08 September 2008

Change your eating patterns

No one can dispute the fact that weight is an important health issue. Unfortunately, people who need to lose weight often struggle to recognise their own predicament.

No one can dispute the fact that weight is an important health issue. Unfortunately, people who need to lose weight often struggle to recognise their own predicament or lack the perseverance to make a long-term commitment to their health.

Consider the following steps in the process of losing those extra kilos and maintaining your ideal body weight:

1. Set the right goals
Setting the right goals is an important first step. Most people trying to lose weight focus on just that one goal: weight loss. However, the most productive areas to focus on are the dietary and exercise changes that will lead to long-term weight change.

Successful weight managers are those who select two or three goals at a time that they are willing to take on. The following criteria of useful goals can come in handy:

Effective goals are 1.) specific; 2.) attainable; and 3.) forgiving (less than perfect).

"Exercise more" is a commendable ideal, but it's not specific. "Walk five kilometres every day" is specific and measurable, but is it attainable if you're just starting out? "Walk 30 minutes every day" is more attainable, but what happens if you're held up at work one day and there's a thunderstorm during your walking time another day? "Walk 30 minutes, five days each week" is specific, attainable, and forgiving. In short, a great goal.

2. Nothing succeeds like success
Shaping is a behavioural technique in which you select a series of short-term goals that get closer and closer to the ultimate goal (e.g. an initial reduction of fat intake from 40% of kilojoules to 35% of kilojoules and later to 30%). It is based on the concept that "nothing succeeds like success."

Shaping uses two important behavioural principles: 1.) consecutive goals that move you ahead in small steps are the best way to reach a distant point; and 2.) consecutive rewards keep the overall effort invigorated.

3. Success (but not with food)
Rewards that you control can be used to encourage attainment of behavioural goals, especially those that have been difficult to reach. An effective reward is something that is desirable, timely, and contingent on meeting your goal.

The rewards you administer may be tangible (e.g. a movie or music CD or a payment toward buying a more costly item) or intangible (e.g. an afternoon off from work or just an hour of quiet time away from family).

Numerous small rewards, delivered for meeting smaller goals, are more effective than bigger rewards, requiring a long, difficult effort.

4. Balance your (food) check book
Self-monitoring refers to observing and recording some aspect of your behaviour, such as calorie intake, servings of fruits and vegetables, exercise sessions, medication usage etc., or an outcome of these behaviours, such as weight. Self-monitoring of a behaviour can be used at times when you're not sure how you're doing, and at times when you want the behaviour to improve.

Self-monitoring of behaviour usually changes the behaviour in the desired direction and can produce "real-time" records for review by you and your health care provider. For example, keeping a record of your exercise can let you and your provider know quickly how you're doing, and when the record shows that your exercise is increasing, you'll be encouraged to keep it up. Some patients find that specific self-monitoring forms make it easier, while others prefer to use their own recording system.

While you may or may not wish to weigh yourself frequently while losing weight, regular monitoring of your weight will be essential to help you maintain your lower weight. When keeping a record of your weight, a graph may be more informative than a list of your weights.

When weighing yourself and keeping a weight graph or table, however, remember that one day's diet and exercise patterns won't have a measurable effect on your fat weight the next day.

Today's weight is not a true measure of how well you followed your programme yesterday, because your body's water weight will change much more from day to day than will your fat weight, and water changes are often the result of things that have nothing to do with your weight-management efforts.

5. Avoid a chain reaction
Stimulus (cue) control involves learning what social or environmental cues seem to encourage undesired eating, and then changing those cues. For example, you may learn from reflection or from self-monitoring records that you're more likely to overeat while watching television, or whenever treats are on display by the office coffee pot, or when around a certain friend.

You might then try to sever the association of eating with the cue (don't eat while watching television), avoid or eliminate the cue (leave coffee room immediately after pouring coffee), or change the circumstances surrounding the cue (plan to meet with friend in non-food settings). In general, visible and accessible food items are often cues for unplanned eating.

6. Get the (fullness) message

Changing the way you go about eating can make it easier to eat less without feeling deprived. It takes 15 or more minutes for your brain to get the message you've been fed. Slowing the rate of eating can allow satiety (fullness) signals to begin to develop by the end of the meal.

Eating lots of vegetables can also make you feel fuller. Another trick is to use smaller plates so that moderate portions do not appear meagre. Changing your eating schedule, or setting one, can be helpful, especially if you tend to skip, or delay, meals and overeat later.

Source: National Institutes of Health, USA

Updated September 2008


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