12 Resolutions for 2010

Here are a dozen healthful ways to help you make a new start in the new year—and you’ve got nothing to lose (except maybe some weight) via the BEAM formula.

Editor’s Note: This article is adapted from Madelyn Fernstrom’s new book, The Real You Diet: Your Personal Program for Lasting Weight Loss. In the book, Fernstrom unveils her personalized lifestyle approach, which will help change the way you think about losing weight and set you up for long-term success. Fernstrom is founder and director of UPMC’s Weight Management Center and is the diet and nutrition editor for NBC’s “Today” show.

If you’re dreading the January “weight-loss resolution” you’ve made for the new year, you’re not alone. Losing weight is hard, and keeping it off is an even bigger challenge. I’ve spent many years helping Pittsburghers achieve their weight-loss goals, and I’d like to answer the question every person asks:  “How do I do it?”

We all need a complete and comprehensive toolbox approach to weight loss. Many of us have some of the tools but haven’t really spent the time to add what’s missing. We get discouraged and feel that whatever we’re doing “just isn’t working.” We get in a downward spiral, get down on ourselves, get discouraged and give up.

Sound familiar? Not with “The Real You” plan. That old saying of “the right tool for the right job” is the fundamental truth when it comes to successful weight loss and maintenance. I call this building a personal toolbox. By evaluating your needs from a four-part selection of tools for Behavior, Eating, Activity and Medical issues, you’ll be able to build a lifelong personal toolbox and BEAM! your way to success.

While the first three tools you can do on your own, the “M” starts with a visit to your doctor. If you haven’t had a checkup in the past six months, schedule one now before you make any changes in your lifestyle. It’s not just about “clearance” for increasing your activity, but about your overall health, as well as about medical factors that might sabotage your weight-loss efforts, including medications you already take and underlying medical conditions.

Even if you’re not interested in losing weight, a yearly physical is a health-promoting step you’ll want to make a yearly ritual.
When it comes to weight loss, one size does not fit all. No plan is tailor-made, and that’s why so many “diet plans” fail. You must fit into the plan and not the other way around. With your own toolbox, you can personalize all the components of a successful plan that you can live with comfortably.

Eat this, exercise like that, and you too will lose weight. Followed to the likely conclusion, if it doesn’t work, it’s YOUR fault—not the plan’s. YOU must be doing something wrong or else you’d be losing weight. In other words, it’s a negative approach, which only fuels the basic
insecurity we all have with our ability to lose weight and keep it off.

To offer a positive approach, I have compiled 12 easy New Year’s Resolutions for you that help set the framework to build your BEAM box.

It’s what I call my “Fernstrom Fundamentals,” upon which you can establish a strong basis for success. This 12-tool foundation is a must-have for all toolboxes and helps you prepare for any challenging situation. These tools will become the workhorse to be pulled out frequently—often in combination.

These fundamentals will help you:

A. Conquer your old barriers preventing weight-loss success.
B. Maintain motivation and focus.
C. Develop lifestyle moderation (avoid extreme behaviors).


1. Stay Connected.

This is a lifestyle, not a diet. It may not seem like a difference at first, but you can go on and off a diet. You are in a lifestyle for life. When you choose to stay connected, it only means that you choose not to disconnect from your plan totally.

We have all faced times when we just want to blow it all off and worry about it next week, next month or next year. When you stay connected, it means that you will focus on avoiding a sabotage of uncontrolled eating and minimize the caloric damage. One health-promoting activity a day, minimum, will ensure that you are connected—whether it’s five fruits and veggies or a 20-minute walk.

Always know that, on some days, you are more connected than on others. It’s like flying a kite—sometimes it’s way up in the clouds and you can’t see it, but it’s still just as connected as when it’s just above you.

2. Think Before You Eat Anything.

The best way to stay connected is to think before you eat. This doesn’t mean don’t eat. It means make a better choice.

So often we don’t stop to think and we overeat, only later wondering why we did it. If you choose to think before you eat, you can buy yourself some time to make a better choice. It might be grilled chicken instead of a burger, or it might be one cookie instead of two.
If you think before you eat, you will always make a better choice.

3. Recognize Contentment: Look For “Level 2” Of Fullness.

We all eat to what I call “Level 3” of fullness in our culture — we eat until we are stuffed. How many times have we eaten until we feel as if we’re going to burst. Level 3 means we are physically unable to eat anymore.

So, how do you recognize Level 2 (meaning you are content and satisfied, but you could eat more)? That’s the new end point that you must accept in order to lose weight and keep it off.

Here’s the challenge—choosing to listen to that signal. The flip side of this, to avoid deprivation, is to tell yourself, “There’s always more food later.” The question we all fear when we stop at contentment—that uneasy feeling at first—is: “What if I’m hungry later?” The answer: “I’ll eat.” (Repeat as above: “There’s always more food later.”)

You will find that a more-modest number of calories will return you to Level 2 of fullness. Surprisingly, you’ll find that it will take 100 to 200 calories to satisfy, rather than 900 to 1,000.

4. Minimize Mindless Eating.

So often we all eat without thinking—it’s what I call “mindless eating.” It is so easy to do, but does take effort to learn to manage. If you are aware that this is happening to you, make a mental note and change the behavior.

First, always think before anything goes into your mouth. Decide whether you are hungry, thirsty or simply bored. You can take a step back and decide to have a low-calorie beverage or snack, or you can pursue a non-food activity, like cleaning a drawer or knitting.

5. Agree That There Are No Bad Foods, Just Bad Portions.

This is a fundamental you must embrace for long-term success. It’s hard in this culture of “good” versus “bad” foods, and all of the definitions and explanations of what makes something good or bad.

