Americans are fat. Obese. And they seem to be getting ever fatter – as anyone can observe at the local supermarket, K-mart or Walmart. Customers waddle down the aisle gathering junk food, sometimes stuffing it into their chubby faces while the cashier is still ringing them up.
On international flights, it’s obvious, too. As tourists board, certain groups tend to be loud, others rude, but Americans are generally recognizable by their girth – as they wedge themselves into tiny seats while their French, British, Japanese and Chinese companions wince, knowing they’ll not get to use the armrest on this flight.
The obesity map
“Yes, Americans are fat. More accurately, Americans are still fat,” says Mary MacVean in the Los Angeles Times. “The federal government released its ‘obesity map’ outlining the rates of obesity and how rates in the states compare. Overall, the rate for the South was 29.5 percent, followed by the Midwest at 29 percent, the Northeast at 25.3 percent and the West at 24.3 percent.”
MacVean quoted the Centers for Disease Control: “The obesity epidemic is still a major public health problem.” For example, the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey found that more than a third of adults and almost 17 percent of young people were obese in 2009-10.
So, what are we supposed to do about it? We could get good and depressed – and make ourselves feel better with a double cheeseburger, super-sized fries and, of course, since we’re watching our weight, a diet cola, followed by a fried apple pie and – hey, the light is on at the doughnut shop – three glazed, fat-saturated bear claws with little chocolate sprinkles. And since we’re on a diet, spread generously with fat-free cream cheese.
Attitude is everything!
When you are following a healthy diet and exercising daily, your brain is also being fueled with nutrients, she says. In return, you will see elevated mood levels and a reduction in anxiety and depression. When you are in a good mood due to eating foods that promote brain power such as leafy greens and nuts, your attitude will stay positive. When you avoid sugary foods, you are also avoiding mood swings and fluctuating energy levels.
If you have enough energy to get through your day, it can affect your attitude. Eating healthy and cutting out excess sugar, high fat foods and processed snacks can help improve your vital signs and health. Healthy eating gives your body the nutrients it needs to get through the stress and hard work you face every day. Eating healthy gives you energy to be able to exercise, play and battle any added stressors that may be in your path.
But how do you get the attitude you need to succeed? Wicks, Moores, and Wansink offer some suggestions:
Have a good support system. “It’s easy for your attitude to get lost, especially if you have someone who is walking into the living room every night with a bowl of ice cream,” says Wicks. “It so important to have a support system that believes in you and wants to help — friends, family, and the person you’re with.
Throw away those old clothes. “I threw out my fat clothes — it’s very easy if they’re there to go back up to those sizes,” says Wicks. “If you throw them out, you say, ‘I can’t afford to buy a new wardrobe.’ So if your pants get snug, you know you have to watch it and keep that positive attitude for your body and your wallet.”
Keep up an eating journal. Keeping track of your food intake and physical activity can help set you on the road to healthier habits. But you can also use your journal to help you adopt a healthier attitude.
Learn from others. “Find others who have been successful,” says Moores. “Talk with them about the pitfalls and how they mustered the willpower to carry on.”
Drink plenty of water or other calorie-free beverages, advises Elaine Magee writing for MedicineNet.com. Before you tear into that bag of potato chips, drink a glass of water first. People sometimes confuse thirst with hunger, so you can end up eating extra calories when an ice-cold glass of water is really all you needed. If plain water doesn’t cut it, try drinking flavored sparkling water or brewing a cup of fruit-infused herbal tea.
Be choosy about nighttime snacks. Mindless eating occurs most frequently after dinner, when you finally sit down and relax. Snacking in front of the TV is one of the easiest ways to throw your diet off course. Either close down the kitchen after a certain hour, or allow yourself a low-calorie snack, like a 100-calorie pack of cookies or a half-cup scoop of low-fat ice cream.
Enjoy your favorite foods. Instead of cutting out your favorite foods altogether, be a slim shopper. Buy one fresh bakery cookie instead of a box, or a small portion of candy from the bulk bins instead of a whole bag. You can still enjoy your favorite foods — the key is moderation.
Eat protein at every meal. Protein is the ultimate fill-me-up food — it’s more satisfying than carbs or fats and keeps you feeling full for longer. It also helps preserve muscle mass and encourages fat burning. So be sure to incorporate healthy proteins like seafood, lean meat, egg whites, yogurt, cheese, soy, nuts, or beans into your meals and snacks.
Stock your kitchen with healthy convenience foods. Having ready-to-eat snacks and meals-in-minutes on hand sets you up for success. You’ll be less likely to hit the drive-through or order a pizza if you can throw together a healthy meal in five or 10 minutes. Here are some essentials to keep on hand: frozen vegetables, whole-grain pasta, reduced-fat cheese, canned tomatoes, canned beans, pre-cooked grilled chicken breast, whole grain tortillas or pitas, and bags of salad greens.
Swap a cup of pasta for a cup of vegetables. Simply by eating less pasta or bread and more veggies, you could lose a dress or pants size in a year. “You can save from 100-200 calories if you reduce the portion of starch on your plate and increase the amount of vegetables,” says Cynthia Sass, RD, a spokeswoman for the American Dietetic Association.
Always eat breakfast. It seems like an easy diet win: Skip breakfast and you’ll lose weight. Yet some studies show the opposite can be true. Not eating breakfast can make you hungry later, leading to too much nibbling and binge eating at lunch and dinner. To lose weight — and keep it off — always make time for a healthy morning meal, like high-fiber cereal, low-fat milk, and fruit.
Lose weight slowly. If you’re losing weight but not as fast as you’d like, don’t get discouraged. Dropping pounds takes time, just like gaining them did. Experts suggest setting a realistic weight loss goal of about one to two pounds a week. If you set your expectations too high, you may give up when you don’t lose weight fast enough. Remember, you start seeing health benefits when you’ve lost just 5%-10% of your body weight.
Get enough sleep. When you’re sleep deprived, your body overproduces the appetite-stimulating hormone ghrelin but under-produces the hormone leptin, which tells you when you’re full. Getting enough sleep may make you feel rested and full and keep you from doing unnecessary snacking.
Eat more fruits and vegetables. The best “diet” is one where you get to eat more food, not less. If you eat more fruits and vegetables, you shouldn’t feel as hungry because these nutrient-rich foods are also high in fiber and water, which can give you a feeling of fullness. Snacking can be a good thing as long as you choose smart snacks.
Chew sugarless gum. The next time you want to grab a fattening snack, reach for some sugar-free gum instead. Chewing some types of gum gives you fresh breath and can also help manage hunger, control snack cravings, and aid in weight loss. (Keep in mind, however, that excess sorbitol, a sugar alcohol sometimes used in low calorie gums, can have an laxative effect in some people.) Although gum might make you eat less, it doesn’t mean you can stop eating right. A good diet and exercise are still important.
Celebrate success (but not with food). You lost five pounds this month and walked every other day? Time to celebrate! Rewarding weight loss success really can encourage more success, so revel in your achievements. Buy a CD, take in a movie, and set a prize for the next milestone. Just don’t celebrate with a sundae or deep dish pizza.
And don’t forget to seek help from family and friends. Getting support can help you reach your weight loss goals. So tell family and friends about your efforts to lead a healthy lifestyle. Maybe they’ll join you in exercising, eating right, and losing weight. When you feel like giving up, they’ll help you, keep you honest, and cheer you on — making the whole experience a lot easier.