Small Changes that can positively impact weight loss?
July 19, 2006 11:04 AM   Subscribe

Help me come up with some easy, small changes to make to my lifestyle to help me lose weight while dealing with other life issues (e.g. depression).

I've been trying to lose weight for a number of years, ever since college. Since graduating college in 2002, I've always been on a diet. Most recently, I spent 2.5 years trying to follow the WW plan.

My issue is that I also suffer from anxiety & depression, which I am getting treatment for. Working with my therapist, I've realized that I go through cycles - 1 week of getting very excited about losing weight (and getting my life & mood together in general), 1 week of following my strict routine, 1 week of feeling kind of burnt out and half-assing it, and then about a month of just falling into a deeper depression and essentially feeling like I don't care and it doesn't matter.

Because of this, I haven't reached any sort of consistency. Following a diet plan isn't going to work if I only stick to it 2 weeks out of 2 months. And because of my depression, I am starting to feel like it's unrealistic from me to go from miserable-tired-emotional-binger to WW poster girl overnight. I've tried & failed too many times before, so that the mere thought makes me want to just crawl under a rock.

At any rate, while I am trying to mostly focus on my depression right now, I am also fairly overweight, and while I'm trying to accept myself for who I am and all that, I can't ignore my weight & my health.

So, I'd like to try a different approach. I would like to pick 2 or 3 habits to incorporate into my life, things that are not too small nor too drastic, and once I've stuck with them for a month or two, adding a couple more good habits.

So, can you recommend some small changes that, done consistently, could make an impact in health & weight over time?

(Note: I'm not interested in diet plans, especially ones that eliminate entire food groups. I'm working on trying to become a "normal" eater, but one who naturally chooses mostly healthy foods.)
posted by tastybrains to Health & Fitness (55 answers total) 53 users marked this as a favorite
The number one thing that works for me is to exercise. It helps with the weight and (for me anyway) helps with the mood too.
posted by stupidcomputernickname at 11:08 AM on July 19, 2006 [1 favorite]

Stop drinking soda. Eat breakfast every day. Eliminate bread in favor of tortillas and pizza. Choose whole-weat over white. Avoid red meat. Substitute tofu for chicken. Eat fish, but not too often. Eat fruits as a snack and as dessert. Eat when you're hungry and stop when you're full.

Park far away so you have to walk. Take the stairs. Walk anywhere and everywhere you can. Stand up when you're on the phone or watching TV. Pace around. Fidget. Buy a bike.
posted by maxreax at 11:15 AM on July 19, 2006 [3 favorites]

Eating salad (sans cheese and dressing on the side) with most meals helps me. Eating a salad before/with dinner enables me to feel full and eat less of the higher calorie main course and side dishes.
posted by rglass at 11:16 AM on July 19, 2006 [1 favorite]

Start off small. After dinner, take a nice stroll. Maybe instead of eating lunch at your desk take a walk around the block. Wake up a little early and give it a try too. Get in a rythmn. Get a dog if you don't like walking alone... or borrow a neighbors.
posted by bleucube at 11:19 AM on July 19, 2006


Go for a variety, and go for interest - run one day, play tennis the next etc. Even if you only walk for 30 minutes at a brisk pace you will help.

As for diet, since your mood swings I would stick to buying only healthy and filling foods, lots of vegetables, beans, and fruits so that you can eat and feel full and when you feel down and snack to distract you will have healthier snacks to choose from. Perfection only works for robots like Lance Armstrong. Plan for the imperfections.
posted by caddis at 11:19 AM on July 19, 2006

Is it possible for you to get a dog? It'll brighten your mood and you will have to walk him.
posted by cmfletcher at 11:22 AM on July 19, 2006

Drink lots of water. Slice up fruit (lemons, limes, berries, etc.) and put it in the water if you get bored of just plain old water.
posted by Alpenglow at 11:24 AM on July 19, 2006

Go for a walk. Everyday. Walk for 2 hours, no matter the weather. Worked for Schopenhauer.
posted by Bron at 11:24 AM on July 19, 2006

Perhaps one of the easier things to change diet-wise would be to look at what you're drinking. It's much easier to consume liquid calories than it is for food so if you regularly drink juice, milk, non-diet soda, or alcohol, try replacing them with water or decaffeinated tea or buying diet versions instead.

Cut back or eliminate dairy, which is high in fat and contains no fiber at all. The same is true with meat (all meat, not just beef and pork; most fish contains just as much fat as beef). Check out the nutritional values of the food that you're eating and analyze the calorie content. You might just be surprised.

You might avoid or limit intake of fruit because of its high sugar content but if you like any raw vegetables try to incorporate as much of them as you can into your diet. Vegetables (especially raw) contain fiber which will help you to feel full, will aid in digestion, and are natually low in calories and nutrient-dense. Try and eat (for example) a couple of carrots or a spinach salad (with vinegar instead of a creamy dressing) or even a big dill pickle before a meal. Put smaller-than-usual portions on your plate and eat slowly. And have plenty of healthy, low-calorie foods available for you to snack on if you feel hungry.

Good luck!
posted by mezzanayne at 11:24 AM on July 19, 2006 [3 favorites]

Response by poster: cmfletcher - Unfortunately, I can't have a dog in my apartment, and my cats don't like to go for walks.

But I am seeing a strong support of regular exercise, so that will most likely be my first habit that I focus on. I do enjoy exercise...I don't know why I am not more consistent with it.
posted by tastybrains at 11:25 AM on July 19, 2006

Best answer: tastybrains, I would love to give you some advice, seeing as that cycle you mention is something that I know from first hand experience for years.

