Finding time to eat well and exercise can be a challenge, especially if you have a hectic schedule. Add the stress of finding time, and losing weight may feel nearly impossible.
Stress sparks the release of hormones, including adrenaline, noradrenaline (also called norepinephrine and cortisol). Unfortunately, these stress hormones have a cause-and-effect impact on our food choices. Stress can make us feel bad and promote cravings for comfort foods — typically fatty, sweet and salty foods. These foods trigger the release of feel-good hormones that help counteract the damage.
Squeezing Healthy Habits Into Your Busy Schedule
Comfort foods like pasta, cakes and cookies can produce an instant calming effect. But long-term consequences like weight gain, inflammation and poor sleep can increase your risk of the nation's top killers: heart disease and cancer.
The good news: You can eat and exercise to support weight loss without overhauling your already-busy schedule. Try these 6 strategies:
- Plan and prep ahead. Work weeks are busy. By planning ahead, you can carve out time for cooking when you have it. Set aside a couple of hours each week to do some basic meal prep: Pre-make big casseroles, assemble ingredients for a crockpot dinner and stock the fridge with ready-to-eat snacks like grapes, carrot and celery sticks, grape tomatoes and bell pepper strips. You can even pre-marinate meats and chicken breast or buy pre-cooked protein such as cooked chicken breast and boiled shrimp.
- Choose whole foods. Whole foods boast more fiber, vitamins and minerals than their processed counterparts. For best results, aim to eat a largely plant-based diet. Buy packaged salads, pre-cut fruits and veggies and grab-and-go fruits like apples, oranges and bananas. Produce of all types supplies a bevy of nutrients for very few calories. That's a win-win when you're trying to lose weight.
- Start with a balanced breakfast. Eating breakfast helps keep blood sugar levels steady and sets the stage for a day of healthful eating. The best breakfasts include a mix of carbohydrates, protein, fat and fiber. Carbs provide on-the-spot energy, protein has staying power and fiber helps you feel full for at least a few hours.
- Prioritize protein. If you're getting enough protein, you'll be less likely to overindulge. Protein helps slow the release of sugar into the bloodstream, which helps you feel full. To get the most nutrient bang for your buck, select a variety of protein sources, such as lean meat, chicken, fish, lentils, nuts, seeds and protein-rich grains.
- Squeeze in exercise. Don't have time for a 30-minute full-body workout every day? Don't sweat it! Break your workouts into more manageable increments (think 10 or 15 minutes). You can even just focus on moving more throughout the day. Take the stairs instead of the elevator. Use the bathroom down the hall or on a different floor. Walk in place during a conference call.
- Remember your why. Take a few minutes to remember why you decided to lose weight. When you connect back to the reason you wanted to shed some pounds and adopt healthier lifestyle habits, you'll be better equipped to take steps to stay on course.
Schedule Time For Health
When your schedule is busy, it's easy to put yourself at the bottom of the to-do list. You rush through the morning to get kids to school, eat lunch at your desk to stay on top of your deadlines and go to bed late trying to catch up on everything you missed. You graze on junk food to power through the afternoon. At the end of the day, you feel exhausted, inefficient and ill-prepared to do it all over again.
If you're not eating well, getting enough rest and squeezing in some exercise, you won't have the energy you need to accomplish your daily responsibilities. Think of self-care as an investment that will pay off in terms of productivity, creativity and quality of life. Then take steps to make your healthy habits stick.
- Write down your plan: The simple act of writing down your meal and exercise plans can help you stick to the program.
- Recruit help: Keeping your health and fitness goals top of mind sometimes requires a team effort. Recruit a like-minded friend or family member to help hold you accountable.
- Revisit your why: Whenever you fall off-course or feel stuck, remember your why and make a commitment to overcome the obstacles in your path.
It can be difficult to make health-conscious choices all day, every day. Keep in mind, perfection isn’t the goal. Instead, give yourself grace. With some planning and a renewed focus on "me time," you can achieve your health goals and stick with them for the long haul.
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To find a doctor or registered dietitian at Henry Ford, visit henryford.com or call 1-800-436-7936.
Patricia Jurek, RD, MBA, is the manager for Henry Ford Macomb Hospital’s Center for Weight Management. Learn more about Patricia.