This time of year, before the New Year's resolutions even begin, many people begin to think about weight. Or, maybe they've always thought about weight but are thinking about it even more lately.
How could you not, with all the focus on food? You might still be recovering from your Thanksgiving feast, but at the same time, you're likely starting to plan the next holiday festivity (which no doubt includes lots of food and drink).
No wonder weight and dieting is top of mind—and will be for the next few months.
In the world of weight loss, people are always searching for the newest, greatest, easiest, most effective way to shed pounds. But the basic concepts remain the same: eat less, move more. Sorry, there's no magic bullet.
Losing weight might take work, but the payoffs are huge. You'll reduce stress on your joints and reduce your risk of chronic health issues, like diabetes, heart disease, high blood pressure and certain cancers, too.
Here are some simple tried-and-true tips—because we all need a dose of reality when it comes to our weight.
Eat slowly. A new Japanese study finds an association between slow eating and weight loss. Researchers found that a simple change like eating slowly, rather than gulping your food, can yield a smaller waist size and lower rates of obesity and overweight. Mindfulness and discipline go hand in hand with slow eating, and when food is appreciated for its quality, rather than its quantity, people are satisfied more when eating less. Eating slowly also gives your brain the time it needs to get the signal from your stomach that it is, indeed, full.
Quit early. If you love those late-night dinners or snacks, and you think you still have some room in your calorie count to fit one more in, it might be time to make a change. According to new research, late-night eating (even if it's a healthy dinner) isn't the best idea for your body (or for your sleep). When things work as they naturally should, your melatonin levels begin to rise in preparation for sleep and, in turn, your insulin production falls. This is your body's way of protecting itself from low blood sugar during a period of fasting. But if you have recently eaten, your blood sugar levels will climb, yet the insulin you need is not available to help them level off (until, that is, in the morning when your melatonin levels naturally decrease). You're stuck with high blood sugar throughout the night, putting you at a higher risk for type 2 diabetes and weight gain. Experts' advice? Stop eating about three hours before you turn in.
If you need more incentive to quit eating earlier in the evening, there's more than just weight at stake: A study published in the International Journal of Cancer found that people who quit eating at least two hours before bedtime had a 20 percent lower risk of breast and prostate cancer.
Age-related weight gain is not inevitable. It's a fact of life: As we age, our hormone levels and metabolism slows—and it's tougher to keep extra pounds from creeping up. But note the word "tougher" doesn't mean "impossible." It's not just about the physical changes, either. You may have less time or inclination to exercise or to cook, but both are important in fighting weight gain.
Exercise releases endorphins, which can make you feel calmer and happier. And as stress can lead to overeating for some, a calm and happy mind can take the focus off of food as comfort.
Exercise can also boost a lagging metabolism and help you burn calories more efficiently. Lifting weights will help you maintain muscle mass, which in turn helps to burn more calories (not to mention reduce your risk for injury and falls).
Any exercise is better than none. Fit in 10-minute increments at various times of the day; stand up more; walk to your coworkers desks to talk rather than sending emails; take the stairs rather than the elevator; get off the bus or subway one stop earlier. And remember, it's never too late to start!
Read more about Menopausal Weight Gain: Fighting Back With Exercise.
Make time to plan and cook your meals. Fast food or take-out often food is higher in fat, calories and added salt and other ingredients over which you have no control over. It might take a bit more time in the short-run to sit down and organize menus and shopping lists, but it has big pay-offs in the long-run on your weight (and your wallet).
Split entrée portions (or take half home). It may be tempting to eat everything on your plate, but it's not necessary; portion sizes in manyost restaurants are much more than most people need. Instead, split an entrée with a fellow diner, or ask for a container and immediately put half of it away to take home. And rather than fight your temptation to eat that bread, ask the waitperson to keep it off the table. Out of sight = out of mind.
Don't show up hungry. Sure, you're going to a great restaurant or party where there's going to be great food. But, …hunger can get in the way of your best intentions, and cause you to eat too much, too fast, or to eat the wrong thing. Before you leave the house, grab a handful of nuts, or snack on a few whole- grain crackers with some low-fat cheese. No time for that? As soon as you sit down, drink a glass of water and order something healthy, like a salad with dressing on the side or another healthy appetizer.
The experts at Tufts University offer these additional tips. If you don't already follow them, don't forget that it's never too late for even small, incremental changes to make a big difference :
If you're looking for a specific eating plan, try the DASH (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension) or Mediterranean-style diet. Both emphasize fruits, vegetables, whole grains and lean proteins.
Calorie counting may not yield the best results; instead, eating a healthier diet may be one of the best ways to maintain weight loss. Aim for healthy fats from foods like nuts, avocados, fish, olive oil and other plant oils.
If you're looking to lose weight, remember to be realistic. Our bodies change as we age— – and it may not be reasonable to expect to fit into those jeans from your high school or college days.
Don't ignore the importance of other factors, like sleep and television watching. When you don't get enough sleep, it changes the regulation of hormones that signal hunger, appetite and fullness and can also cause changes in blood sugar regulation.
And watching too much television can cause weight gain, not just from the time spent sitting but from the snacking that usually goes along with it.