I finally conquered it, but it still takes patience. So here goes:

1. Be realistic. Those small changes you talk about are the key. Think small and gradually change your behaviour towards food. In my case, it was realising that if I wanted to I could still eat a lot (that magical feeling of being really full) but cutting out the extras. My first change was to diet soda and no salt. Those are things that even during a major bout of depression you can stick with. Then from there I got rid of the bread which was a lot easier than I thought. Instead I started looking towards low carb high protein meals still eating to be full. Slowly but surely over the course of a couple of months my food choices and portions came into swing. Again, it really comes down to starting with small things that your mood won't notice.

2. The slow change towards exercise. Anyone who has ever been overweight knows what a struggle it is to wake up one morning to say "wayhey, todays the day, gym, exercise!" only to find the motivation disappears. Maxreax and StupidComputer are right on track and I speak from personal experience as well. Make the small effort. If you can make the choice to walk. It's the best excercise for someone overweight and starting to make lifestyle changes. Don't plan a six mile hike or look at walking up 6 flights of stairs, but instead just grab an opportunity every day to give yourself 10-15 minutes of walking. You'll be amazed at how you feel after one week and after 6 weeks you'll walk a lot more without thinking about it.

3. Don't let your friends or lover influence your food or excercise. People always try to add their two cents saying "come on, eat a little, it won't kill you". Learn to trust your own food choices and stick to them. A recent study by published in the Sun Sentinal newspaper found at least 50% of friends and colleagues will attempt to sabotage someone's else diet. Again, STICK TO YOUR GUNS. Don't let anyone tell you (except a doctor) what is good for you regarding food you eat or exercise you choose to do.

Sorry for the long comment, but this was a problem for me for years. The weight and the depression were mutual best friends. Breaking them up is hard to do but can be done.
posted by Funmonkey1 at 11:30 AM on July 19, 2006 [6 favorites]

Here's a few things that's worked for friends of mine:
  • Use smaller plates. Box up all of your larger plates so they're not easily accessible. Smaller plates lead to smaller portions.
  • Wait 20 minutes after eating to determine if you're really still hungry and want to reload that (smaller) plate of yours. One friend said it took him several days to trust this method and it's totally changed his eating habits.
  • Eliminate the alcohol. Lots of empty calories.

posted by funkiwan at 11:32 AM on July 19, 2006 [1 favorite]

I've found that having a tablespoon of flaxseed oil in the middle of the afternoon kills a lot of my junkfood cravings, makes me eat less in general, and makes me crave healthier foods. Seriously, I go from "Mmmmm, ice cream!" to "mmmmmm, broccoli!" in about five seconds.

I discovered this before the Shangri-La diet got popular, so I don't think it's just power of suggestion.

I've heard that men may want to use fish oil for Omega-3s rather than flaxseed oil, but I don't know the science on that.

And pills didn't work for me, just the actual oil. It's really the single easiest thing I've ever done to change my eating habits (though I'm not always great about remembering to do it every day).
posted by occhiblu at 11:33 AM on July 19, 2006 [8 favorites]

I'm with the exercise crowd. Try to incorporate it into your life rather than seeing is as a 'chore' or an 'extra'. If you make it part of your daily life you will do it. It'll make you feel better about yourself and you will loose weight (as long as you eat well).
posted by ob at 11:35 AM on July 19, 2006 [1 favorite]

forgot to add, if you need ever need some support or just a kind word whilst you get your healthy living up and running. Feel free to email me :)
posted by Funmonkey1 at 11:37 AM on July 19, 2006

Best answer: Your question made me decide to sign up for MeFi after a long period of lurking.

There are a lot of minor lifestyle changes that one can make that will help with weight loss. Here are a few.

1. Drink water.
This is probably the best and simplest idea. It's very simple to incorporate this change into your lifestyle.

First, simply replace most of your other beverages (esp. things like soda) with water. Quite often, caffeine addiction and addiction to a routine makes this difficult, so I found that a good solution when getting started was to fill empty 20 oz. bottles of my favorite soda with water. That way, when I went to the fridge to get a soda, the water was right there.

Second, when you eat a meal, follow every bite with a healthy gulp of water. Not only will this slow down your eating pace, it will cause you to feel full quicker (it's not an appetite suppressant, obviously, but it can get you away from the table before you over-eat).

Don't worry about drinking too much water if you do this, as long as you avoid absurd amounts (more than a couple liters) in a single sitting. A normal functioning pair of kidneys can process fifteen liters of water a day. Just drink some when it feels natural to drink something.

This won't result in immediate weight loss because most people are dehydrated to begin with; in fact, you might gain a bit of weight at first as your body stores excess water and makes up for the low level of dehydration. After that, though, the reduction in food and unhealthy beverage intake will, over time, cause some weight loss.

2. Chew.
This seems silly, but just try it for a while. Whenever you put a bite of anything in your mouth, chew it at least twenty five times. Don't change anything else. With most foods, it is quite surprising how few bites one actually takes before swallowing.

The biggest reason for doing this is that it causes you to eat at a slower rate and thus realize that you are in fact full earlier than you might think. In addition, you also get a chance to contemplate your food for longer; I find that since I've started doing this, I've begun to appreciate herbs and spices quite a bit more, as a well-spiced meal exposes many levels of flavors over a long chewing period. It can actually enhance your enjoyment of the meal quite a bit.

