5 ways to keep weight management simple

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by Maryann

Maryann Tomovich Jacobsen is a registered dietitian, mom of two and creator of www.RaiseHealthyEaters.com, a blog dedicated to providing families with simple and sound nutrition advice.

The multi-billion dollar diet industry wants people to believe that managing weight takes a complete diet overhaul, giving up their favorite foods and participating in specific exercises. The reality is that busy parents simply don’t have the time or energy to do these things for long.

As a registered dietitian who has worked in the field for 15 years, I believe maintaining a healthy weight does not have to be complicated. In fact, I think it’s much, much easier than people realize.

During my twenties, I went through a period where my weight fluctuated and I struggled with eating. But when I learned the following lessons, my weight naturally fell to the right place for me. And the best part about it wasn’t my stable weight, but how simple and enjoyable eating had become.

Lesson #1. Eat what you want.

“Do you even enjoy eating, Maryann?” was the question a friend had for me as I bemoaned about bread served with butter already on it. That question changed my life — and how I viewed food.

I realized that I was so caught up in “good” and “bad” food — and my weight — that I no longer enjoyed eating. When I finally did eat the “bad” food, I’d eat too much. And I’d eat too much of the “good” food because it wasn’t always what I truly wanted to eat. I was simply eating too much!


Photo by Adrienne Bassett

So instead of categorizing food as “good” or “bad,” I included all foods in my diet without judgment. What I discovered rocked my world. My body didn’t crave junk — it wanted mostly nutritious foods with smaller amounts of my favorite sweets.

Lesson #2. Let your stomach decide.

Something amazing happened after I learned lesson number one: I started listening to my body more.

Because I could eat any food I wanted, any time I wanted, my desire to overeat practically disappeared. No more stuffing myself on vacations, on Friday nights or at birthday parties. When I got comfortably full and satisfied, I’d leave food on my plate. I watched my body signals, took my time to sit for meals, and ate more slowly.

If you really pay attention to your stomach and its signals, you won’t have to count calories or eat food that doesn’t satisfy. This is the first nutrition lesson my four year-old gets: when she wants more food or asks to leave the kitchen table early, I ask her what her tummy says.

Lesson #3. Make feeding yourself a priority.

Feeding myself regular meals and snacks has never been a problem of mine, but it has been so for many of my clients.

The rare times I do skip breakfast, or put off a meal later than it should be, I’m attacked by a relentless hunger later that is hard to satisfy. The better job I do feeding myself during the day, the easier it is to manage my hunger overall.

Lesson #4. Get enough slumber.


Photo by Deborah Morrison

When I had my second child, the extra weight lingered for much longer than it did the first time around. And it was due to one thing: lack of sleep. My son was colicky and slept horribly the first four months of his life.

Research shows that inadequate sleep is associated with higher weights. Scientists believe that hunger hormones rise in sleep-deprived individuals, causing hunger and overeating.

So when I find myself wanting to eat 24/7, I check my sleep, and often find it’s time to go to bed earlier or have a sleep-in day.

Lesson #5. Follow those passions.

“I’m happy,” was the answer a co-worker gave me after I asked about the considerable amount of weight she had lost. She told me she had finally pursued her passion of acting and recently landed a role in a play. Being involved in something she loved made eating less attractive, and she lost weight without even trying.

I believe I used to eat more for this same reason. I was scared to do the things I really wanted to do, and food was a nice comfort. But as I slowly started taking chances in life and found activities that made me feel alive, food became less desirable.

So there they are — five simple lessons that helped me get (and stay) at a weight that’s right for me. You’ll notice that I didn’t mention a thing about carbs, fat or calories.

I believe what matters most for weight management is “how much” someone eats. And for me, discovering what caused me to eat more than my body needed made the biggest difference. It really can be that simple.

So tell me, what lessons have you learned about keeping weight management simple?

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Comments

  1. I love the simple steps this doctor writes on a matchbook for his patients:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dBnniua6-oM

  2. What the heck is a sleep-in day?

  3. I always thought that eating too much food was psychological issue. Thanks for the nice article.

  4. I love this post! I have struggled with my weight for years but just never seem to do the right things to lose. I finally decided to eat what I want, but stop when I am satisfied and when I have sweets I ask myself if it is worth the calories. If it’s not, I don’t eat it or if it’s not cooked right/cold/whatever I don’t eat it just because it’s there. I have also found that a bite or two usually satisfies without having to eat until you feel sick. My hubby has also been asking me every night if I worked out or not when he gets home from work. I absolutely don’t want to tell him no, so I make sure to do at least a half a hour of something at some point during the day. One night he didn’t ask, and I was kinda upset about it. I asked him why he didn’t ask and he said, “I can tell, you are happier if you did”. That says alot for how much being active helps your moods. I’m not even close to where I want to be, weight wise, but I can tell a difference in my clothes in just a week or two. These tips are easier to commit to for a life time than putting yourself on a ‘DIET’.

