Thin people don’t just count calories. They develop lifelong habits that enable them to maintain the correct weight. Their strategies are as varied as the healthy folks who employ them. Still, there’s a gym bag full of suggestions we can use to tip the scales our way:
Make eating right a top priority. Healthy food doesn’t miraculously appear in the refrigerator. It takes planning and careful shopping to create good-for-you meals. Make sure fresh fruit is available at all times. Cook lean proteins in bulk so you can incorporate them in a variety of meals. Wash and spin greens, then store them in the cooler. You’ll have instant salad at your fingertips for meals in minutes. Pack small containers for the office to avoid overeating — and overpaying — at lunchtime.
Learn to eat the right amount. Thin people keep their portions under control. They avoid piling too much on their plates. They happily fill up on salads, veggies and green. They also recognize that a serving of meat is roughly the size of a deck of cards. Serving bowls seldom make it to the table. Instead, individual portions are doled out to each diner and second helpings stay in the kitchen, out of sight.
Drink water. Americans get more than 20 percent of their calories from beverages, according to Michael F. Jacobson, Ph.D., executive director for Center for Science in the Public Interest. Unfortunately, liquid foods don’t fill us up. Our brains don’t say, “Stop. You’ve had enough,” the way they do when we’ve eaten fish tacos. Hence, we keep eating, in spite of the 250 calories we consumed in that 20-ounce Coke. When someone asks thin people what they want to drink, their answer is most likely, “Water.”
Be active. Thin people move more than couch potatoes. Even when they’re watching television, they’re still apt to stand up, fidget and walk. At the Endocrine Research Unit of the Mayo Clinic, in Rochester, Minn., overweight volunteers sat two hours more than the slimmer ones did. “If the obese subjects took on the activity levels of the lean volunteers, they could burn through about 350 calories more a day without working out,” says endocrinologist James Levine, lead author of the project.
How much activity is enough? According to the National Weight Control Registry, a research study that gathers information from people who have lost and kept off weight, 90 percent of its participants report exercising one hour each day. It doesn’t have to happen all at once. Working out in 10 minute bursts is just as effective as sweating for prolonged stretches.
Eat breakfast. We may think we’re too busy to eat breakfast or that it’s a quick way to cut calories. In reality, prolonged fasting actually increases our bodies’ insulin response and encourages fat storage and weight gain. It also means we’re famished when we get to our desk, making the leftover birthday cake in the break room incredibly tempting.
A study at the University of Missouri-Columbus found that overweight or obese young women who consumed a high-protein breakfast felt more satiated and had fewer cravings than those who ate cereal or skipped breakfast altogether. Beneficial effects continued into the evening hours as the high-protein group reduced evening snacking on high-fat and high-sugar foods, compared to the other groups.
Get enough sleep. Adults who don’t get enough sleep are 50 percent more likely to be obese than their well-rested counterparts. Researchers have found that lack of sleep affects the parts of the brain that control pleasure eating. They also say that levels of the appetite regulating hormones leptin and ghrelin are disrupted when we have bags under our eyes.
In a study conducted at the University of Chicago in Illinois, 12 healthy men were subjected to two days of sleep deprivation followed by two days of extended sleep. When sleep was restricted, leptin levels went down and ghrelin levels went up. The men’s appetites also increased; their desire for high carbohydrate, calorie-dense foods went up an impressive 45 percent.
Keep tempting food at bay. Steer clear of goodies you know you can’t resist. Leave Cheetos and ice cream at the grocery store. Keep jars of candy away from your desk. This doesn’t mean you can’t indulge on a special occasion. By all means join in the fun. Just make sure the next day returns to normal, with cakes and cookies safely out of reach.