We all know that maintaining a healthy weight is crucial to good overall health. Why, then, is it so hard to lose the extra pounds we pack on? After all, gaining them is easy! Personal responsibility plays a part, but you might be surprised by some of the everyday factors that can sabotage your weight-loss efforts.
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Reason 1: Finding the right diet can be tricky. While the American Heart Association recommends a diet low in fat, many dieters find themselves missing the natural satiety that fats bring. Carbohydrates are another controversial issue. Some dieters find that consuming a high amount of carbohydrates only makes them crave more. On the other hand, low-carb diets can leave some people feeling lethargic and even depressed. Dr. Frank Sacks and associates from the Harvard School of Public Health recently concluded a study that compared four types of diets: high carb, high fat, high protein, and low fat. Their finding? According to Sacks, “No one of those diets are necessarily better than any other diet.” The bottom line is this: Expending more calories than you consume will result in weight loss, regardless of which food groups you take those calories from. However, for optimal health, you should choose a balanced diet that you can comfortably live with for the rest of your life.
Reason 2: The media sends mixed messages about diet and health. Women’s magazines are notorious for running stories about the latest trend in quick weight loss – just opposite a mouth-watering photo of a decadent triple-fudge cake. What message are they trying to send? That’s not the only way the media sends mixed signals about our health. Have you ever been confused by the sheer number of weight-loss studies in the news, many of which seem to come to contradictory conclusions? If so, you’re not alone. With so much information, it’s nearly impossible to know what advice to follow. The problem with a lot of the studies you read about is that they are sensationalized by the media. For example, a recent study suggested that some women over 50 might need to exercise more than 30 minutes a day in order to counteract their naturally slowing metabolisms. The headline for this study screamed, “Women Must Exercise One Hour a Day to Avoid Gaining Weight!” Not only was this headline demoralizing; it was inaccurate. The best policy is to turn a deaf ear to the fads and sensationalism, instead trusting the advice you receive from your doctor and other trusted experts.
Reason 3: The food industry sets you up to fail. With so many of us leading busy lifestyles, it’s no wonder we sometimes dine out for convenience. However, fast food chains and restaurants are dangerous territory for dieters. Most fast food is high in fat and sodium while being relatively devoid of real nutrients. This results in lots of empty calories that leave our bodies malnourished even as our weight and blood pressure rise. The unfortunate truth is that fats and sugars have a real impact on the chemistry of the human brain. These comfort foods can quickly become addictive. Add flavor-enhancers like MSG to the mix, along with the largest portion sizes in human history, and you have a recipe for dietary disaster. The obvious solution is to cook your own meals from whole foods, consuming as little processed food as possible. If you must eat out, choose smaller portion sizes. Some diners have half of their entrees boxed up before they even begin to eat. Others order kids’ meals instead of the unhealthy adult portions offered by fast food chains. As an added benefit, kids’ meals often come with healthier side options like fresh fruit instead of French fries.
Reason 4: Well-meaning family and friends can do more harm than good. Our loved ones mean well, but they do us no favors when they insist we have “just one more bite.” They hate to see us feeling deprived so they enable us when we have the urge to eat unhealthy foods. Or they help us rationalize our poor choices by pointing out that we deserve a little treat, adding that once won’t hurt. It’s hard to maintain your steadfastness in the face of such temptation. The best approach is to have an earnest talk with your loved ones. Let them know that you appreciate their concern, but that you need their support far more than you need a second helping. Schedule occasional cheat days, such as special occasions like birthdays, when you will permit yourself a little indulgence. That way, your family and friends will know when to offer you treats, and when to keep silent.
Reason 5: Making and breaking habits is hard work. Finally, it takes time and effort to get into healthier habits. When you first start your weight-loss journey, it might feel like an uphill battle as you contend with years of unhealthy behavior. Start by making small changes. Instead of watching TV after dinner, record your favorite shows and go for a walk. Replace some high-fat foods with their lower-fat equivalents. Over time, you will get used to these changes and be able to make more without jeopardizing your effort. Many diets fail because dieters make too many drastic changes too quickly, only to decide they can’t live with the new program, which feels completely different from their regular lifestyle. Remember, these are sustained changes, not quick fixes. When you ease into a healthier lifestyle, tackling one or two habits at once, the results will last a lifetime.
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