Rich Bergin, 44, a Sacramento, Calif.-based electrical engineer, has lost a lot of weight in the past three years.
One hundred and eighty pounds to be exact.
Once topping the scale at 350 pounds, Bergin now has a disarmingly simple standard for judging whether he needs to alter any current eating or exercise habits.
His pants size.
When his pants start to feel too tight, Bergin knows he needs to exercise more often and eat a little more sensibly. When his pants fit comfortably, he keeps on eating sensibly and lifting weights regularly.
“I used to have a weight goal,” Bergin admitted. “But now I have a fitness and clothing size goal. This isn’t some diet or exercise program I’m on; it’s a totally new lifestyle commitment. Ending it is not something I’m contemplating. Not ever.”
Which puts Bergin’s thinking right in line with many professionals’ current ideas about successful weight loss management. Weight management, they agree, is a journey, not a destination.
An Anti-Diet Approach
Judy Citron, Ph.D., a cognitive psychologist in London, England, and self-confessed “former compulsive eater,” specializes in weight loss counseling, including individual and group coaching. The cover of her recent book, The Little Book of Slimming Tips, boldly proclaims, “You need never go on a diet again.” She means it.
“With my approach to weight loss, there is no such thing as ‘a diet,'” she asserted. “My guidelines for losing weight are the same ones individuals will use to direct their eating for the rest of their lives. With these, they will gradually reach a balance where their weight is stabilized because what they’re eating is the right type and amount of food for their needs.”
Citron’s simple rules for weight loss are:
- Eat only when you are physically hungry.
- Never eat standing up.
- Eat smaller portions.
- Eat very, very slowly.
“This is not a diet, but an anti-diet,” Citron explained. “My clients aren’t on a food-restricted diet, but they lose weight, because their new habits mirror how slim people live. No food is forbidden as long as an individual is physically hungry and eating small portions.”
“The reason diets don’t work is that they are unsustainable,” she continued. “All dieting approaches have to end because they are restrictive. An individual can’t keep a diet going forever because diets are unnatural. An eating approach, in contrast, is lifelong, forever.”
Hunger, Not Appetite
Jeff Hampl, Ph.D., R.D., professor of nutrition at Arizona State University and spokesperson for the American Dietetic Association, is not as adamantly anti-diet as Citron, but he, too, believes it’s important for those interested in reducing their weight to take a long-term approach, rather than looking for a single, get-thin-fast diet.
He also agreed with Citron that people who become attuned to their level of hunger have taken an important first step toward achieving or maintaining a healthier weight.
“Anyone who wants to achieve weight loss must learn to distinguish between hunger and appetite,” Hampl pointed out. “In the U.S., eating is a social event guided by the smell, taste, look and feel of foods. Often, eating is done for sheer pleasure, not to satisfy a biological need. It’s common to develop big appetites, and eat large, elaborate meals or sugary, fatty treats, even when we’re not especially hungry.”
Cookies Are Food, Not Companions
Hampl explained that bringing eating habits back in line with biological hunger is essential. “It’s as important to determine why you’re eating as what you’re eating,” he said. “If food is a source of pleasure, or if it’s become an emotional tool, rather than a source of energy, consumption is usually much more difficult to limit.”
“Believe it or not,” he continued, “chocolate chip cookies are not the best way to deal with loneliness. So if you’ve been using chocolate chip cookies as an emotional tool, you will have to develop other strategies for coping — and keep the cookies in the jar until you are biologically hungry.”
Hate That “Fat Guy Store”
Bergin abandoned excessive cookie consumption and other unwholesome food habits in early 2008. His epiphany arrived when he went shopping for, you guessed it, pants.
“I hated going to the ‘fat guy store,'” he recalled. “When you find a pair of pants that fits your waist, the crotch is down to your knees. It’s a horrible, humiliating experience. I’d had enough.”
“There was also the fact that I couldn’t walk down the street without panting and experiencing heart palpitations,” Bergin added. “For me, it had reached the point where I believed that I had to permanently change the way I ate or I was going to die.”
The Intel engineer used the Internet to research nutritional and exercise programs as he began to make significant changes in his life.
“I knew I wasn’t looking for a diet per se,” he said. “I was looking for a new way of approaching food and physical activity.”
Bergin’s research led him to a regimen that closely mirrors Citron’s and Hampl’s recommendations: he increased his consumption of fruits and vegetables, cut out fast foods entirely, and reduced his intake of sugars and fats. And, just as importantly, he added weight lifting to his regular schedule of activities.
“I lost a pound or two per week with this routine,” he explained. “I wasn’t after some quick solution, I knew it would take time to reach my size and fitness goals.”
There’s No Stopping
Bergin discovered for himself what Citron, Hampl and many other weight management professionals promote as the best approach to achieving a stable, healthy body size: develop a wholesome approach to eating and physical activity and stick with it. Forever.
“My clients never ‘complete’ a diet because they are not on one in the first place. No food is forbidden as long as you’re physically hungry and having small portions,” Citron said.
As a registered dietitian Hampl offers similar counsel. “Eating well is not a diet,” he said. “When individuals achieve their goal weight, they should continue to eat well and exercise regularly. There’s nothing to stop, nothing to change — just a healthy, satisfying lifestyle to maintain.”