Learn to Game the Weight-Loss Triangle
Weight-loss doesn't have to be a dirty word. The kind that brings up feelings of guilt and shame and make your stomach drop and your soul shrink. I am all about making weight loss and physical health as smooth and as painless of a process as possible. So I am going to share with you the simple concept I developed with the Weight-Loss Triangle and the straight-forward methods that I use in my daily life to keep my own weight on-track.
The Struggle is Real
It is truly difficult to stay ahead of the weight curve and to keep up with a healthy body. And I'm not talking about model thin do you even eat food? or macho-man could you bench me? kind of bodies. Just healthy baseline level ones where the doctor looks at you and goes "yup, yeah, you look okay to me," takes your blood pressure, and then you can go back to your business in peace.
A quick glance at the numbers and you will see that the scope of the problem is immense. According to the CDC 42.4% of the population was characterized as obese in 2018 and 9.2% were categorized as severely obese. That means that almost half of the population struggles with bringing their weight down to healthy levels. And I don't have to tell you that that is a lot of people. The struggle is real, and if you struggle with your weight know that you are not alone.
I think there are a lot of reasons for this, most of which everyone is already aware of: the convenience/deliciousness/large serving sizes of high calorie foods, lack of desire or time to create an exercise routine, lack of education about nutrition, family culture... I could go on.
Personally I think one of the biggest factors is an emotional one. A lot of people eat because it feels good and they haven't developed a robust coping system to deal with negative thoughts and feelings. So food becomes an emotional band-aid over the underlying issue. The problem is that this is a negative cycle that feeds into itself. 'I don't feel good, so I will eat to feel better. Not feeling in control and gaining weight makes me feel shitty about myself. Now I feel even worse, so I need more food to help get me through this.' See how if you want real results you have to look at the reason you are eating and not try to just try to stifle the eating itself?
That being said this article is not about dealing with the emotional aspect of eating (although I promise I will write one!). Today I am going to talk about some relatively painless ways to adjust your life and develop habits that help make losing weight easier.
The Weight-Loss Triangle
I am sure that I am not inventing anything new with the idea of the weight-loss triangle. And even though I have coined this term myself (pinky-promise), I am likely not the first person to come up with the concept. The idea is that there are three ways to lose weight: you can eat healthier, you can eat less, or you can exercise more. So those are the three points of the triangle.
And you can lose weight by keeping two variables the same and focusing on drastically changing one point. For example you can spend your energy focusing only on exercising a lot, or only on eating super healthy, or only on eating less, and that one variable will eventually add up to weight-loss because you are changing your lifestyle in that area.
Issues with One-Variable Methods
But there are some very serious problems with a 'one-variable method' to weight-loss. The main one is that you have to make a dramatic change in that one area that you choose, and it is very difficult to drastically change your lifestyle from A to Z (or lets say from ice cream to celery or from couch potato to gym rat). It will be incredibly difficult to adjust to your new lifestyle because it is too different too fast, and you are likely to give up and go back to what you were doing before - because frankly it kind of sucks and you aren't used to it. Think of that liquid-only diet you tried that one time, or the week you tried to go to the gym every single day. How long did that last? Probably not very long. You probably said "wow this seriously sucks, my body hurts, and I am craving cake. Why does anyone choose to do this? I like my old lifestyle better." I don't care what anyone else says with a just jump in there and DO IT kind of attitude (the kind that makes me want to punch them in the face), I think that dramatic changes to your lifestyle do not set you up for success.
One way around this is to take one variable and slowly ramp it up until you get to a "high point" on that variable. You are more likely to stick with the changing routine because it is sucking gradually instead of sucking dramatically. But the issue that remains with a one-variable method is that if you fall-off-the-horse (I mean who wants to work out while on vacation, or eat healthy during game day, or eat less during the holidays?) you have to start all over again from scratch. It is a constant cycle of boom and bust that I find exhausting and demoralizing (ugh I have to start over again?).
Spending your 'Triangle Points'
Imagine that it takes spending three effort points in the triangle to see results. You can spend all three in one area (which we just talked about not being such a good idea), you can spend two in one area and one in another (not a bad way to go), or you can do what I do and spend one point in each area. This means that you will make relatively minor adjustments to each area, and if you do have a period where you stop one or all of them it is still relatively easy to pick back up where you left off in your routine and the amount of effort required to get back on track in any one area is relatively low. Doesn't that sound like a win-win?
This method is not going to change your body overnight. They are smaller habits that you can incorporate that will add up to help you have a more well rounded life-style without as much of the pain. Depending on your current lifestyle you could expect to lose about 1-2 pounds per month (based on my own weight-loss records), but I think slow and steady wins the weight-loss race in the long term. And once you get used to spending 'one point' worth of effort in each area you can always choose to add another point in the one you like best and continue the shift.
