I used to be 100 pounds heavier than I am now. My eating habits were out of control and pretty much the epitome of mindless. I am A.D.D., I have two kids under four, and I work full time, so eating without constant distractions just doesn't happen. But over the years I’ve learned what it takes for me to lose my weight... and most importantly, keep it off.
I’ve never been one to focus too much on “mindful eating” because the idea of meditating on a grape is not my style. But I learned it does take more than that just focusing on what's on my plate. And yes, that means to eat more consciously. Here, I'm sharing the weight-loss tips and rules that work for me (and a glimpse at what you'd find on my 2B Mindset program).
1. I stay busy.
Boredom is dangerous and so easily leads to weight gain. While free time gets perceived as relaxing, it actually makes me feel anxious, which can lead to bad eating habits. My busiest days are the ones when I tend to focus less on my food and more on what I need to get done. That's why I always try to fill my schedule with things that make me feel productive—so I don’t find myself rummaging through the pantry for a lack of something to do.
2. I shun foods, but never myself.
When I was at my highest weight, I had a full-blown peanut butter addiction. I would eat jars at a time, and my favorite food was Reese’s peanut butter cups. I had absolutely no control of myself when I ate any of it. When I decided that I no longer wanted to be heavy, I made a point to completely stop eating anything with peanuts or peanut butter in it.
I never blamed myself for being big, but I certainly blamed the peanut butter for getting me there. It wasn’t that I couldn’t eat these things anymore. I merely didn’t want to. I so tightly associated that flavor with feeling physically and emotionally uncomfortable that it became much easier to not eat it than it would be to continue eating it.
3. I manipulate my surroundings.
I've learned that if I am around food for long enough, I will eat it. It doesn’t matter if I am hungry or if the food even looks good; I'll just start nibbling out of habit. When my husband would get home late from work, I would typically eat a dinner by myself and then eat more with him when he got home. I tried to sit with him at the table and not eat, but eventually, I would start picking at his plate. Over time, I realized that I needed to sit either across the table or on a nearby couch to avoid the thoughtless habit. He didn’t mind either way and moving away from the food actually allowed me to focus more on him.
4. I’ve learned to see everything as a marathon, not a sprint.
I know it's cliché, but let me get specific: When I arrive at a party, I don’t go immediately to the food. I first think about how many hours I plan on being there and try to pace myself accordingly. If I know it’s a three-hour buffet dinner, I may not start eating until an hour into being there. I’ll focus on drinking lots of water first and talk to people, so I don’t stuff my face too early and overdo it.
This mentality also helps with staying positive with the scale. I don’t get reactive or overly emotional if the scale goes up a few pounds. My interest is always in lasting results, so I see a few pounds gained as a little sentence within a bigger story. It just refocuses me to get those pounds off and surpass my previous goals.
5. I work my weaknesses.
I am a proud member of the clean plate club. Trust me, I've tried leaving food on my plate, but it always makes me feel deprived. While this may be perceived as a weakness, I decided to turn it around and work with it, not against it.
When I go to big meals at family-style restaurants or people’s homes, I keep my appetizer or salad plate for the entrée course. I load up on a lot of food during both courses but using the slightly smaller plate helps. I've also learned to fill my plates with mostly veggies. I will still gladly take a spoonful of mac and cheese, but I'm careful not to take more than that because I know that if it’s on the plate, it will end up in my mouth.
6. Better in the trash than in my body.
This was a very hard one for me because I'm a frugal and waste-conscious person. I hold on to things for far longer than I should and always try to either recycle or donate whatever I don’t use anymore. This can be difficult when it comes to having leftover food that I probably shouldn't eat three days in a row (I'm looking at you, pizza.) I use the phrase “better in the trash than in my body” anytime I am in that situation to help me realize that if I eat my daughter's picked-at leftovers, for example, they're still not going anywhere in need.
7. “If it’s not chocolate, it’s not worth it.”
When people tell me that they have a sugar addiction, I tell them to narrow it down. I used to eat anything and everything that looked sweet and tasty. I knew I had to cut back in that area so I realized that I am a chocolate lover, first and foremost. Berry tarts, gummy bears, and sprinkles won’t ever do it for me the same way chocolate does. Once I discovered this, I found it extremely easy to pass on these things and not be tempted by them. However, if I'm faced with good chocolate, I usually decide it’s totally worth it.
Ilana Muhlstein, M.S., R.D.N., is the co-creator of Beachbody’s 2B Mindset program. She earned a Bachelor of Science degree in nutrition and dietetics from the University of Maryland, sits on the executive leadership team for the American Heart Association, and leads the Bruin Health Improvement Program at UCLA. Ilana acts as a nutrition consultant for several companies, including Beachbody and Whole Foods Market. At home, she is a wife and mother of two.