Did you know that the average adult American gains two pounds per year? So if you're the average bear you can count on gaining a cool 20 pounds as you move from your 20's to 30's. Maybe you're an above-average kind of person. If that's the case you could be looking at gaining 30 pounds. If you're lucky and a little below average, maybe it will only be 10 pounds. None of this sounds very good, does it? The exciting news is that you can completely buck the trend and maintain your weight (or maybe even lose a little) by being aware of the situation and following the tips below.
While genes certainly play a role in everyone's weight, that doesn't mean it can't be controlled. Even with pretty good genes on my side, I gained the freshman 15 right along with most other college girls. I hated the way I looked and felt and it made me work hard, so I quickly lost it during the following summer. I've experienced weight gain here and there, but have always kept it in control and not allowed myself to be content gaining a few pounds because as you read above, those few pounds add up over the course of time. A few pounds are easier to lose than 20 or more so taking control early can help curb long-term weight gain. I have maintained my ideal weight (which happens to be the same weight I was at age 16) into my 30's by applying the tips you'll read below. I hope they can help you, too.
#1 Pay attention to how your clothes are fitting.
Some of us just get so caught up in our lives that we don't bother paying attention to our weight. There are easy ways to keep track of where you are without becoming obsessive. The writing of this post was spurred by the fact that I've recently noticed my shorts not fitting quite right. At first I thought I must have dried them on too high a temperature and they shrank, but a visit to the bathroom scale told me otherwise. I've gained a few pounds and now I'm going to have to make sure to lose it and keep it in control. If I wasn't paying close attention to how my clothes were fitting, I might have let the few pounds slide and next year it'd be another few pounds, followed by another, and, well, you get the idea.
#2 Know your ideal weight and check it (somewhat) often.
I think it's important to weigh yourself to see if you are maintaining your weight, but notice I said to check it somewhat often. You don't want to be obsessively checking the scale. First off, weight gain fluctuates. I can have a five pound swing in a 24-hour period due to water retention or a hefty meal. So weighing yourself too often isn't going to do you much good. But it's good to get in the habit of weighing yourself about twice a month. Think of it as a check in to see where you're at. It helps to use the same scale and always weigh yourself around the same time of day. If the number's higher than usual, weigh yourself again the next day to see if it was one of the above-mentioned factors that contributed or true weight gain.
#3 Keep your portions in check.
This one is difficult for me because I have an appetite that matches and probably even exceeds my rock star metabolism. But after noticing the tight shorts, this is the first thing I started focusing on. If you need to, start using smaller plates. The average American plate size has grown 3 inches in the past generation. Fill up those 3 inches everyday and you'll easily add more than 3 inches to your waistline! For me, I either have to cook less food (if it's there, I'll eat it) or put what should be the leftovers and not my second and third helpings away before we even start dinner.
#4 Evaluate your fitness routine.
If your current workout routine is non-existent, this will be easy. Just add some kind of exercise into your daily life and you'll be doing better. Trust me, I know it's hard to go from not working out at all to getting into the fitness habit. I've been there. Figure out a way to find the time, motivation, and make it happen. No excuses.
This is a little trickier if you are already working out and finding it difficult to maintain your weight. You need to look at the type of exercising you are doing, the frequency, and the intensity.
Maybe you are doing the same type of exercise over and over and never switching it up. Shock your body into reacting by doing something different. If you always run on the treadmill, try swimming. If you do the same step aerobics class every week, try a different class with a different instructor.
Frequency is important, as well. Maybe your 30 minute walk a day just isn't enough. Do you need to add just one more day of fitness into your routine?
Another important factor is the intensity of your workouts. Are you sitting on the stationary bike while reading the current copy of US Weekly and calling it an intense, calorie-burning workout? If that's the level of your intensity for most workouts, that's likely the reason you are having difficulties maintaining a healthy weight. Try to increase the difficulty of your workouts enough that you are truly pushing yourself. Working out is not easy and you should be tired when you're finished. Tired in a good way, of course.
#5 Add functional fitness to your day.
