Eat When You’re Hungry
We need to eat. And we need to do it when we’re hungry. This sounds silly and simple, but it’s neither, because most people have never been taught to eat when they are hungry. In fact, many people view hunger as a negative thing. Some will say it’s annoying, uncomfortable, painful—scary even. But hunger is just a physiological response to your body needing food. It’s a sensation in your stomach—a series of muscle contractions often called hunger pangs (not pains) that can get more intense the hungrier we are—that is there to remind us we need to eat.
The point of hunger is to make it impossible for you to accidentally starve to death—to let you know that you need more energy from food. Food has vitamins, minerals, water, carbohydrates, proteins, and fats—all nutrients that we need to have balanced, healthy, thriving, comfortable bodies. Eating when you’re hungry means that you’re eating when your body is actually primed to properly absorb those nutrients. All the enzymes, hormones, and neurotransmitters associated with digestion are ready for action. Because of that, eating when you’re hungry helps balance your blood sugar and regulate your weight.
There are a lot of feelings or sensations our bodies create, but the feeling or sensation we get for physical hunger isn’t that different from the sensation you get when you feel like you need to use the restroom or when you know you are ready for bed. These all involve your body sending a signal to your brain to say, “Hey, pay attention to me.”
Eat What You Love
We aren’t dieting. You don’t want to restrict yourself. There is absolutely no reason that you can’t sustain your weight loss (or even avoid gaining weight in the first place) while still enjoying alcohol, ice cream, bread, candy, and all the foods you love. In fact you can eat what you want and still lose weight—when we heal our relationship with food, we are no longer controlled by temptations or cravings. Food takes its place as only one important part of our life, as nourishment.
Look, you may be one of the people for whom this rule creates so much freedom that you don’t know what to do. This is especially true if you have spent a great deal of time following other people’s diets and eating what you think you “should” be eating.
Don’t overthink it. Keep things simple. When you’re stuck or are feeling overwhelmed, just eat what you love—when you are hungry. Start there. If you are hungry in your stomach, then there is room to eat. Your body doesn’t know what you are eating. Stop telling yourself it does. Do you know that if you are overweight and have high cholesterol, and/or high blood pressure, and/or high blood sugars, and/or high triglycerides and you lose weight, these levels go down as well—no matter what food you ate while losing that weight? Of course, these levels might lower more quickly if we change the types of food we eat. But that does not result in sustainable results.
By eating when you are hungry and starting with half, you will lose weight. By eating what you love and removing any labels around food, you will put yourself on a path of discovering what is right for you. And if you think you are hungry and you find yourself unsure whether or not you want ice cream or a turkey burger, then do not eat. You might be caught in a mindless emotional act, and you aren’t hungry.
Eat Without Distractions
Give your food your undivided attention. By forcing yourself to make your meal the main event, you will eliminate mindless munching and drive-by eating. Instead of grabbing a handful of chips as you walk by the snack cabinet, take a plate of chips to the table and enjoy them properly. When you eat distraction-free, your first revelation will be that food is actually . . . boring. It is the experience of escaping with your partner for a reality TV night on the couch or the atmosphere of a dinner party with old pals that brings us joy. So why do we credit edible inanimate objects with our happiness? The food is just . . . food.
The problem is that there will never be any shortage of distractions, which is the reason why this is also the most difficult rule for people to follow. How many times have you told yourself that you were only going on Instagram for a minute—and then looked up to realize that a half hour had gone by? The exact same thing happens with food. We aren’t paying attention, and the food is right in front of us, so we overeat. Or we aren’t checking in on what is happening with our emotions and then suddenly find ourselves eating when we’re not hungry.
This rule requires the most work, but once you master eating without distractions, you will have made a giant stride in your relationship with food because you will have taken back control and regained any power you might have lost over the years.
Take 10,000 Steps Every Day
whether you’re trying to lose weight or keep it off, the practice of movement should begin immediately. We’re not trying to aid in any weight loss—we’re preventing muscle loss while also building in a routine that becomes a habit.
A thirty-minute spin class absolutely helps your cardiovascular system and helps you maintain your muscle mass. But it is not enough to call yourself an active person. If we want to maintain our weight loss and achieve a healthier lifestyle we need to move more—and maybe move differently, which is where Rule #4 comes in: get 10,000 steps every day. In fact, the average American walks only 4,000 steps a day and when you’re in that territory, you are more likely to become obese or develop preventable diseases.