Baloney! The old phrase “Everything in moderation” is most true when it comes to food. There is no food that is off-limits forever. That is key to maintaining control, and reducing the pressure of food restriction is necessary for long-term weight control.

A taste is as good as a large serving. When you learn to be a taster, you can make food work for you more effectively. The first bite or two is always the most satisfying—and when you limit your consumption to a small serving, you will enjoy it fully.

While there are certainly no bad foods, there may be selected items that you personally find difficult to limit. For those items, it’s likely best to eliminate them for a short period of time—out of sight, out of mind—and retry now and then if you feel you’d like to include them.

Rather than eliminate, substitute with another food with which you have better control. For example, if you love nuts and find it hard to limit your serving size, substitute a bag of single-serving, light microwave popcorn. Let your imagination be your guide.

6. Learn To Barter.

Bartering is one of the best tools you have to avoid deprivation. Whether you try this daily or weekly, you can take the pressure off by choosing one food over another—you have control over the food. “I will choose a roll and skip the potato,” or “I will have a glass of wine and skip the dessert,” or “I will share a dessert and skip the roll”—you get the idea.

When you provide the choice for yourself, it becomes easier to see that there is no deprivation in your lifestyle, only prioritizing what you eat at a particular time. You can always make a different choice later on.

7. Keep Your Mouth Busy With Noncalorie Items.

There may not be a free lunch, but there are some “freebies” you can pull out of your toolbox to stay on track. The best ammunition for head hunger are things such as water, diet soda, low-calorie drinks like Crystal Light, sugarless mints and sugarless gum, which keep your mouth busy with almost no calories. (See the Anytime Foods in Chapter 5 of the book.)

Sometimes it’s not enough to “just say no” to food, and the helpful tool of keeping your mouth busy with a noncalorie item can help get you through a difficult time (we all have them!).

8. Buy Single Servings.

Single servings cost more but provide automatic portion control and way more satisfaction—that sense of “eating to the bottom of the bag.” Whether it’s a mini-bag of popcorn, mini-candy bar, low-fat cheese or a pre-packaged meal, it really takes the pressure off to know that you can eat the whole thing.

It is also a major help in learning when the meal or snack is “done.” You can preplan and determine that your single serving is all that you will consume, and when it is done, there is no more. It’s automatic portion control. Even if you do not feel content, limiting yourself to a single serving can help with portion control.

9. Accept Your Temperament.

You are who you are. Sounds silly, but when you take a step back and analyze yourself, it’s easy to see the highs and lows of your eating personality. Identify when you are most vulnerable—late afternoon and evening are popular times—and minimize the caloric damage at that time.

If you are someone (like me) who is an evening eater and really enjoys some food a couple of hours after dinner, than preplan for these times with modest calories. This is tied to bartering, when you can “save” some calories for your vulnerable times to relieve the pressure. This requires a good look at your lifestyle patterns to recognize when you struggle and when you’re cruising and it all seems so easy.

10. Remind Yourself That Daily Physical Activity Is Important.

So often we focus only on the caloric-intake part of the weight-loss equation. Daily physical activity is not only important, it also is essential to long-term weight management.

We have many barriers to physical activity—and I don’t mean running a marathon. I mean making the habit of regular daily activity. Some days may be more active than others, but the mindset to “keep moving” is key. If you learn to make this a priority, no matter what your level of ability, you will make time to increase your activity of daily living.

We can all park farther away from the market, take one flight of stairs, walk up the escalator, take the dog for a walk. Physical activity doesn’t always mean an aerobics class or an hour on the treadmill. Even five minutes six or seven times a day is a health-promoter.

11. Wear A Pedometer.

We often cannot separate mental fatigue from physical fatigue. We can have a very stressful day and “feel” physically exhausted.

The best way to determine your daily activity is to wear a pedometer and count your steps. Remember that it takes about 2,500 steps to make a mile, which is also about 100 calories. Keep that in mind when you think about activity. An extra 5,000 steps added to your day (about 40 minutes of walking) can save 200 calories. That’s a big help on the energy-balance end.

Exercise alone, without reducing intake, rarely results in weight loss, but combined with modest food restriction, it is the key tool to sustained weight loss and maintenance.

12. Don’t Beat Yourself Up: Learn From Your Mistakes.

Losing weight is very tough. If it were easy, everyone would be thin. When it comes to losing weight, we are highly critical of ourselves. You need to think of this as your own weight-loss journey.

Sometimes it’s easy to lose focus, but that does not mean failure. It means you need to take a step back and evaluate why you feel things are not going as you expected.

When your expectations do not meet your goals—whether it’s rate of weight loss, or restaurant choices, or selections at a family barbecue—do not get down on yourself. Life is not perfect, and neither are we. Move on and try to see what made you more vulnerable at the time of the “lapse.”

It might not be perfect the next time it occurs (and it will happen again), but you will be better able to recognize the vulnerability and maintain better control. You do not need to be perfect, only to make your best effort at control. And when you lose it (which happens sometimes), you regroup and move forward. No looking back.

About The Author

Madelyn H. Fernstrom, Ph.D., is a nationally recognized expert in the field of nutrition, weight control and wellness, and is an established media resource. She is the diet and nutrition editor for NBC’s “Today” show and has appeared on “NBC Nightly News,” Fox News, the BBC, National Public Radio and other electronic media, and has been interviewed by many newspapers and magazines. She serves on the national advisory board for Fitness Magazine and is a contributor to iVillage.com, writing a regular blog, “Health Journal.”

Dr. Fernstrom earned a bachelor’s degree in biology from Boston University and a doctorate from Massachusetts Institute of Technology, where she studied nutritional biochemistry, metabolism and neuropharmacology. She served a fellowship in endocrinology and behavior at Harvard Medical School and joined the faculty of the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine in 1982.

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