The 5-Minute Weight Loss Plan

by Charles Platkin, PhD

“Lose 20 pounds in one weekend!”

“Eat everything and still lose weight!”

I know — you’ve heard it all before when it comes to promises. But what if I told you there was a 5-minute weight loss plan that actually worked? I’m not suggesting that you can “lose weight in only five minutes!” or anything else that unrealistic. But chances are it’s only about five minutes out of your day that is keeping you from losing and maintaining your weight.

How can I make such a bold claim? Whether it’s late night snacking, midday munchies, or nibbling while preparing dinner, studies have shown that you can easily cut calories just by focusing on your key “trigger times.” According to a recent survey of more than 400 individuals attempting to lose weight, more than 97% of those surveyed have one specific time of day during which they consume a majority of their high-calorie and high-fat foods. That’s pretty good news — it means most of us don’t have to obsess over dieting for the entire day in order to lose and maintain our weight.

Many of the study’s respondents said they eat more than 350 additional calories during the “Prime-Time TV Hour” (about 34%). Next in line is the “Afternoon Snack Attack,” i.e. toward the end of the workday, or right when the kids get home (27%). The survey also indicated that the most popular temptations for overindulgence are candies, cakes, cookies, and doughnuts.

People are more likely to overeat at these times for three primary reasons:

1. Unconscious and Unaware
This can manifest itself in two forms: Eating without thinking about the calories we’re consuming, or not being aware that we’re eating at all — for example, consuming a bag of chips in front of the TV and not realizing it, or unconsciously grazing on a box of cookies while talking on the phone.

2. Waiting Too Long to Eat
Have you ever found yourself eating a bucket of fried chicken and French fries simply because there was “nothing else to eat” and you were “starving”? “Most people wait too long between meals, skip meals and simply wait until they are ravenous and willing to eat anything — and unfortunately, there is a tendency to eat foods that are higher in calories and fat at these times,” says Vermont Nutritionist Theresa Davis, M.S.,R.D.

3. Social Eating
Eating when you’re not hungry has many faces — eating when you’re bored, to entertain ourselves, or because the food is simply “in front of you,” like helping yourself to a few donuts “just because” someone brought them to the office.

A little preparation can keep these 5-minute moments from ruining your weight loss efforts. Figure out what you’re going to do during these specific “craving times” to prevent over indulging in high-calorie and high-fat foods.

If you know that you typically overeat while watching TV, you need to develop and rehearse a new plan in your head, such as having a variety of healthy snacks already prepared in advance, or even taking a pottery class or having another activity during this “Prime-Time TV” eating episode.

When it’s a case of social eating and someone from your office brings a box of Dunkin’ or Krispy Kreme donuts every Friday — and you’re trying to lose weight — then you need to have a plan. What are you going to do when those fresh, hot donuts arrive? How about having another enjoyable, lower calorie snack on hand, and making sure that you’ve had a full breakfast so you’re not hungry.

If you’re prone to waiting too long to eat, it’s important to plan for your meals, as well as eating on a regular basis. “If you typically arrive home after a long day’s work, and end up raiding the refrigerator, you need to think about what you’re going to eat in advance — and not just leave it to chance,” suggests Davis.

Just as these “craving times” are different for everyone, so are the antidotes of choice — you need to figure out what works for you. Remember, you may be up against some tough opponents like donuts, ice cream or fried chicken. In fact, while sitting at my desk to work on this column, I became ravenous — I would have eaten anything placed in front of me. But fortunately, I was prepared. I already had some low-calorie microwave popcorn on hand to save the day.

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