3. Don't fill your plate.
When you get a plate of food for a meal at home, don't fill it with food. Put only a little bit on it, much less than you think you'll eat. When you've cleaned it up, consider whether or not you want another plate of food. If you do, go get it and don't worry about it!

This achieves two goals. First, it causes you to pause and consider whether you really want more to eat at regular times during the meal. This consideration is often enough to make one decide not to eat more. Second, it slows down your eating process, allowing your body more time to decide it is full. The end result? You eat a bit less and approach food in a healthier manner.

4. Take a walk.
A simple daily stroll, even if it is short, can do wonders for both weight and self-esteem. It's usually good to incorporate it as part of a daily routine, where you walk to the local grocery store or post office instead of driving there. You don't need to be particularly active about it, with the iPod in your ears and your arms swinging; in fact, it is quite often much more interesting to do it leisurely and watch those people and things around you.

Don't overdo this, though. If you take a very long walk and wind up with uncomfortable feelings about it, it's very easy to talk yourself out of continuing to do it. If you overdo it once, simply don't take a walk that long again for a while.

5. DON'T give up stuff.
Most people who fail time and time again at dieting and exercise routines do so because they're giving up something important to them (leisure time, good food, etc.) for something not as important (weight loss, appearance).

If giving up succulent food makes you unhappy, don't give it up! Instead, look at ways you can still enjoy it without doing too much damage to other things you value. For example, if you really enjoy bratwursts and sauerkraut (my weakness), go ahead and have them, but perhaps grill the bratwursts to get rid of some of the excess fat and drink plenty of water with the food and eat slowly.

It is much easier to splurge and gain weight when you're unhappy; if sacrificing makes you unhappy, don't do it.

I hope these ideas help you.
posted by krark at 11:39 AM on July 19, 2006 [13 favorites]

Best answer: I'm in the same boat as you are, tastybrains. When I tried to use WW, the points system made me crazy and more anxious, so I didn't use it.

However, I lost thirty pounds this year (gained some back, but that's neither here nor there -- it all changed after I went off my meds and didn't keep following my plan.)

So, what I did.

Water. That's almost all I drink. No soda, diet soda, beer, wine, etc. Orange juice maybe once every two or three months.

Portion control. This was a big one. I'd get a box of cereal and parcel it up into servings in wee tupperware bowls. That way, when I wanted cereal, I didn't overfill a bowl or eat it out of the box. Also, this may gross you out, but look into lean cusine meals. I am not claiming that they are fine dining but they are portion controlled and they don't taste as bad as they did in the past. Many of the varieties don't have preservatives, either. The point is, it's a set serving, and they are very filling. This also leads to... I put in everything I ate, except for vegetables. The way I see it, any benefit I get from them will outweigh any calories I might ingest. This leads to...

Vegetables. Learn to love them. I eat a big salad with every dinner. I don't use salad as a dressing transportation device, but I do have croutons and cheese. See the serving size info above.

Eating out. I eat out about once a week, and I don't sneak around about it. If I want a bacon cheeseburger or some frozen custard, I'm going to have it, because if I don't have it it will turn into a huge craving that will spiral out of control. Also, will take the nutrition info from a lot of restaurants and put it right into your fitday account. The McDonald's Bacon Ranch salad with crispy chicken and no dressing is only like 350 calories, too, so there are definitely options if you feel like you HAVE to eat out at work or something.

Exercise. This is an important one. I don't get the endorphin feeling from exercise that lots of people talk about, which sucks, but it does help with my anxiety and depression, even if I'm not floaing on the ceiling when I get off the bike. The important thing here is to find something that you really, really enjoy. The only exercise that I really, really enjoy is riding my stationary recumbent bike while watching TV. So that's what I do. I've thought about getting one of those cruiser bikes to ride around town but holy moly, it's so hot. Maybe in the fall. With the recumbent bike I know I will do it.

An important thing to remember here is that YOU DON'T HAVE TO DO THIS ALL AT ONCE. In fact, it would probably be detrimental for you to do it all at once. I started out exercising three or four times a week for half an hour at a time and now I do four or five for almost an hour. After a few weeks of that (and liking how my clothes fit better) I started in with the diet and went from there.

Ahh, now I'm all excited to get back into the groove. I hope this has been helpful for you. My email's in my profile if you have any questions. Good luck!
posted by sugarfish at 11:44 AM on July 19, 2006 [7 favorites]

I'm with all those who suggested stop drinking soda. In fact, I'd recommend stoping drinking all liquids with calories in them, period. (Get all your vitamin and minerals needs from food or suppliments). The calories in beverages add up very quickly. If you don't like (or get sick of) water, develop a taste for diet soda (if you need a caffeine boost) or try those new diet juices (Minute Maid makes a couple decent ones).

Since you've been doing WW I'm sure you can (and have) done the math yourself, but a single glass of OJ every morning translates to about 850 calories a week. That's a pound a month right there.
posted by cgg at 11:50 AM on July 19, 2006

I'd quit caffeirne, if you drink it, and buy a bike.
posted by nyterrant at 11:50 AM on July 19, 2006

I think an important part of healing from depression and anxiety is treating yourself from the inside-out. For me, after getting released from the hospital, any kind of physical activity was good. One of the things I did that really got me out and about was starting a journal. I'd go to a park or sit outside at a coffee shop or something and just write. It didn't matter what I was writing; just that I was doing something that appealed to my extrovert and introvert. Eventually this lead to me looking forward to being out of the house and eventually meeting people.

