One Approach to Getting Thinner and Fitter

Before reading this post, you might want to go back to my previous post on weight loss and health, in which I explained why I'm blogging on this topic, and gave the short list of my top tips for getting thinner and fitter. In this post and one to follow, I'll provide a little explanation on the tips I shared in that first post. So . . . items one through four:

1. Write down everything you eat.

Most of us eat more than we think we do. The first step toward getting control of your weight is to get an honest look at what you're eating. So for at least a week, write down everything you put in your mouth. You can do this in a little notebook that you keep with you, or in one of the many websites that are set up for keeping food journals. You need to write down what you ate and how much of it you ate. During the initial phase of your food journal, you should actually measure your food — don't eyeball it and estimate, but get out your measuring cups. This is sure to be an eye-opening exercise, because a serving size of most foods (nutritionally speaking) is far, far smaller than most people think — and certainly far smaller than, for example, the portions served at most restaurants. You also should write down the amount of calories for each food that you eat, and total it at the end of the day. (More about why later.) For most prepackaged foods, you will find portion and calorie information on the federally mandated nutritional label. You can also buy an inexpensive paperback calorie-counter book at most bookstores. Alternatively, sign up for a free online food diary like or, or check out the Lose It! app for iPhone or iPad. For maximum benefit, write down the time and location each time you eat as well. You might begin to notice some patterns of, for example, boredom eating or stress eating.

Again, the purpose of this exercise is to gain a realistic understanding of how many calories you take in each day. Why? Because the only way to lose weight is to burn more calories than you consume.

2. Eat mindfully.
This is a corollary to the first item on the list. Part of eating mindfully is paying attention to what and how much you eat. But eating mindfully goes beyond just that. It also means thinking about why you're eating. Each time you reach for food, pause and ask yourself a few important questions.
  • Am I hungry?
  • What am I hungry for? (Is it this thing I have in my hand, or am I just about to eat it because it's here, when what I really want to eat is . . . )?
  • If I'm not hungry, why do I want to eat? Am I under stress? Am I tired? Am I bored? What else could I do to satisfy whatever urge prompted me to pick up this food?
Whole shelves full of books have been written about the way we use food as a substitute for other things — companionship, emotions, activity. Think before you eat. If what you're thinking of eating isn't the best choice, wait. Go for a walk if you can. Drink a glass of water. Wait fifteen minutes. If you still want it, then go ahead. But write it down in your food journal!
3. Cheat responsibly.
Although I know that a lot of diet and fitness gurus take a very strict approach to eating, I'm a big believer in doing all things in moderation. I know that if I tell myself I'll never eat another bit of junk food, my self is going to rebel and eat the rest of that half-gallon of chocolate ice cream (or whatever). So while most of the time I try to eat the right things in the right amounts, when I have one of those days where I really, really, really want a slice of pizza or a candy bar or some other junky treat, I give myself permission to do so. But I try to be responsible about it. Instead of a king-sized candy bar, have a miniature (or two). If dessert is too tempting to pass, share it with someone else. If you're dying for chips and dip, how about baked chips and a lowfat dip (and put a reasonable portion on your plate instead of taking the bag to the couch with you)? If you need a slice of pizza, try the thin crust version, piled with veggies. If you must have a McFlurry (yum!), get the snack size!
4. Eat breakfast.
I thought about doing some research and quoting some studies here, but surely you already know that there's all kinds of evidence that eating breakfast is important not only for your health in general, but for your weight-control efforts. At least for now I'll let it suffice to say that you should eat breakfast every day. And not Cocoa Puffs — a healthier cereal with skim milk and fruit, or perhaps a veggie omelet with a piece of wheat toast. Oatmeal, if you like it. Get something in your stomach in the morning to carry you through the morning hours.
In a subsequent post I'll elaborate a bit more on the other four “pillars” of my own weight-control program, and share some resources that I've found helpful. In the meantime, I look forward to hearing from others about what does, or doesn't, work for them.

Greenville, Texas
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