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Keep it off forever

Here’s the latest research – and tips from women like you – on how to lose 25, 50 or even 100 pounds

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Imagine throwing out your too-big clothes and feeling as though you’re bursting with energy and smiling after you learn that your cholesterol and blood pressure have gone down (bonus: your life expectancy just got longer). Measuring your weight-loss success in such positive concrete terms – rather than by a number on the scale – may be one of the most important ways to keep pounds off permanently, says Dr. Robert Dent, director of the weight-management clinic at The Ottawa Hospital. Another surprise? In addition to exercise ( see Move it and lose it! ), how you eat can be just as beneficial to your bottom line as what you eat. Here, you’ll find another 14 great tricks that you can use to eat smarter.

Research has shown that people are more likely to buy or order foods with evocative names, such as Grandma’s Homestyle Pudding and Succulent Texas-Style Ribs, and eat more of them. Why? “Self-talk,” says Brian Wansink, a consumer psychologist at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. “The more positive things you focus on, the more you convince yourself you like something.” Blunt your response by translating marketing lingo into plain English. For nostalgic words (such as Mom’s or Grandma’s), think mass-produced. Replace geographical lingo (such as Cajun-style) with a more straightforward adjective (such as spicy). And strike out over-the-top flavour claims (such as succulent and tangy) altogether.

Forget about eyeballing portions: instead of getting an eyeful, you’ll be getting just plain full. Alice Smith, 31, of Hamilton dropped 15 pounds by measuring portions and putting leftovers into single-serve storage containers before sitting down to eat. “This stops me from going for second helpings,” she says. And forget the picture on the box: many serving sizes on food labels aren’t the recommended ones from Canada’s Food Guide to Healthy Eating, says Kathy Romses, a registered dietitian in Vancouver.

Researchers at Brookhaven National Laboratory in New York discovered that a mere glance, whiff or taste of food triggers the urge to chow down by releasing dopamine in the part of the brain that is believed to control appetite. So, you might want to avoid passing that bakery on your way home. Instead, satisfy those dopamine urges with an equally appealing activity, such as watching a funny movie or taking a walk, suggests Dr. Gene-Jack Wang, the study’s co-author. Joan Terminesi, 38, of Toronto lost 53 pounds this way using Weight Watchers and a “see no evil, eat no evil” strategy. “I used to make false promises of having ‘just one’ before finishing a bag of cookies,” she says. “Now I don’t keep tempting junk food in the house.” The bonus? “Buying clothes off the rack that fit.”

Mindful eating or meditation can remedy dine-and-dash overindulging and put the brakes on binges, according to findings from Indiana State University in Terre Haute. “It can help develop inner control, so we learn to listen to internal hunger cues rather than external ones,” says Sheila O’Byrne, a Calgary psychologist who specializes in eating issues and uses meditation to treat patients. Try this meditation during your next craving: make a mental note of everything about a food, including colour, texture, shape and smell, while taking tiny nibbles of it. Or learn how to meditate at www.docsheila.net.

People who enjoyed varied diets based on olive oil, fruit, vegetables, beans, whole grains and lean protein, such as fish, lost six more pounds over two years than those on low-fat diets, according to one Italian study. “They’re tasty, which means that people can follow these diets for longer periods than those with a lot of food restrictions,” says Romses. The “good” fats, fibre and protein found in the Mediterranean diet fill you up for longer periods, reducing the amount of food and calories you consume. Donna Ladouceur of Markham, Ont., can testify. “I eat loads of veggies, either in salads or stir-fries, with lean chicken breast or an ounce of feta cheese,” says the toned 45-year-old who recently lost six pounds. “I feel as though I’m eating a lot and I’m not hungry afterwards.”

