Weight loss can be a difficult journey. Trust me, I know. But I've learned a few valuable lessons along the way that I hope can help you too.
1. Keep a Food Journal or Use a Tracking App
I posted about this earlier, but I track my calories daily using an app called Lose It. I used an online calorie calculator to set a calorie target based on my age, weight, body fat percentage and activity level. If you’re not into calorie counting (the idea horrifies most people) consider maintaining a daily food journal. I had read this suggestion countless times in magazines for years and always dismissed it (who has the time or patience to track all their food? Not me!). I guess I was lazier back then.
Food journals have been studied and proven to help people lose weight. For starters, they can help identify eating patterns you weren’t aware of (e.g. I’m bored – let’s down a bag of chips!). Do you tend to crave chocolate around 3pm – why? Is there a healthy alternative you can bring to eat at that time instead? Are there certain emotions associated with food binges – Stress? Fatigue?
Food journals also help identify what you are actually eating. I know this sounds strange, but I’ve spoken to a lot of people who claim that they eat healthy and don’t overeat, but then when I ask them what they eat in a typical day, they mention things like “2 bowls of pasta”, “a 12 ounce steak”, “a can of coke during lunch” or my old favourite “2 pieces of toast covered in Nutella”.
Food journals also promote accountability for what you eat. Sometimes just the idea of having to write down the four tablespoons one tablespoon of Nutella you plan to eat makes you think twice about actually eating it.
2. Understanding Food Portions
In 2012, I worked with an awesome dietitian for four months and lost almost 25 pounds of fat that I had been struggling to lose for 10 years. My dietitian taught me how to maintain a food journal (tracking portion sizes) and taught me to understand portions sizes for each food group.
- 1 serving of grains/starches = ½ a cup (or what you can hold in the palm of your hand)
- 1 serving of dairy = 1 cup of milk or yogurt, 2 domino sized pieces of cheese, 2 small yogurt cups
- 1 serving of meat = 3 ounces (or a deck of cards)
- 1 serving of fruit = ½ cup
- 1 serving of fat = 1 thumb-sized amount of oil
- 1 serving of vegetables = ½ a cup (1 cup for leafy vegetables)
After understanding portion sizes for each food group per day, I was provided with a portion target for each group each day, as follows:
- Grains/starches = 3 servings per day
- Dairy = 2 servings per day
- Meat = 2 servings per day
- Fruit = 2 servings per day
- Fat = 4 servings per day
- Vegetables = 4+ servings per day
By tracking my actual food portions against my daily targets, it was easy to see when I was overeating or exceeding my daily goals. It was like someone turned a fat loss key – I lost 7 pounds in the first week alone, and then had a steady healthy weight loss of 1-2 pounds per week thereafter. Understanding portion sizes also helped me see how much extra food I had been eating before, which is why I was never losing weight. This ties into point #2 above – most people don’t realize how much food they are actually eating versus what they should eat for weight loss.
3. Consider A Dietitian
As discussed above, I had a great dietitian that helped me understand food portions, food tracking and how to read calorie labels on food items. If you feel that you are struggling in weight loss and need additional support/guidance, don’t do it alone. I wish I had found my dietitian earlier and saved myself the frustration and depression I experienced over my weight.
Here’s the hard part; you need to find a GOOD dietitian. I had a dietitian many years ago that quickly went over portion sizes with me and told me to track my food. I didn’t really feel engaged with her and I didn’t learn half of what I learned with my last dietitian. Find someone who educates and supports you. Weight loss is a journey and requires a significant lifestyle change for most people. Sometimes you will need guidance to stay on track, because reducing your pasta portion from three bowls down to half a cup really sucks can be discouraging.
4. Plan Your Meals
This does not mean “pre-cook your daily meals in advance for the week” – unless you want to. By planning your meals, I mean always think about your next meal. If you are tracking your food, you can identify how many calories/portions you’ve eaten and how much you have left to eat for your next meal. For example, if you have only 400 calories left to eat for dinner (or say 1 portion of meat, 1 grain and 2 veggie portions), you know how much you can eat before loading up your plate and eating everything in sight.
If I’m going to a restaurant, I will pull up the menu and select my food items in advance (if you drink anything other than water, factor in drinks as well). If I know I’m heading to my favourite steakhouse later, I will eat less during the day to leave room for my big dinner. Planning ahead lets you stay in control of your eating and helps avoid the guilt usually associated with overeating.
5. You Will Cheat, So Do It Mindfully
Everyone needs to eat some chips or ice cream once in a while. There is nothing wrong with this and cheat meals are sometimes unavoidable, especially when eating out. Don’t feel bad or guilty – just be aware of how much you’re eating when you do cheat and consider compensating during the rest of the week by exercising more or eating less to balance it out.
I used to get really discouraged when I would overeat and think “Well, I’ve ruined my diet, so why stop now?” and blissfully continue my eating binge. But tomorrow is another day. Just because you indulged in some savory snacks the night before doesn’t mean that you get to sabotage your weight loss today. Track your cheat meal to stay accountable, enjoy it and move on. Life’s too short for food-related guilt.
What weight loss tips do you swear by?