A Note About Hunger
Feeling hungry was one of the bigger hurdles I had to overcome on my weight-loss journey. Hunger wasn't just a feeling I got in my stomach. It felt painful. It hurt in an uncomfortable way. My knee-jerk reaction was that something was wrong and that it wasn't okay. I would rush to the pantry and eat quickly to stop the pain. It took time and practice to get used to the feeling because it was one that I hadn't allowed before. And when you change your lifestyle you will probably feel hungry at least at first as you adjust to new foods, new eating methods, and an increased metabolism the next day after you exercise.
When you feel hunger try to tell yourself that hunger is okay and that you aren't in any danger. Allow yourself time and practice to try to get used to the feeling. If you eat often enough you hopefully won't feel starving, but even just feeling a little hungry can be something to get used to between meals. Remember to set yourself up for success by keeping healthy snacks on hand for those in-between hunger moments.
Earn Your Healthier Eating Point
Now let's dive into the eat healthier point on the triangle. You can also check out my article on How to Shop Healthy (after you finish reading this one of course!). Here's how to eat healthier without hating life:
Drinks. Go up a rung on the healthy drink ladder. If you drink soda your next step is to swap it for any kind of juice that you like. Here is the healthy drink hierarchy starting at the bottom: Soda ➡ Juice ➡ All Natural Juice no sugar added ➡ Italian Soda (carbonated water with 10-16% Juice) ➡ Flavored Water/Sparkling Soda ➡ Plain Old Water or water with a natural flavor additive like lime juice or watermelon or cucumber. See where you are at now, cut that out of your fridge, and go up to the next level right away.
Fruits and Veggies. Add one fresh fruit and one fresh vegetable more than whatever you are eating now into your daily diet. If you eat canned fruit or frozen veggies that's good, but it doesn't count as fresh. It needs to come from the produce section and have a chance of going bad if you don't eat it fast enough. Smoothies count as long as you know its a full serving of fruit or veggie being added (one leaf of kale doesn't count).
I recommend working your fruit serving into your breakfast. Keep in mind that a serving is about as big as your clenched fist. I absolutely love breakfast. I typically eat Fage Vanilla Greek Yogurt with fruit and a sprinkle of oats and nuts on top. Or the same thing but substitute oatmeal or whole grain cereal (think honey bunches of oats or raisin bran) for the yogurt. It is filling, flavorful, and hits multiple food groups in one meal. Try to eat your fresh vegetable serving with lunch or as an afternoon snack.
Myth: eating healthy doesn't taste good. Eating healthier does not mean that you can't eat delicious things! It might take your taste buds a little bit to adjust to the new foods, but I swear that you don't have to compromise on flavor. I think that if you have to add something a little less healthy in order to eat something healthy that that is a fair trade off. The trick is moderation. I will sprinkle a little sugar on my orange slices if they are too tart. I might drizzle a little bit of sweetened condensed milk on my berries. I eat bananas with Nutella. Carrots with humus or ranch. I like ants on a log (celery with peanut butter and raisins). I know some people who sprinkle popcorn flavorings on their veggies. Whatever works for you. The key is that you don't overdo it and it's just enough to make the health food palatable for you to eat if you don't like it plain. Just watch out for salad dressing - it's easy to add to much! Always order it on the side and carefully dip into it as you go.
Go Natural. No I didn't say au-naturale. And I can't be blamed for your streaking! If you eat pre-packaged foods - and pretty much all foods are pre-packaged nowadays - look at how many ingredients are in there, make sure you know what all the ingredients are, and see if there are added sugars. If you can choose an alternative that has less of any of those things change it for the more natural or less sugary alternative. For example Cinnamon Toast Crunch has 13 ingredients and 12 grams of added sugar, Raisin Bran has 6 ingredients and 9 grams of added sugar, and Great Grains (my personal favorite) has 13 ingredients but only 5 grams of added sugar. The less ingredients and the less added sugars the better. If you can eat all natural ingredient foods you are doing really well! Higher fiber is an added bonus if you can't decide between two options.
Choose your sugar wisely. The American Heart Association recommends women eat 25 grams and men 36 grams or less of sugar a day. That's one Coke (39g) or one Red Bull (27g) or two pieces of pop-tarts (34g). See why the first thing I told you to do was cut out soda? I don't know about you, but I'd rather save my sugar for something more fun like half a cup of ice cream (21g) or a large Reece's peanut butter cup (10g). And don't forget the sugar that you are putting in your coffee - that's 4 grams per teaspoon right there. To make my life easier I don't count the sugars in the fruits, so if you've already met your sugar quota for the day but get a craving go for a fresh fruit with a pinch or two of sugar or honey sprinkled on top.
Eat the healthiest item first. When you are staring at your lunch and you see a sandwich, carrots, and chips chances are that you will want to reach for the chips first. They look so good... but NO! Eat as many bites of veggies as you can first to get them out of the way. Or rotate between chips and carrots. Just don't save them for last because if you are starting to get full and you aren't excited about eating them the chances are that you are going to leave them in your lunch bag untouched.
