(First published in The Huffington Post)
To lose weight permanently, what you think is a lot more important than what you eat. Thinking about calories as if they were dollars will help you lose weight more easily, so start thinking like a savvy shopper. We can teach you this and a whole toolbox of techniques that will make weight control much easier and much more enjoyable. We psychotherapists call these techniques cognitive therapy techniques and self-hypnosis. But you can think of them as common sense. Here are some ways of thinking that will help:
Calories are good, not bad, just like money is good!
The problem comes when we spend too much, more than our budget allows. We’ll go bankrupt if we are careless and irresponsible with money. If we’re that way with calories, we’ll get fat. Either outcome is painful and entirely avoidable. If we have habits of living within the budgets, we can avoid losing our good credit and avoid being overweight too.
When you find out what your metabolic rate is, you’ll find that you get a very nice paycheck every week. A woman 5’6” with average activity habits burns about 2000 calories per day or about 14,000 calories a week. If you develop the right habits, you’ll find that you can create a lifestyle where you can eat just about everything you like, even go out to dinner and parties on a regular basis, and not gain weight.
If you have an average American income, and you’re savvy, you can probably afford to go out to a nice restaurant every week or so and spend a weekend at a resort every once in a while. But if you start going out to 5-star restaurants every night and staying at 5-star resorts every weekend, you’ll probably go bankrupt sooner rather than later and then lose your house if you don’t change your spending habits. It’s the same with your caloric spending habits. If you get 14,000 calories every week, you’ll find that you can live quite well on that and not have to give up eating the things you like and doing the things you like to do. However, you’ll find that, like money, you’ll break the bank and get fat if you start living high off the hog every day. Instead, I train clients to have weekday habits that are austere, which allows you to have more relaxed habits on the weekends, so you are not deprived and not going over your budget.
Look at the price tags.
What would happen if you just charged up everything you liked at the mall without looking at the price tags? At the fancy mall near me, you’d go broke before you even made it out the door. Who, besides billionaires, would ever even consider buying everything they liked without looking to see the cost? Yet that’s what most people do everyday with food. They have no idea what the caloric cost is of the things they normally eat. I know, because I have my clients eat normally the first week of the training, but keep an accounting of the calories. They are shocked! I’ve had clients get a “coffee” on the way to work and then find out they were spending 600 calories of their day’s budget even before they had lunch, a 1200 calorie salad at lunch. They were thinking they were cutting back, but in reality, they had been blowing their whole paycheck by noon!
People who are successful at permanent weight loss don’t eat without thinking. We don’t put anything in our mouths without knowing the calories that are in it. It’s just too easy to say “yes” to a snack like a friend’s whole grain muffin (how bad could it be?) and then find out you just blew 500 calories. Look at the caloric price tags, be savvy, and if you don’t know what something costs, don’t eat it. Think of the calories like dollars and remember what your budget is.
Develop the “comfort range” of your spending habits.
Have you noticed that you’ve developed a “comfort range” with your spending habits that unconsciously helps you to stay within your means? Certain restaurants feel right, but in some 5-star places, you are uncomfortable. You might consider the 5-star place way too expensive, except for perhaps a special anniversary. They are just outside of your comfort range. It’s the same with cars and other purchases. Your knowledge about your budget and what things cost automatically keeps you within your comfort range. The car models, stores or brand names that would break the bank just don’t feel right for you. You don’t even seriously consider them. It’s an automatic unconscious mechanism, a natural savviness that affects your behavior and makes it easier to manage it.
You can develop this same kind of savvy mechanism for your weight control when you program in all the information about your caloric budget and the caloric costs of the foods you like. With enough time and work put into the training, you’ll have an “app” in your brain that will help you eat right. After a while, you won’t even consider some of the things you used to eat all the time because they are so obscenely expensive. They will be as outside of your comfort zone as the 5-star restaurant with the $80 entrees, for every day dining.
Find the best bang for your buck (calorie).
It doesn’t take long for us to start seeing food in a whole new light. Some of the things we used to relish now look like a real bad deal. “What a rip-off!”, clients say about an Outback Blooming’ Onion at 2000 calories. “What a great deal!”, they’ll say about a Red Lobster shrimp cocktail at 130 calories. Foods start to look good or bad, depending on the cost in calories. Full-fat mayo looks like a real bad buy at 100 calories per tablespoon. It’s not worth the calories when you can use low-fat mayo at 15 calories. Vegetables start looking better than they ever have, a real bargain at 50 calories a cup compared with rice at 200.
You’ll start to get incredibly skilled at creating great meals with the highest satisfaction value for the least amount of calories. You’ll use fat-free half & half and Splenda in your coffee, trading in two cups of coffee in the morning at 130 calories for two at 30. You’ll make egg-substitute vegetable omelettes for 100 calories that are just as tasty as the old 400-calorie omelets. You’ll find excellent low-calorie salad dressing for your salads and zero-calorie spray “butter” on your piles of vegetables, next to your 5-oz. sirloin. From the outside looking in, it won’t appear you are eating any less, but you’ll have cut your day’s spending from 2500 calories to 1200, and you’ll be losing weight instead of gaining.
Give yourself a break. Make it automatic. Make it easy.
Diets don’t work because we do them for a while, if you can stand it, and then we go back to our regular habits. Sometimes we try to change for good, but the old ways are comfortable and automatic, and they come back on their own. Sometimes, we intend to go back to “normal” when we are done with the diet. Either way, we return to the very habits that made us overweight.
The key to success with permanent weight loss is trading in the fat-producing habits for fit-producing habits. And the key to that is using behavioral therapy techniques, to program in habits that are more satisfying than the old ones. It’s kind of like brainwashing.
That means that you need to eat what you like to lose weight, not what you don’t really like. That means you have to create ways that are more rewarding than the old ways, not less. Feeling deprived and punished is not going to help. Behavioral psychology teaches us that we will automatically be irresistibly drawn, crave, what tickles our fancy, so we need to learn to eat what we like in a way that feels better than the old way. That means we need to reprogram our brain to generate new feelings about the foods and behaviors we’ve been addicted to as well as the ones we’ve been avoiding.
There are many complex and demanding things that you now do every day without even thinking about them. All your morning routines, including driving to work, were things you probably had to work and concentrate on to learn, and now you can do them without even thinking. You can probably do your job now flawlessly with your eyes closed, yet it takes a person months and many mistakes to learn how to do it. If you are a savvy shopper, I’ll bet you know exactly where to go in your supermarket for everything you always buy, and know exactly whether the price is right. Behavioral technique can help you do the same thing with acquiring habits that will make you thinner, and with calories, it’s even easier. The prices never go up!
If you want to solve your weight problem, lose weight and keep it off, believe me, you can. Thousands have been successful, and the first thing they did was to start thinking differently about themselves and the food they’ve been eating. One great way is to start thinking about calories and your habits in a new savvy way. Be savvy. And start by getting my book, in paperback, Kindle, Nook, and iBook, if you haven’t already read it!