“We’ve found that being with someone who eats a lot or a little encourages the same behaviour in others,” says Janet Polivy, a psychologist at the University of Toronto who specializes in dieting and eating behaviours. “If someone says she’s on a diet, everyone else eats less, whereas there’s more of a tendency to eat dessert when dining among friends than with strangers. “Solitary diners usually eat less, but if alone time isn’t possible, go for smaller gatherings and choose your dining partners carefully. Think you’re likely to eat more? Slow down with conversation and fill up on soup, salad, tea or water, she says. “I usually eat a salad or a bowl of cooked veggies before going out to supper, especially if I know we’ll be eating late or I’m not sure what’s on the menu,” says Sandra Leroux, 42, of Crysler, Ont., who went from 227 to 125 pounds in one year.

This may sound counterintuitive, but it works. Recent research from the University of Nottingham in the U.K. showed that eating on a regular schedule rather than sporadically boosts your body’s ability to burn calories, even if your total calorie intake is the same. “After eating, the body revs up its [metabolic] engines to break down food for your body to use,” says Romses. She suggests following the “school meal” plan: breakfast at about 7 a.m., a recess snack around 10 a.m., lunch at about 12:30 p.m., an after-school snack at 3:30 p.m., and dinner around 6 p.m. Evening snacks are OK, too, as long as you budget some calories for them during the day. Tania Figurski, 31, of Saskatoon lost about 60 pounds by cutting out junk food, exercising three to five times a week and packing a lunch and healthy snacks. “That way, I won’t skip lunch or be tempted to grab fast food,” she says.

Secretaries ate 48 per cent more candy kisses when they were sitting in bowls on their desks than when the treats were placed nearly two metres away, according to a study from the Food and Brand Lab at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. Stashing candies in a desk drawer also contributed to a 25 per cent decrease in candy cramming. The key is making unhealthy treats hard to access and better food choices more visible and closer to reach to encourage eating more of the good healthy stuff.

Women who give too much of themselves may also gain too much, says Dr. Judith Orloff, a psychiatrist at ucla and author of Positive Energy: 10 Extraordinary Prescriptions for Transforming Fatigue, Stress & Fear Into Vibrance, Strength & Love (Harmony Books). She observed that empathetic types, such as nurses, mothers and teachers, may use “self-defensive” overeating as a protective buffer against the “negative” energy, people and situations they experience. Sound like you? If yes, try eating first – before going to work, returning Mom’s seven calls or tuning in to a depressing newscast – so you don’t succumb to coping-based cravings. Dr. Orloff also suggests scanning your feelings before opening the fridge, taking a few deep breaths or having a bath or shower to “wash away” negative feelings.

People who enjoy skim or partly-skim dairy more often tend to weigh less, says Angelo Tremblay, professor of kinesiology and director of the Institute of Nutraceuticals and Functional Foods at Laval University in Quebec City and author of a six-year study on the subject. “Studies have shown that when calcium intake is low, our fat-burning capabilities seem to be reduced,” adds Tremblay. But don’t start popping supplements yet, because calcium may not work alone. Some U.S. findings suggest that dairy foods may also affect the release of a hormone called cholecystokinin, which sends “I’m full” signals to the brain.

While many of us jump right to the entree section of the menu and skip an opener to save calories, new findings from Penn State University in State College suggest that nibbling on a salad first lowered the total amount of food people ate by about 12 per cent. However, the study found that this only worked with large starters that contain about 100 calories. So, you’re better off ordering a broth-based soup or green salad with a non-creamy dressing than fried calamari or garlic bread. Loading up on high-fibre veggies really helped Leroux. “Before losing 100 pounds, I was lucky if I had three servings of vegetables a week,” she says. “Now I have about five to 10 servings a day.”

That’s how Lori Burns, an active 47-year-old resident of Hamilton, zapped 25 pounds. She had worked her way up to an eight-cookie-a-day habit (indulging in two cookies with each coffee break) before scaling back to one or two a day. “Losing weight that will last a lifetime is as simple as eating 125 fewer calories each day (forgo that chocolate bar) and expending 125 calories in daily activity (a brisk 50-minute walk should do the trick),” adds Laurie Barker, a registered dietitian in Halifax. “That equates to a 26-pound weight loss in one year.”

