Eating behavior is based on personal preference, family tradition or customs, habit and economic status. What people choose to eat has a greater impact on health and longevity than it does on weight. While everyone, including dieters, should eat a healthy diet, losing weight is not as simple as substituting a salad for a cheeseburger.
The Brain Controls Eating Habits
Food preferences are habit-forming and are controlled by the brain. For example, most children are told to eat their vegetables because they are good for them. However, previous negative experiences with the taste or smell of vegetables may cause their brains to rebel and signal the children to feed their vegetables to the dog beneath the table. In a similar way, the brain compels dieters, including my weight management clients, to bypass the salad for french fries. Researchers have made some headway in discovering the mechanisms that trigger eating behavior , but the brain is a complex organ; each new discovery leads to more questions.
Slow and Easy Is the Way to Go
Because weight loss can only occur with calorie control, calories burned must exceed calories eaten. Even a few dietary changes can help shed excess pounds. My weight-management clients begin their weight-loss journey by identifying their food addictions, such as fast foods, fried foods, sugary baked goods and desserts, and foods processed with refined white flour. Reducing their intake of these foods gives them a head start on the weight-loss process. Cutting back instead of cutting out spurs a motivating “taste of success” which gradually encourages eating a healthier diet. Beginning a diet with calorie control instead of a total diet makeover, minimizes the stress associated with replacing preferred foods with foods not commonly eaten; and does not cause the brain to mutiny. It also gives dieters back the sense of control they lost as the result of previous diet failures.
Blueprint for Success
Architects need blueprints to build houses. Losing weight is like building a new person. I usually ask my clients to draw up blueprints to serve as a guide to success. They write down what they plan to accomplish, break it up into small increments or mini goals, realistically estimate how much time it will take and the actions needed to achieve their goals. Continually reviewing and updating their blueprints also provides a means of self-support.
Mini goals are more easily achieved; they help to keep a dieter motivated. For example, a person with an excess 50 pounds of body weight could plan mini weight-loss goals in 10-pound increments. A loss of 1 to 2 pounds per week is healthy and sustainable. Dieting is not only about losing weight, it is also about improving health. Mini goals are especially beneficial for people who must lose 5 to 10 percent of body weight to improve a medical condition. If there are no health problems, the blueprint should include a plan for increased physical activity, which helps to expedite weight loss and maintain lean tissue mass. A doable exercise regimen might include a daily 30-minute walk, purchasing a health club membership or joining an exercise group at a local school or place of worship.
Restarting Weight Loss
As a dieter loses weight, metabolism slows. At a lower weight, fewer calories are needed to maintain bodily functions. This is called a plateau. Decrease caloric intake — but not below 1200 calories — or increase physical activity to restart the weight loss process.
C. George Boeree, “Hunger and Eating Disorders,” Shippensburg University