How to Lose Weight – Part 3

In the last article, I discussed the importance of taking the DIE out of dieting. We learned the importance of making small changes over time and forming new eating habits. Now, I’d like to give some specific suggestions on how to lose weight, and develop healthy habits in the process.

Use the Harvard Healthy Eating Plate

Are you familiar with the Healthy Eating Plate1 put out by the Harvard School of Public health? It has a ton of tips (or new habits to develop) and is much better than the FDA’s “My Plate”. It’s a healthier system and gives direction as to what kinds of ‘grains’ or ‘protein’ you should put on your plate. Here’s a summary:

  1. Half your plate should be fruits and veggies. No, french fries don’t count!
  2. Drink water NOT milk. Avoid sugary drinks (see below)
  3. Eat whole grains
  4. Limit red meat. AVOID processed meats like bacon, cold cuts, etc.

Print this out and leave it on your dining table:

Shrink your stomach.

Gastric bypass surgery works by physically reducing the size of your stomach. Patients who choose this option often say that they ‘need’ the surgery because they do not have the willpower to eat less on their own. There are typically 2 reasons why they fail. First, there is the feeling of being hungry itself. Secondly, and perhaps more damaging, is mindless eating—eating out of habit, not out of need. An example would be munching on chips while you’re bored—soon enough you may have consumed the whole bag!

There are ways to psychologically trick your own stomach and mind. First of all you have to set reasonable goals. You won’t be able to shrink your stomach to the size of a cup of food in a week. If you try, you’ll have massive hunger pangs, feel miserable, and quit. You have to slowly shrink your stomach so that in time a smaller amount of food makes you feel full and satisfied. Soon that ‘stuffed’ feeling will be something you want to avoid as it feels worse than being hungry.

1. Drink 2 glasses of water at the start of each meal. Not only does water increase your metabolism, but the volume will help fill up your stomach and at zero calories is a great substitute for anything else you can put in there.

2. Be the last one to start eating. If you start eating 1st you will most likely finish 1st. While you wait for your friends to finish you will most likely nibble, taking in extra calories that you really didn’t want to begin with. Wait in line, talk with friends, get served last, and eat less.

3. Eat slowly. The Japanese try to eat to 75% full to avoid overeating. If you eat fast you’ll blow right past 75% and go to 110% full. Eat slowly so you can actually feel the full feeling coming on and know to start slowing down even more and then stop.

4. Use a smaller plate. Instead of a 12” plate use a 8” one (or smaller). It will look more full, you can actually pile food on it, but it will still be less than what you can get on a larger plate. This will help your brain think it’s getting a ‘big’ meal, but you’ll actually eat less.

5. Eat a lot of fresh veggies. Eaten early in the meal with water they really fill your stomach. With less room in your stomach you’ll feel full and not eat more of other foods.

6. Save room for dessert, I mean fruits. Fruits are sweet. Save them as a treat at the end of every meal. Eat fruits that you like so that it is a treat. Remember that you will reward yourself at the end of every meal so that you’ll have to save room (after the water and veggies) for them.

-For a more detailed look at the psychology of eating check out “Mindless Eating”2 by Brian Wansink, PhD.

Don’t drink your calories.

According to the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES), American’s get over 45% of their excess sugar from soda, energy drinks, and juice. Want to cut your sugar intake substantially? All you need to do is switch to drinking water. It’s the healthiest drink for our bodies—and besides, drinking water will help you feel full for longer, keeping the urge to snack at bay.

Eat breakfast.

Studies show that eating breakfast (rather than ‘saving’ on the calories) actually helps you lose weight! A healthy breakfast will provide you with the energy and nutrients you need to get your day started. It will also get your metabolism started in the morning (a great thing for those trying to lose weight). Furthermore, skipping breakfast has been linked to several health problems including obesity, diabetes, and heart disease.3

Cheat, DON’T crack.

This one may not be for everybody, but bodybuilders make use of this habit a lot and to great success. Normally, they follow a strict diet and are very careful what they put into their bodies. However, one day a week (or perhaps one meal a week) they’re allowed to cheat and have something they’ve been craving. This has several effects:

  1. It gives you something to look forward to.
  2. You don’t have to use up your willpower every single day, at every single meal.
  3. It helps you resist making bad choices at other meals since you know you’re going to reward yourself sometime in the near future.

A great example is why eat that so-so desert when you know you’re going to get something you really like later in the week on your cheat day? Why eat that cheap ice cream you are being served when you should be saving your calories for Haagen Dazs or Graeters ice cream?

While the goal of this strategy is to keep you from cracking and giving up a diet altogether, it is important to cheat in moderation. Just because you have a cheat day (or meal) doesn’t mean you should gorge yourself or skip vegetables for a day. It’s important to eat healthy, even when you’re treating yourself to something nice.

The key

These are simple and effective strategies you can use in your quest to lose weight. That being said, we recommend picking only 1, 2, or at most 3 of these strategies to work on. Give yourself time and make them habits before moving on. You can’t use up all of your willpower yet—diet is only the first part of this game. You still have to start exercising!

Watch your thoughts, they become your beliefs.
Watch your beliefs, they become your words.
Watch your words, they become your actions.
Watch your actions, they become your habits.
Watch your habits, they become your character.

-Vince Lombardi

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Harvey Hahn, MD, FACC

Dr. Hahn graduated from Loma Linda University in 1994. He is currently the director of the Cardiovascular Fellowship Training Program at the Kettering Medical Center in Kettering Ohio.

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