Your mental health is an essential stepping stone to managing waist control, says Lance Levy, a medical nutrition specialist who conducts obesity research in Toronto. Depression can seriously impede your ability to eat well, exercise or get enough slimming shut-eye (see Count your zzzs, not just calories). “Until you deal with all of your emotional triggers, weight loss can be too challenging,” agrees Sue Smith, a 45-year-old Halifax resident who has lost 95 pounds over the past 18 months. It was only after Smith got professional help for her depression and her panic attacks that she was able to start caring enough to make an effort to lose weight. “You have to realize that weight loss isn’t just about diet and exercise – it’s an emotional, spiritual and physical journey, and you have to be prepared for it. “Mild symptoms of depression, seasonal affective disorder and attention deficit disorder often get missed, so talk to your physician if your mental or emotional state seems to be sabotaging your weight-control efforts.

The less you sleep, the more weight you’ll gain over time, say researchers at Columbia University in New York. People who regularly get only six hours of sleep a night jacked up their likelihood of obesity by 23 per cent, five hours translated into a 50 per cent increased risk, and four hours or less resulted in a 73 per cent increase, compared with those who slept seven to nine hours each night. Recent findings from the University of Chicago suggest that sleep debt decreases your levels of leptin, a hormone released by fat cells that keeps weight and appetite on an even keel. So now you have the perfect excuse to hit the snooze button occasionally, skip your 5 a.m. workout and sleep off some calories instead.

Each year, we gain an average of 1 1/2 pounds of fat and lose half a pound of muscle, says Marjorie O’Connor, a certified fitness trainer in Edmonton. That’s why being active is often the deciding factor between stalled and successful weight loss. Walking helped Joan Terminesi lose 53 pounds. The 38-year-old Toronto resident treks at least 30 minutes once or twice a day. Inspired? Here are some other tips to get you moving.

Every step counts New findings from the U.S.-based National Weight Control Registry, a group of about 5,000 people who lost 30 pounds and kept it off for an average of six years, reveal that long-term losers logged the equivalent of about 6.4 kilometres on foot (8,000 steps) each day and limited their daily intake to 1,800 calories. Walking 1.6 kilometres burns roughly 100 calories, depending on the height, weight and pace of the walker, so start hoofing it! The Chatelaine Step Diet, will get you going with weekly walking plans.

Change your dress code Researchers at the University of Wisconsin at La Crosse recently reported that people who wore casual clothing to work (compared with conventional business attire) took an average of 491 more steps each day. Over a year, that could combat the average annual North American weight gain. “I wear comfortable shoes to work; otherwise, I’m less likely to do anything active in the evening,” says Alice Smith, a 31-year-old resident of Hamilton who lost 15 pounds. If you can’t get away with casual wear at the office, at least dress in comfy clothes on the way to and from work.

Get moving As in, call your real estate agent and see what’s available for purchase. People living within walking distance of restaurants, retailers and transit lowered their risk of obesity by 35 per cent, according to researchers at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver. The findings also revealed that every extra 30 minutes that commuters spend driving translates into a three per cent greater chance of packing on pounds. If moving isn’t an option, schedule as little as 15 minutes a day on a stationary bike or treadmill or run up and down a flight of stairs 10 times, suggests Greg Harvey, a personal trainer in Edmonton. Taking stairs two at a time can increase the strength of your quadriceps, glutes and hamstrings, says Harvey. Donna Ladouceur fights the battle of the bulge with workout videos. “Keep it interesting, make the equipment inviting and handy, and schedule time for it, as you would any other must-do appointment,” says the 45-year-old Markham, Ont., resident who recently lost six pounds.

Control your cravings with activity Exercise can help curb insulin levels (raised by increased estrogen levels during your menstrual cycle), making it easier to fend off cravings, says Dr. Jerilyn Prior, scientific director of the Centre for Menstrual Cycle and Ovulation Research at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver.