Take Stock of Your Behaviors and Stay at a Healthy Weight, Naturally


By: , SparkPeople Blogger
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by Susan Burke March, MS, RD, LD/N, CDE

We live in a time of huge portions, cheap food, and timesaving technology. We're burning fewer calories, sitting for hours at our desks, in front of computers, and in traffic. It's so easy to overeat and even best intentions get in the way of getting regular activity. This isn't an American problem—there's even a term that's been coined to describe the world-wide explosion of obesity and weight-related type 2 diabetes—"diabetesity." With barely enough time for our families and friends, how is it possible to take charge of our foods and work in activity?

We can take it one meal at a time, one food at a time, and one walk at a time, and one day at a time. We can make choices that work for us.

When you see a thin person, do you assume that they are that way "naturally"? Or, are they making smart choices most of the time, every day, so that their weight control becomes second nature? People who make mindful eating second nature may appear naturally thin, but they're paying attention to what they're eating—and how much they're eating, and when. They usually stop eating when they're full, although there are times when they may overeat—that's natural too. They eat what they want—but how much they eat is usually just enough.

Thin doesn't come from having a "skinny gene." Almost always, a thin person practices thin behaviors. For example, they consistently monitor their weight—not necessarily by stepping on the scale—they may use their favorite jeans or skirt to keep track of their waist size. (Weight is just a number on the scale, and won't measure your fitness, for example, a muscular person can have an "overweight" BMI (body mass index) and be extremely fit—see a professional wrestler or active basketball player). When the thin person gains unwanted inches, they take steps to reclaim their physique, not by "dieting," but instead by cutting back and adding in; eat fewer servings of bread or pasta, eat more fruits and vegetables—and add more activity. It's not magic—just consistency, with activity.

Overeating is a habit, a learned behavior, and becomes ingrained and expected. Large portions become 'normal' and we are constantly reminded that the larger size is a "bargain"; that "upgrading" your order saves money, and that for just a few cents, your order can be a "biggie." "All you can eat" has become "eat all you can." Fast food eaters consistently underestimate large or super-sized meals by 500 calories. Do that just once a week and you'll gain almost eight pounds a year.

What does it take to gain a pound…or lose one?

Theoretically, consume an extra 3,500 calories per week to gain an extra pound of fat, usually landing on your hips or thighs or belly. It's all too easy to do, but by eating "mindfully" and deliberately making healthy choices, you too can make weight control second nature.

Smart Strategies for Weight Control
Don't add fat to your food.
Notice I didn't say don't eat fat, and I don't mean that "fat" is a bad food, but those extra fats that appear on the table—the tub of butter and olive oil for dipping bread—and sour cream on your baked potato each adds an extra 100 calories per scant level tablespoon—and no one uses a level tablespoon! Instead, substitute tomato salsa on that potato, and if the bread isn't good enough without butter, skip it. Save about 200 calories per meal—equivalent to about 8-10 pounds per year.

Cut out sweetened drinks. Period. That goes for sweet tea, lemonade, and even fruit juice too. It's the quickest way to get a lot of calories that I know—and it doesn't fill you up or satisfy your appetite, in fact, it may stimulate it. One 12-ounce soda has 150 calories. Substitute water, seltzer, and herbal teas. Opt for one or two diet beverages if you choose. In one year, reduce calories equivalent to 16 pounds.

Start right. Instead of sugary pastries or oily bran muffins, save hundreds of calories and get a better head start by choosing a high-fiber, low sugar cereal (like Kashi GoLean), nonfat milk, and a cup of berries. The calorie difference is huge! Save more than 200 calories daily, equivalent to 20 pounds weight loss yearly.

Snacking Strategies. Split your meals into smaller, more frequent meals, and lose weight automatically by not adding calories at all—you're just eating differently. This eating strategy helps keep you energized; since you're not hungry, it's easier to resist temptation.

