A busy lifestyle, stressful job and mounting obligations make it hard to lose weight. The good news is you don’t have to figure it all out at once. Small changes make a huge difference in the long run, and it starts with taking that first small step that you can master.
Blair Brown, a dietitian and a professor in the Department of Nutrition and Metabolism at UTMB Health, breaks it down into baby steps you can tackle.
“If you try to change too much at one time, you’re going to get overwhelmed and you’re going to fail and you’re going to give up and say, ‘I can’t do this,’” Brown said. “Instead say, ‘OK, I’m going do this one day a week, I’m going to try to bring my lunch or I’m going to try to bring snacks.’”
After you get one day a week down, try for two or three days the next week. “That’s a really good way to start making progress in a healthy way,” she said.
Plan your food
One of the easiest things you can do is plan your meals and snacks for the week. “If you have a couple of days off in the week, maybe that’s when you do all your grocery shopping and planning and pre-packing,” Brown said. “If Mondays are busier at work, maybe those are the days you tend to stop at fast-food places. But, if you can, make a simple switch and try to bring your lunch or snacks with you.”
In the beginning, you don’t have to plan out a whole week. Just take one day of the week and decide to bring your lunch or pack your snacks instead of grabbing fast food. Pick a time to eat something you prepared or eat something healthier than what you normally grab. Those small changes add up over time.
Drink more water
Maybe it’s not what you’re eating but what you’re drinking—or not drinking. Try to drink more water during the day.
“Drinking water is something everybody struggles with,” Brown said. “When you’re dehydrated, you’re going to feel sluggish. You’re not going to feel like your best.”
Brown pulled out her own large refillable water bottle that has different time marks printed on it. She was right on time with her water intake that day.
“If you’re a visual person, getting something like this to show you it’s 2 p.m. and you haven’t had any water today is a good reminder,” she said.
Ditch energy drinks
“A lot of energy drinks either have a lot of calories or a lot of added sugar,” Brown said. “But also, they have a lot of caffeine. Everything in moderation is OK. But if energy drinks are the only things you’re drinking throughout the day, be mindful that you can consume too much caffeine.”
A healthy diet includes no more than 400 milligrams of caffeine in a day. “That’s only about four cups of coffee,” she said. The calories in energy drinks and coffee with cream and sugar add up fast. “If you are trying to watch your weight, this is an area where people probably are often consuming a lot of calories and just don’t realize it.”
Release your emotions
“Some people may not even be aware that they’re emotionally eating,” Brown said.
Emotional eating often goes with all the emotional baggage we carry home from work. Brown recommends unpacking some of that emotional baggage before you get home.
“Those emotions are in your own personal space rather than at work,” she said. “It does lead to unhealthy coping mechanisms and that could be food and it could be alcohol.”
Ways to unpack include practicing deep-breathing exercises or talking to someone who listens.
Be here now
At some time, we all have sat on the couch with a bag of chips or a bag of popcorn, and before you knew it, the whole bag was gone. That’s mindless eating.
“Like, very mindless,” Brown said. “Being very mindful of how you’re feeling when you’re eating or what you’re doing when you’re eating is important.”
Some people de-stress at home by sitting on the couch and watching TV. “Instead of bringing the whole bag of popcorn or the whole bag of chips with you, maybe portion out a small little bit versus bringing the whole bag. You’re likely going to be satisfied with just the smaller amount,” she said.
Beware of supplements
“Taking a general multivitamin daily is probably pretty good practice,” Brown said. “In the United States, a lot of the foods we eat already have been fortified with the vitamins and the minerals that we need to remain healthy. I don’t see vitamin deficiencies often in my practice, particularly in the general population.”
She does, however, see problems when people start taking other extra supplements.
“And they can be very expensive, and your body is really good about filtering out what it doesn’t need,” she said. “I have seen patients who have really done harm to their body by taking too many supplements.”
“In America, we love all kinds of high-carb, sugar-packed snacks because they’re quick and they’re easy to consume,” Brown said. “But if you want a snack or something that is going to keep you full and give you energy, you want one with protein in it.”
Maybe that’s a carbohydrate and a protein together such as apples and peanut butter or cheese and crackers that you can keep with you during your workday.
“Adding something with protein is going to keep you fuller longer,” she said. “You’re not going to get as hungry as quickly as you would if you just ate something that was just carbs.”