Small Changes for a Big Change

Here we are in January. It’s boom time for health clubs and diet plans – how many of us have made New Year’s resolutions to lose weight and get in better shape? Unfortunately, most people fall off the diet-and-exercise wagon fairly quickly, leading to feelings of frustration, guilt, and even hopelessness and depression. The problem is not, however, that you lack willpower or determination. The goals of better health and fitness are important for most of us, and can be achieved more easily than you may think.

One of the problems with weight-loss resolutions is that people are unrealistic and overly ambitious. Research has shown time and time again that Americans are very successful at losing weight on diets. The plans may change over time – no fat, no salt, no carbs – but regardless of the change, people do lose weight. They also, however, gain it back when the diet is over. And that’s the problem – when your choices are “dieting” vs. “not dieting,” regaining the weight is all but inevitable.

As an alternative, consider making small lifestyle changes which you may not even notice. By doing a few simple things, you will find yourself feeling and looking better. Here are only a few suggestions:

1. When you find yourself going for a treat, ask yourself “Am I hungry?” Too often, we eat because of emotional, not physical reasons. Simply asking the question, and learning to listen to your body’s cues, will lead to eating less.

2. Buy smaller plates! In his book Mindless Eating, Brian Wansink reviews a host of research into the reasons Americans overeat and suggests simple changes. This is one of my favorites. Often we eat as a result of visual cues, rather than hunger, and we consider a full plate a sign that the portion is right. When we eat from smaller plates, we take less food.

3. On a similar note, pack a doggie bag at the restaurant when your food comes to the table, not after you’ve eaten your fill. Restaurant portions are notoriously large. If you pack away 1/3 to 1/2 of your meal at the start, you will get plenty to eat and have lunch for the following day.

4. Get NEAT. Non-Exercise Activity Thermogenesis is the technical term for every sort of movement in between sitting still and working out. Research shows that NEAT is vital to maintaining good health. Take the stairs, park at the far end of the lot, stand up while talking on the phone, walk down the hall rather than emailing your colleague … it’s amazing how many calories you will burn.

These are just a few ideas. There are many more steps you can take (literally and figuratively) that are painless but make a tremendous difference. Finally, be kind to yourself. Realize that health is for a lifetime of feeling good, not just a short-term change in the number on your scale or label. We can all have a happy and healthy 2013.

Marcia Mofson, Ph.D.
Licensed Clinical Psychologist