Finger Foods. If it's advertised as not easily stopping at "just one" then you know it's going to add up. Shelled nuts are irresistible—and just one handful means more than 500, even 600 calories. Since nuts are very nutritious, high in protein, magnesium and vitamin E, and other essential nutrients, keep their clothes on, and only eat un-shelled nuts. A cup of peanuts in the shell has about 200 calories and you take longer to eat them. Save hundreds of calories and "earn" your snacks by shelling your own nuts.

Switch. Just switching from whole milk to nonfat saves about 60 calories per glass. Reduce calories equivalent to about 6 pounds a year. Each time you choose (and dairy is a good idea for most), choose a non-or low fat product. By age two, kids should be drinking and eating nonfat or 1% fat dairy. Choose low or nonfat versions of milk, sour cream, yogurt, and cheese. Low-fat buttermilk makes a good substitute for whole milk in many of your favorite recipes.

Registered and licensed dietitian Susan L. Burke, MS, CDE, is the author of "Making Weight Control Second Nature: Living Thin Naturally," which offers a wealth of practical information, tips and strategies for people who are serious about taking control of their health, fad-free, for life.

Do you use any of these tips in your own life? Will you? Which is the most helpful to you?

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    I'm sorry but there are people who are just thin, genetically, they don't do anything to get that way. I can accept that I'm not one of those people, but don't pretend they don't exist. - 9/16/2014   10:58:41 PM
  • 126
    Has some good suggestions with just a few conflicts in recent stuff I read... add a little healthy fat to veggies to enable absorption of nutrients, and 2% milk supposedly is better than skim bc it slows down the absorption of milk sugars, helping you stay full longer... I've been mulling this bc I do see that these things add calories... - 8/6/2014   12:18:48 PM
  • 125
    I like the "DON'T DRINK CALORIES". When I first joined Sparks, I tracked all that I'd been eating to see how bad I was doing then, and I realized that 1500 calories per day were coming from milk, soda (I hate diet-soda) and juices. So, I cut those out FIRST and that has helped me. Don't drink calories!! - 2/22/2010   1:36:22 PM
  • 124
    great information - I think my big thing right now is the snacks at work! I'm a CPA so we work a lot this time on year and all they bring in is chocolate, candy bars, cookies, etc - nothing healthy. They put the snacks by the printer so it's so easy to grab something when I'm hungry. I need to have my own healthy snacks to resist the craving. - 2/14/2010   9:23:29 AM
  • 123
    I've definitely adopted a lot of these strategies in my lifestyle. I think what I've done best is actually eating breakfast, and a healthy one at that. I'm from New York, so to me the best breakfast is a bagel LOADED with cream cheese. But I've learned to eat fruits and whole grains for breakfast instead. I've also eliminated sugary drinks from my diet. All I drink is tons of water, 8 oz of low fat milks a day and the occasional glass of wine.

