Most people welcome the idea of a slimmer body, yet resign themselves to watching their waistlines expand over the years. People often don’t take action because they assume the process of weight loss is painful, tedious, and difficult.
One of the most tedious and difficult aspects of weight loss is counting calories. First of all, it requires pen and paper with every meal – or an extraordinary memory. It requires measuring utensils and food scales to weigh out portions. It requires a calorie-counting book, or an app, to determine the calorie count of each food, snack, condiment, and dessert. It requires accuracy and a great deal of patience.
On top of all this, you also need to know your resting metabolic rate in order to know how many calories you need to maintain your weight. Once you know your maintenance calories, you can determine how much you need to cut each day in order to lose weight. The baseline is to reduce one’s calories by 500 each day in order to achieve a 3500 calorie deficit by the end of the week, which is equivalent to one pound of (hopefully) fat. Most sedentary women eat about 1200-1500 calories per day to lose weight. Most men, about 1800-2100.
For the record, calorie counting is fine, it that’s your preferred approach. I have done it myself and still do, if I have a specific goal in mind, for a specific reason. But I hate it just as much as anyone else! It’s boring. And, for the average person interested in improved health and a slimmer appearance, strict calorie counting is not necessary. If hatred of calorie counting is keeping you from your health and fitness goals, there is another way.
The alternative is an intuitive way of eating, which is based on a more spiritual approach to eating, and a deep connection to one’s own body. But, in order to be successful at intuitive eating, some ground rules apply:
- No mindless eating. If you shovel food in with one hand while thumbing the remote with the other, the intuitive approach will not work. You need to bring presence of mind to your meal and to your body.
- Eliminate or severely restrict packaged foods. The brilliant business minds at food companies know how to make food that tickles the taste buds, but widens the waistline. If most of your food comes in packages, boxes, or greasy paper bags, intuitive eating will not work for you. Nature did not create this food, nor does She recognize what this stuff is.
- Try to wear body-conscious clothes – not tight clothes, but not baggy sweats either. Fitted clothing prevents us from living in denial. Again, nothing tight or uncomfortable – just clothes that tell it like it is. These clothes will help you recognize when you’ve had enough.
Okay. So, with those ground rules in place, here are some tips to approaching eating mindfully, with the goal of weight loss and improved health:
- Before preparing or buying your meal, hold in your awareness a vision of what health means to you. Running around and playing with your kids? Strolling along the beach in a pair of short shorts? Climbing a flight of stairs like a 10-year-old? Being able to get rid of your blood pressure medication? Take a few seconds and imagine your future healthier self. Really see him, or see her – the healthy You – in all your glory.
- Drink as much water before your meals as you can possibly get down. Strive for 2 or 3 cups. I know you’re not thirsty. Not consciously. But, often we want to eat when our bodies are actually dehydrated. A few cups of water will fill you up and discourage overeating. If you can, squeeze some lemon into the glass for flavor and appetite control. Keep drinking. When you want to stop, have a little more.
- When the food comes, or, if you’re at home, once you’ve sat down (yes, please sit down, don’t stand over the oven eating), take a minute to appreciate all the people who brought this meal to you. The farmers, the truckers, the manufacturers of your plates and cooking utensils, the chef or the cookbook you used, the money or job that provided all this for you. Smile to them, give a nod of appreciation.
- Eat slowly and with gratitude. Savor the food on your plate. Put the fork down while you chew and really enjoy. Stop as soon as the initial hunger pangs subside. Store the rest away in Tupperware, and enjoy the leftovers tomorrow.
- Clean up and put everything away immediately. Eating time is done. Time to move on.
In addition to those “process” tips, the following food tips will help you make better food choices without needing to count calories:
- Keep in mind that fat contains 9 calories per gram, while protein and carbohydrate each contain 4. That means, if something has a lot of fat in it, it also has a lot of calories. That’s okay. Fat in and of itself (except trans fat in processed foods) is not bad. Just keep in mind that, although the food may look small, it’s carrying a lot of weight. Choose portion sizes accordingly.
- Carbohydrate foods other than fruits and non-starchy vegetables (foods like rice, bread, cereals, potatoes, desserts) have many more calories than they seem to. Again, carbs are not “bad.” But, a cup of rice has about 240 calories and won’t fill you up much by itself. If you have two servings, you’re already up to almost 500 calories on just the rice. Most bread slices have about 100 calories per slice. So, your sandwich already has 200 calories with nothing inside it! Again, choose portion sizes carefully.
- Neither fat nor carbs are bad. However, my advice is to choose which one is your favorite and limit the other. If you prefer fatty foods (like meats), then eat most of your carbs in the form of fruits and veggies, and enjoy your meats. However, if you love your carbs more, choose whole grain ones, and limit oils, butters, and fatty meats. Combining a lot of fat and a lot of carbs will limit the effectiveness of intuitive eating.
My last and final tip is to move your body. The body wants and craves to be used for what it was made for – work. Physical work. It can be a walk to the post office, a play date at the park with your kids, a jog around the neighborhood, or spring cleaning your garage. Move that body!
But don’t think you’re burning a lot of calories. You’re not. Exercise burns much fewer calories than you might think. But exercise will help you use the calories you do eat efficiently. And physical activity lowers blood pressure, raises “good” cholesterol, and does many other wonderful things for your health.
So, stop counting and start living!
Peace and joy,