I hate the word "diet." It implies the temporary eating of cardboard-like substances that will melt away all the wrong parts of the body. You can't just pretend I'll never eat junk food again. I mean, seriously.
For most of my life weight has never been an issue. But that all changed when I took CLARITIN. Yep, that's right. The allergy med. It turns out that Claritin makes people hungry. In fact, it's so effective at this that doctors sometimes prescribe it to old people who need to gain weight. This is where I learned that weight, once you put it on, is extremely hard to take off. I wrote this post because I wanted to share what I learned while playing the losing game.
Researchers are starting to think fat acts more like a system rather than just a lil' ol' cell. Lots of complex stuff happens so I'll cite findings here:
"The medical profession’s advice to overweight patients used to be straightforward: Eat less, exercise more. Today scientists know it’s not that simple. The body monitors—and defends—its energy stores with an arsenal of potent molecules. One of these is the so-called hunger hormone, ghrelin, perhaps the most powerful appetite stimulant yet discovered. In June researchers at UCLA reported how exposure to ghrelin could help explain why some of us consistently overeat." ~Discover magazine
"Ghrelin appears to suppress fat utilization in adipose (fat) tissue. This may explain why dieters who lose weight and then try to keep it off make more ghrelin than they did before dieting. It's as if their bodies are fighting to regain the lost fat, researchers reported in the New England Journal of Medicine. In short, their bodies seem to be trying to hold on to fat stores in case there is another "famine."" ~eNotAlone.com
"...Fat cells around the abdomen produce an appetite-inducing hormone known as Neuropeptide Y (NPY). Researchers have always believed that only the brain produces the hormone NPY. But leading study author Dr. Kaiping Yang, found that the abdominal fat in obese rats also produced the hormone.... it sends signals to the individual that they are constantly hungry." ~Natural News
"Eat too much sugar and you may end up storing it in your belly -- when you eat sweets, your body releases insulin which causes fats in your bloodstream to be moved into the fat cells." Dr.Mirkin.comI am also convinced (but don't know if research will verify) that the more sweets I eat, the stronger the cravings. Would going cold-turkey suffice? I like sugar too much to find out. I can't imagine myself as the calorie gestapo.
If you are like me, here are some things you can do to improve your health without dieting.
10 Things you can do to lose weight
(9 before I even mention exercise!)
1. Maybe your meds are making you fat. Some medications do cause weight gain. (See Prescription drugs that cause weight gain, by Johns Hopkins Health Alerts.)
2. Get lots of sleep. Being sleep-deprived makes you release cortisol, which makes you hungry. (See Stress affects body and mind from NIH.)
3. Stressed? Do things that calm you -- dive into a good book, take a long bath, listen to good music, practice yoga or stretching. Stress causes cortisol to be released which... guess... yup! It makes you hungry. (See How stress causes weight gain, from the Washington Times.)
4. Don't diet. It lowers your metabolism. Eat small meals every few hours. And eat things that are satiating, like nuts (not too many -- they're good for you but no more than about, say, 15 cashews or almonds or 6 macadamia nuts, since they're so calorie-dense). Also good: fruits, veggies and high-fiber carbs. (See One big meal versus many small meals a day from Columbia University's Go Ask Alice column.) If you're managing diabetes or another health condition, be sure to follow your doctor's nutrition advice: apples may be ok for me but not necessarily for a diabetic.
(My big downfall is managing my cravings so more on that in a bit. We all know what we should be eating, it's just actually doing it.)
5. Don't eat diet soda or sugar-free sweets. Research is showing that eating sweet things makes the brain expect a big caloric intake. And when it doesn't come, it will make you hunger for more until you take in the amount of calories it expected. (See Drink more diet soda, gain more weight?, by WebMD.)
6. Don't drink juice. It fills the body with empty calories and ends up making you hungry. (Juice as bad as soda, docs say, from CBS news.)
7. Get enough calcium and vitamin D. This also helps with mood. Did you ever see the "Got Milk?" commercial portraying an army of earnest men diving for the supermarket's milk stores? It cited a study on calciums association with PMS relief:
See also Dodging weight gain with vitamin D, from Brigham and Women's Hospital and Add extra calcium to low-fat diet from WebMD.
