Weight :

Emotional Readiness Key to Weight Loss Success

Pamela Knudson, Grand Forks Herald

"A lot of people aren't necessarily ready when they start a diet," said Susan Streitz, medical nutrition therapy supervisor, "especially if they're dealing with health issues such as diabetes or a heart condition.

"They have to be in the right place in their life."

Eating well -- and adopting a pattern of eating less, moving more -- requires a commitment, she said.

"It isn't hard to understand what needs to be done. It's difficult to do it because it's a lifestyle change."

The ideal approach involves "finding that moderate place, where you're not avoiding or eliminating any particular nutrient or foods or food group," she said.

For example, an element of fear has built up around fats and carbohydrates.

"But you can choose wisely," she said. "It's best to work them in moderately. If you're deprived of something, you miss it.

"If there are no 'forbidden foods,' you don't have the guilt of eating them in small portions. Guilt often triggers over-eating."

Emotional component

Emotions, such as fear and guilt, are part of the framework that influences one's relationship to food.

"If someone is not emotionally ready to make that commitment to lifestyle change, it's better to wait a while, until they can."

Emotions often drive eating and are "very powerful," she said. "We eat for many reasons: we're worried, happy, sad, angry, frustrated, procrastinating.

"If you're not eating because you're hungry, you're eating to fill other needs."

To better manage one's diet, she said, people need to recognize that emotions play a role in eating and learn strategies to overcome that.

"Food is love in our culture, and food is part of every occasion," she said.

"We need to learn about making good choices in every food situation, and how to work our way through those situations."

Small steps pay off

Too often, people embark on their dieting plan with high expectations.

"They can do it for a while, but not sustain it," Streitz said. "People think, 'I can't walk for an hour,' so they don't start.

"But it's the little changes, done consistently, that make a difference."

Studies show that taking a 10-minute walk, two or three times a day, renders equal or better results than a full hour of walking, she said.

Small, manageable changes, that a person does consistently, are most beneficial.

Even something as simple as wearing a pedometer and increasing the number of steps one takes each day, "that is helpful," she said.

"And being patient," she emphasized. "Weight-loss isn't quick. The weight didn't come on overnight and it doesn't come off overnight either, unfortunately."

'Family time' meals

It's important people "get back to the basics," Streitz said, and reserve meal-time as "family time."

Society tends to fall away from that and gravitate to processed foods that are quick but not healthy.

Eating at restaurants and fast-food places promotes consumption of larger portions.

"Processed foods -- with salt, fat and sugar -- are very attractive to our brains," she said. "The more we have of it, the more we want."

She cites research that reveals similarities between the pleasure-inducing action of food and cocaine addictions in the brain.

"It's very powerful. It's a very real thing," she said. "It's not just will power we're talking about.

"But the more we stay away from (unhealthy foods), the less we crave it."

She recommends turning to simple, whole foods, she said. "You get filled up quicker on a lot less food. You feel full, and satisfied, with these nutrient-dense foods."

"People think it's expensive to eat healthy, or that it takes a lot of time. It doesn't have to be. It's another way of looking at eating."

Satisfaction is key

When dieting, the goal isn't to be hungry, but to be satisfied, she said. "With carb-laden and fat-laden foods, you can eat and eat and never fill up."

She suggests taking time to plan meals and bring families together.

"We tend to eat healthier when we eat together at home."

It's important to create an enjoyable experience of eating, she said. "Put on a tablecloth. The more senses we use when we eat, the more we enjoy our food."

And pay attention to internal cues that you've had enough.

"When we're little, we know how to follow those cues. Children eat when they're hungry and stop when they're satisfied," she said. "As we age, we lose that.

"As adults we need to re-learn and tune in to those cues that prompt us to stop when we're full."

Call Knudson at (701) 780-1107; (800) 477-6572, ext. 1107; or send e-mail to pknudson@gfherald.com.

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