h16I only dieted (I mean seriously dieted to lose weight) once in my life, and it was such a negative experience. I was starving all the time! I felt deprived and miserable and to make things worse, I lost maybe a pound. I look back on it now and think, “What was I thinking?” That was the problem; I wasn’t thinking. I felt stressed, overwhelmed, and unhappy with the way I looked. I mindlessly reacted to my feelings and put myself on a diet.

This happened right after my first baby was born 26 years ago. I was trying to adjust to my new life situation. I was learning how to nurse my newborn which didn’t come easy for me, dealing with the fact that I had a C-section, functioning on very little sleep, and I had to say good bye to my old life (and body).

When I finally got a few hours (in a row) of sleep, I came to my senses and realized that I wasn’t helping myself by dieting. So I stopped the calorie-counting and restriction, and stepped back to re-assess. I figured out that I was overeating in general as a way to comfort myself and I was consuming way too much sugar and half-n-half in my (many) cups of decaf tea.

I decided to make a few mindful changes. I cut back on the tea and drank more water; I tried to eat when I was hungry and stop when I was full; and I started getting outside more for long walks as a way to comfort myself rather than eating. Eventually, my baby and I settled into a new routine and I was able to get back to my usual healthy way of eating. I began to feel better and gradually lost most of the baby weight. It took more time than I wanted and required a strong commitment to my health. There were bumps in the road along the way, but I stayed with it.

Even though I lost weight, my body had changed the way most women’s bodies change after child birth. I had stretch marks, scars, saggy skin, and more wrinkles than before. It was hard for me to come to terms with this, but once I made peace with my “new” look, I felt even better.

I learned these three important lessons back then and they continue to hold true today…

First lesson – diets don’t work!

Second lesson – achieving and staying at my personal best weight requires commitment and dedication.

Third (and most important) lesson – my health and well-being are so much more important than the number on the scale.

Being healthy in our fast-paced world – with all its unhealthy temptations – is quite challenging. Rather than dieting, you need to develop a skill set of healthy habits. Think of this as SKILL POWER rather than will power.

If you want to achieve your personal best weight and stay there for good, focus on eating for optimal health. Use these five skills to eat better and feel awesome. Be a HEALTHY LOSER!

1. AVOID FOODS WITH ADDED SUGAR OR ARTIFICIAL SWEETENERS

The easiest and most basic way to immediately reduce the amount of sugar you’re consuming is to stop adding it to your foods and beverages. If you’re hooked on sweetening your cereal, coffee or tea, it’s okay to give yourself time to ease out of the habit. For example, if you typically start your day with three spoons of sugar or honey in your tea or coffee, cut back to two spoons for a week, then one spoon, and eventually sweeten your beverage with a slice of orange or a little milk. Gradually reducing the amount can make it easier to tolerate and you may be less likely to experience withdrawal symptoms such as headaches, anxiety, and mood swings. However, if prefer the cold-turkey approach, go for it! The sooner you slash sugar from your diet, the quicker you’ll stop craving it.

To distinguish added sugars from naturally-occurring sugars in the food you eat, start by reading the ingredient lists. You’ll need to be a clever food detective since there are more than 60 different names for the sugars used in processed foods and beverages. And they’re all pretty much the same thing as far as your body is concerned – not healthy. Once you become familiar with all the different names for added sugars, go through your pantry and fridge. Get rid of everything that has any form of sugar listed as one of the first three ingredients, or if sugar is listed more than once on the ingredient list. Throw it away and don’t buy it ever again!

2. EAT MOSTLY HOME COOKED MEALS

Preparing your own food is a healthier option. Simple, wholesome, home-cooked dinners take only about ten minutes longer to prepare, on average, than serving heavily processed food, ready-made dinners, take-out, or restaurant meals. Make enough for leftovers and you’ll end up saving time.

3. EAT VEGGIES OR FRUIT WITH EVERY MEAL

Vegetables and fruit provide you with important vitamins, minerals and fiber. They have very few calories and will help fill you up at meals which supports permanent weight loss. Here are a few simple ways to do this.

For breakfast, have a veggie omelet, plain yogurt or oatmeal with sliced fruit, or an apple with nut butter. At lunch, have a big salad topped with beans or eat a half sandwich with a salad and a piece of fruit. At dinner, make sure your plate is at least 50 percent salad, broccoli, asparagus, cauliflower, or whatever veggie you choose. This ensures that you get enough nutrients and automatically reduces the amount of fat and calories you consume (provided you don’t go crazy with fatty dressings and toppings).

4. HYDRATE WITH WATER

Humans need water to survive and be healthy. That’s a fact. Water plays an important role in weight control as well. Drinking an adequate amount of water has been shown to cause a mild increase in metabolism so you burn more calories throughout the day. And if you drink water about a half hour before meals, you’ll automatically eat fewer calories. In addition, staying well hydrated will keep your hunger cues in check.

Water requirements vary depending on age, gender, body size, health status, and physical activity levels. Numerous environmental factors, such as the temperature, also influence water needs. As a general recommendation, aim for 8 – 10 cups/day. However, let your thirst be your guide. Quenching your thirst by sipping throughout the day is the best way to stay well hydrated.

Without a doubt, drinking water is the best way to hydrate your body. Making your own flavor-infused water is an easy and tasty way to liven up plain water. Start with water or seltzer and flavor it by adding fresh herbs (e.g., mint, lavender, ginger, basil), pieces of fruit (e.g., lemon, lime, orange, watermelon, berries) or even slices of cucumber.

5. DON’T SKIP MEALS

Skipping meals can slow down your metabolism and cause you to be starving later on, which can ultimately lead to overeating and making poorer choices than you would have otherwise. When you graze throughout the day instead of eating three meals, you can easily lose track of what you’ve eaten and end up consuming too many calories.

In addition, skipping meals can make it hard to get the variety of foods and nutrients you need for good health. When you eat breakfast, lunch and dinner, you are likely to choose different foods at each meal, providing overall variety.

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