If you wish to grow thinner, diminish your dinner.~Henry Sambrooke Leigh
I recently had two similar conversations with friends about losing weight. One is a doctor and the other is a portfolio manager, so they're both pretty bright, but they have the same misconception about weight loss. You're smarter than that! The conversations went something like this:
Smart Friend: "I don't get it. I've been exercising 4-5 times a week for a couple months now, for an hour at a time, and I've only lost a few pounds. I'm going to give up."
MindfulEats: "Are you watching what you eat and cutting back on your calories?"
Smart Friend: "No, I'm hungry since I'm exercising. I can't practice portion control."
You, Mindful Eater, know what's wrong with this story. There's only one rule to successful weight loss - reduce your calories. Here are four keys to be mindful of for success.
- Eat only whole foods, not processed food! You're cutting back on your calories, so get your calories worth and make sure they are as nutritious as possible. Processed foods have been stripped of nutrients, so your body will make you eat more calories in its hunt for nutrients.
- Get your portions under control. If you want to lose weight, you need to make a change and this is the only way to reduce your calories. If you are having meat with your meal, it should be the size of a deck of cards. Lots of people (including me) don't know what a portion looks like - WebMD has a great tool that shows you food portion sizes, and these Spark People pictures show you what 300-400 calorie meals look like.
- Cut down on eating out. When you do eat out, make sure that it's high-quality and you're mindful about it. Restaurants are in the business of making you come back, not making you healthy. I had the good fortune of eating at Blue Hill and Waverly Inn this week. Both restaurants are incredible and very mindful about serving high-quality, locally grown food, but it's still a ton more calories than what I'd eat at home. I ordered an appetizer and an entree at one meal, and the svelte gentleman next to me ordered two appetizers. Doh. Given how huge restaurant portions are, that's the way to go! I had to scale back on my calories for a few days to make up for consuming thousands out.
- Exercise. It's important for fitness and will complement your weight loss. But unless you are a sub-elite athlete or better, you are probably not exercising enough to lose weight so you need to eat less. Running phenom Kevin Starkes watches what he eats until he's in high-mileage training (60+ miles per week). Are you doing that?
People always argue that they can just exercise to lose weight. Just as an example of why this doesn't work, I'll use someone whose diet and exercise patterns I know well (me). My goal is to lose a few pounds to get to my optimal running weight. So:
- If I run a fast race for 4 miles where my legs are churning, my arms are pumping, and my heart is pounding, I run around a 7:30 miles. This means I burn 328 calories (2 chocolate chip cookies). No dice - and I don't race every day either. If I run a little slower (8:30 minute miles) for the same amount of time, I only burn 280 calories. (less than cookies!)
- If I run long and slow (10 minute miles), it will take me 1+ hours to burn 500 calories. Funny thing is that people who run long and slow tend to eat more.
- I can run it off, but it'll take me 1+ hour/day, EVERY day.
What I ate: vegetable juice, Whole Foods low-fat plain yogurt + strawberries + ground flaxseeds, large latte, Dale & Thomas cheese popcorn, Mindful Mix, 2 cups cherries, 1 square dark chocolate, lettuce + sugar snap peas + grape tomatoes + goat cheese + 1 fried egg + Schoolhouse Kitchen Balsamico vinaigrette, 1 hot chocolate, 12 oz. kombucha, 60 oz. water
Exercise: Ran 4 miles, 75 min. vinyasa yoga