    Where I can definetly improve is watching for finger foods. I am notorious for portioning out one serving in a small bowl, and then I go back again and again to get more. I really need to work at this. The other strategy I need to incorporate is not adding fat to my meals. I LOVE cheese and dairy products. Therefore I'll make a healthy meal and then add sour cream of parmesan cheese. The add on is sometimes as many calories as the meal itself. I need to add fresh herbs or tomato salsas instead. - 2/7/2010   4:02:43 PM
  • 122
    This is a great blog entry. I think we tend to look at other differently than ourselves. - 1/27/2010   8:20:28 AM
  • 121
    While we all know that all of these foods and drinks have calories, reminding us how many pounds it can turn in to puts everything into perspective. Thank you for the reminder! - 1/26/2010   1:29:28 PM
  • 120
    These are the type of articles that make a huge difference in my continued lifestyle changes. - 1/24/2010   5:36:25 PM
  • 119
    Lots of great, practical advice here. Thank you. I'll save these to my favorites as a reminder. :) - 1/21/2010   1:03:25 PM
    Great I will leave the shells on the nuts - 1/20/2010   9:24:27 AM
  • 117
    This was helpful. Since I have started my New Healthy Living on Jan 4 I have incorporated many of these tips into my daily life. They way I eat has been a big change, I actually take my time and listen to my body to know when I am full. Also I now use our small salad plates instead of the dinner plates. These two things alone have really cut back my eating. - 1/20/2010   8:48:46 AM
    Another good tip is when you go to a restaurant, eat all your salad and only eat 1/2 of your entree and bring the rest home for another meal. That way you save money by making 2 meals out of one and only eat 1/2 the calories at one time! - 1/20/2010   8:42:11 AM
  • 115
    Very good info but I have a very hard time giving up my sweet tea. That is my drug. - 1/19/2010   4:36:57 PM
    I've just changed to skimmed milk and I don't taste a difference. The price is no different either. But low fat cheese is more difficult...cottage cheese I love, but I don't think I could go without cheddar - 1/19/2010   1:17:12 PM
  • 113
    To help myself keep mindful of eating right and drinking my water I carry a 32 oz. bottle and make sure to drink at least 2 daily. I'm eating a good breakfast now instead of starving all day. I'll see shortly if it's is working... - 1/18/2010   1:26:52 PM
    Actually, lowfat and skim milk can make you gain weight. There are farmers who feed skim milk to their pigs to make them gain weight.
    People who drink raw milk while dieting keep weight off easier than those who don't. - 1/17/2010   1:43:22 PM
  • 111
    Portion control...so critical! I remember as a child my mother filling our plates, then telling us we couldn't leave the table until our plates were finished. Unfortunately that learned habit continued on to my children. Now as I have grandchildren I try to encourage smaller portions then have healthy low-fat, low sugar snacks on hand and to drink water rather than the high sugar drinks. - 1/17/2010   9:40:15 AM
  • JRAR629
    Thanks so much for the info. I am going to eliminate all diet soda from my diet and go back to drinking nothing by water and seltzer water. - 1/17/2010   7:08:59 AM
  • 109
    I actually use all these strategies already. I can't really choose one favorite b/c they're all equally important to me. - 1/16/2010   8:22:14 PM
  • 108
    i know all of these things i just need to do them and keep doing them all the time - 1/16/2010   4:16:56 PM
  • 107
    Some great tips I already use some of them and learned something new. - 1/16/2010   10:22:23 AM
  • 106
    this says it all:

    "Overeating is a habit, a learned behavior, and becomes ingrained and expected. Large portions become 'normal' and we are constantly reminded that the larger size is a "bargain"; that "upgrading" your order saves money, and that for just a few cents, your order can be a "biggie." "All you can eat" has become "eat all you can." Fast food eaters consistently underestimate large or super-sized meals by 500 calories. Do that just once a week and you'll gain almost eight pounds a year. "
    and so society and business are complicit! Howver each and everyone of us is responsible and part and parcel of society, so let's do our work and do the right thing!