This was a very simple, non-threatening thing for me to do but it eventually led to my doing other healthy things.
posted by KevinSkomsvold at 11:51 AM on July 19, 2006 [2 favorites]

Also (I can't belive I forgot this) SparkPeople. It's similar to WW online, but free, so it can't hurt to sign up. I've gotten some decent healthy recipies from them. They're worth checking out at the very least.
posted by cgg at 11:53 AM on July 19, 2006

Best answer: I've also lost thirty pounds this year and am continuing on a slow steady one pound/week process. The three things that have worked well for me on the food front are: write down everything I eat, pay more attention to portion sizes, and drink more water. This works for me because I was already making decent food choices (veggies, lean protein, low-ish carbs). I eat whatever I want, mostly, but just pay attention to it and try to have things that are more nourishing than not (ie. good cheese and good chocolate vs. more junky food).

I'd also recommend yoga and other gentle ways of getting in touch with what your body needs vs. more punishing forms of exercise, especially as you're starting out.

And everyone has times where their intentions don't mesh with reality - depression or not. You'll have some weeks where your food & exercise choices are exactly what you'd hope they'd be and some where they aren't. Don't beat yourself up about it. Feeling good is self-perpetuating and the more time you have feeling good, the easier it is to keep yourself feeling good.
posted by judith at 11:55 AM on July 19, 2006 [4 favorites]

I have found that, for me, eating a light, low carb evening meal, supplemented by an optional small snack before bed if necessary (e.g. half a bagel, or even a whole one if you're really hungry) is easy and helps a lot with eating well the next day. No other single change has had such a good positive-feedback effect for me, I guess it's something to do with the stomach adjusting to being relatively empty during the night.

My other tip is to enjoy very high-calorie foods in very small portions and really take time over each bite, it's surprising how little you need to feel satisfied when you take it slowly.
posted by teleskiving at 12:05 PM on July 19, 2006 [2 favorites]

Everyone is coming up with some excellent suggestions. As a life-time overweighter (since puberty), and sufferer of clinical depression, I have also found myself making small victories in the weight loss arena, only to have another bout of the sads make it all go away. Other folks have said it, but one thing I can't live without - exercise. I started slow, and am now up to running 20 minutes at at time.

You didn't mention any one particular food that you felt might be a problem-causer, but I find that what I eat and how I feel are inextricably linked. My biggest depression trigger- refined sugar. I know you said that you didn't want to eliminate an entire food group - neither did I, so I replaced it, instead. I love sweets, so whenever I just give up sugar, it never goes well.

And then I discovered stevia - it's an herb that tastes sweet. Now I bake cake, fudge, cookies, ice cream - and eat it, without really worrying about portions. I've had very steady weight loss, my mood has been very stable (stevia can regulate insulin), and my portion sizes have naturally gotten smaller.

As anecdotal evidence of how profound the stevia sweets have been, I just survived a 4 day family reunion with cookies, cake and other sweets EVERYwhere, and I never wanted them. Not even the tiniest bit. That's not to say I didn't have a chocolate cupcake whenever I wanted one, but that cupcake didn't make me want 5 more (or plunge me into a depression)!

If you don't like to bake, I've found that you can get some really scrumptious cookies made with no refined sugar from Whole Foods.

I wish you the best of luck - we have to make the choice to be happy every single day, and it sounds like you are already doing that!
posted by dirtmonster at 12:14 PM on July 19, 2006 [3 favorites]

Funmonkey1, thanks for sharing your experiences, and congratulations on making a serious life change.

Like the OP I have a difficult time sticking to a "plan" of any sort. I do like to exercise, but even that can be put on the back burner when I am feeling especially blue.

I don't believe in diet plans. They are just words on a page that hardly anybody can stick to for a long period of time. You have to change your mind and your behavior. Very difficult, I know. People of normal weight usually have these attributes: they don't think about food all the time, they stop eating when they are full, and they don't feel guilty about eating.

If you feel guilty about food, try to stop that guilt now. If you constantly think about what your next meal is going to consist of, then get a better hobby. If you eat to comfort yourself, well that is the hardest habit to break.

I would start with four simple steps:

1. DO NOT EAT FAST FOOD. If you find yourself in a situation where you need to grab a quick bite, buy a yogurt or a piece of fruit, or a turkey sandwich. If you work away from home, pack something. Keep an apple or a few crackers and a piece of wrapped cheese in your bag or briefcase. That way there is no excuse to grab a hot dog if you are ravenous. Keep that "snack" with you as much as possible. Make a pact with yourself that you are not going to eat cheeseburgers and french fries from some greasy drive- thru. It's degrading.

2. Only eat when you are hungry, and stop when you are full. It's simple as that. Check yourself after a few bites of food. Are you still hungry? If so, eat some more, and then check again. When you are content, stop. Don't let yourself become ill-pained from overeating. Don't look at the clock to determine meal times. Look to your stomach.

3. Walk 30 minutes a day. No matter what. Break it up if you want to. Walk 15 minutes in the morning, and 15 in the evening.

4. Record your meals. Journaling is proven to help people shed weight. I wouldn't make it difficult. You don't have to enter the amount of food consumed, or the caloric content, just jot it down in a notebook that you keep on the kitchen counter or nightstand. If you miss a day or two of journaling, don't feel bad. Just pick it up again.

