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  • by Jaclyn Foster, HC

What if restriction wasn't the answer?

One thing I often notice with weight loss efforts is that patients will think the answer is to restrict more. They tell themselves they need to cut back or to be stricter with themselves. As I speak with them and dive into their life and habits further, I often find that they are already restricting – a lot.

I can understand the sentiment, there are some foods they wished they were eating less of, and there is a lot of marketing out there promoting calorie restriction as the magic ticket to weight loss.

Upon further exploration what’s really happening many times is that people are skipping breakfast or eating very light during the day until they get home at night. Often this leaves people starving for a meal and trying to make up for lost nourishment and calories with a big dinner meal.

In addition to trying to operate on very few calories during the day, we can often rush from activity to activity accelerated and stressed. We live the day with restricted calories, energy, and time and then expect ourselves to restrict our dinner meals on top of that. Eek.

It’s a recipe for disaster for both weight loss and sustainable healthy life habits because we will eventually crash. This unsustainable cycle forces us to rely wearily on our willpower. Sadly, the only thing we can rely on with regards to willpower is that it will eventually die out. It’s not that we are doing anything wrong but as humans we can only go so long forcing ourselves to do something before we need a break or a reward.

Trying to restrict keeps us on a yo-yo cycle - forcing ourselves to “be good” followed by those periods of “I need a break” where we inevitably want to seek balance through finding reward and pleasure. This can come in the form of weekend binges, or unhealthy snacking through the day, or evening “treats” that turn into a pint of ice cream or a bag of chips.

You can feel nourished and still lose weight, I’ve seen it many times before and have lived it myself. So how do we break this cycle? Here are a few tips.

1. Eat Breakfast: It can be super simple and very powerful to get breakfast in before we get too far into our days. I know personally when I don’t eat breakfast my whole days starts a bit off, I’m more irritable and I tend to get very hungry by the time my first meal rolls around. If you are on the go this can be as simple as starting with a few pieces of fruit, or overnight oatmeal (attach hyperlink), or even toast with a little almond butter and sliced banana. If you regularly skip breakfast – try this for a week and see if you notice a difference in how you feel during the day and if you feel less hunger or urgency when you eat lunch.

2. When you eat, stop and eat: Another helpful practice is to be more present when you eat and to sit down and have a meal. When we are on the go it can be very easy to create a habit of snacking on whatever is around us – we grab a pastry with our coffee to get something in our stomach, or snack on chips, maybe a few slices of lunch meats, something quick in prepared foods or drink more coffee or energy drinks. We forget how important it is to fuel our body and part of what helps our body register what we are eating is to plan a meal and make time, even if it’s a 15-minute break to sit down and eat.

3. Get familiar with your needs: We need food, water, and sleep to survive. If we go too long without them – we can’t go on. But we often forget that we have needs beyond that. Some examples are comfort, pleasure, adventure, and relaxation. Yes, we need these things too! All of us, at least to some degree.

When we take some time to ask ourselves what we really need when we reach for a treat, we might realize food isn’t what we want. We may simply need a little pleasure and maybe that could come in the form of a warm shower, a cup of tea, or a bike ride. We may need comfort and that could come in the form of asking for a hug from a friend or family member or perhaps curling up with a blanket. This comes with practice but slowing down the process of making food choices and meeting needs is helpful and the perfect question to ask is: What am I hungry for?

4. Focus on Adding instead of Subtracting: When it comes to weight loss we need to remember not all calories are equal. What we want from our food is to feel full with less calories and that happens when the foods we eat contain a lot of natural fiber and water. When we eat foods with higher fiber and water content our body gets the message that we have eaten, and we are full. When we don’t get enough fiber our bodies get confused and we crave more.

Foods that contain higher amounts of fiber are fruits, vegetables, whole grains (rice, oats, quinoa), beans, and starchy veggies (like potatoes and yams.) If you can practice eating from these high fiber foods groups at the start of your meal before you have anything else, you’ll fill up faster, helping you eat less calories over the course of the entire meal.

Try these tips and see what happens. Start with one at a time. We often do a lot better with change when we allow ourselves to do it in steps, so choose the one that left you the most curious and go from there. I imagine it won’t take more than a couple weeks of trying one to realize that it really makes a difference.

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