    - 1/16/2010   8:45:47 AM
  • LJ1225
    Good ideas, but I already do many of these things and I'm still obese! I guess if I had been eating butter, sour cream, sweet drinks, whole milk, etc. I'd be in even worse shape! I can try to focus on eating smaller meals, but eating more often and will try to do that in the future. Thanks for the info. - 1/16/2010   8:19:04 AM
  • BERNIE22
    I follow these principles most every day. work out five to six times/week, I watch my portions, write it down etc. I have a thyroid issue that fluctuates my weight extremely (up to 8 pounds w/in two days) that even the doctors notice. I'm discouraged. It took me six months of running, walking, bowflex, pilates, golfing etc. to lose 1 pound. I need to lose 14. At this rate, I'll be dead before I see my goal. - 1/16/2010   7:56:57 AM
  • 103
    A giant round of APPLAUSE! A great, well written summary of what it takes to be a 'loser.' - 1/16/2010   7:18:35 AM
  • 102
    I've done many of these strategies, but unfortunately, I also "supersized" frequently and endulged. But I've always liked non-fat milk and gave up sugary cereals a long time ago. Rather than give up butter on my bread, I just don't eat bread. I don't drink sugary drinks, I like my ice tea plain and weak. For me it's portion control and learning when to stop. I never gave my stomach time to know that it was full. So that's what I'm working on now. Eating slowly. - 1/16/2010   12:45:47 AM
  • 101
    I know when I was skinny I ate less did more exercise and didn't let not having a car keep me from walking to the grocery store and back again. At times I even rode a bike and they called me the bicycle Queen since my first name is Elisabeth and they always asked is that like the Queen of England? Anyways they stuck that name on me. - 1/15/2010   10:48:51 PM
  • 100
    Articles like this is what makes SP such a great site. Valid information and very practical, doable steps to lose weight, be healthy. - 1/15/2010   10:16:00 PM
  • JANE2010
    Thanks for the information, good stuff. I would like to share something my doctor prescribed for me to help loose weight, lower blood sugar and help control my cholesterol and that is Metamucil Fibre. This is supposed to work along with good eating habits and exercise. I would really like some feedback on this one. Thanks - 1/15/2010   10:03:47 PM
  • 98
    I had a Doctor tell me to stop dring fruit juice and drink diet pop instead. From there, Sparks has taught me to skip the diet pop and drink water which I now do.
    I still like all things in moderation that my sensitive Tummy can digest. - 1/15/2010   9:26:52 PM
  • 97
    Great article
    - 1/15/2010   9:18:23 PM
  • 96
    So many of the healthy strategies I already do, and I do not eat a lot of sweets. I just over-eat and thats where my problem lies---think natural...listen to myself. When I do I am amazed at how little I can truly get away with eating at one time! This will be a new "goal" to reach for....listening to myself! - 1/15/2010   8:58:50 PM
    I use most of these tips, and have for years. More than 10 years ago I slowly switched our milk from 2% down to 1%, then 1/2% and finally my husband said "okay, okay - nonfat is fine". All my baking is done with nonfat milk, and things come out good. I've also given up diet soda, except for very special occasions. For Christmas, my best friend gave me a six pack of Diet Dr Pepper - a gift that thrilled me no end. It's now January 15 and I still am savoring that six pack!

    When I bake, I almost never add extra fat (oil, butter, even real eggs).

    Another tip you didn't mention was reducing sugar. I find most recipes could use a lot less sugar and taste almost the same.

    Loved your article!!

    - 1/15/2010   8:50:29 PM
  • 94
    I try to incorporate most of her ideas into my daily eating-and I pay attention to everything that goes into my mouth (doesn't mean I don't slip up sometimes). I love plain veggies, minimize the bread/rice/pasta (white stuff), don't drink soda or alcohol (recently it makes me feel awful). I still eat meat, including red, but I have an iron deficiency so I can rationalize eating that. - 1/15/2010   7:49:06 PM
  • 93
    Great practical info...easy to implement. I plan on saving my dinner salad for my evening snack! Spark ON! - 1/15/2010   5:26:40 PM
  • 92
    Excellent blog. I use all of these tips and many more.

