If you’re over 30 and you still weigh what you did 10 years ago, this article is not for you. I’ll write something later about the disciplined individuals who work out every day and have never gained more than an extra five pounds.
But if your mid-section has been growing since you wandered too close to the edge of the almanac, here are some realistic ways I’ve found to cut calories and increase my activity level.
Half is Enough
My mother always told me the starving children in Africa were the reason I should finish everything on my plate. As an adult, I still feel bad about letting those children down sometimes. But I’m not doing my own children any favours by packing on pounds. Whenever I have a meal, I stop before it’s all gone. I wait about five minutes, and if I feel satisfied, I tell myself I’m putting the rest aside to have later. If I’m out at a restaurant, I ask the waiter to wrap it up before I’m tempted to take another bite. Sometimes we’re so busy enjoying the food we automatically eat until it’s all gone. Five minutes after that, we’re uncomfortably full. After halving my portions for a week, I’ve noticed that I feel full after eating a lot less.
If you live with someone who likes to cook, whether it’s your parent or spouse - they’ll also like to see you eat their food, and lots of it. Offer to serve the food, so you can control what goes into your plate. If the master chef fusses, tell him or her you’re just warming up, and will have some more later. If your food is already on the table waiting, it’s easy to feel like you’re obligated to eat it all, especially if it’s good. What I do is eat about half and say I’m full and I’ll have the rest a little later. Most times I really just put it in the fridge to eat the next day.
I don’t know anyone who always feels like working out. There are so many other things you could be doing that are just so much easier. I won’t mention eating, but that’s one of them. I’ll say watching television instead. Allocate your favourite programme, get off the couch and exercise while you watch. An episode of Law & Order or the Young & the Restless could be an hour riding your exercise bike or tackling the elliptical machine while you focus on something else. If that’s too much for you, do some sit-ups or just stand up and do squats during commercials instead of flipping through the channels. Place some light hand weights next to your couch so you can build muscle while you relax your brain.
Tell Me Lies
The hardest part about exercise is talking yourself into it. Sometimes the thought of devoting an entire hour to pushing my body around YMCA or riding a bike is enough to make me think of 10 other things I could do so the exercise will wait until tomorrow. It might sound silly, but on really lazy days I trick myself into exercising by setting out to do one or two laps around the track and then go home. By the time I do two, I feel like doing another one, and then maybe one or two more, until I’ve done an hour without planning to. Other times I say I’ll just do five minutes on the exercise bike and then do something more enjoyable. But by the fifth minute I feel like I could do some more, and then after that I’m more enthused about challenging myself with some other exercises. Likewise, tell yourself you’ll just spend 10 minutes at the gym, and you’ll be surprised at how easy it feels, once you get started, to stay for an hour.
My husband will happily eat dessert every night. Sometimes he’ll be slicing into cheesecake after I’ve already decided I’ve eaten enough for the day. A simple “no thank you” doesn’t always suffice. He’ll already be coming out of the kitchen with two plates, and even worse, two glasses of eggnog or something totally fattening to wash it down. If I really insist I don’t want any, he’ll come sit next to me and offer me a forkful or two from his plate. I know I should get up and walk away, but I sometimes give in and just have some. I did say cheesecake after all.
The point is, there’s no guarantee your spouse or other household members will support your efforts to be healthier. It’s tough, but these days when I notice he’s getting ready to snack at night, I head into the bathroom to brush my teeth, cleanse my face and get ready for bed. I may go back and sit on the couch, but by then he’ll have finished eating.
Taming the Sweet Tooth
There are times when I absolutely need to have something sweet. I can pretend not to think about it, or eat something healthy to distract myself, but that just won’t do. When my sweet tooth will just not be denied, before I reach for the big guns, a la chocolate and ice cream, I eat some raisins or dates, or even a really sweet apple or some grapes. A lot of times this saves me from eating crap with a lot more calories. Ironically, this crap never comes in a bite-sized portion, so giving in would mean overdoing it on sweets. It’s not like I’m going to take two licks of an ice cream cone, satisfy my sweet tooth, and then throw the rest away.
Share the Rewards
There’s usually a child around who won’t mind helping you eat something. It could be a younger brother or sister, or your own children. If there’s something I’m going to indulge in, I try to give half of it away. The last time it was donuts. I hadn’t had any in a while, and I was being pretty good with my exercise routine, so I bought a small package. Every time I wanted one, I gave my son the other half. He was happy for the treat, and I treated myself without overdoing it.
I once read that eating on smaller plates would help you eat less. It’s actually true. When I use a smaller dinner plate, I fill it to about the same percentage as I would fill a larger one, and I wind up eating less. The same goes for breakfast cereal. If you get out the big bowl, you’ll of course want to put in a reasonable amount of milk relative to the bowl, and then enough cereal to make the bowl look reasonably full. I’ve started having my cereal in a child-sized bowl, and a bowl-full still feels like enough. I do the same thing with porridge and feel full.
The best success I have had is with early morning exercise. That way, no matter what the day offers in distractions, I’ve already taken care of me. Going to the gym or walking after work can easily get thrown off, sometimes by just feeling mentally tired by the end of the work day. An occasional gung-ho month or so of exercise won’t cut it. I’ve noticed that the people who stay slim and healthy make exercise a part of their routine. So I’ve started dragging myself out of bed an hour early and working out with Fit TV or a fitness DVD. Once I get up and switch on the TV, that jumpstarts my day.
Don’t wait for your co-worker, or your likewise-overweight neighbour or friend to get with your programme.
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