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With Shavuot now behind us, and the cheesecake all gone, I am wondering whether you have ever taken off weight and kept it off. If so, read no further. On the other hand, statistics suggest that many Israelis are overweight, weight-obsessed and are getting heavier all the time.
You know how to take off weight, right? But keeping it off - that's the tough part. Why do you eat the way you do? Gaining insight into your "eating behavior" may help you become a loser on the scale.
Generally the answer is simple. Eat more than you burn and you gain weight. Eat properly and exercise and you'll lose. Sounds easy, but if it were that simple, there'd be fewer problems with obesity. Maintaining weight loss requires tremendous motivation and that is often more difficult than taking off weight initially. There are no miracle fixes. Good health requires more than just weight loss but a lifetime commitment to nutrition and exercise.
Health means less stress on your joints, seeing your feet when putting on shoes, more energy, normal lab results and a greater sense of well-being. Stop reading and go put two kilograms of canned food in a bag. Go on! Now carry it for five minutes. Imagine not two kilos but 10 or 20. Physically you won't feel good and you may not feel very good about yourself either.
Let's look at your eating habits. Answer these questions honestly. No one is looking. How do you react, what do you do and what do you eat when you've had a horrible day and everything has gone wrong? You're feeling totally stressed, pressured and haven't a minute to spare? You're preparing dinner for your family? You're at a nice restaurant with friends? You're at a simha with food served to you? At the buffet? You walk in the house after a busy day? You're home alone? You're at lunch with coworkers? Now assess how you look at food with some more questions.
Are you an emotional eater and is food a source of comfort? Are you stressed, short of time, excited, sad or angry? Do you reward or punish yourself with food? How do you feel afterward? What foods do you eat? Are you mindful or aware of when and what you eat? Are you in control of your eating or does your eating control you? Do you pay attention to your body's signals of hunger and satiety and stop long enough to think about the consequences of your behavior before you overindulge? Do you grab food, nibble or distractedly consume several hundred calories without realizing it? Are you aware of the taste and texture of your food?
Overweight people often eat quickly and with little awareness of what they eat. Watch healthy eaters. They tend to chew their food slowly, put their fork down in between bites and stop eating before they are full. If you eat out of habit, can you keep your hands busy without food? Are you accountable? Do you pay attention to what you eat before or after you've eaten it?
Write down what, where and why you eat throughout the day and it will help you eat less. Look at what foods trigger overeating. No food is intrinsically bad, but some foods may be off limits unless you can control the quantity. You can eat just about anything - just not all at once and not if you can't control it. Do you make healthy, responsible choices, feel content and not deprived? Eating healthily also means treating yourself from time to time with foods you enjoy - without guilt.
Do you look after yourself and plan ahead with healthy snacks and frequent small meals? Do you maintain portion control by packing away extras "to go," walk with a buddy and find support when stressed? Can you appreciate and like your body? Can you anticipate and visualize a difficult "eating event" and devise a game plan for more effective coping? How does your behavior differ when you are alone versus when you are with others? Is temptation greatest when no one is looking, when standing in front of a buffet or sitting with friends? Have an honest discussion with yourself about what motivates you and what causes failure.
Do you graze all day? Why? Are you bored, do you lack variety, need to eat more or more frequently? Do you recognize the signs of hunger and thirst? When alone, do you eat a proper meal at the dinner table or stand at the fridge and chow down? Awareness is the key to change. Name your excuses. What messages do you tell yourself? Do you say you'll "diet" tomorrow? If you overindulge, what role does forgiveness play? Can you acknowledge that you blew it and get back on track? Are you an all or nothing person - dieting or "cheating"? Do you exercise?
Being healthy means incorporating it into your life. Can you schedule it in, see it as a priority and plan for it? With time and determination and activities you enjoy, the easier exercise is and the better it feels. If you're not into exercise start small. Walk around the block or up a flight of steps. Take yourself to a pool. Once you get into a routine doing something you like, you will actually miss not working out and you'll realize that you feel better when you do.
Good nutrition and fitness involve a lifetime commitment. By taking small realistic steps, with time, you'll make lasting changes that you will be proud of. Start by writing down the words in boldface and use them to make your action plan. If you can learn to treat your body with respect, you'll be the real winner with a healthier and happier you.
The writer is a licensed clinical psychologist in private practice in Ra'anana. firstname.lastname@example.org