After my midlife “fitness epiphany,” I wondered why I hadn’t succeeded earlier. Reading a contemporary proverb, I found the answer: “The apple doesn’t fall from the tree until it’s ripe.”
My earlier, failed attempts to lose weight meant I wasn’t ready. But once ready, the soap-opera events in my life — serious illness, a son’s wedding in France, a torn hamstring, a back injury, my daughter’s heart-stopping medical trauma — couldn’t derail me.
While exercise is an essential element of my makeover, the biggest change involves eating. Below are my favorite strategies — some I discovered and some I borrowed from others.
- Plan ahead so you can look forward to eating. Don't wing it: You will often end up overeating and/or eating something unhealthful.
- Focus on what you’ll eat — not what you are giving up.
- Eat at periodic intervals (every three to four hours). Skipping a meal can result in overeating later or poor food choices. Have a late-afternoon snack (fruit, carrot sticks, popcorn) for quick energy.
- Always start the day with a breakfast to manage hunger throughout the day. Overeating the night before isn’t an excuse to skip breakfast.
- Add protein to each meal — such as a hard-boiled egg, tuna or nonfat cottage cheese — to manage hunger and sustain energy.
- Save alcohol for special occasions.
- Save one time each week (for me, it’s Friday night) for indulging — but even then stay conscious of choices.
- Make friends with hunger. Learn to assess your hunger level — from “satiated” to “passing impulse” (perhaps triggered by a television commercial) to “ravenously famished.” Eat when your energy level drops, but don’t panic if you are hungry for an hour.
- Train yourself to stop after one serving. If you are particularly hungry, make sure you have one food or dish you can eat as much as you want — for example, cucumber salad with seasoned rice vinegar.
- If you must eat at a fast-food joint, order salads, veggie burgers, and other low-cal dishes.
- Shop for groceries when you aren’t overly hungry, angry, lonely or tired. Don’t bring food home that you shouldn’t eat.
- If you’re hungry but don’t want to eat yet, chew some sugarless gum and drink water.
- When entertaining, make sure there are foods you can eat along with your guests. When you’re a guest, discreetly find foods that fit into your plan and eat them.
- If you need medicine, take it. Don’t medicate with food.
- Limit caffeine. It can stimulate appetite.
- I know that seems like a lot, but over time it becomes second nature. Then the pounds melt away and it really gets fun! For me, one of those moments came when I wore a size 6 suit to my son’s wedding.
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Carole Carson, author of From Fat to Fit: Turn Yourself into a Weapon of Mass Reduction, serves as the coach for the AARP Fat to Fit online community.