Alberta Cancer Foundation

Smart Eats: The gains of loss

There is no shortage of information about weight. We know more than 60 per cent of Albertans carry extra weight and that this can be harmful to our health. Obesity increases the risk of many health problems, such as diabetes, heart disease, high blood pressure, sleep apnea and certain types of cancer, to name a few. With so much overwhelming evidence that obesity causes or exacerbates poor health, why aren’t we all at a healthy weight?

First, it’s important to understand that there are many factors, beyond how much we eat and exercise, that affect our weight. How much we sleep, where we live, genetics, the foods that we have access to, our mental and physical health, medications and stress levels also affect our weight. There are factors we can and can’t control. Another important note is that many people’s expectations for weight are not realistic.

Second, many of us know that information alone does not lead to behaviour change. What we know is not always what we do. Before starting any lifestyle change, it’s important to think about why we want to make a change. It is also important to remember to focus on what matters to us. For example, many people choose to lose or maintain their weight because they want to reduce their risk for diabetes, increase their energy, play with their kids, or maintain a lifestyle of work and leisure. Focusing on health gain rather than on weight loss may increase your chances of success. A focus on health can help you make better choices when the less healthy choice is easier or more attractive.

So let’s focus on some of the things that we can change, like what we eat, and start to understand the whys of what we are doing.

What we eat has an impact on our weight. A great first step to a healthy weight is to know what you are eating. It is very much like going to a financial advisor when trying to sort out money issues. Often, the first thing an advisor asks you to do is record your spending. Likewise, one of the most important tools in weight management is a journal or record of what you eat and drink. Your journal can be a scratch pad, note book, an online record or a Smartphone app. It is often challenging to start a journal, but research shows that people who record what they eat and drink lose more weight and keep it off than those who don’t. Record things like what time you ate, what you drank, what you were doing, how much you ate and the emotions or stress you feel. It’s an eye-opening experience. Generally, people start to eat less when they realize what and how much they are eating.

Once you have an idea of what you’re eating, you can start to look for patterns. How we choose what we eat is affected by many factors like time and stress. Understanding why you are eating less healthy food, is as important as knowing what you are eating. When reviewing your journal or record, look for: if you eat breakfast, how many servings of vegetables and fruit do you eat, if you eat while using the computer or watching television, or how stressed you feel.

Next, set some realistic goals for change. Setting small, realistic goals sets you up for success. The smaller the goal, the more likely you are to do it, feel successful and try another goal. Setting a goal that is possible for you to fit in your lifestyle means that you are more likely to make it a permanent part of your life. Instead of focusing on numbers on a scale, look for the health gains you will make along the way.

11 Healthy Steps

Big change is the culmination of accomplishing many small goals.

Here are some steps you can take today to help you manage your weight and set you on the road to health gain.

EARLY BIRD: Make time for breakfast.
NOT A NOVELTY: Eat fruit or vegetables at every meal.
HALVSIES: Fill half your plate with vegetables.
HOMEMADE: Prepare meals at home instead of eating out.
QUENCHER: Choose water to drink.
WHOLE STORY: Eat whole grain foods, such as oatmeal for breakfast, brown rice instead of white.
SNACKTIME: Choose vegetables or fruit for a snack.
SQUARES: Eat three meals per day.
MOVERS: Reduce stress by going for a walk, talking to a friend or practicing deep breathing.
SLOWLY NOW: Take time to enjoy your meals.
TURN OFF: Minimize distractions such as TV when you eat.

Karol Sekulic is a registered dietitian with Alberta Health Services who has expertise and interest in the areas of weight management, nutrition and communications.