Got a New Year’s resolution? Great. Want to eat better? Wonderful. Carrying a little post-holiday heft? Think a fad diet will be the solution? Think again. Most of these diets don’t work. The few that are any good tend to be impractical for many to apply or follow for very long. This time of year is ripe for contradictory information, false promises, quick fixes, and overstated claims that leave people disappointed, confused, and still overweight. But if you focus on this realistic and simple five-step approach, you can help yourself reach your weight-loss and wellness goals soon enough.
Most meals during the holidays, which are now behind you (literally), generally involve consuming the bulk of daily calories later in the day or in the evening. It may surprise you that it wasn’t how much you ate during the holidays that was the problem, it was when you ate. So while we do have to reduce calories to some extent in order to shed pounds, what we really need to do is address when we eat. Think about it. During the holidays, we tend to ignore food throughout the day, falsely thinking that we are helping ourselves out. But the end result is that we find ourselves starving when the big holiday meal finally comes. It’s the same thing we tend to do throughout the year, except in much larger volume.
So the first adjustment you need to make is to never get to the point that you are famished or starving. This is best solved by never going more than three hours without nourishing your body with a meal, a small snack, protein bar, or a meal replacement shake. And don’t worry. You won’t get fat this way. I know it’s contrary to what you’ve been told, but eating small meals and healthy snacks throughout the day is the key to burning off the flab and keeping your body from building it up.
Eat your largest meals earlier in the day. Simply put, if you live by the rule that the larger the meal, the earlier it has to be in the day when you eat it, you’ll be able to eat a lot more than you realize. Keep this age-old adage in mind: “Eat breakfast like a king, lunch like a prince, and dinner like a pauper.” And if you’re not hungry in the morning, you are eating too much the night before.
Don’t overdo the carbs you consume, including everything from cakes, cookies, pies, and sweets to bread, potatoes, pasta, rice, and juice. Carbohydrates are sugar-based foods, which, of course, are everywhere during the holidays. No matter your age, you need to be aware that carbohydrates of any source (natural or processed) can be absorbed relatively quickly into the bloodstream. When blood sugar is too high, your body produces liberal amounts of insulin to lower it. Repetitive insulin spiking because of persistently elevated blood sugar can eventually cause a resistance to the effects of insulin, which may lead to diabetes. In addition, when extra glucose (a type of sugar) isn’t used or stored by the body, it can be converted into fat.
However, it’s also important to keep in mind that carbohydrate-dense foods that are higher in fiber, such as whole fruits and vegetables, as well as whole grains, are broken down more slowly, leading to gradual rises in blood sugar. With certain fruits and vegetables, much of their fiber is in their skin, so leave your peeler in the kitchen drawer when you’re prepping many meals. So the key to this third step of undoing holiday damage and getting your body back on track is to focus on these better choices, such as lettuce, celery, peppers, zucchini, spinach, cauliflower, cabbage, squash, carrots, onions, and cucumber, just to name a few. These foods are essential to good health with their fiber and nutrient content, and form a major component of a healthy diet.
Make sure your small meals contain some lean protein and healthy fat, which are essential to our bodies and make up the framework of an infinite number of compounds and structures in all of us. During times of growth, such as infancy, childhood, adolescence, and pregnancy, the body actually needs extra protein and more essential fats to make new body tissue. These essential nutrients help regulate body processes. As enzymes and hormones, proteins make various chemical reactions occur. As antibodies, they help protect the body from disease-carrying bacteria and viruses. Most importantly, protein is used to rebuild and repair body tissue. Meanwhile fats form the substructure of cell walls and the matrix of the organs and soft tissues throughout our bodies. Commercially available proteins are generally obtained from animal sources, though some plant sources are available. The proteins obtained from animal sources include meat, poultry, and fish, along with their related products like eggs and milk. Essential healthy fats can be tougher to find in the diet but include fish (like salmon) and fish oils, olive oil, flaxseed, nuts, and essential fatty acid dietary supplements in liquid and gel-cap forms.
Exercise a bit more. Of course check with your own medical doctor first to be sure you are ready for the kind of exercise or activity you wish to engage in. But assuming you check out okay and are cleared for takeoff, it’s time to move it to lose it! I know that may sound scary to some, but a little bit of exercise really goes a long way. If you can’t get to the gym more often for a structured routine, you can still increase your activity level by something as simple as taking the stairs instead of the elevator, taking a long walk or jog after dinner, and participating in some kind of organized sporting activity like softball, racquetball, tennis, or even a local basketball league.
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