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When I first started thinking about making the behavior changes required to follow the federal Dietary Guidelines and Physical Activity Guidelines for a full year, I naively imagined that I could simply flip a switch one morning and follow all the rules. Bagels with cream cheese would magically turn into egg white omelets. Slices of pepperoni pizza would transform into chicken, brown rice and a multitude of multicolored veggies. I would somehow transport from my living room couch onto a treadmill.
There is no magic switch that makes you suddenly love running and eating kale. Here’s how Daniel J. Green found weight-loss success, one step at a time. it’s also proven to be surprisingly manageable.
Why I thought I could so easily turn off the lifestyle of eating poorly and getting inadequate physical activity that caused me to weigh 245 pounds in the first place, I’ll never know.
There is no magic switch that makes you suddenly love running and eating kale. It takes some trial and lots of error to get to a place where healthy choices are second nature, and even then, it takes work every day. I realized that in order to get to where I wanted to be, I had to take a stepwise approach to behavior change. While it’s continually challenging, it’s also proven to be surprisingly manageable.
CHANGING A BAD DIET: THE EVOLUTION OF MY NUTRITIONAL INTAKE
MONTHS 1 AND 2
I started by focusing only on my total calories and the amount of fat, carbohydrates and protein I consumed each day. I did my best to be mindful and evaluate each meal and snack I ate. After hearing about my project, friends and family members started asking me how they can get started on the path to lifestyle change. My advice is twofold:
- Count.Take the time to count your calories. There are a lot of free apps available that will help you track your daily intake. You might be surprised at how much you’re really eating. Not only that, you will likely identify patterns and habits that you had never noticed before.
- Cut.Every time you eat, try to eliminate some fat and add some protein to your plate. If you’re anything like me — and most Americans are — your diet is too high in fat. Making small changes like swapping higher-fat proteins for lean chicken or fish and cooking with less oil or eating less salad dressing will add up over time.
Lifestyle change is about making the best choice you can, as often as you can.
It’s important to remember that lifestyle change is not just about weight loss. If it were, cutting calories would be the only requirement. My goal is to improve my overall health, which means looking at the types of calories and nutrients I’m eating. That’s why, two months into my lifestyle change, I decided it was time to incorporate some additional rules from the Dietary Guidelines:
- Consume less than 10 percent of calories per day from saturated fat. For me, that equals 250 calories, or 28 grams (250 calories/9 grams of fat per calorie).
- Consume less than 10 percent of calories per day from added sugar. For me, that equals 250 calories, or 63 grams (250 calories/4 grams of carbohydrate per calorie).
- Consume less than 2300 mg per day of sodium.
- Limit the intake of trans fats to as low as possible.
There are reasons why these four nutrients — saturated fat, added sugar, sodium and trans fat—are highlighted in the Dietary Guidelines. Saturated and trans fats are associated with an increased risk of heart attacks and cardiovascular-related deaths. Consuming high amounts of added sugar (note that this does not include naturally occurring sugars like those in fruits and milk) makes it extremely difficult to meet nutrient needs while staying within calorie limits. High levels of sodium consumption can lead to high blood pressure and heart disease.