  5. Get tips!

  6. great post. simple advice. easy to follow. it is “we” that make food so difficult. I wish we as a society could give up all our food rules and just eat like you suggest.

  7. What a refreshing take on a very “heavy” subject! I am so encouraged by your simple approach. I know that I can implement these lessons gradually, until they all become part of my lifestyle. Thank you!

  8. Thanks so much! I needed this today. My blog post today was about ditching a weight loss challenge that I thought I HAD to do but instead I’m reevaluating my challenge. These tips you wrote about are going to be so helpful!

    Thanks again.

    ourtaylormadehome.com

    • Alana — I know it’s hard but I would focus less on weight and more on the healthy behaviors you enjoy. Often when weight is the focus we choose more extreme approaches that help with weight loss but are difficult to maintain, or that don’t fit with our lifestyle and preferences.

      By taking smaller steps you may not lose much weight (at first) but over time you will and it will be more likely to stick because you’ll be enjoying your lifestyle. Research shows that most people gain back the weight lost from dieting. Good luck!

  9. Thanks for the simple and smart reminders. Before I had children, I lost some extra weight by listening to my body, and I know that is the key. And you are right, constantly worrying about what to eat and not eat creates an environment of neurosis around food, and for me definitely leads to cycles that are self-sabotaging. I am going to keep this where I can reference it regularly!

  10. I am in the middle of Why We’re Fat and What to Do About It by Gary Taubes, so I’ve been thinking about this issue a lot this week! Thanks for the encouragement–especially the prodding to get enough sleep! I tend to forget that there are more consequences to staying up too late than sleepiness.

  11. I love this! I know I’ve found it to be so true in my life. Cutting out all carbs or all sweets just doesn’t work for me, but listening to my body and knowing when to stop does! I never made the connection between lack of sleep and being hungry, but it makes a lot of sense. Thank you so much!

  12. I’m nearly jumping up and down about these doable weight-loss tips!!! I’m slowly taking off some weight, and eating less at a time but more frequently is one of my tricks. Love the ‘listening to you body’ concept. so true! Now, i need to listen to my body’s request for earlier bedtimes. :)

  13. Listening to my body is so important to me, and is easier for me to do when I’m not restricting anything, just like you said! Most of the foods I eat, are as natural as possible, so they have a lot of nutritional value – which means I don’t have to eat as much to be satisfied. A few years ago, I went to TX to help a sister of mine with her brand new baby. She’s a “diet Nazi”, and will only buy a food if it’s low calorie, or non-fat. Well, she said we ate way too many fattening foods at home and took my diet in her hands… and guess what – I gained 20 lbs!!!! I weighed 143 lbs at 5’8″, which was still fine, but I felt unhealthy and unhappy. On returning home, I restricted nothing, went back to eating all those “fattening” home foods, and shed everyone of those pounds without even trying. Since then, the only thing I have changed in the last year, is paying attention to when I’m satisfied, not FULL! I’ve stayed at 130 lbs for the past two years. And I feel so good!
    I’m going to throw in a few of the other rules you mentioned, which I know will make it even easier to maintain a healthy weight.
    Thanks! :)

    • That’s too funny Laura. Is your sister still a diet Nazi?
      I remember how satisfying it was when I added fat back into my diet. I still buy some low fat items but I get plenty of fat.

      • Maryann – Yes she is still a diet Nazi! and has problems all the time maintaining the weight she wants. I recently watched a Dvd titled “Fathead” , and it’s very good!

    • I’m a huge fan of smaller amounts of full fat (and full flavor!) food instead of ridiculously large amounts of low fat / low carb processed ‘food’. I find it makes me feel fuller faster, and satisfied with less.

      My mum is a low-fat eater and obese, I’m a skinny food-enjoyer. It works for me!

      • That’s what my sisters problem is, and she doesn’t even realize it! She is always snacking and consuming large amounts of low fat/ low carb foods, because she is never satisfied. So she over eats, and has problems maintaining weight. I eat full fat foods, yet have no problem maintaining a healthy weight!

        I’m not sure if anyone has ever seen the Dvd “Fathead”, but I recommend it – it’s very good!