Continue to remind yourself that you are seeking a lifestyle change, not a quick fix. Be diligent, and keep your eye on the prize -- a healthy person that is a normal weight for height, and does not have a destructive relationship with food.
posted by LoriFLA at 12:17 PM on July 19, 2006 [5 favorites]

Eat breakfast
Make lunch at home
If hungry in the afternoon choose low calorie snack
Eat dinner early
posted by Ironmouth at 12:22 PM on July 19, 2006

Response by poster: Wow...thank you so much, everyone, for your great & thoughtful answers. This really gives me a lot to think about, but I'm feeling a bit more confident about being able to commit to some small changes. I'll have to come back later to really read through everything again, but after skimming I just had to say thank you. :-)
posted by tastybrains at 12:25 PM on July 19, 2006

Everyone has great tips, so I'll just add two more:

1. If there is an activity you love, arrange your priorities so that you can do it whenever possible. For me it was inline skating. I bought the best skates I could afford and skated nearly every day. I looked forward to it at the end of the work day, and I scheduled my evening around my exercise time. Maybe for you the activity might be biking, swimming, or hiking. Do whatever you can to make it easy for you to engage in your favorite activities whenever you feel the urge.

2. Is there one food that is problem for you? Potato chips, cheese, or chocolate, for example? I know that you often hear that you shouldn't be too restrictive or ban foods from your diet because it can backfire, but I decided not to eat chocolate for 12 weeks, just to see if I could do it. I lost 10 pounds without doing ANYTHING else. And when the 12 weeks was up, I ate much less chocolate than I had previously. Just a little bit several times a week, and I savored it more. It's a good exercise in self-control. I just kept telling myself, "It's not forever. I can eat that in 10 more weeks . . ."
posted by peep at 12:30 PM on July 19, 2006 [3 favorites]

I can't agree more with the walking suggestions, but I'd add one more component: get a pedometer. I like this one because you can slip it in a pocket instead of wearing it. Try to work yourself up to 10,000 steps a day, and use the pedometer both to track your goal and act as a motivator. (It's not uncommon for me to be about to go to bed, glance at my pedometer, and then go downstairs to walk around the block because I can't stand the idea of having my total for the day only be 9,700. It sounds silly, but it works.)

Don't get me wrong... 10,000 steps a day will shed a few pounds and reduce overall stress, but it's not enough for major weight loss. But it's a fantastic way to relax, do something good for yourself, and get your body used to moving again.
posted by j-dawg at 12:30 PM on July 19, 2006 [1 favorite]

Try preparing all your own food. It doesn't have to be from scratch; it can be frozen Lean Cuisine, or whatever. The idea is that you plan your meals ahead of time instead of when you're hungry in the deli lunch line. This will give you more control over the type of food you eat and your portions. Ideally, when I go out to eat, I always intend on leaving half the entree to be wrapped up, but that doesn't always happen; I end up eating the whole thing. At home, I can wrap up the rest before I eat, making it a conscious effort to get to the other half.
posted by Sprout the Vulgarian at 12:46 PM on July 19, 2006

Try Shangri-La -- the appetite suppression it induces is really quite astonishing. It took a while for it to kick in for me, but I'm full on much less food these days.

If walking, try to find someplace that has hills and walk up and down them. There's a good sized hill not far from my office and I'm trying to get out there and walk up it a couple times a day, a little faster each time. The hill kicked my ass the first time I tried it but your body quickly adjusts -- by the end of the first week I could walk up without stopping to catch my breath, and the week after that I was doing it 3 times (down, then up, three times) before I wore myself out.

I also like Shovelglove for upper-body strength; I currently try to do it 3-4 times a week. It takes less than 15 minutes a day and you will find after only a couple weeks that e.g. grocery bags seem a lot lighter.

It helps to have a goal. I like hiking and I like nature photography, but rarely have I combined the two because sometimes it's enough effort just walking, especially uphill (and any interesting hike is gonna be hilly). But if you take photos from easily-accessible spots, you end up with the same photos everyone else has already taken. So, my goal is to be able to do 5-10 mile hikes on hilly terrain, while carrying a camera bag and a tripod, along with regular hiking supplies. This means significant weight loss, better aerobic capacity for endurance, and better upper body strength for carrying things. Not coincidentally, that is exactly what my diet and exercise is focused on. I'm not going to make it this summer, but I hope next summer.
posted by kindall at 12:47 PM on July 19, 2006 [1 favorite]

An easy way to cut out soda from your diet without really missing it is drinking mineral (sparkling) water. You get all the health benefits of drinking lots of water, and it has that crisp refreshing carbonated edge to it that makes soda so good. I lost 25 pounds just by switching from 3 Cokes a day to 3 Perriers a day.
posted by gokart4xmas at 12:49 PM on July 19, 2006 [1 favorite]

I'm with those who say exercise, mainly because it seems like you're approaching it from the angle of 100% diet. Unfortunately, dieting is not the entire picture, because reducing your caloric intake will reduce your body's demand for calories. Exercising counteracts this tendency, and turns a mediocre diet experience into a productive plan toward good health.

The key to exercise is to find one you enjoy. For me, running is the one exercise that consistently provides good results, but I don't always enjoy it. I need to mix things up by playing basketball, or soccer, or dance dance revolution. Exercises that are fun will be infinitely more productive than the exercise you don't do because you hate it.

It's hard to get the ball rolling, but once you do, you get the side effects of exercise:

1. More energy
2. Better mood (endorphins are cool)
3. Better sleep
4. Increased metabolism
5. Better performance in every aspect of life (physical, mental or emotional)

Good luck! And as far as diet goes, there isn't much to it. Avoid simple sugars, and don't eat to the point of being full.

