Just about now, halfway through the month of January, you are likely one of the 60 percent of Americans who has already “broken” your resolutions to eat healthily, get daily exercise, and go dry for January. But there’s a simple fix, to help you get back on track and stay on track according to Dr. Amy Lee, an expert in weight control, obesity, and nutrition who has treated over 15,000 patients and is the chief medical officer of Lindora Clinics of Souther California. She has given talks to HBO, Hulu, PBS, and UCLA’s famed “Vital Signs” series, and worked on weight control methods published in the medical journal Nutrition and Metabolism.
Dr. Lee first started her career as a medical practitioner, in Southern California, treating patients for weight-related ailments, always treating the symptoms and never the root cause. She said her work as a doctor, seeing patients who were obese or overweight and giving them medicines to try to alleviate their symptoms, and then watching them get worse, and need more medications, and still more, never getting better or losing weight, but just getting sicker and sicker, made her want to step off that endless treadmill and become a specialist in nutritional health and medicine. So she changed everything, including her approach, and made her practice centered around the ways people can lose weight and keep it off, be healthy and avoid the need for medications in the first place.
“I realized that endlessly medicating people who had disorders related to lifestyle diseases like hypertension, obesity, type 2 diabetes, and heart disease were never going to change anything. the only way to change that cycle is to start at the beginning and help teach people to eat healthier and lose weight, not with intervention, but by helping them learn to make better choices,” she explains. She has 4 simple strategies for getting back on track and staying on track, for the rest of the month, year, and a lifetime ahead.
The Beet: How can you get back on track when you’ve broken your New Year’s Resolution Or cheated on your diet or had a glass or two of wine when you swore to yourself you’d do Dry January?
Dr. Lee: Thinking about things in absolutes is the problem. It’s not “all or nothing,” that leads to success. It’s taking things in the right direction. There are levels of success and you don’t have to be too hard on yourself if you’re doing better than last month or last year.
Tip 1. Stop thinking in terms of “all or nothing behavior.” Whether you’re talking about Dry January or other resolutions, we all bring in the New Year with ways that we think we can do better. And we set up these unnatural expectations. So let’s say you usually have 8 drinks a week, instead of telling yourself you’re going to have zero, tell yourself you’re going to have 2 drinks a week, and then plan those occasions. Or if you’re trying to lose weight, you can say: I am not going to eat cookies ever again, but then you have a cookie. It’s how you react that makes the difference between success and failure. Don’t tell yourself messed up. Tell yourself you planned to have 2 cookies a week and you’re still on track. It’s the “all or nothing” mentality that trips us up and makes us think we have failed. And then that leads to giving up. You can’t be perfect all the time but if you are reaching realistic goals and doing better than before, or last year, then your resolutions are a success.
Understand what your goal is. If you think of Dry January, it’s similar to diets in general. Realizing “Why I want to make a change this year” is part of it. If you’re treating your stress with alcohol, break that cycle. Use something healthy like a walk or bike ride to get rid of stress. The habit that you’re breaking is more important than being perfect all the time. So if you have a drink, tell yourself, that’s one of my two, and then get right back on track.
We get into that mindset of “all or nothing” or “black and white” thinking. When we get into that mindset and we don’t do it perfectly we have failed. But you are not going to gain weeight with one cookie. So if you have a cookie, it is not going to make you fat. But when you give in and have cookies day after day, it will. So just step out of that mindset and tell yourself “I’m doing better.”
The Beet: It’s easier for me if the cookies aren’t even in the house. But my husband buys chips and cookies and I have moments of weakness! What do I do? Can I banish them?
Dr. Lee: Give up one thing first. Tell yourself, no more sugar. Or if it were my choice, I would have all my patients decide: No more packaged food. Then if it’s in the house you can either tell yourself — “That’s not my food” and keep your snacks in another cabinet, or if you live alone, you can just throw it all away or give it all away.
Tip 2: Give up all packaged foods and especially added sugar. The first and most important thing for us to do as healthy eaters is to get rid of junk food, added sugar, and processed food. Then eat a piece of fruit or a small number of nuts instead. If you know you have a snack attack at 3 p.m. then go eat an apple or some nuts at that time. Make the decision to give up added sugars and it will help you lose weight and feel better fast. It’s the number one thing I tell my patients to change. Sadly, just because your husband can eat chips and not gain weight (though they aren’t good for him either) as women we have a harder time maintaining a healthy weight when we eat that junk. It’s just metabolic. We are smaller and we don’t handle junk food as readily as the male body does. Don’t feel bad about it, just tell yourself it’s a biological difference and stay away from that stuff.
The Beet: I have always been told that consistency is the key. If you are consistently healthy and workout most days you will be healthy. That you can forgive yourself the “exceptions” as long as those are not the rule.
Dr. Lee. You are always going to be able to have a treat or some people like to call it a cheat meal, as long as you recognize that it is the exception. If you think of it as a slippery slope then you won’t be in a good mindset to get back on track. Instead think: Consistency is the key to being healthy.
Tip 3. Be Consistent. Don’t make exceptions all the time, but if you are consistent 90 percent of the time you will end up with healthy results. Your body has the ability to be resilient so if you are eating a healthy breakfast and a big salad for lunch and you get nutrients 90 percent of the time, then the 10 percent of the time that you don’t make a healthy choice won’t make you fat or gain weight. Just tell yourself, I want to be consistently healthy, and get back to behaving that way.
The Beet: What are words you live by, like a mantra? Some script you use to succeed?
Dr. Lee: I have a simple one. I ask myself, Is it worth it?
Tip 4. Ask yourself, Is it worth it? If I stop and think: Is this unhealthy choice or snack, or lapse, worth giving up my goals for, is it going to be worth it, most of the time it isn’t the momentary satisfaction that will pass, but the long-term lifestyle of being healthy and maintaining a healthy weight and avoiding all the problems that come along with being overweight, either in terms of diseases or just how you feel day to day, then that reward is so much bigger than the momentary satisfaction of eating a cookie.
If you want to learn more from Dr. Lee, she is reachable at the Lindora Clinic website.