  14. I’m certain that the extra pounds that don’t want to come off after baby #3 are because of the sleep I’m not getting and the stresses related with lack of sleep and 3 small children. I can’t wait for a full night’s sleep for more reasons that one!

  15. Take the road less traveled. Stairs instead of elevators, walk instead of drive, etc.

  16. These are great tips! I lost 20-25 pounds recently after baby #2 and I am struggling maintaining my ‘new’ old weight. A few pounds have crept back on and I think it’s because now I’m having a hard time saying no to the things that I restricted myself from for months. I keep telling myself that it’s a journey and each healthy choice is a step in the right direction!

  17. Maryann, I have a question for you. I have hypothyroidism and a sleeping issue where I wake for several hours between 3 and 4 am every night, so I’m often sleep-deprived. I can’t just spend 10 hours in bed to make up for it because I am a grad student with a 9 month old son. Before I got pregnant I finally managed to lose weight, but only by counting calories and working out 1-1.5 hours/day. Do you think your rules would work for someone like me?

  18. Love this today. I am trying to lose weight. It is a long hard road. I have lost 40 lbs, but have 30 more to go. The last 30 is even harder than I thought.

  19. Great tips. Here’s one more for your list: drink water (gallons and gallons of it). Over the holidays, I gained a few pounds — not sure how many because I was afraid to step on the scale, but it was enough to make my jeans too snug and to make me feel not quite like myself. I sought the advice of a slim friend of mine, who had recently freed herself of ten pesky pounds she had been wanting to shed. Her advice was simple: (1) stop drinking diet soda; (2) stop drinking fruit juices; and (3) drink water instead.

    At first it was hard for me to get used to the taste of water, because (sadly) it was so foreign! So I used tricks like orange slices and lemon slices to mask the taste. But over time, I got used to the taste — and now my once-beloved Diet Coke tastes odd!

    Guess what? Drinking water has made a massive difference. I feel like I eat less, and my energy is more consistent during the day. Plus it’s good for fine lines, so drinking a tall glass of water is multitasking at its best:)

  20. I was always naturally thin (even after my first three kids) until I hit 40, and then my metabolism really took a nosedive after 40. I have always loved healthy foods like veggies and have avoided fast foods and junk foods, so that helped in the past. Now it’s a whole new issue and it’s been tricky. I didn’t lose my baby weight after my 4th child the way I did with the first 3. I’m 42 now and pregnant again (definitely a surprise!) so I can’t diet, but I’m noticing that I’m even gaining weight much faster with this pregnancy than with the other 4 — even despite bad morning sickness the first four months.

    I think the key for me is going to have to be lots more movement and exercise, because I don’t want to reduce my calories by the amount my body seems to think I need to after 40. :) For now, I’m just eating healthy for the baby and I’m hoping to start getting more active once I’m not *quite* so sick.

    • You bring up an important point about how metabolism changes with age. The key is not to react with dieting or restrictions, which tend to backfire. Exercise, especially strength training is key (this is a topic for another post). As we age we lose muscle mass which is a key reason our metabolism decreases. Good luck with your baby — I’m 42 too and I’m trying to keep my muscle mass up with yoga, weights and running!

  21. I agree that happiness is a big factor – usually when I’ve been overweight it’s been because I wasn’t happy in some aspect of my life. I also found that when I eliminated foods that I was intolerant to, I quickly and easily shed weight.

  22. I like what you said about healthy weight management. My three children are 6, 4 and 4 and over the past year I have made more of a point to take the time to eat properly. I have returned to my prepregnancy weight and have been able to maintain it for more than six months now. I do not diet but I do eat my three meals, healthy snacks, while allowing myself the occasional treat. I have made myself a priority and it has paid off.

  23. Maryann, thank you for your article. I can identify with the points that you have made and feel blessed to actually experience the freedom that you are talking about. I too have experienced weight fluctuation (late teens and early twenties) and during that time I spent a lot of thought and energy trying to eat the right things (and avoiding others).

    I honestly don’t know what happened – it was like a light switch flipped inside of me and I experienced a mental shift on my view of food. Now that I think about it, I had been praying about it at the time, so that couldn’t have hurt. :)
    Also, I think part of what influenced me were two dating relationships that I was in. The first guy I dated was a super health nut who modeled eating good “whole foods” instead of processed foods with chemicals and preservatives. The second guy I dated was just your typical “male eater” who maintained a healthy weight by simply eating when he was hungry and stopped eating when he was full. He pretty much ate whatever he wanted, but he did so in moderation. That concept was a whole new world for me! I could enjoy pizza, burgers, pancakes, sausage, candy … if I wanted them. And the great thing was, sometimes I did and sometimes I didn’t. Most of the time now, I prefer to reach for healthy items. I like how I feel when I eat them more than when I eat something full of grease or sugar.

