When it comes to losing weight, most of us tend to think of dieting and exercising. The weight loss equation is quite simple: use more calories per day than you ingest. Sounds easy enough! But if it is SO easy, then why can’t most of us accomplish it? Why are the rates of overweight and obesity so high? Perhaps we are a little too focused on diet and nutrition, figuring out exactly which piece of exercise equipment to purchase or which clothing to wear during our outdoor workout. As important as all these factors may be, if we can’t change our basic behaviors, then all the best laid plans for proper eating and setting aside adequate time for exercise will most likely fall short. How many times have we started a diet when a new week begins, only to see it last a few days at best?
Most people who are overweight and out of shape have two things in common. One, they eat whatever they want whenever they want, and two; they usually lead a sedentary lifestyle. What is even more important to realize is that most poor habits have been in place for many, many years. They are entrenched within our very being. Rav Yisrael Salanter once said that it is easier to learn the entire Talmud than to change one character trait. And indeed, reading about a proper diet or consulting an exercise specialist about a balanced and productive exercise program is actually the easy part. Executing these plans can be an entirely different story. It is indeed difficult to inculcate something into your life that may not have been a part of it for 30, 40 or even 50 years. Yet, these changes certainly can enhance the quality of life, and in some circumstances, can even save your life.
In a recent interview with the mental health editor of Medscape, Judith S. Beck, Ph. D., Director of the Beck Institute for Cognitive Therapy and Research and Clinical Professor of Psychology in Psychiatry at the University of Pennsylvania, gave some solid tools for how one should approach weight loss in terms of changing one’s behaviors. Dr. Beck states, “Dieters need a great deal of education about dieting, food, eating, and maintenance. They have to choose a highly nutritious diet program and learn to plan and self-monitor their intake. They need help in solving problems that would otherwise derail them. They need to find someone to keep them accountable and to support them. Behavioral experiments are important to decrease their fear of hunger and cravings and increase their tolerance for these uncomfortable states. Finally, they need to learn how to identify and respond to dysfunctional thoughts that get in the way of their consistently implementing their diet and exercise programs.”
One of the most important points Dr. Beck makes is that people must realize is that real and sustainable weight loss does not happen overnight; it takes time and one must lose slowly. Losing two pounds per week is a realistic and healthy goal. So first, you must come to grips with the fact that rapid weight loss is not an option. It will only result in gaining back the lost weight down the road. At the beginning of your weight reduction program, make a list of all the advantages of being at a healthy weight, and keep that list with you at all times as a reminder. Each time you face temptation, look at your list. Plan your food intake meticulously, including all meals and snacks. Don’t rely on hunger to tell you when to eat. Also, eat foods that minimize hunger. I often explain to my clients that hunger comes and goes. For instance, on Yom Kippur morning, at some juncture, you may get hungry, but as the day progresses, the hunger dissipates. Hunger is not a life-threatening problem; learn to ignore it.
Dr. Beck further states “Dieters give themselves permission to stray from their diet for any number of reasons. They’re upset, happy, tired, stressed, celebrating, traveling, busy, at a party… The list is endless. They think, ‘It’s okay to eat because…. everyone else is; it’s only a small piece; no one is watching; the food is free; I rarely get a chance to eat this kind of food.’ They need to learn the same skills to avoid straying from their plan, no matter what the reason. They have to grasp the fact that they can either eat what they want, when they want, for whatever reason they want (including being upset), or they can be thinner. But it’s impossible to have it both ways.”
Dieters need to be accountable to someone. Very few people are good at being accountable to themselves. A nutritionist, a personal trainer who understands basic weight loss techniques and nutrition, or a weight loss coach all are good choices. If you need to report in weekly, weigh yourself, or track your food intake, you are more likely to change your old behaviors.
A study done in 2005 in Sweden by Hallstrom Stahre confirmed that obese subjects not only lost weight during a 10-week cognitive therapy program, but that most continued to lose weight during an 18-month follow-up as well.
Yes, it is important to be as educated as possible about nutrition, portion control and a balanced exercise program, but without basic behavioral changes, much of the time and effort going expended will not be internalized and will not have the long-lasting effects that bring good health.
Stay tuned for next week’s column, which will focus on establishing and enhancing healthy eating habits.
Alan Freishtat is an A.C.E. CERTIFIED PERSONAL TRAINER and a LIFESTYLE FITNESS COACH with over 17 years of professional experience. He is the co-director of the Jerusalem-based weight loss and stress reduction center Lose It! along with Linda Holtz M.Sc. and is available for private consultations, assessments and personalized workout programs. Alan also lectures and gives seminars and workshops. He can be reached at 02-651-8502 or 050-555-7175, or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org