With your body rested, your mind aware, finally we're ready to talk more specifically about eating. First, though, we need to add one more item to awareness: knowing your estimated daily caloric intake. You can get this information from a number of sources online. They may vary a bit, but it's a ballpark number anyway. Here's one from the Mayo Clinic. Once you know what you (generally) need to maintain your weight, you can begin trying to take in a little less than that each day.
As you continue keeping a weight and food journal, you'll be able to tune your daily calories up or down based on your results. Important piece of advice here: you shouldn't be losing more than a couple of pounds per week. Any more than that is unhealthy.
So why should manage your diet using calories, rather than fat or carbs?
1. It doesn't matter. You can absolutely lose weight by reducing calories, people have been doing it for a long time, and that's how I did it.
2. I think taking out a specific dietary element leads you to eat a more limited, less healthy diet. Reducing calories can be done across the board, without unbalancing variety.
3. There's no good reason to believe that low fat/carb diets are any faster or better. The body of research on this kind of thing is quite muddled. If you read much beyond the headline of a "Low Carb Diets are the Best!" article, you''ll find that the data leaves lot of room for interpretation. (When I'm done with the principle articles in this series, I'll probably write a supplement about dieting misinformation.)
And you know what? That's basically it. The fastest weight loss I ever achieved came from adding these simple elements-sleeping right, monitoring weight, counting and reducing daily calories-into my life. That's all you need.
But, of course, the real difficulty is holding yourself to those rules. It can be very difficult, and when your smoldering initial efforts die out (and you eat a pint of ice cream one night), it can leave you wondering what the "real secret" to weight loss is.
What makes it so hard? Let's go back to my original thesis:
"If you want something to happen, begin by creating an environment where it can happen"
If your environment doesn't support a strictly controlled diet, it's very difficult to keep one. And that's why it's time to recognize something: there are reasons that you eat poorly, and they don't have anything to do with you being lazy or undisciplined.
1. Habit-A lot of people are simply in the habit of eating too much junk food. Seeing a movie? Stop at the candy counter. Taking a car trip? Get a soda from the gas station. Out at a restaurant? Let's look at the desert menu!*
2. Boredom-Food can be something to do, a form of stimulus when there's nothing else of interest going on.
3. Anxiety/Depression/etc. - Like alcohol or nicotine, food acts as a form of medication for many people with psychological problems. And just as alcoholics are treated for those underlying issues, it's really difficult to lose weight if you don't deal with (or at least acknowledge) the emotional background of your eating habits.
"If you want to lose weight, figure out why you don't eat well."
-Start looking back at your food journal. Look for patterns in your eating, especially when you eat sweets.
-Remove all sweets from your home, making it more difficult for you to have access to them.
-Go completely off sweets (candy, cookies, soda, ice cream, anything with a significant amount of sugar) for a couple of weeks.
It's not necessary to completely avoid sweets to lose weight. However, cutting yourself off from them can be very revealing. You'll realize how often you "reach" for those things, and gain some insight into when/why you go to them.
*Labor Day? Time for some donuts!