there isn’t time for our brains to register that our stomach is full before more food that pushes you into overfull goes in. Eating slowly, mindfully, chewing each mouthful into a liquid consistency before swallowing not only allows for fullness to register before you consume any more, it also means you digest and get the nutrients out of what you have taken in better. Satisfying your body’s nutritional needs can help curb appetite and cravings.
Leaving the plate empty – how many of us were conditioned that we had to finish everything on our plates to be either praised or rewarded with dessert regardless of whether we were full well before the food was gone? Childhood conditioning stays with us throughout our lives, but we can change our mindset to one of “good for me, I left some behind and stopped when I was aware that my body was satisfied”.
Having long fasts – Keeping your metabolism running at its highest to burn the most calories is the ideal for those trying to lose weight. Skipping meals and then binging at the end of the day is one of the worst things you can do to lose weight. During the skipped meals your body starts conserving calories and then in the binge all those extra calories get stored as fat. There is also research that consuming the most calories early in the day makes a huge difference in lowering insulin, which we already know is a fat promoter.
Sweet cravings are usually caused by blood sugar dips or emotional stress. Stabilizing blood sugar as we’ve discussed previously can help as well as having emotional support
Drinking soda – we all know that water is the healthiest thing we can drink. Our bodies are mostly made up of water, not soda! Soda, even diet soda, can cause weight gain, insulin resistance and cravings for carbohydrate. Start every day with 2 cups of water and aim to drink at least one cup between each meal.
A 2008 study on motivating factors for healthy eating and physical activity found that among the strongest motivators were personal appearance, the fit of clothing, ability to play with one’s children and social support.3 Knowing what motivates you to change can help you tap into that to keep the drive going. What’s your motivation – you want to look great in your bathing suit this summer? You have a high school reunion coming up? Do you think that looking fitter may help you get a promotion at work? You just want to have the energy to run after your children or grandchildren? Maybe you’ve seen the consequences of being overweight in your friends or loved ones and want to be proactive about preventing these problems? Your friend lost weight and wants you to join her on her walking program?
Setting a clearly defined goal helps achieve success in life generally, but particularly with respect to weight loss4. Goals need to be achievable and believable, so rather than saying “I’m going to lose 50 pounds”, say “I’m going to lose 5 pounds this month”. Aiming to lose 1-2 pounds per week is reasonable and sustainable over the long term. Some other examples of achievable health-related goals, might be eliminating soda pop, avoiding white flour products, excluding sugar from the diet, cutting out coffee, drinking water instead of juice, adding a tablespoon of flaxseeds to each meal or taking up an exercise program 3 days per week.
Research indicates that self-monitoring of caloric intake and exercise is an effective strategy for weight loss but also maintenance of weight loss.2,5 Tracking just how much you are eating, when you are eating it, and triggers for over eating or binge eating can help to change unhealthy eating behaviors. In order to fix a problem, you have to be aware that it exists. All of my patients complete a one week written diet diary and the majority of them find it an enlightening experience as it raises their awareness of exactly what they are doing with respect to food. Many of them comment that they had no idea they were drinking so much soda or having a chocolate bar every afternoon at 3 p.m.
To weigh or not to weigh, that is the question. Weighing oneself daily can become discouraging for some, particularly if despite their efforts to eat less and exercise, the scale just isn’t budging. One recent study found that daily weighers lost significantly more weight that those who only weighed themselves 4-6 days per week6. Who hasn’t stepped on the scale and despite a healthy day the day before found that weight had gone up a pound or two? Don’t let that discourage you. We know that variations in hormones, the amount of food being processed in your gut, the weight of clothing and water retention can influence weight day to day. We also know that muscle weighs more than fat, so if you’ve added exercise to your weight loss regimen, you may be trading lighter fat for heavier, calorie burning muscle. For some, especially those who are exercising, taking measurements like waist and hip circumference is a better way to track positive changes in body composition and fitness level, than tracking weight.
Cultivating relationships with other health-conscious individuals may help you succeed in changing unhealthy habits. A 2015 study found that having a low neighbourhood social support index was associated with higher odds of high percent body fat in women7. If friends and family members are on board, that’s awesome, however, if they don’t practice healthy eating and exercise, you may need to cultivate friendships with people who do. Hanging out with people from the gym is likely to be more beneficial to you for weight loss than hanging out with the folks at the doughnut shop. Online forums can also provide a sense of community and weight loss support. Web sites that provide the opportunity to track calorie, fat, carbohydrate, and protein intake and seek support through discussion boards are helpful. Hearing other’s stories of what worked or didn’t work for them can help provide motivation, encouragement and real world experience. Identifying with others who are going through the same struggle as you can help remove any sense of isolation you may be feeling as you try to change your life, it’s a big task and you shouldn’t have to go it alone.
Pamela Frank, BSc(Hons), ND has been in practice as an ND since 1999 and previously worked for 20 years as a
medical laboratory technologist. She is Clinic Director of Forces of Nature Wellness in Toronto and was twice voted “Best Naturopath in Toronto”. Pamela maintains a busy, diverse practice with particular expertise in naturopathic treatment of PCOS, PMS, menopause, acne, infertility, uterine fibroids and endometriosis. Pamela’s interests include fitness, triathlons, yoga, healthy cooking, tennis and volleyball.
- Reséndiz Barragán AM, Hernández Altamirano SV, Sierra Murguía MA, Torres Tamayo M. Eating habits of patients with severe obesity Nutr Hosp. 2014 Nov 30;31(2):672-81.
- Kong A1, Beresford SA, Alfano CM, Foster-Schubert KE, Neuhouser ML, Johnson DB, Duggan C, Wang CY, Xiao L, Jeffery RW, Bain CE, McTiernan A. Self-monitoring and eating-related behaviors are associated with 12-month weight loss in postmenopausal overweight-to-obese women. J Acad Nutr Diet. 2012 Sep;112(9):1428-35.
- Chang MW1, Nitzke S, Guilford E, Adair CH, Hazard DL. Motivators and barriers to healthful eating and physical activity among low-income overweight and obese mothers. J Am Diet Assoc. 2008 Jun;108(6):1023-8.
- Jay M, Gutnick D, Squires A, Tagliaferro B, Gerchow L, Savarimuthu S, Chintapalli S, Shedlin MG, Kalet A.In our country tortilla doesn’t make us fat: cultural factors influencing lifestyle goal-setting for overweight and obese Urban, Latina patients. J Health Care Poor Underserved. 2014 Nov;25(4):1603-22.
- Kong A1, Beresford SA, Imayama I, Duggan C, Alfano CM, Foster-Schubert KE, Neuhouser ML, Johnson DB, Wang CY, Xiao L, Bain CE, McTiernan A. Adoption of diet-related self-monitoring behaviors varies by race/ethnicity, education, and baseline binge eating score among overweight-to-obese postmenopausal women in a 12-month dietary weight loss intervention. Nutr Res. 2012 Apr;32(4):260-5.
- Steinberg DM, Bennett GG, Askew S, Tate DF. Weighing Every Day Matters: Daily Weighing Improves Weight Loss and Adoption of Weight Control Behaviors. J Acad Nutr Diet. 2015 Feb 12. pii: S2212-2672(14)01873-5.
- Pradeilles R1, Griffiths PL1, Norris SA2, Feeley AB2, Rousham EK1.Socio-economic influences on anthropometric status in urban South African adolescents: sex differences in the Birth to Twenty Plus cohort. Public Health Nutr. 2015 Mar 11:1-15.