This one goes hand-in-hand with the tip #4, but deserves its own space. I know this is nothing new, but something most people don't bother doing. There are countless ways that you can sneak little calorie burners into your day. The most obvious is probably to walk more. When I was teaching I did an American Heart Association walking program with my students where we wore a pedometer for a month. You would be amazed at how quickly those extra steps can add up and each extra step means more calories you are burning. So take the farthest parking spot and get some extra steps walking into the grocery store. When you go to the doctor's office, take the stairs rather than the elevator. Turn TV time into a time when you can sneak in a little exercise. Why not do push-ups and sit-ups during the commercials? Come on. You are not too tired. Just do it. Do some squats, lunges, or calf raises while brushing your teeth or chopping vegetables for dinner. If you think about it everyday, you can easily burn a hundred calories or more. And just so you know, it only takes one hundred extra calories a day to gain those two pounds a year. Just adding some functional fitness alone can help avoid that.
#6 Don't let yourself get too hungry.
This scenario happens way too often at our house: my wonderful husband Tim comes home ravagingly starving because he didn't eat any lunch. For dinner he eats up way more than he would normally eat (leaving me no leftovers for lunch!), scarfing his food so quickly he hardly takes time to breathe. Just a few minutes later, he discovers that he is now so completely full that he has a stomach ache. Sound familiar? Skipping meals is not healthy or any way to lose weight. In fact, not only should you not skip meals, I think it's also important to have small snacks in between meals. You want to keep your blood sugar at an even level all day, and never be so hungry that you feel starving. I know when I get into "I'm starving!" mode, I eat whatever I can get my hands on quickly, without too much thought to what I am eating. So not only are we more likely to overeat when we get super hungry, we are also more likely to eat less-nutritious junk food. I know some people like to eat five or six small meals a day. I've always thought that was too much work. I prefer to eat the three traditional meals with small snacks in between, but both accomplish the same goal.
#7 Don't drink your calories.
This is normally the easiest one for me. I am a water girl and that is my main beverage throughout the day. I've heard people complain that they need taste and can't stand just drinking water. If that's the case for you, add some flavor naturally by adding fresh mint, fresh fruit, lemon or lime to your water. Make a big pitcher of it and drink from it throughout the day. If you are constantly drinking juice or soda pop, you might as well be adding an extra snack or meal to your day. Those liquid calories add up quickly.
Alcoholic drinks should also be considered here. It's summer time right now. Summa, summa, summa time. What is it about summer that makes me want to drink cold beer? I'm pretty sure this has contributed to my recent weight gain. I love a nice bottle of cold Blue Moon, and the fact that it's summer makes it seem like I have a free pass. Now I'm not saying you can't drink at all if you want to maintain your weight. It's just good to have an understanding of how much you can drink without packing on the pounds.
#8 Stick to whole foods.
We live in a world where everyone is looking for convenience in their food. They don't want to have to take the time to do anything other than open a package and shove the food in their mouth. Well, I'm telling you that not only is that the fastest way to get a snack, it's also the fastest way to become a part of the statistics I mentioned at the beginning of this post. If you have a policy of sticking to mostly whole foods and eliminating processed food, you will be not only eating more healthily, you will most likely eat less. Think about it. You're a little hungry and think you might want a snack. If you had a box of Pop-Tarts in the pantry and it'd be super easy to take one out and eat it. But, since you are following the whole foods policy, you don't have anything that fast or convenient. If you want a snack, you have to chop some vegetables or put ingredients together to make something. You decide you aren't that hungry after all. See? You'll be less likely to eat when you don't really want to or need to but just do because it's convenient to do so.
All that stuff I mentioned above is probably enough to convince you that sticking to whole foods is a better idea than relying on processed crap, but wait! There's more. I just happened to come across this article today that was linked on one of the blogs I like to read, Summer Tomato. It talks about a recent study that has found that calorie-for-calorie, processed food will make you gain weight faster than whole foods. Seriously. I guess all calories aren't created equal after all.
So there you have it. My 8 little tips for helping curb that long-term weight gain that seems to creep up on us when we are too busy living our lives. Our society has made it seem like weight gain is some inevitable truth that comes with age. You get old and you get fat. No thanks. I'll chose the path less traveled, my friends. I hope you do, too.