Easier said than done, for sure. I have recently put back on weight that I lost last year, and I'm very familiar with the cycle you described. The motivational aspect is probably the hardest part of all. Knowing what to do is 10%, doing it is the 90%.
posted by knave at 1:19 PM on July 19, 2006

I most often overeat when I go out to dinner. If the food is good, I'll keep eating even after I'm full. One thing that works for me: after I'm satisfied, I pour hot sauce (or salt or ketchup - whatever's handy) over what's left, so I won't eat the rest of it before the waiter comes to pick it up.
posted by Evangeline at 1:24 PM on July 19, 2006 [1 favorite]

Two main ones....hobbies and exercise.

Both will help with the depression too. Exercise helps stabilize moods too, because it helps all body functions. That's why diets that make you skip whole food groups are dumb for those that have it....body can't stabilize.

Hobbies will give you things to look forward to, and keep you from sitting around with little to do, which is a prime snacking situation. One or two things or classes that meet once a week will get you thinking about and doing all sorts of other things related to them. It's not keeping busy to keep from feeling depressed, it's connecting with things that make you feel alive. Keep doing or going to these activities even when feeling down, just being there can lift your spirts.

Humans aren't meant to do things alone. Good luck and let us know?
posted by mattfn at 1:24 PM on July 19, 2006 [1 favorite]

If you are, as I was, addicted to soda, switch to (unsweetened) seltzer. Polar has a number of flavors, as do many supermarket brands. It's more expensive than plain water, but I just couldn't give up the 'fizz'.

Sure, we all should exercise a lot more, but telling someone who wants ~small~ steps to get on out there and just do it is kind of silly.

Whatever exercise you do, make sure you do it before you've come home and wound down from work. If I go home and come up with some idea of 'I'll exercise after I...", I don't exercise. Some people love exercise. I abhor it. It makes me sweat, which I hate, and makes me feel more out of shape than I already do. Any excuse not to do it will be taken. The trick is not to give yourself an excuse. :)

On preview: gokart4xmas beat me to it. ;P Oh well. Good advice, no matter who it's from.
posted by Meep! Eek! at 1:28 PM on July 19, 2006

I should probably have emphasized this more, since you asked for a small change you can make:

Avoid refined sugars like the plague

It was mentioned above, but it deserves emphasis. If you're a sugar addict like me, the first couple days without it will be hellish. Headaches, tiredness, etc. After a week or two, your body should adjust, and you won't even crave it.

Everything you eat gets broken down in the intestines, a process taking hours, and consuming energy. The energy is slowly released to your body and you are pretty much continually powered by eating normal meals (even though you don't eat continuously).

On the other hand, sugar is absorbed directly into the blood stream when it hits your stomach. No energy is required to do this. It will spike your blood sugar levels (rush), and, if the energy isn't used, it will be converted to fat. Sugar sends your body on a series of highs and lows and results in all sorts of problems, from mood swings to diabetes. (And, counterintuitively, fat is harder to break down and eating it is less likely to "make you fat" than eating sugar.)

Stopping my intake of sugar (in the form of soda & candy) lost me 10lb in a couple weeks. Regular exercise and healthy eating lost me another 15lb.
posted by knave at 1:30 PM on July 19, 2006 [3 favorites]

- watch that you get your vitamins, take a multivitamin if you can. When I get anemic, I start to want lots of junk food (caffiene can reduce iron-absorportion from veggies, so try not to drink caffienated beverages then).

Things that help me personally:
- real licorce & licorce tea to satisfy my sweet tooth
- learn to appreciate spicy, sour, bitter foods (most ppl get plenty of salty/sweet).
- nonfat-plain yogurt, w/ unsweetened applesauce to satisfy my weakness for dairy
- mate tea tends to reduce my appetite
- get plenty of smells (walk next to flowers, cook a healthy meal for a group)
posted by ejaned8 at 1:32 PM on July 19, 2006 [2 favorites]

I have started eating smaller portions out of smaller dishes, with the understanding that if it turns out I need seconds, I can have seconds, that's cool. I rarely do. I am using more hot spice in my cooking, too - not making it nuclear or anything, but making the sensation linger in the mouth.

I just got the very niftly and easily-cleaned IngenuiTEA, and it has cut my massive diet soda consumption down to almost nothing. I've got some green teas for caffeine, but most of my consumption is of the caffeine-free rooibos sampler I also picked up. Rooibos, or red tea or bush tea, is naturally sweet even to my jaded tooth. Ultimately, it's a whole lot closer to water than Diet Coke is.
posted by Lyn Never at 2:42 PM on July 19, 2006 [1 favorite]

My issue is that I also suffer from anxiety & depression, which I am getting treatment for.

Not exactly what you're asking for, but if you're on antidepressants, they can sometimes make it harder to lose weight or even make you gain weight. Just something to consider. Wellbutrin causes weight loss in most people, but if anxiety is part of your problem it may not be right for you.

If you got some relief from the depression you might have an easier time with weight loss.
posted by Violet Hour at 3:12 PM on July 19, 2006 [1 favorite]

Get more sleep, turn off the tv.
Assuming the depression isn't making you stay in bed all the time, the relationship between sleep and weight is pretty compelling (much more compelling to me than the connection between that old canard, drinking water and weight). If you aren't getting enough, make it a priority.
Watching tv is also a good habit to cut down on, if you have it. The commercials can trigger cravings, and people move around less when they're watching tv than otherwise. Use some of your additional free time to walk around, take up a hobby, whatever.
posted by ch1x0r at 4:20 PM on July 19, 2006 [2 favorites]

Best answer: I haven't read all of the excellent suggestions here, but I'll chime in

Fist off, I'll simply Nth the *drink water* suggestions.