Use a reward system. I use this method to incentivize myself to eat veggies when I really just don't feel like it. I count out let's say 8 pieces of the veggie and then put the bag away. I tell myself if I eat all of them I will get a reward. So when I finish them I can count out 10 Cheetos or two fun size Reece's pieces. It sounds a little Pavlovian, but it works when my willpower is low or I was thinking about eating Cheetos anyways. In that case I might as well use the craving I was already seriously contemplating to force some celery in first.
Earn Your Eat Less Point
In addition to the tips below, you can check out my article about How to Prevent Overeating, which gives some other advice that isn't covered here. Here's how to eat less without hating life:
Water. Set a daily goal on your water intake. I live in a dry climate so I set mine at 3 Liters of water a day, which is a little high. But it's reasonable for you to target 2 Liters or 64 ounces. I carry around a 1L reusable water bottle with me wherever I go and tick off on my planner whenever I drink one. Drinking water will keep you hydrated, keep your bowels more regular (TMI I know), and your stomach fuller with less room for food.
If you can't or won't drink a substantial amount of water throughout the day the alternative is to drink a tall glass of water about 5-10 minutes before every meal. The idea to fill your tummy up with a healthy no-calorie drink... and what's healthier and less caloric than water?
Count it out and put it away. It is really important when eating high calories foods like chips or desserts to use the count it out method to pull out your serving (or half-serving) and then put the bag or container away before you start eating. It is too easy to start eating on auto-pilot and not realize what you've done until you are halfway through the bag or pint of ice cream. Look at the bag of chips and see how many are in a serving and how many calories that is. Count them out, put the bag away, and then move to another room to eat so you aren't tempted to instantly reach back into the pantry for more. And if the pot of Mac-and-Cheese you just made has 4 servings in it use a spoon to push it into fourths so you know how much to dish out. It is a great idea to actually use a measuring cup to dish a serving if you aren't sure what it looks like (a cup of cooked rice for example).
Don't keep food out. If you aren't actively eating put it away. Leaving food out is a constant invitation to eat more. Politely decline by moving the food back to where it came from. Unless of course it is your fruit or veggie snack then by all means keep it handy and it's a good idea to just keep it out.
Use small dishes and silverware. When you use a big plate or bowl when you dish your food you are going to put more on your plate. It's just your eyes trying to make the food match the size of your plate. Instead of using regular sized plates or bowls use smaller sized ones. If you have small spoons or forks use those too. Smaller bites means eating slower means filling up faster. And smaller dishes will mean you are less likely to overeat meals. If you finish a plate and think you are still hungry wait 5 minutes before getting a second serving.
Don't skip meals. This one might seem funny and you might say but Amanda isn't it good if I don't eat since I'm saving calories? The answer is no. Starving yourself is just going to make you more likely to overeat on the next meal and make unhealthy food choices. It is also bad for your metabolism to go through calorie starved to calorie flooded cycles. Slow and steady wins the race here and eating something for breakfast is important even if it is small.
The Hobbit Life. I am a believer in lots of small meals. Not grazing per-se it's just that having giant meals doesn't feel good to me (my stomach hurts and I get sleepy) and I tend to get too hungry in-between meals that I overeat. I start my day off with a Be Kind Nut bar. Then a couple hours later I eat the yogurt with fruit and nuts (I literally call it second breakfast) with my coffee. Then I eat lunch. Then a veggie snack. Then dinner and lastly a dessert if I'm in the mood and haven't already eaten one. Think about switching to this alternative meal style. You will be able to eat more often which is nice for those of us who just enjoy eating, and you will have more stable energy throughout the day.
Earn Your Exercise More Point
Don't groan just because I said the word exercise. I can hear you. Okay no I can't, but I can imagine you rolling your eyes and making your mind up already that you aren't going to do this part. Give it a try in the comfort and privacy of your own home, take it slow, and give yourself breaks when you need it, and I promise that it is something you can get used to and maybe even grow to enjoy. It will be motivating to see that after a few times of trying you are already better at it.
Try everything. I think a lot of people try one or two types of exercise, don't like it, and then think that exercise in general isn't for them. But there are so many types of exercise out there! I absolutely hate stair stepping, but I love yoga. I am not a big fan of dance aerobics like Zumba, but I love indoor cycling with the low lights and pumped up music. If I would have happened to try only the stairs and zumba classes maybe I would have thought that I hated all types of exercise. But I don't. And most likely you won't hate them all equally either.
So get out there are try everything at least once. Or stay inside and try everything there. YouTube is a great resource for free exercise content that I use all the time. There are some videos on Netflix and Amazon Prime too. Try yoga, zumba, belly dancing, pilates, tae bo, body pump, stairs, speed walking, jogging, cycling, rowing, weight lifting, indoor rock climbing... the list goes on! Even within the world of yoga there are lots of different types from yin yoga to power flow.
I do most of my exercising on a yoga mat in my living room (the only other equipment I occasionally use are 5 and 8 pound weights). If you live with other people and feel self-conscious just ask them not to come into that area during your exercise time.
10 Minutes a Day. Even if you are a very busy person I guarantee that you have enough time in your day to exercise for 10 minutes. You have time, you just need to develop the habit. I like to do 10-15 minute exerc