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On June 21, summer 2015 officially arrives. You probably already know this because it’s right around this time of year that we get bombarded with images, articles and discussions that “bikini” season is around the corner. Yes, that’s right folks – soon you may have to be in that dreaded bikini that’s been stashed in the back of your closet during the long winter months. And since the majority of you probably abandoned those New Year’s resolutions a while back, you should be nervous – very nervous that perhaps you won’t be ready for the bikini you’ll have to throw on at any given moment following that impromptu pool or neighborhood BBQ invitation.
According to magazines and websites, everyone needs to be “bikini ready.” After all, check out all the pictures of celebrities with the caption of “bikini after baby!” or “still rocking a bikini bod after 40.” So now that mainstream media has bikinis on the brain, there’s only one thing to do, right? Make your body perfect, pristine and, if you’re lucky, that body will come complete with six-pack abs – in less than six weeks. The truth is, however, that the bikini challenge we face during these pre-summer months can often lead to unhealthy dieting practices such as massive cutting of calories (starvation diets) or working out to exhaustion. It’s usually not an approach fit for sustainability or one that translates into the bikini body you’re looking for this summer – or next summer either. If the “quick fix” is something you want but you don’t want all the deprivation, there may be another option. Many of my patients know that eating plenty of fruits and vegetables, lean sources of protein and healthy fats, coupled with portion control and exercise, is the long-term weight loss “secret” – but many tell me they just want a few simple changes that can jumpstart their weight-loss goals. In other words, changes that can translate into big health and weight-loss benefits without tracking or making sure they eat seven vegetables a day. Here are three foods and two habits you can live without for the achievement of sustainable weight loss.
1. Sugar (of any kind, excluding sugar derived from a piece of fruit). Due to its highly addictive characteristic, sugar is perhaps the most difficult thing to give up for an extended period of time. Additionally, sources of sugar tend to be void of nutrients and fiber, which means they won’t fill you up or make you satisfied. I decided to give up all sugar last year for the 40 days of lent, and despite having a diet that was already lower in sugar than the average individual, I found it difficult. I stared longingly at cake at parties, and took a different route to the bathroom to avoid my co-workers’ chocolate pot. A 2009 study reports that for most Americans, the usual intake of added sugar is 22.2 teaspoons per day – that’s 355 extra calories that could be saved from both your calorie bank and your waistline. First, try to cut out your biggest sugar-containing foods – the obvious ones. This includes the repeat offenders such as donuts, candy and sugar-sweetened beverages. Then focus on eliminating foods that contain sugar that you’re probably not even aware of, such as fat-free salad dressings, tomato sauce, crackers and energy bars. Finally, get rid of the fake sugar foods, like that diet cola you’re drinking in the hopes of weight loss. Artificial sweeteners will keep that taste of sweet smack dab on your tongue, making you want more, and perhaps even going for the real stuff over time. They’ve also been linked to weight gain and changes in gut microbiota. After 40 days of sugar-stopping, I was able to drop a dress size. This came without ever counting a calorie.
2. Alcohol. After sugar, this is likely the hardest for many to give up due to the social aspect and addictive nature tied to alcohol. It’s so easy to leave the office just in time for happy hour to “throw a few back,” or go out to celebrate a happy event by enjoying a “few” cocktails during the week’s end. But when you’re enjoying your beverage, many of us forget how many calories we’re really drinking. Let me give you some scary numbers: A 12-ounce beer or a 6-ounce glass of wine is about 150 calories, and a 12-ounce margarita is about 500 calories. Further, it can be hard to keep control of how much you’re consuming because, very often, alcohol is consumed in mixtures with other sugary beverages. The calorie and sugar content is lost among the good times you’re having with your friends. It may be in your best interest to just ditch alcohol for the next 40 days if you’re trying to be “bikini-body” ready for that early Memorial Day getaway.
3. Pizza. Pizza has officially become America’s favorite food, with about 1 in 8 Americans consuming pizza on any given day. This isn’t necessarily something to be proud of, since pizza is ranked among the top three leading contributors of sodium in the diet, and an average slice will run you about 350 calories or more. Further, pizza consumption may be just as addictive as sugar is. Are you one of the eight who eats pizza a few times a week? (And I’m not talking the pizza you’re making at home with whole-wheat crust and vegetables.) Maybe you’re relying on delivery pizza for a quick dinner for you and the family, or pizza is your go-to lunch from the cafeteria. Consider how many slices you consume (it’s probably more than one), and do the math. Taking pizza out of your diet for the next 50 days will not only save you calories, but it will save your body excess sodium and fat.
4. Feeling full. That’s right, I wrote it – for the next 50 days you will not feel full. Many will feel deprived just reading that sentence, but the truth is, if your body starts sending you “I’m full” signals, it probably means you fed it more than it needed. The key here is to eat until you’re no longer hungry, not until you’re full – and those are two very different spectrums. A 2011 study found that eating meals slower and ending your meal shortly before the fullness cue reduces metabolic risk factors such as weight gain, obesity and hypertension. Further, eating just 100 calories more than the recommended amount can result in weight gain, and this is very easy to do when you’re inhaling your food and not focusing on your hunger cues. One way to be more successful in this is by using smaller plates and bowls; in a sense, changing the environment around you to make you eat less. Ending your meals before you feel stuffed could save you calories and fat and help you toward your goal, not further you away from it. For the next 50 days, embrace the empowerment that goes along with eating until you’re no longer hungry – and stop at that. It’s powerful.