//personal experience: I've lost (at most recent check) nearly 40 pounds in a little over five years and haven't dieted a single day in that time. where did the weight go? who the hell knows but good goddamn riddance. The last fifteen pounds disappeared right about the time I parked my car (semi) permanently last winter and started riding my bike everywhere, but I also know that specific tactic, quite frankly, isn't feasible for a lot of folks.

/personal experience

I know these *seem* diet related, but they're much more lifestyle kinds of things. I wish someone had told me (and I'd listened) these tips when I was 20 instead of 35:

1) the best shopping suggestion I was ever given was given to me by a dietary Ph.D., and it's incredibly simple: when in the grocery store, shop the perimeter only, i.e. don't go down the aisles. Why? because the aisles are where all the high starch, high sugar, high fat, high salt, uber-processed trans-fat laden foods hang out.

obviously that one takes some adjustment but adapting to this one slowly over time, and keeping it in mind *every* time I went to the grocery store made a huge difference in my eating habits.

2) eat small meals, six times a day. this one gets bandied about a lot, but not many people do it or willingly try to incorporate it. a 'small meal' means ONE apple. ONE granola bar. ONE peanut butter and jelly sandwich... you get the idea.

3) you absolutely must eat breakfast. I don't care how late you're running to work or how crappy you feel in the morning. I used to be one of those 'but I feel ugh! in the morning!' non-breakfast eaters. well the reason I felt 'ugh' in the morning was actually the residual blahs / ickiness from overeating / binging at dinner the night before (quite possibly borderline GERD symptoms, who knows). start out with a piece of fruit or a small cup of yoghurt. Seriously. and then keep on noshing all day.

4) start with yoga / stretching / pilates type exercises at first, rather than going "OMG THE GYM!! MUST WORK OUT! MUST RUN TEN MILES!!! MUST PUMP IRON!!!!!" you can phase in cardio and strength workouts later on as your energy level improves, but the low-impact, low-intensity stuff has immediate benefits to both your mental and physical well-being. Go online or get a stretching video / book and do 30 minutes daily when you get home. It's easy, it feels good, and it will help mitigate your daily stress level.

5) give yourself ample time to adapt to new habits and give yourself a goddamn break. Note that last statement |= 'its ok to eat that entire quart of ben & jerry's'

I can't stress enough how important it is to both forgive and re-focus many, many times when you embark on any 'lifestyle change' plan.

6) stop weighing yourself. Just. Freaking. Stop. put your scale in the back of your shoe closet or something, where you only think about it once every couple months. The primary reason is that because of drinking more water AND embarking on a physical fitness plan you WILL (initially) gain weight, not lose it. Not a lot, but both water and muscle do weigh more than fat. you HAVE GOT to give your metabolism time to adjust, and your body time to adapt. doing that OCD getting-on-the-scale-five-times-daily deal, does not provide any form of positive reinforcement.

Bonus (last but not least): do your best to minimise the effects of any negative, enabling, codependent type people in your life. in my case (this is a tad extreme mind you) I kicked my x to the curb and 'fired' my mother. Long story on both but my life is so much more rewarding without their endless static, negativity and continual validation of what a bad person I am/was. You don't have to get quite as radical as I did, but if you have people like this in your life, you should have a good long talk with yourself about how you respond to them, whether you enable their behaviour, and whether you want to continue to let them ride roughshod over your self-esteem.

note that this does not mean being content or complacent with yourself, which it seems from your original post that you're very good with, and good on you. I wasn't happy being overweight, stressed out, depressed and bitchy. So I'm still plenty bitchy, but the stress and the excess weight have magically disappeared from my life due to the above (and many other) gradual lifestyle changes, my energy levels have skyrocketed, and I no longer feel miserable or 'blah' 60-70% of the time.

Finally (and sorry this is so long) keep in mind: Lifestyle and habit changes like what you're describing are NOT 'avalanches'. They're 'glaciers'. It takes time, patience and consistency to build them up to the point of any significant gains in momentum. Often you don't see results until one looks back at the past six months / twelve months / 3 years / 5 years... whatever to say 'woah!... holy crap I'm doing WAY better now than back when...', etc.
posted by lonefrontranger at 4:39 PM on July 19, 2006 [12 favorites]

Lots of great advice above. If you are taking antidepressants, there are some that may help slightly with weight loss, like zoloft. Try to do some resistance exercises, in addition to aerobic. Even if you just use a couple of 16 oz soda bottles full of water, building muscle helps. Make sure you get enough sleep. good luck.
posted by theora55 at 4:44 PM on July 19, 2006

The one thing I've decided to do for myself, even though I'm not trying to lose weight actively, is to replace ice cream (Breyer's Cookies and Cream is my Achilles heel) with a small bowl of frozen mixed berries topped with a tablespoon or maybe two of light Cool Whip. Yum! And -so- much better for you, especially the blueberries. :)

If you can single out a few -very- specific foods like this, find replacements that you like just as much, and slowly incorporate them into your lifestyle, eventually a lot of the big, heavy, killer foods will be eliminated. My own personal next goal to replace: frozen meat and cheese chimichangas with fresh veggie burritos... mmm.
posted by po at 5:02 PM on July 19, 2006 [1 favorite]

The water suggestion is definitely a good one. I've noticed that during the recent heat wave I'm drinking even more water than usual, and I feel much less of an urge to snack.