    I am now enjoying the freedom of listening to my body. If I’m hungry, I eat. If I’m still hungry, I’ll have something else. If I’m full halfway though my meal, I’ll stop. I think that’s what really changed inside of me was my entire ability to control my “stop” and “go.”

    I think I can relate to the peace and freedom that you are talking about in the article. And now I have maintained a healthy weight for over 2 years now. It’s huuuuuuuuge for me not to be worrying about gaining weight or losing weight – it’s so nice to be able to focus my attention on other things. Like guy #2. I liked him so much I married him! :)

  24. Valerie — what a great story! I love it! I can so relate to eating even better now. Once you take away the judgment with food, it’s even easier to make the healthy choices.

    It’s funny because I just (gently) talked to my husband about listening to his hunger and fullness cues. He comes from a family who just keeps eating until the food is gone. I think he would be so much happier if he tuned in more and realized that he can always have more later. He already eats decently well since I cook for him ; ) This is a major focus of my site — raising intuitive eaters. Thanks for sharing!

  25. I am pregnant with baby #2 and am not looking forward to the weight gain, especially since I haven’t lost all of it from being pregnant with baby #1. That’s interesting about lack of sleep being associated with higher weight.

    One of my problems has been that I find eating just one more thing on my list of things to do. I hate trying to figure out what to eat as sometimes nothing appeals to me (especially if I have to make it!) If I didn’t have to eat to survive, I don’t think I’d do it very often!

  26. Sharon,

    Thanks for sharing! I’m wondering why you view food as a chore? Do you not enjoy the act of eating? Are you picky about food?

    I think it helps to keep meals simple. For example, most mornings I have oatmeal with walnuts, raisins, milk and fruit (takes 2 minutes to make). Lunch is either leftover dinner or a sandwich with a salad or fruit (prep the salad or cut the fruit in the morning so you can quickly eat at lunch). I plan my dinner meals a week in advance so there is no guessing at dinner. I admit that the food prep can be tiring and I make my share of mistakes, but I remind myself (when I find myself complaiining) how much I enjoy eating good food. I also see the added benefit of how good meals enhance my day in terms of energy and hunger control.

    Maybe if you start looking at the all the benefits good food brings to you — more energy, nourishment and good taste, that would change how you view it?

    Good luck with your pregnancy!

    • I am a picky eater. And I have IBS, so I go through phases of not feeling well after I eat. Breakfast is no problem for me, I always eat cereal. But I don’t cook very often and when I do, my husband eats enough for 5 people, so there aren’t a lot of leftovers. Plus I get bored eating the same thing over and over again. I made a triple batch of spaghetti the other day and after having it for 2-3 meals, I am tired of it. Growing up I started babysitting at a young age and had my own money, so I filled up on junk food and fast food. I don’t eat nearly as much of that kind of stuff as I used to, but I prefer it, for sure!

  27. Menopause has finally arrived (I’m 58 so does that mean I’m a late-bloomer? LOL) and everyone is right. Getting the weight off is harder. All these weird feelings were driving me to eat carbs, and the weight was piling up. So, just a few days ago a sudden urge came on me, all by itself, to cut the carbs for a few days and see what happens. I feel absolutely GREAT! Aches and pains are gone. Energy has arrived. I sleep like a baby at night and I’ve lost 4 pounds in 5 days. No one can talk me out of this as long as things keep going so well. Sweets don’t even look good to me. I have 2 T of canned heavy whipped cream on a spoon with a sprinkle of cinammon every evening after dinner and it’s like I had dessert. Low carb, low cal and satisfying. Doesn’t get any better than this!

  28. For me, maintaining a healthy weight is actually, for a variety of health and life reasons, about keeping sufficient weight on. (And, no, you don’t wish that was your problem. Though, I recognize society is a lot easier on me than someone who tends to be overweight.) The key lesson I had to learn was exercise was not negotiable.

  29. For me weight loss fell into place when I figured out I was gluten intolerant. Once I figured out if I stopped putting something in my body I was allergic to, I stopped being sick. Since I’m healing, my body is going to a weight that is healthy.

  30. I have been trying to loose weight for years…. My youngest is almost 9. These are wonderful ideas.

  31. I noticed that unlike most other nursing mothers – my weight wouldn’t budge while I was nursing, but melted away as soon as I was finished! And #5 is soo important and often overlooked IMO!

  32. Definitely some truth to number 5. Recently started getting creative again at home, and I find myself snacking a lot less.

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