    I was recently "accused" by someone I had just met of being skinny and thus not knowing what it was like to be fat. It wasn't worth my time to correct her perception so I just carried on. I'll always be an obese person practicing the thin lifestyle - one day at a time. - 1/15/2010   3:25:03 PM
  • 91
    I have been using most of these tips for quite some time - they work! One caution, if you are listening to your body in deciding when to stop eating, be sure it is your *body* that is talking to you and not your mind's wish for some yummy food, and eat slowly :) With chocolate especially, I find it best to measure portions in addition to paying attention to the internal compass. It takes awhile for the body's self-regulating chemistry to kick in. - 1/15/2010   3:21:55 PM
    Great article with sensible tips, while I’ve heard them before it’s always good to get a refresher. This year one of my goals is to up my snack times. I noticed that even with a good breakfast in me I would be ravenous by lunch which, of course, would result in my scarfing down way too many calories. Which, in turn, led to a huge sugar crash in the afternoon, which made it hard to get motivated for exercise – repeat, repeat, repeat. I cut a few calories from breakfast, lunch, dinner and added a mid-morning and mid-afternoon snack. What a difference! - 1/15/2010   3:14:35 PM
  • AMOR444
    Great Tips - 1/15/2010   2:56:04 PM
  • 88
    "Large portions become 'normal' and we are constantly reminded that the larger size is a "bargain" "

    Not exactly a bargain when you consider how much more you may have to spend on health care for weight-related illnesses. I try to keep in mind that this may be another example of "penny-wise and pound foolish." :) - 1/15/2010   2:38:19 PM
    Also, it should be noted that some with un-diagnosed Thyroid Disease may actually be able to stay thin without much effort on their part. - 1/15/2010   2:34:13 PM
    right eating and portion control and healthy choices are the answer to your weight loss eat every three hours and eat 2 to 4 ounces for wemon and 6 to 8 ounces for men in there meats. stay away from to many sugars and add vitamins to your lifes plan for that is what it is. a life plan. if you are overweight you have to go on a life health plan that will not only boost your energy level but will also get you down in your weight it works if you flub up dont give up on yourself but keep trying and you will have success portion sizes are very important. if you are used to eating a 10 to 15 ounce steak cut down to 2 to 4 ounces for women and 6 to 8 ounces for men. mid morning snack of fruit or other healthy choice mid afternoon snack and three meals. breakfast is very important so that your matabolism does not slow down and meals of lots of veggies and large salad for lunce and dinner with your meal will soon get you to started cutting down on food chew your food 30 times per bite to give the brain a chance to tell the body that it is full. stop eating when you feel satisfied. hope this is helpful hints for all who read
    - 1/15/2010   2:27:08 PM
  • 85
    Excellent advice! - 1/15/2010   1:20:00 PM
    Thanks for the great tips. I am working on drinking just water. - 1/15/2010   1:12:52 PM
  • 83
    Thanks!!! - 1/15/2010   1:06:33 PM
    I've actually practiced a lot of these suggestions. I eat special K for breakfast, rather than fast food breakfast. I'm not drinking nearly as much pop as I used to. I only drink 1% milk. I'm working on having 6 small meals a day. Surprisingly, I find it hard to eat that often. I love this blog btw! - 1/15/2010   1:05:16 PM
    Sugar and portion control are my undoing. Thank you for your article it is very helpful, saving it to my favorities. - 1/15/2010   1:02:36 PM
  • 80
    Great blog. I use some of these steps. My goal this year is to cut out the sugary drinks or al least the soda. I drink juice here and there, but no often. - 1/15/2010   12:56:44 PM
  • 79
    I love all the facts in this. You just don't realize how much you can cut or how much you can add when eating,espeacialy in a restaurant.I like the fact if the bread doesn't taste good without the add ons don't eat it. I also have switched to a smaller plate so it looks like I have a lot on my plate and follow the portion guidelines in my meal plans.Thanks for everything.I hope that this will be a change in my life and no more yo-yoing. - 1/15/2010   12:50:35 PM
  • 78
    Interesting blog....one thing....thin people don't have to THINK about staying thin...really they rarely even have a problem....but those of us who were thin ONCE , started on the DIETING road, and became fat...because DIETING MAKES YOU FAT! Truly truly....I have read that to help an anorexic gain weight they put them on a DIET. Tells alot for sure. May we all learn to manage our weight by just eating healthy and getting in our exercise. NO EFFORT there if we do it right! - 1/15/2010   12:42:47 PM

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