Thursday, August 28, 2008

Weight Loss Solution: How Sally Lost Weight

Sally was not eating three meals a day when she came to see me for help losing weight. "I feel like I'm saving extra calories by skipping breakfast, and sometimes lunch," she told me. "If I can get by without eating then, doesn't that mean I should be losing weight? I'm afraid if I start adding all that extra food I'll gain even more." In the famous words of Dr. Phil I asked, "So, how's that working for you?"

Sally admitted it wasn't working. Sometimes she would get so hungry she would eat whatever she could find that was fast and easy--usually a candy bar from the vending machine or a convenience store. "And when I get home around dinner time I'm just too hungry to think of cooking an entire meal," she related. So dinner was usually something she could get quickly and lots of--like a buffet, or a Chinese take-out or a pizza. Obviously Sally had good intentions, but physiological hunger virtually always wins out in the end. Sally's body was talking her brain into feeding herself with the only regard being 'get something now'.

I told Sally about some research studies that showed convincing evidence of how eating more meals during the day helped people to weigh less. When subjects were given 2000 calories at one meal for six weeks in a row--and that's all they ate all day--they gained weight. As the same subjects had the same 2000 calories divided into 2 meals, then 3 meals, and eventually 6 meals a day for several weeks, they ended up losing weight. The same people, the same food: The only difference was they were eating it over a span of 15 hours instead of 50 minutes.

Sally agreed to try it. We came up with a simple and fast breakfast she could eat that wouldn't be time consuming for her while she was trying to dash out the door. We found several great options for snacks she could have during the day that were relatively low in calories so she wasn't so hungry just before a meal. Having planned snacks increases the chance that she'll think clearly at meal times, and make a wise decision about what to eat then. She could eat a fairly light lunch, since she was used to eating little at that time, and also because there was another snack to come in the afternoon.

After a couple of weeks Sally was adjusting to her new schedule and she was pleasantly surprised. "I actually enjoy my breakfast and have started looking forward to it," she told me with a smile ... "I can't believe all the food I'm eating and that I've actually lose three pounds!" Sally was no longer making candy bar runs mid-afternoon, because she never found herself too hungry to stop and think about what a smarter choice would be. She was arriving home at dinner time feeling only slightly hungry, and with enough energy to put some thought into preparing a balanced, low fat meal. She was getting comfortable with the idea that she could eat three meals (plus snacks!) on a regular schedule and not gain weight.

Try it out to see for yourself: Have a bowl of cereal for breakfast (or 2 slices of toast); bring some string cheese or a yogurt for a morning snack (you are likely to be hungry for lunch now that your body is getting fuel from breakfast and increasing your metabolism); have a 300 calorie frozen meal for lunch, or a sandwich, with a fresh fruit and a salad; bring a 100 calorie snack for the afternoon to be sure you don't arrive home so hungry that you raid the pantry; and prepare a nice healthy dinner (it doesn't have to be fancy) to round out your day. Chances are you can still have another snack in the evening (a low fat ice cream bar, or a few handfuls of popcorn) and find yourself on the road to successfully losing weight. Give it a few weeks and please post how you're doing here so we can cheer you on!

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