The best, and most sustainable, action starts with the mind, not the body. That’s why I devote this chapter to helping you use your mind in a way that will make the rest of my program more logical and actionable.
What does the word “diet” bring to your mind? Most likely …
- Dessert (none)
- Alcohol (none)
Most of us feel we have neither the physical nor the mental energy to go on a strict diet, and we secretly resent the time it takes to think about food. We like to eat for pleasure as well as to satisfy our hunger. Having to plan our meals with forethought is punishment for most of us.
All these negative feelings jeopardize the likelihood that we will achieve permanent weight loss. It doesn’t have to be that way. Let me introduce you to a new way of thinking about eating and dieting that shouldn’t summon all these nasty associations. It hinges on being mindful, making healthy choices, and budgeting your portions as you do your money.
Geoff is a sixty-nine-year-old who has had type 2 diabetes for the past twelve years. He needed to lose 50 to 60 pounds, as he was tired of carrying around so much weight and wanted to better control his diabetes with a lifestyle change. He hoped to decrease some of the medication he was on and didn’t want to take insulin. “I just decided that I needed to take charge of my health,” he says.
Geoff has now lost 46 pounds on the Health First program and has been able to stop one of his diabetes medications as his blood sugar is in much better control. As he puts it:
I feel so much more alive with all this weight off. I sleep so much better now, and I believe the cardio exercise that I’m doing four days a week has also helped my sleep. I like the concept of choosing healthy options instead of thinking about restricting what I can eat. The other day I had to carry something that weighed 40 pounds – I could not believe that I used to carry that much weight around all the time. I know I will reach my goal weight and keep it off. Choosing smaller portions, staying focused, being physically active daily, and exercising are the keys. I’m now much less fearful of developing kidney failure as a result of my diabetes, as my blood sugar is so much better since I have lost all this weight. This program really does work.
Mindfulness: Concentrate on What You’re Eating
Eating is something we all have to do. We just do too much of it, often without even being aware of what we’re doing. We scarcely notice the bowl of potato chips eaten while watching a movie. Or the bag of corn chips that vanishes in a few minutes.
Patients who have successfully lost weight on my program tell me that the single most important thing they learned was to be fully focused on what they were doing with food. They learned to focus on what they were eating, when they were eating, and why they were eating at a particular time. Being mindful of food, and your relationship to it, is an extremely valuable tool in losing weight.
Be mindful of what you’re eating. Focus your attention on the portion you’ve taken, the health value of your selections, and the appropriateness of your choice in relation to your long-term health goals.
Bring your full attention to food whenever you’re around it – whether you’re preparing food, ordering food, opening the cupboard or fridge, going out for dinner, or visiting friends and family.
After a very short time, this mindfulness will become second nature to you. It isn’t all that difficult.
Those with peanut or shellfish allergies must be aware of food as a matter of life and death. For those who simply want to lose weight, what first seems like a task easily becomes second nature.
The more attention you pay to what you’re eating, the healthier your choices become.
- You have a potentially fatal shellfish allergy. You’re at a buffet. How will you eat?
- By focusing on every food choice.
Most of us eat too quickly and without much thought as to what we’re putting in our mouths. A critical component of the Health First program is learning to become focused on what you eat. When you pay more attention to your food, you’ll eat less, make healthier choices, eat smaller portions, and lose weight.
There’s no doubt that we’re living in a society that contributes to becoming overweight or obese.
Everywhere we turn, there is an abundance of easily available food poised to make us unhealthy and increase our risk of lifestyle diseases. For example, many of us have unhealthy foods in our cupboards, co-workers may bring sweets to share at work, convenience stores are filled with a huge variety of unhealthy snack foods, and fast food restaurants are busier than ever, serving foods high in saturated fats and sugars in portions that continue to grow. Food surrounds us, and rarely is convenient food good for us.
These trends may seem impossible to resist, but you are capable of fighting back, losing weight, and becoming healthier. Always think before you eat: Is there a healthier choice?
Think Before You Eat
Preventing mindless eating and staying focused around food will get you a long way toward reaching your weight-loss goals. Later, I’ll provide you with some tips on managing at restaurants and social functions.
Contemporary Portions Are Gigantic
Portion creep is a major cause of obesity around the world. Food portions are double those common in the 1950s and, in some cases, even three times as large. You can see how the portion size on the left (1950s) compares to present day portion sizes on the right.
The National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute has assembled these portion creep facts in a video called Portion Distortion.