Not one solution
by Laurie Pawlik-Kienlen
You may not have the metabolism of an ectomorph, but you can reach your optimal weight by applying some simple habits to your life. These nine secrets may change the way you think about eating and exercising.
But remember—there’s no “one size fits all” when it comes to reaching your ideal weight. In fact, some of these secrets may even be contradictory. Research shows that everyone has different exercise and food personalities, and what helps one person shed pounds won’t necessarily work for another.
The trick is finding the secrets that work for you.
1. Tap your toes and drum your thumbs.
Personal trainer and gym owner, Fawn Gill, notes that people at their perfect weight never stop moving. “Even in their seats, they shift and fidget. This is known as non-exercise activity time or NEAT.” Gill explains that constant movement burns calories and raises the metabolism.
University of Alberta professor Adam Morton thinks that there aren’t any weight management secrets. “I’m 5 feet 10 inches and 133 pounds, and fit. I’ve never weighed much more than 140 and have always eaten like a horse.” Though he claims not to have any secrets, he confesses, “I’m a fidgety person, of body and mind, never staying still.”
2. Eat similar things at the same time every day.
She isn’t at her ideal weight for no reason: “I’m the only person I know who eats on a schedule,” says 52-year-old Kathy Pfeiffer, a writer and homemaker. “I eat the same things for breakfast and lunch every day, and usually eat the same things each night of the week for dinner. For instance, every Monday night I have spaghetti.”
This is actually an expert-endorsed weight-loss tip; in You! On a Diet (Free Press, 2006), Dr. Mehmet Oz advises automating your meals and snacks. Eating the same food or from a small group of foods every day takes the guesswork out of eating, which makes you less likely to overeat. Pfeiffer has another reason for automated eating: “It’s easier to grocery shop … and, yes, I’m lazy!”
3. Pause for 20 minutes before eating anything—even if it’s covered with chocolate.
My husband Bruce is tall and thin, and he doesn’t gain weight no matter what or how much he eats. Yes, genetics and a fast metabolism contribute to his lean frame, but so do his eating habits.
For instance, when I ask, “Should we unwrap that gourmet milk chocolate bar filled with orange and honey nougat and flakes of dark cocoa”? he pauses. He tilts his head. He checks with his stomach. He checks with his head.
While I’m clamping my hands over my mouth so I don’t cram the whole darn thing in at once, he’s asking his body what it needs. People who maintain an ideal weight don’t often eat for the sake of eating. They tune in to their tummies and give their bodies what they need.
4. Have a plan before dining with someone who you know makes poor choices about eating.
I’m one of those rare creatures who lost weight after getting married (most couples pack on a few pounds after vowing eternal wedded bliss). Marrying a skinny guy definitely helped, partly because I saw the value of quitting while I was ahead. For instance, I learned to stop eating when I was satisfied, not stuffed.
Several research studies show that friends and family affect weight gain or loss, and dining companions significantly affect portion sizes and types of food consumed. This doesn’t mean you shouldn’t eat with them … just make sure you’re only eating when and if you’re physically hungry. Also, when spending time with friends, try burning calories instead of absorbing them (for example, go for a hike instead of out for dinner).
5. Savour the foods you crave.
“Portion size is more important than so-called low-calorie food,” says Irene Wanless, a retiree at her ideal weight. “One [small] helping of mashed potatoes with butter is better than two helpings of low-cal something or other.”
Her instincts are backed by science: research shows that diets often don’t work because they deprive people of delicious food, increasing the chances of a binge later. Plus, most diets aren’t sustainable.
Instead of focusing on low-fat foods, eat what you like but don’t eat more than you need. (“A second helping? Nah, I’m satisfied,” my husband says—unless it’s Thanksgiving or Christmas dinner at his mom’s!)
Wanless helped her hubby lose 40 pounds in three and a half months—and keep it off—by eating slowly, not having second servings, and only having one starch per meal.
6. Increase your mind-body connection.
“I think the secret to healthy eating is to incorporate deep breathing into your daily ritual,” says holistic nutritionist Lisa Marie Bhattacharya, owner of a West Coast bed-and-breakfast retreat. “Deep breathing cured me of irritable bowel syndrome and other stress-related illnesses.”
She explains that deep breathing decreases stress and relaxes the body, which increases the absorption of nutrients. Yoga, mindful walking, and tai chi are examples of meditative exercises that can incorporate deep breathing and help you stay connected with your body’s real physical and emotional needs.
“The end result is increased energy levels, a more efficient metabolism, and no excess weight gain or loss,” says Bhattacharya.
7. Keep your stomach stoked.
Certified Pilates instructor Fawn Gill reminds us to eat regularly. She notes that some people who maintain their ideal weight eat seven or eight times a day. “But, they eat small, healthy meals. This way, the body is constantly working to burn off food. The metabolism is always ramped up.”
She compares metabolism to a wood-burning stove: if you only stoke it once, it’ll burn and go out. It’s hard to get it started again. “But,” she says, “if you constantly put small pieces of wood into it, it burns hot and steady for hours. That’s your metabolism!”
If you’re carrying more weight than you’d like, you can rev up your metabolism by eating small, regular, healthy meals.
8. Don your chef’s hat and apron more regularly.
If your metabolism is sluggish, give it a boost with Karen Brown’s advice: cook all your meals and snacks from scratch! “It’s the best way I know to be aware of what’s
in your food, why it’s there, and which things you can reduce or eliminate without sacrificing taste,” says this natural ectomorph.
“If your food has lots of flavour, it’s more satisfying, and you may find you don’t need to eat so much.” Karen can eat eight slices of store-bought puffy bread and still feel like she hasn’t eaten much. But two slices of her homemade whole grain bread feels like a meal—and it’s much healthier.
Muffins from coffee shops and Caesar salads in restaurants are prime examples of high-fat foods that could easily be made at home (which will save you money, too!).
9. Find solutions to your problems that don’t involve eating.
Gini Grey is 5 feet 9 inches and weighs about 122 pounds—and she’s a classic example of how to not use food as entertainment, comfort, or a source of stress release.
“I’m an optimist,” says this transformational coach and author. “I like to feel good, so I focus on solutions rather than problems. When I think negatively, I can feel my energy sagging. But when I envision my goals and focus on things I’m grateful for, I feel lighter, uplifted, and enthusiastic.”
Grey explains that lighter, happier moods are literally higher vibrations of energy that keep the metabolism humming, the body energized … and the weight down.
Striving toward your healthy body weight is great—but so is embracing your current size and shape. The key is to strike a balance between increasing your fitness level and loving your body for what it does every day.
Remember, there are two sides to every coin. “Being thin is not necessarily the greatest,” says Wanless. “A little curvy and rounded is lovely. For instance, we skinnies get far more wrinkly than our nice, firmly packed friends.”
About the Author
Laurie Pawlik-Kienlen is a full-time writer and blogger on Bowen Island, BC. She created the Quips and Tips blog series.