Anne Fletcher is a best selling author who has made an important impact in the word of weight loss. She has given us Thin for Life, along with companion books the Thin for Life Daybook and Eating Thin for Life. Her latest book Weight Loss Confidential: How Teens Lose Weight and Keep it Off, and What They Wish Parents Knew, is making a big difference in the lives of parents and children. Ms. Fletcher has given us the honor of answering questions for some of our members in this exclusive Q&A.
1. Ms. Fletcher, could you identify what are the key success factors in maintaining weight loss, and if one goes off track, what are the best strategies for recovery?
In Thin for Life, I identified 10 keys to success for maintaining weight loss from the more than 200 “masters” of weight control ? adults who’d lost an average of 64 pounds and kept it off for more than 10 years, on average. So this is not something I can answer succinctly! For starters, you have to believe in your ability to reach a healthier weight, something you can start to do by learning from others who have succeeded. The masters also make it clear that you have to want to lose weight for yourself, not because someone else is on your back. And you have to find a way to lose weight that’s right for you?not the latest fad that worked for your best friend. The masters also stress the importance of learning to handle your emotions without turning to food. However, if I had to stress just one key to maintaining weight loss, it would be regular exercise ? the masters make it a priority, and they vary what they do to keep things more interesting. If they go off track, they just pick themselves up and start over – every moment is a chance to start anew..
2. My son is 3 1/2 years old. I am a recovering Binge-Eater. My son has seen me sad and eating, mad and eating. He understands that I had a problem with eating compulsively. Whenever my son gets upset or mad he tells me “I need some candy to make me feel better” or “I need some food to make me feel better”. He does not have a weight problem as of now, but weight problems do run in my family. I gently explain to him that I will get him a snack if he is hungry, but I can soothe his emotions with a hug. I fear that he will have an emotional eating problem. Am I handling the situation right?
I cannot offer specific advice for personal situations and, if you’re not doing this already, would urge you to consult a professional who has expertise with binge eating problems. I’d say that in general, it’s wise to model the kinds of behavior that we want our children to practice and that it’s also wise to reward and comfort our children without the use of food. If kids want a snack, it makes sense to try to help them figure out whether they are truly hungry or if they need a hug or some other need met.
3. Our lifestyle has us eating by the clock. Eat breakfast at 6:15 am because we have to leave for school. They eat lunch at the same time each day. We eat dinner at 6:00 because everyone is home by then. With this eating lifestyle, how do I teach my son to eat when he’s hungry and not because it’s time to eat.
For practical reasons, you’re right that we do tend to eat according to the clock. But given the time spread you outline, your child probably is hungry at those times if he hasn’t been doing a lot of snacking in between. In fact it’s not unusual for kids to be hungry every couple of hours. When you do have meals, it makes sense to offer the child reasonable portions of a variety of healthy foods and then to let the child decide how much he’s going to eat, without making it an issue.
4. How do I get my daughter to accept she is overweight and heading towards obesity without making her feel horrible about herself. I can see myself in her, I didn’t listen to my mom and I ended up over 300 lbs. I couldn’t bear for my daughter to end up in the same boat as me. I get her to eat healthily at home, but when she is in school or at her dad’s she eats junk, junk and more junk. Please HELP!
My response would depend in part on the age of the child, which is not clear from your question. My new book, Weight Loss Confidential, is filled with advice from formerly overweight teens and their parents that would give you insights if your daughter is a teen. One thing that the parents stress is that it’s important to let teens know they’re loved unconditionally, regardless of their weight. They also stress the importance of getting off the backs of overweight teens and letting them decide if, how, and when they are ready to do something about their weight. I know this is hard, because my oldest son became overweight as a teen. But if you try to be a role model for healthy eating and exercise, provide mainly healthy foods (also having occasional treats), and help a child feel good about herself in other ways, you might set the stage for your teen to take charge of her weight. But it will have to be in her own time. The new book does offer insights about how to look for windows of opportunity to help an overweight teen and how to communicate more effectively. (My son did lose 65 pounds when he was 18, and he’s kept it off for about 5 years.) If communication is good with your former husband, can you try calmly and rationally talking with him about your concerns ? without your daughter around?
5. How would you rate the importance of the quality of foods we eat when we are in the process of losing weight and maintaining that weight loss? Such as someone concentrating on whole foods, would they have better success than someone who eats more processed foods? Or such as someone who eats organic foods vs non-organics, would they have better success?
