“To get something you never had, you have to do something you never did.” ~Unknown
Hard Truth: The more we focus on losing weight, the more we gain. Dieters regain at an average rate of 95%. Today, there are more diets, quick fixes, pills, and an overload of information than ever before—yet we also weigh more and have more health problems than ever. Losing weight and making healthy choices are about becoming very aware of what your body needs and making a commitment to make these healthy choices into healthy habits. Unfortunately, nothing can happen without a little effort.
Anyone can make some radical food changes and/or exercise excessively to drop a few pounds. We all know someone that needed to lose a quick 10 pounds and just decided to go "off food.” Welcome to the revolving door—lose 10, gain 12! These very temporary solutions are not the basis of healthy habits, and as Geneen Roth states, “For every diet, there is an equal and opposite binge.”
To be successful, you need to dig just a little bit deeper than dieting, and sometimes that can be scary. Developing mindful practice begins to shift you out of “autopilot” and puts you back into control of your body. This opens you starting the process of examining why you eat and how you eat. While what you eat is important, it's not the only part of this equation. So many of us have tried to eat healthy foods only to find that because of the stress of our daily lives—deadlines at work, taking care of our families, relationships demanding our attention—we end up with an uncomfortable lump of food in our bodies and difficulty digesting. Without being mindful, sometimes it’s difficult to make the connection between our physical, mental and emotional states. We need to realize that our current state is a product of all aspects of our lives—not just the food we eat.
While this is a gradual process, it is definitely possible! Here is some advice to get you started.
We all have some version of “diet dogma,” or rules we create for ourselves. Some of the following may sound familiar: “I can eat only foods with zero grams of fat!” “Carbohydrates are bad. I’m never eating bread, sugar, potatoes or pasta again!” “I blew it and had a piece of cake for dessert. I feel like such a loser!” “I can’t do anything. Now I’m off my diet. I might as well eat the whole box and start over again tomorrow!”
If you’ve ever said or thought anything like these statements, you have also probably experienced the feeling of being trapped by those words. These dogmas come from great intentions, but often lead us to make unhealthy choices because they take over and drown out our own wisdom and intuition. Steve Jobs was right when he said, “Don’t be trapped by dogma — which is living with the results of other people’s thinking.” Instead, create your own mindful food stories that will help set you free: “I deserve to be happy and healthy!” “My body craves wholesome nutrition!” “I know what’s best for myself!” “I’m worth more than five minutes spent binging!”
This process is an intimate journey with yourself. The fact that you want to lose weight means that you are sensing the need for change, of improving yourself, of moving forward with more control, participation and mindfulness of yourself. Observe what habits are no longer serving you.
This is not meant for you to beat up on yourself or to criticize yourself. In order to move forward, it is important to know where you began. It’s important to remember that those habits you observe are the habits of the “old you” and will be changed to create the “new and better you!”
The very first step to losing weight is to make a commitment to do so. Make a mental promise to yourself. Always make a point of being positive about your weight loss goals. Positive thoughts lead to healthy habits because they free us to move forward instead of dwelling on the past. An example of positive self-talk can be as simple as saying to yourself, “I would like to see myself 20 pounds lighter” instead of saying “I don’t want to be fat cow.” You’ve made the decision to change and the way you speak to yourself should be motivating and nurturing—not punishing.
In order to understand healthy eating and weight loss we have to understand what foods we are putting in our body and how they affect us. When losing weight, most people look at labels and go straight to the calories but don’t really look at anything else. This is where we have to reprogram ourselves to look further. The most important part of our food is not how many calories it contains, but what ingredients it contains. What is your food made of? Processed foods tend to be high in sugar, salt (often exceeding recommended daily allowances)and often a slew of chemicals. These chemicals and sugars do not break down in the body the same way more wholesome nutrients do. Our bodies use more nutrients to digest processed foods than are actually absorbed from eating them. Processed foods do not supply the quality or quantity of nutrients that you can get from eating whole, natural foods. When you eat foods as close to their natural form as possible, you often find that many ailments go away. Natural foods have a way of positively affecting health and aiding in weight loss, ailments, energy levels, etc., so be aware of how many unnatural foods you allow into your body.
A journal is an excellent way to be in touch with yourself, make observations, and see the patterns of your behavior. Are you aware of exactly how much you "taste" when preparing the family meal, clearing up the kid's leftovers, having seconds, or drinking the latte with all the extras every day after work? Keeping an honest account of what goes into your mouth and how you are feeling when it does can help you to adjust your behavior.