Though sometimes you just want something flavorful to drink, you know? Fresca has no calories and doesn't really taste diet at all; Diet Dr. Pepper is so much better than regular Dr. Pepper that I sometimes have one instead of dessert.

If you're having trouble making the shift from regular to diet, here's the method I used: Mix regular and diet sodas together, gradually changing the ratio until you've weaned yourself onto diet. I did this years ago, and now I can't drink regular soda because it's just way too sweet.

Good luck! You can do it.
posted by hifiparasol at 7:08 PM on July 19, 2006

I know all too well the cyclical nature you describe, pulling myself out of another low end of things right now.

I also vote for the exercise and no sugar efforts.

I've found to get myself walking or running, it has to be "to somewhere"..for instance walk to an errand, like the library. Recently I embarrassing decided it would be a great idea to walk the 25 minutes to work. It's easy and I'm alarmed how nice it is to have the quiet time.

My sugar binges are harsh...I honestly just have to stay away from the stuff. Easier said than done. I know this isn't exactly "healthy", but even in the summer I keep a Costco size box of No Sugar Added Swiss Miss in the stave off the night time sugar jones. Actually I just finished drinking a cup! I know.
posted by dchunks at 8:15 PM on July 19, 2006 [1 favorite]

Everyone here knows what they are talking about, that is for sure. I have to agree with those that say to drink sparkling water instead of diet soda. Diet soda is full of chemicals, so you may as well stay away from it if you are looking to improve your health. Exercise is key. WW is the best program, in my opinion. You can find some free point calculators online if you look hard enough..!
Make yourself get up early and go running or whatever you want to do. Its painful, but once you have done it, you will be very pleased with yourself, and you will feel great.
Pile on the vegetables, especially at dinner. Slow and steady wins the race!
posted by peglam at 2:46 AM on July 20, 2006 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Thank you again, everyone, for your suggestions.

For the next month or so, I am going to work on:
- Exercising or moving around 30 minutes at least, most days.
- Avoiding any beverages with calories and drinking more water.
- Making sure I eat fresh fruit & veggies everyday.
- Slowing down and paying attention while I eat.

After I've got these down, I'll start thinking about other ways to improve. Thanks again for all your great suggestions! I've bookmarked this thread to refer to as time goes by.
posted by tastybrains at 4:50 AM on July 20, 2006

Coming in a little late to the conversation...I'm with those who recommend Weight Watchers and daily cardiovascular exercise...I joined the program several years ago, lost 30+ pounds, and have been able to stay within my goal range.

Have you been able to identify what aspects of WW or daily exercise you've found difficult?
posted by NYCinephile at 5:34 AM on July 20, 2006

Response by poster: My problem with WW is that, while I know I can follow it when I put a lot of thought & effort into it, I have not been able to follow it consistently. I've been "on" it for >2.5 years. At this point, I weigh more than when I started WW. Two weeks on and two months off isn't going to help me at all.

This is why I'm asking for small changes to make. I have tried what seems like a million ways to make WW work for me, and I've failed every time. It seems completely stupid for me to keep trying something that clearly doesn't mesh with my state of mind or lifestyle.

My overall goal is to become a "normal" eater. I'm sick of being a perpetual dieter. I'm sick of letting food & diets & the scale reinforce my negative feelings about myself. There needs to be a balance somewhere between strict programs like WW and letting loose and bingeing all the time. I need to learn in my core that I'm a grown-up and that I am allowed to eat whatever I want if I really want it, but to mostly eat foods that are good for me 90% of the time.

Basically, WW makes me obsessive about food, but I think to get over my depression and feel better about myself in general, I need to be able to focus on more important things in life, and embrace those things.
posted by tastybrains at 6:06 AM on July 20, 2006

For the next month or so, I am going to work on:
- Exercising or moving around 30 minutes at least, most days.
- Avoiding any beverages with calories and drinking more water.
- Making sure I eat fresh fruit & veggies everyday.
- Slowing down and paying attention while I eat.

That is good advice for one and all.
posted by caddis at 7:02 AM on July 20, 2006

Get a dog you can't resist who loves long walks. Your love will motivate you and the dog will remind you.
posted by wordswinker at 12:58 PM on July 20, 2006

Rather than limiting my portions or what foods I could eat, which had never worked for me because it required more willpower than I could muster, I made a rule a few months ago that really changed my life and I've been on a steady weight loss since then.

I can eat what I want, when I want...but only in certain places.

This came about after I realized that I was eating a lot in my cubicle here at work and in front of the TV at home. Lots of mindless munching going on.

So now this sign hangs in front of my cubicle at work - it's made a huge change. If I want to eat, I can't just grab something and keep doing what I'm doing - I have to break away from what I'm doing and go to an Acceptable Eating Place and do it there. The thing I've found is, I really do have less trouble waiting until I'm actually hungry (not just "could eat") before breaking away and having a bite.

So if you're having trouble with portion control or food limitations, maybe change another aspect of your eating such as location.
posted by bovious at 1:29 PM on July 20, 2006 [1 favorite]

As I'm sure you know, the bottom line is that you'll have to adopt behaviors---ones with which you're comfortable---that help you burn more calories than you take in. You might find some helpful suggestions at WebMD's Weight Loss Center.

Good luck...and let us know what works for you!
posted by NYCinephile at 1:43 PM on July 20, 2006

Check out and click on the "Easy Health Tips" category.
posted by wmeredith at 1:43 PM on July 20, 2006

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