Looking for the “Secret” to Better Health and Lasting Weight Loss? Try this.

Jeff is a patient of mine who is worried about his risk for a heart attack. As his cardiologist, I think he’s right to be concerned. While he is much healthier now, Jeff spent the better part of his first 50 years as a couch potato with a junk food diet. Now that he is exercising regularly and eating better, he’s lost 40 pounds and kept it off for over 2 years (wow!).

I love meeting patients like Jeff that have achieved lasting weight loss. They’ve been my best teachers in what truly works. When I first started asking patients how they did it, I thought I would learn the magic diet, weight loss program or “secret” to lasting weight loss. And then I could share it with the rest of my patients.

And I did learn “the secret”, but it wasn’t what I expected.

Surprisingly (at least to me), each person’s story was more alike than not. Their “secret” was permanent lifestyle change using a combination of better quality food, smaller portions and more physical activity.

The message was clear. There is a secret and its practical things we all know work — applied over time. The details may vary, but the principles of success are remarkably consistent.

Jeff’s story was no different, but his strategy was new. It opened my eyes to ways that I could improve the health of my patients, my family and myself.

His secret?

Eat at home more.

The Convenience Illusion

Who has time to cook? The answer? All of us!

Eating out seems like a time saver. One of my favorite health bloggers, Darya Rose, calls this the “convenience illusion”. Cooking a big meal after a long day is the last thing we want to do. Grabbing something quick or ordering a pizza seems like a just reward (didn’t McDonalds tell us “You deserve a break today.”?). But as Darya’s article nicely points out, cooking at home can be faster than the “convenience” food that is making us chubbier and less healthy.

Jeff also pointed out several other benefits:

· Portion control — restaurant portions are often HUGE. It’s difficult to not overeat in most restaurants.

· Better quality food — if you want to know what’s really in your food, you’re better off eating at home.

· Lower cost — don’t kid yourself that eating out is cheaper. Yes, you can get 1500 calories for less than $7 at most fast food places, but the price you pay will be much higher down the road.

· Bonding with loved ones — especially if family and friends are involved with preparation/cleaning. Several studies have shown that family dinners lead to happier children who are at less risk for obesity, depression and substance abuse.

Jeff’s experience inspired me to eat more meals at home with my family.

Here are some useful tips that have made more of our meals “home cooked”. 
 1. Keep it simple. I’m guessing you’re not a gourmet chef. Me either! But I’ve learned quality ingredients simply prepared taste wonderful! And don’t be afraid to use short cuts when it makes sense such as canned or frozen foods, pre-cut vegetables, etc.

2. Have a handful of favorite meals that you can get on the table in less than 20 minutes. For my family its burrito bowls, whole grain spaghetti with a simple marinara sauce or a crock pot recipe started that morning. “On the run” nights are a peanut butter and honey sandwich on 100% whole grain bread. 
 3. Share the work of cooking and cleaning. It makes dinner easier and gives you a chance to catch up with your loved ones. 
 4. Planning is magic. A plan decreases the temptation of giving in to less healthy options at the end of the day when we’re most vulnerable. It also minimizes trips to the grocery store. Start small with one or two meals per week.
 5. Cook once, eat twice (or more). Soups, stews and casseroles make great meals the next day. If you make enough, your dinners AND lunches will be healthier and tastier.

6. Consider a meal delivery service. There are many of these companies. Most deliver a recipe and fresh ingredients for a home cooked meal to your door. A web search will likely turn up one that fits your needs. Your local grocery store may also have a grocery delivery service that can give you more time in the evenings. 
 Getting healthier and losing weight is not “one size fits all”. But if you’re looking for better health and lasting weight loss, you might find that, like Jeff, eating at home may be your secret.

Lead the best life,

R. Todd Hurst, MD, FACC, FASE
 “True healthcare reform starts in your kitchen, not in Washington” ~Anonymous

R. Todd Hurst, MD is a cardiologist with a special interest in lifestyle medicine, better health and preventing heart disease. Connect with him on Facebook or Twitter.