Armed with knowledge and expertise, you become the spokesperson for yourself.
The process of eating should be one that you make enjoyable for yourself. It is a time when you are taking care of yourself and it is an opportunity to remember that you are worth the effort you are making. Too often, we eat on the run and let stress take away from the experience of eating. Just because you are losing weight doesn’t mean that you can’t enjoy the food you are eating.
Breathe deeply before eating. Take five long, slow breaths at the start of each meal to center and focus and remind yourself that this is good for you and you are allowed to enjoy it. Use all your senses. Serve food on a beautifully set table when time allows. Always notice the appearance, texture, and aroma of food before you even put it in your mouth. Then, make sure you taste each bite, feeling it on your tongue and against your teeth as you chew, and pay attention to every nuance. Good food feels good.
Aristotle once said, “We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit.” Basic habits are the foundation of any successful weight loss effort. Sometimes it’s easy to get overwhelmed and feel like you have to do too many things at once, especially when it comes to losing weight and planning your meals. Don’t let it happen to you. Remember that these wellness habits make you feel your best and are non-negotiable. Consistent daily habits create the biggest results. Even if you can’t follow every healthy guideline you know on any given day, you can still be successful by following the basics every day.
When you look for help, you’re sure to find it. The process of becoming healthy can at times feel daunting, and that’s when you need support the most. Also, who doesn’t love to get congratulated and acknowledged when they’ve done something worthwhile? What’s important is finding the right people in your life to offer you the support you need.
Your doctor makes a great option as s/he can help you to set goals that are specifically tailored to your body’s needs Telling everyone in your life of your intentions for some can be a way of keeping on track, but for most people, the idea of telling everyone leads to concerns about being scrutinized, policed, or judged. To avoid these feelings, identify the one or two close relatives/friends that you can confide in and be honest about the process. These should be people you trust to support you when you are having difficulties and to genuinely celebrate your successes and keep you motivated. Often in our lives there are others we are close to that could also use encouragement for a job well done. For those that truly value privacy, there are any number of online support groups/forums where you can receive support and kudos while still maintaining a level of anonymity. The bottom line is, having help along your journey makes it real and more likely that you will succeed.
Even if you fall off the wagon and make unhealthy food choices here and there, don’t punish yourself. Give yourself credit for the good food choices you have made, and get back on the wagon at the very next meal. The next time you eat, you have a brand new start. Always use positive reinforcement as you start to change your eating habits. This process is not meant to be a quick fix. It’s meant to get you on the road to a long and healthy life, and you won’t be able to be perfect all the time. That wouldn’t be realistic!
In his wisdom, Buddha taught, “Your body is precious. It is our vehicle for awakening. Treat it with care.” Since your body will be changing over this process, you need to be flexible and make accommodations for the changes your body will undergo. Your body is an amazing entity that will often tell you what it needs. If you find yourself hungry at different times of the day, it may mean you need to adjust how often you eat, eating more often but with smaller meals, or less often with portions adjusted to meet your needs while still allowing you to lose weight. Symptoms related to your digestive system or sleep patterns may indicate that you need to change something in your diet or the timing of your meals. Of course you should seek medical treatment for any symptoms that persist, for which you cannot find a cause, or cause you any kind of concern or pain, but understand that as your body changes, its needs will also change and what once worked, may not always work.
Unfortunately, it is all too easy to become frustrated during the process of losing weight and becoming healthy. Everyone wants immediate results, but sometimes that’s just not realistic. Accept that this is a lifelong process and in the long run you will be better off for it. Celebrate that you have made the decision to change. Appreciate yourself for striving, only exceptional people are willing to learn and change. Don’t allow yourself to fall into an “all or nothing” mentality. Choosing a healthier item from a menu in a restaurant is just as important and amazing as losing 5 pounds. Small victories are still victories! Of course if you are able to reach your goal weight you will want to buy new clothes to highlight your new health status, but reward and acknowledge yourself along the way to keep yourself motivated. Always hold your head up high, be confident, and the rest will follow.
Healthy choices repeated over time will eventually become habit. Making an effort to be aware of the connection between your state of mind, your emotions, and your physical well-being is one of the most important steps you will take towards improving your health. Being mindful of how you treat yourself, committing to take the time and energy necessary to nurture yourself properly, and learning to acknowledge and celebrate your successes, both great and small, will be the key to unlocking the new you.
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