Fitness Goals: Focus on Behaviors, Not Weight

The goals of weight management go well beyond numbers on a scale.

“It’s important to focus on behaviors rather than the weight,” explains Carla Duenas, a registered dietitian with Community Health at Baptist Health South Florida.  If your goal is to reach and maintain a healthy weight, assess the following behaviors to determine if you should make a few lifestyle changes, she says.

I eat at scheduled times throughout the day. “Plan to eat every four hours – six at the most,” Ms. Duenas said. “Food gives you energy. Eating every four hours trains your body to use food as fuel and makes it more efficient.” Timely eating also ensures that you don’t become so hungry that you overeat.

I eat breakfast. “This is an extremely important behavior,” Ms. Duenas stressed. “Eating breakfast breaks the fast and signals your body to use the food you eat as fuel instead of depleting your energy storage. Even eating something small like a healthy granola bar with a glass of nonfat milk is better than not eating.”

I eat at least five servings of fruits and vegetables every day. “Fruits and vegetables are low in calories and full of vitamins, minerals and fiber,” explained Ms. Duenas. Fiber, which also is found in grains, takes longer to digest so it makes you feel fuller longer and helps control your appetite.

I eat a variety of foods from each food group. Your diet should include a variety of choices from the fruit, vegetable, protein, grain and dairy groups. “You also should balance all three macronutrients – proteins, carbohydrates and fats,” Ms. Duenas explained. “Diets that focus on one macronutrient simply do not work.” When it comes to portions, half of your plate should be fruits and vegetables, 25 percent should be lean protein and 25 percent should be healthy carbs. “If you follow this plan, you will be satisfied with smaller portions,” Ms. Duenas added.

I avoid sugar-sweetened beverages. These empty calories have no nutritional benefit and do not satisfy hunger. Diet drinks are not good replacements, warns Ms. Duenas, because the sweetness is addictive and only makes you crave more. “If you remove sugary drinks from your diet, your taste buds will quickly adapt and you no longer will seek sweets,” she said.

I eat out fewer than three times per week. Restaurant foods usually are higher in calories and fat than home-cooked meals, especially if you cook with low-fat ingredients. Make eating at home more efficient by preparing healthy meals in advance to save time on busy weeknights.

I aim for 30 minutes of moderate activity at least five days a week. Do activities that you like, such as brisk walking, dancing, martial arts, yoga and working in your yard. If you are not currently active, Ms. Duenas suggests checking with your healthcare provider before beginning a physical activity program.

I limit leisure screen time to fewer than two hours per day. You also should “unplug” at least an hour before bedtime to improve your quality of sleep, Ms. Duenas advises.

I aim for seven to nine hours of sleep per night. Studies show that reduced sleep affects energy balance and may disrupt appetitive hormone regulation. In other words, when you are tired, your brain may tell you to eat more food to increase your energy.

I monitor my progress. Evidence shows that self-monitoring food intake, physical activity and weight improves nutrition-related outcomes with regard to weight loss and maintenance. Ms. Duenas recommends keeping a journal or using a fitness app to keep you on track.

I set realistic goals. “Set short-term goals that are not overwhelming. And when you reach that benchmark, set your next goal,” advises Ms. Duenas. Realistic goals include losing 10 percent of your body weight in three to six months or losing about two pounds per week.

Remember, your ideal weight will be the weight you settle at naturally when you are doing everything you can to promote good health. Did you identify behaviors that you could change to feel healthier?

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