While fit bodies of Instagram and social media espouse the virtues of clean eating; developing a healthy, lean body doesn’t necessarily require military discipline. It does, however, require a willingness to change, sacrificing temporary comfort for long-term success which does take military discipline.
As living, breathing things, we crave stability and comfort. When we feel threatened, the stress hormone cortisol rises, invoking a series of biological responses that compel us to alleviate that stress. For most people, the stress response involves one or more health-damaging behaviors, including smoking, drinking, and/or overeating. Most diets fail when consumers threaten the very thing that brings them comfort (often, food) without providing a new, healthier avenue for stress reduction.
Long-term success in health and weight management ultimately depends on your ability to change and adapt, creating healthier behavioral patterns that favor calorie and stress reduction.
Of course, that’s all good and well, but how do you plan to reduce stress during a high-stress period of change?
YOU CAN, WITH A PLAN!
While some amount of discomfort is natural with any life change, stress reduction practices can be easily built into your daily schedule to limit the amount of stress invoked during weight loss. First and foremost, commit to gradual, realistic changes that award you the time necessary to adapt to your changing behavior and environment.
Step 1? Determine how many calories you’re consuming at baseline. Keep a food journal for 1 week, writing down each food and beverage you consume, when you consume it, and the number of calories in that food.
Not sure how many calories are in that sandwich, bowl of cereal, or glass of wine?
Use a valid resource like Calorie King rather than a tool like myfitnesspal, which is prone to user error. Often, consumers upload nutritional information for smaller servings than advertised, with that information being used subsequently (and erroneously) by other users.
The result? Calorie totals are often wrong, providing an inexact picture of how many calories you’re actually consuming.
Once you know how many calories you’re consuming and when you’re consuming them, take a look at your patterns: are you consuming thousands of calories one day and a meager amount the next? Are you subsisting on coffee during the day and then binging on snack food at night?
Once you’ve made note of certain patterns, create two meaningful changes to implement for a two-week period. Add no other changes until that two week period has been completed successfully.
The most successful changes involve calorie reduction via caloric redistribution.
Most consumers eat the majority of their calories at night, or in small nibbles and thoughtless snacks or drinks throughout the day. Often, the majority of total intake can be attributed to energy drinks, gourmet coffee beverages, snacks, and late-night eating. Rather than spending the majority of your calories in thoughtless throw-aways, redistribute them equally throughout the day to promote satiety and prevent overeating later on.
Once you’ve redistributed your caloric totals, aim to reduce total caloric consumption by 500 calories per day, which will create a deficit of 3,500 calories in 1 week’s time - enough for 1 lb’s worth of weight loss.
Once you’ve determined your calorie needs and behavioral patterns, set them aside for 24 hours. Do nothing. Give yourself space and time to carefully contemplate the necessity of your behavioral change. Why do you want to lose weight?
Once you’ve had time to reflect on your goals and motivation, take the time to write down a personal credo detailing your desires, fears, and plans. Treat the reflection like a legal agreement with yourself.
In that agreement, don’t just write down what you’ll do in moments of success (“I won’t snack meaninglessly throughout the day”) but also what you’ll do in moments of struggle or failure (“If I feel tempted, I will go for a five minute walk,” or “If I overeat at one meal, I will get back on track at the next”).
Planning for moments of struggle is more important than planning for success. Success is ultimately hard-fought, and getting there depends on the willingness to plan for “the enemy.”