You can throw your diet out the window and still lose weight. In fact, many diets—especially those that promise results quickly—simply cause you to yo-yo between a little bit of unsustainable weight loss success followed by weight gain once you get off the diet.
Interestingly, the more you beat yourself up about what you eat and the more restrictive your diet becomes, the less likely you will ever achieve permanent weight loss. In fact, the only diet that is going to work for you is the diet you enjoy.
Sounding too good to be true? It’s not. Nothing I’ve said is untrue. But, there is some fine print. You can eat what you love and indulge here and there, but you do need to control your portion sizes and create or maintain a calorie deficit (if you’re trying to lose weight).
To lose a pound of fat you must burn 3,500 calories more than you consume. Obviously, you’d be cutting out that many calories over several days or even weeks since most people don’t consume that many calories in a day. A healthy rate to lose weight is around one to two pounds per week. That means at minimum you’ll want to get rid of around 500 extra calories per day.
That’s a fair amount of calories to eliminate but keep in mind that working out burns extra calories. You can also do a few extra things to burn more calories. Take the stairs instead of the elevator, park far away from store entrances so you’ll have to walk a little more, and walk around as you talk on the phone rather than convalescing on the couch.
Creating and Maintaining a Calorie Deficit
There are many strategies for losing weight by changing only your eating habits. They (of course!) all center on consuming fewer calories than you burn.
Eat Five to Six Meals a Day
One of the best methods for cutting out calories is to eat more meals (yes more). Make sure these are small meals that are satisfying and nutrient dense. You can still have breakfast, lunch, and dinner; just add a small healthy snack between each of them.
Think fruits, nuts, and veggies for your snacks. These are all satisfying and nutritious. I also happen to think they’re delicious. Whole grain carbs with lots of fiber can make for a good snack as well.
Eating frequently throughout the day can help you from becoming overly hungry and can keep you from overeating at any point during the day. Also, you’re more likely to eat less if you know you’re just going to be eating again in two to three hours.
An added bonus is that your body gets used to eating smaller meals and your stomach shrinks a little. So, when you do go to an event or hit the holidays your smaller stomach gets you feeling full and satisfied faster. Even if you want to eat more, you physically can’t. Just make sure you don’t get back into the habit of eating large meals over the holiday season—your stomach will obligingly grow bigger.
Eating at Social Events
Once you’ve mastered the art of eating several small nutritious meals a day, your biggest weight loss obstacle will be the holidays with their numerous events featuring high-calorie specialties. Here are a few tips for navigating the food-laden holidays. Again, the key isn’t to stay away from everything. It’s to maintain your calorie deficit by making smart choices.
1. Eat a small, healthy snack right before you go to a party. I like to eat a bit of fruit before I go to an event where I know there will be astronomical amounts of fat and calories hidden in absolutely delicious dishes. Fruit is light and our bodies metabolize it quickly so I know I’ll be hungry enough to enjoy the faire, but will also have had a snack recently enough to keep me from eating everything in my path.
2. Sit far away from the buffet. If you are at a party with a limitless food buffet, choose a seat farther away from the food table. Having to walk further to get more food can actually cause you to make fewer trips for seconds.
3. Scope out your absolute favorite dishes and eat only those. Pick three main foods you can indulge in and leave the rest for another party, another day (or month). Load the rest of your plate with vegetables and any other low-calorie options. Some foods come out only during the holidays or aren’t served as frequently. If you are eating something you feel is truly special you will feel like you’re indulging even more.
Staying Strong While Running Errands
Holidays also bring on some extra hustle and bustle with larger than normal food and gift shopping lists. We are also more likely to shop longer and harder to catch deals and get the most out of every sale. Running errands can lead you to indulge in the convenient (but practically useless as far as nutrition goes) offerings of the food court. Here are some deterrents for unhealthy on-the-go snacking.
1. Pack your own. Healthy snacks can be convenient too; the trick is to make sure you have some on hand. Dried fruit (like a serving of cranberries) and a handful of almonds contain a lot of fiber and a bit of protein. Both nutrients help to keep you satisfied and make you feel less inclined to keep snacking.
2. Keep very much in mind that seasonal specialties often contain more calories. If you gotta have the eggnog-anything, try to balance out the rest of your day with a lighter salad for dinner.
3. If you must stop and get something to eat, try to dine in a real restaurant. You are more likely to find meals that include lean meats and real vegetables there than in the food court.
4. It can also help to chew gum. The flavor it provides actually helps to curb appetite and can even staunch a craving for something sweet. Gum won’t take your hunger away entirely, but it may stave it off long enough for you to get home and eat something good.
Do Your Holiday Baking as Neatly as Possible
Somehow my cookie recipes never seem to yield as many cookies as they promise. This is disappointing, but before I start getting indignant I should admit that I am the reason for this: I love to “taste” the cookie dough. This is bad for more reasons than the fact that it contains raw eggs.
Tastes—even when they are just tastes—can add a substantial amount of hidden calories. It’s pretty easy to eat two cookies’ worth of cookie dough in the name of tasting the dough. Eating just that much cookie dough adds around 500 calories to your daily intake. Ironically, that’s about the amount of calories you would want to be eliminating from your diet if you want to lose a pound a week.
It’s fine to bake and cook your holiday favorites. You may want to take some extra precautions for staying away from the hidden calories that baking can add, though.
1. The smell of good food baking can actually cause you to eat more so you may want to open a window or turn on a fan. If you’d rather savor the smells simply being aware that good smells can cause you to eat more can help you to control your servings sizes.
2. Have a place for all your dirty beaters, spoons, and rubber spatulas to go. Stick them into a bowl of soapy water right after you’re done using them, without having them first make a detour to your mouth. This can also make the clean up much easier.
The Caveat to Eating What You Want
You can eat what you want and lose weight as long as you keep a calorie deficit through eating less and/or exercising more. If you mainly eat healthy, nutrient-dense foods you will feel full for longer and lose weight safely and effectively. However, do indulge in your favorite treats once in a while.
Being overly restrictive can sometimes lead to binging behaviors and make you want whatever it is you’re restricting even more than you would have otherwise. It’s good to give in to a craving right away with a small serving. After the small serving you may have to wait 15 minutes or so for your body to start digesting it before you really feel satisfied.
One more thing I think is important to remember: the calories you cut should mostly come from the unhealthy foods in your diet—not the healthy ones. I had a nutrition professor in college who would tell us that you can lose weight by eating a diet entirely of fat (as long as you had a calorie deficit), but it would not be good for your body. For one, your poor kidneys would have to work much harder than they should be doing and you’d have a heck of a time toning up.