It's Not a Diet it's a Life Change
I think this is a big key. I am not saying upend your whole life about this. Though in some cases people need to do that if they want to get away from morbid obesity. To lose weight and keep it off you need to not consider it a diet, but a lifestyle change. The primary reason being that diets are temporary. No one goes on a lifelong diet. This sort of thinking gives what you are doing meaning and staying power.
Primarily why diets typically fail is because they are temporary. They are typically extreme measures people take thinking they can lose the weight fast and "hopefully" keep it off. When in fact their bodies are already preconditioned to oppose this action. Diets are OK if you want to fit in a smaller clothing size for an event like a wedding. The reason why diets fail is Leptin. As one doctor calls it, "Leptin is our starvation hormone".
"Leptin tells your brain that you have enough energy stored in your fat cells to engage in normal, relatively expensive metabolic processes," he says. "In other words, when leptin levels are at a certain threshold -- for each person, it's probably genetically set -- when your leptin level is above that threshold, your brain senses that you have energy sufficiency, which means you can burn energy at a normal rate, eat food at a normal amount, engage in exercise at a normal rate, and you can engage in expensive processes, like puberty and pregnancy"
So what does Leptin do when it senses you are starving. It tells the brain to activate a nerve in your body that controls hunger. If you extreme diet, you are more likely to want to eat more so you can go back to your Leptin balance point. If you are fat for a long time you have set your leptin levels to a certain level. This means your body wants to stay at that level, and revert back to that level. Also the body can become Leptin Resistant as well. Which is very similar to Insulin Resistance.
So the question is how do you change that level? You need to stay at a lower fat level for an extended period of time so your body can be acclimated to that level. You need to do this in a non-extreme way to not shock your system. This is why I say you need to make a lifestyle change in how you eat and how active you are.
So what are some tips for this?
Learn to cook. Seriously, learn to cook. If you cook you are your own quality control. It also forces you to buy healthier non-processed foods. If you want to learn to cook then recommend reading this book,
I'm Just Here for the Food: Food + Heat = Cooking, By Alton Brown. The primary reason Alton Brown says people fail at cooking is because they don't understand heat, and how to apply heat correctly. I tend to agree. Also people are just lazy.
There is a ton of resources online to learn the basics of cooking. It's very hard in modern times to eat out healthy. Also cooking is cheaper.
Stay away from processed foods. Food companies that make highly processed foods have food engineers that design these foods for people to crave. Carb + Fat + Additives = very satisfying to eat. Studies has shown that sugar activates pleasure receptors in your brain similar to cocaine.
Here are some great articles on why we eat. The guy who runs this website is a obesity researcher and neurobiologist.
Track what you eat. This is VERY IMPORTANT. I would bet people highly underestimate the amount of calories they eat per day. Even for me who has done this before. I think I am eating OK when I am not.
With modern food, a lot of what we eat is very calorie dense. To eat 1500 calories of broccoli you would need to eat about 9.6 lbs of broccoli. Go to Wendy's and get a #2 Medium Size with a Coke and you hit 1570 calories. Just saying you can get more bang for your buck if you learn to eat less processed foods.
Another issue is access to food. Nuts are a dangerous food now. Not because of their nutritional bad for you, though they a calorie dense. It is because they are readily available due to modern cultivation and collection. If you had to go out in nature and collect nuts and then break them open to get a small edible part you wouldn't eat as many as you would if you just reach your hand into a container. Nuts are good for you in small moderation.
The difference between our ancestors and today in why today promotes eating food over balance,
*image from http://wholehealthsource.blogspot.com/2013/02/why-do-we-eat-neurobiological.html
Today the scale is tilted way towards promoting eating. It just means we have that much more of an uphill battle to climb to eat healthy.
For me the big ones are;
1. Effort/Resource Cost, how readily available food is.
2. Cognitive Restraint, eating due to emotions.
2. Reward/Palatability, food is designed for people to want to eat a lot.
Become more active. Exercising changes your body for the better. When you are active you change the energy homeostasis system of your body. Your body fat levels decrease. Your muscle levels increase. Your energy level required increases. You are telling your body you require different eating habits than before. Alton Brown mentioned this on a podcast interview. When he lost his fat and gained muscle he started craving different foods than before. Your body wants to eat things to support what you are doing.
Find your negative triggers. This goes into things like emotions. When you get stressed do you eat more? When you are feeling negative emotions you want something that makes you feel better. As I stated above, modern designed foods with high levels of sugars and fat feed your pleasure centers in your brain. People tend to eat calorie dense, very palatable foods.
From the American Psychological Association, 43% of Americans overeat when stressed. If you know you eat when you get stressed then don't keep a horde of food you are going to be tempted to eat. Also find a different way to channel your stress. Take up exercise. Studies have shown people release Dopamine after exercising.
Find the cravings you can live with and without. Everyone has their few things they can't live with out, but don't need to eat every day. I have a few. One is Pizza. I can go months with out eating pizza. Things like candy bars, I can go months having a candy bar a day. That is not good. Find out what you have to get rid of, but also find what you can keep. This way you can always reward yourself with that one or two things after going a long stretch of eating healthy. This is a good way to create a system where you reward good eating habits. Hey, if I eat healthy for the month on the last day I get to go out and have a pizza. You start training yourself that you get to have a thing you really like when you eat healthier.
Don't go extreme for a long time. Don't do a massive calorie deficit for a long time. You are just asking to end up binge eating and rebounding backwards from all the success you had during that time. It's OK to go extreme at the start of you are very obese. Some people just need to lose weight quickly for health reasons. They need to couple that with a lifestyle change for the long run. If you are just overweight, then set a sustainable goal and work your way towards it. You don't need to hit your numbers every day on the number.
Find out if you can handle carbs. Some people just don't handle carbs well. If you don't then maybe a more Paleo lifestyle is more in your area. This goes to finding out what works for you in the long run. I recommend people at more protein. It keeps you full longer.
Don't weight yourself every day. First this is just a stupid idea. Water weight can fluctuate greatly daily. If you eat a lot of carbs one day you can increase water weight. I weight myself after having a semi-bad weekend eating and then 3 days later. I was 5 lbs lighter because I wasn't bloated from eating all those bad food. I recommend weighting yourself every 2-weeks. This way you are not chasing gains by doing extreme dieting.
I also recommend weighting yourself the same time after some same conditions. I try to weight myself after a few days of eating healthy and always in the morning before eating. This way I try to weed out some variables like variance a bit.
Here are a few things that can cause a increase in weight not associated with fat gain;
1. Sodium intake. More sodium equals more water retention.
2. Glycogen storage. More glycogen stored in the body equals more water retention.
This is why when you have a day of eating highly processed foods you can feel bloated and weight a lot more than what you did the day previously.
I think that covers most of what I wanted to talk about. Later!
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It's Not a Diet it's a Life Change