Because nobody is going to literally make you count each step you take (how would you even keep track by yourself?) If you have an iPhone, the built-in health app has already been keeping track; you can review how you have been doing daily, monthly, or yearly. There are a number of devices on the market that will do the same thing, so you have plenty of options. Find the one that best suits you.
Here is a fun fact that can help you achieve your goals: people who track their steps take an average of 2,500 more steps a day than those who don’t. Just as with food, don’t look at the steps as being black or white. True, they are nonnegotiable in that you need to take these steps, but there is time to make this happen. They have to happen, but they don’t have to happen right this minute; you don’t need to start with 10,000 today. Soon you will find ways to move that you didn’t notice before. So just look at it in terms of there being room to improve. Not getting 10,000 right out of the gate is not a failure. Start wherever you are and keep improving. Try adding 500 steps a day or 500 steps a week until you reach 10,000. If a client is struggling with the steps and manages to hit a new milestone of 4,000 steps, we can then shoot for consistency at 4,000 before even attempting 4,200 steps. The idea is to keep building and getting more until we can hit the target. We are looking for progress, not perfection, because this isn’t going to end; it’s going to continue for the rest of your life.
Drink Eight Cups of Water a Day
Water is used in every cell of the human body. We use water to break down, absorb, and transport nutrients from our food, plus we need it to make saliva, all while controlling our body temperature and lubricating our joints without missing a beat in regulating transportation. Basically, water can move in and out of our cells as needed, carrying or transporting nutrients to our cells, and also removing waste from them. Water helps maintain the shape of our cells and adds cushion to our organs.
How is it possible that this zero-calorie nutrient can be so impactful? Part of it is honestly because it has zero calories, which means we aren’t drinking unhealthy sodas, sports drinks, coffee drinks, or alcoholic beverages. It’s also filling; we eat less food when we drink more water. The mechanisms aren’t truly understood, but what we do know is that you will eat less food when you drink water before a meal.
Water also increases the rate at which we burn calories. Drinking water helps us become more metabolically active, making it easier for us to maintain weight loss. Drinking about two cups of water before eating was found to increase the metabolic rate by 30 percent. Plus, all of our cells and organs rely on water to move things throughout our bodies. Water moves waste out, lowering inflammation. It removes waste through feces and urine. (Some signs you aren’t removing waste well are constipation and bloating, lack of focus, muscle weakness, recurring urinary tract infections, kidney stones, and fat gain. Dehydration enhances metabolic dysfunction.
Another benefit to drinking water is that it’s linked to improved skin elasticity—meaning less sagging and fewer wrinkles. Water helps regulate blood pressure by keeping the blood flowing effectively. Hypertension, or high blood pressure, is commonly seen in dehydrated people. When our body lacks water, the brain sends a signal to our body that forces our blood vessels to tighten. If this continues to happen, it causes our heart to pump harder, leading to serious health problems.
Get Seven Hours of Sleep
Sleep impacts almost every organ in our bodies. Not getting enough sleep leaves our brain exhausted and our body fighting for balance, which makes it difficult to concentrate and learn and to stay connected to what is really important to us, like eating when we are hungry. Lack of sleep can delay the signals our brains receive and cause us to make more impulsive, irrational decisions (such as Maybe that chocolate will give me more energy, I need more coffee, or I’m going to give up on getting my steps because I am so tired). Mounting epidemiological data implicates sleep loss as a risk factor for obesity in both children and adults worldwide.
Sleep deprivation is considered to be less than seven hours of sleep. Sleep deprivation affects our appetite-regulating hormones and increases our calorie intake. It’s just easier to ignore what your body needs when you are tired, especially if you think food will give you some much-needed energy. What will give us more energy is a sleep routine. In short, sleep and the quality of the sleep we get is as important in regulating our weight as is the way we eat and how we move our body.
The good news is that just as easily as you trained yourself to be a poor sleeper, you can course-correct and learn how to sleep well once again. Take a closer look at your behaviors and try to pinpoint the problem. If you can’t get to the bottom of it, turn to a professional who might be able to help find natural ways to put your body back into homeostasis. It doesn’t have to be your primary care physician; ask for a referral or find a specialist. And during your visit, make sure you bring a list of concerns and stay on track. Make sure you get an explanation for what is happening and don’t settle for generic excuses or medications. You might not like the answers you get, but learning what you don’t know is empowering, and there is always more you can do.