8. Stay hydrated. The body often confuses thirst for hunger and dehydrated people often end up eating when they really need fluids. (Curing afternoon hunger cravings, from eHow.)
9. Fidget. Fidgeting burns calories. (Fidgety folks burn more calories, from ABCnews.com.)
10. Exercise. Ideally, incorporate 3 different kinds of exercise into your routine:
- cardio (burns fat): you should be able to talk but not sing -- that's a good indicator of heart rate (how to tell if you're working hard enough). Start off doing as much as you can and work your way up. If one minute is all you can do, fine. Before you know it, you'll be up to 2 minutes, 3 minutes, and so on.
The biggest problem: How to stick to it? Make it fun. If that means kicking it to Beyonce, go! Or get a workout partner or join a gym. Some gyms offer nice perks like a ladies-only section or a cinema room. Working out in the dark while watching movies, totally NOT thinking about how much I hate the treadmill? Awesome.
Recently I was on a stairclimber when two girls poked their heads into the gym and peered, horrified, at all the moving people and hissed, "SEE! I TOLD you it was full!" before disappearing. There was plenty of room, they just wanted their privacy. I understood how awkward they felt because I was also shy when I first started visiting the gym. I thought everyone would notice the clumsy new person doing everything wrong. I wanted to tell those girls what I know now: no one is judging anyone else. They're all preoccupied with what they're doing, no one else is scrutinized with a microscope. It took me a while before I realized this but it was months before I felt comfortable. (Your experience might be totally different than mine though; I can be freakishly shy sometimes.)
- strength training (makes muscle, which also raises your metabolism and prevents osteoporosis): I used to worry that lifting weights would make me bulky and mannish but you know what? Genetics dictates that, not exercise. A male fitness trainer once explained this to me, detailing his own exercise regime while flexing to prove that he himself was not a quarterback despite the effort. Plus, being in shape is sexy no matter how you wear it. And the more muscle mass you have, the more calories you burn when you're NOT working hard. Also, muscle is leaner than fat so your clothes will fit better even if you don't lose weight. It might even look like you've gained, as muscle weighs more than fat; use your clothes, not just the scale, as an indicator of progress.
- stretching: I used to volunteer at a physical therapy clinic and learned there that the number one factor dictating how quickly someone would recover from an accident was their flexibility. During a car accident, muscles get stretched and torn. If they're limber, they'll be less likely to rip. My philosophy is, if you do NOTHING else, at least stretch. You'll likely end up motivated to do more. Getting started really IS half the battle -- ease yourself into a regimen for at least 28 days (how long it takes to establish a habit) and see how fluid a routine becomes.
Also? It's about attitude.
Have a setback? Don't be too harsh on yourself. It's not even physically possible to gain massive weight from one bad day or even one bad weekend. The key is to love yourself the way you are, not punish yourself for perceived failures. Your body has carried you a long way and deserves appreciation no matter its shape. Anytime you are working to improve your health you deserve kudos.
Cravings... how to cope. Some thoughts (and your suggestions?)
Every time you have an opportunity to put something in your mouth, think twice about it. Suppose it's candy... ask yourself why do you want this? Are you really hungry? Could your hunger really be thirst? Did you just hear someone else open a candy wrapper and now you want one too? Learn from it and next time you'll be better equipped to deal with this weakness. Expect it. Anticipate the afternoon snack binge and arm yourself accordingly.
I like to snack on chicken broth, artichokes (vinaigrette seems to dull the craving for sweets), tea, sugar free jello, popcorn, plain yogurt and hot chicken wings. (Trader Joe's sometimes carries Buffalo Chicken Wings -- it seems counterintuitive to microwave chicken and be pleased with the results but this brand seems to be an exception). I'm always looking for new ideas too.
So, what do you do to avoid temptation when the cravings hit?
Further reading (not sponsored articles, I handpicked these because I thought the information was sound -- they're not ads):