I don’t know of any evidence that eating organic foods is more likely to lead to weight loss success. However, people who lose weight and keep it off ? both adults and teens ? stress that they eat more fruits and vegetables, less fat, and healthier carbs (whole grains more often than refined carbs.) In general, processed foods tend to be higher in fat and calories, so the closer to a food’s natural state, the better. However, there’s nothing wrong with also taking advantage of reduced-fat, reduced-calorie processed foods if they help with weight control.
6. I need to lose a lot of weight (over a hundred pounds). Some people say to start slowly and others tell me that it?s best to leave all my bad habits behind and start fresh. What do you think?
It really depends on the individual. I found that about half of the 208 adults in the Thin for Life books ? as well as about half of the 104 teens in Weight Loss Confidential ? lost weight on their own, often by making slower, more gradual changes. The other half had some sort of help from a professional, a commercial weight program, a nonprofit program (TOPS), or a medically supervised program. Some of these programs offer more aggressive weight loss approaches. It would be wise to consult with your physician and a registered dietitian about what would work best for you. Sometimes, it helps to go back and look at things that helped you in the past because they just might help you this time around as well.
7. Is it possible to lose weight by retraining your body to eat what it needs intuitively without having to consciously monitor your food carefully almost every day?
I think that just about everyone can learn to eat more intuitively ? that is, by tuning in to their internal, biological hunger cues as opposed eating for nonhunger reasons, such as emotional reasons.
While this can help some people, it doesn’t help everyone lose the weight they want to lose ? again, it really depends on the person. We do know from research studies that writing down what you eat in a food diary can really help with weight management. Many masters say that continued vigilance is required, but they feel it’s worth it for how great they feel at a healthier weight. Some of them just keep track of what they eat if their weight creeps up a few pounds.
8. A lot of our strong memories may be associated with food, especially food that is high in calories and are often referred to as comfort foods. Is there any way to retrain ourselves to think of healthier, low calorie options as comfort food? Should we just try to limit our comfort foods or try to make them as low calorie as possible when we feel we need them?
I don’t know of any research in this area, but I do think we can learn new food associations. Certainly, when you feel better about yourself because of eating healthier foods, some of those foods can be associated with comfort. But there’s no reason to give up all comfort foods from the past. Many of the masters told me that, although they don’t keep highly tempting foods in their homes, they do allow themselves these foods in more controlled circumstances, such as when out at a restaurant. And many of them have come up with healthier recipes for their old comfort foods.
9. All the diet programs emphasize how important good breakfast is. I am not hungry in the morning. I get hungry around lunch time. If I eat earlier, then I am hungrier all day. Should I follow what my body says or what the plans say.
Studies on people who’ve lost weight and kept it off do show that most of them eat breakfast. But as with everything having to do with weight loss, there are no hard and fast rules, and you have to find what’s right for you. I lean toward telling you to listen to your body, as long as skipping breakfast doesn’t lead you to eat more later in the day, as seems to be the case with some people. Or perhaps you could just eat a small morning snack.
10. I?ve lost a lot of weight and am now in maintenance. But I still struggle with food issues. This isn?t as easy as I thought it would be! Do you think I?ll ever stop wanting to eat too much of the wrong foods?
Don’t be too hard on yourself because many of us have certain foods that are difficult to put the brakes on, once we start eating them. Some of the masters said it helped them to stop thinking of “right” foods and “wrong” foods or “good” foods and “bad” foods. They stress that it’s important not to deprive yourself and to allow yourself treats in situations where they won’t get out of hand. To reassure you about the difficulty you’re feeling, when I asked the masters to rate the degree to which they agreed with the statement, “It is a constant struggle to keep my weight down,” their responses indicated that it’s NOT a huge struggle for most of them. (Note that to be part of Thin for Life, people had to have lost at least 20 pounds and kept it off for at least 3 years.) And most of the teens in Weight Loss Confidential agreed that as time goes on, it becomes easier to keep their weight down. A study involving maintainers in the National Weight Control Registry also suggests that the longer people keep weight off, the easier it becomes. In that same study, with time, the pleasure derived from weight maintenance ? in comparison with the effort entailed ? was found to increase. So hang in there, and consider getting some professional help from a registered dietitian or mental health professional who has expertise with weight management if you continue to struggle.