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Harvard Health Blog
February and the heart: More than Valentine's Day
- By Ami Bhatt, MD, FACC, Contributor
Today is Valentine's Day and many of us turn our thoughts to hearts and love. But there is more than one day this month to think about the heart and heart health.
February is Heart Month, and with it, I hope many people make a commitment to getting heart healthy. As a cardiologist, many well-intentioned people will come to my office seeking guidance, especially about weight loss. While January sees an uptick in gym memberships, by the time February rolls around, dedication to working out becomes challenging. Exercise is, of course, heart healthy and everyone should make an effort to stay physically active. But, few people can lose weight with exercise alone, and for weight loss, this dreaded phrase still rings true: count your calories.
After a decade of devising many approaches to help motivate my patients, it turns out that perhaps the simplest plan has been our most successful. Sharing is caring, as my father-in-law used to say, so here we go.
Three simple steps toward weight loss and a healthier heart
1. Picture a plate as a peace sign (or Mercedes sign if you prefer), with three equal sections. If you have trouble picturing thirds, then I recommend buying a set of sectional plates for the house. They work for those under the age of 10 as well, should you have picky eaters (also known as children). Now, place a different food group or item in each section. I am friendly with many of my patients, so the smart alecks will sometimes ask: does splitting a burger into thirds count? (It doesn't.)
2. No seconds. It's really that simple. Mindful eating is an exciting method that is catching on, generally with people who already are into a healthy lifestyle. I myself took a class in it. While it is fun in the moment … it is very hard to teach others. However, if family and friends are partaking in "seconds" while you are at the table … slowing down your pace and enjoying your food is your only defense. "No seconds" breeds mindful eaters.
3. Have three bites of anything yummy and delicious. Whether you have a sweet tooth or it's the savory items that excite you, three bites is the limit. The first bite is because you want it. Enjoy it. The second bite is an act of defiance. Revel in it. The third bite is the last and should be savored the most. It is the last one because you respect yourself and have a laudable goal that you will achieve. Some people have asked whether we could stretch that out to five bites. A few thoughts. In five bites, I could finish a large slice of pumpkin pie (and this is in fact a diet). We don't like calling it this, but in essence we are curbing calories. So no. Three bites it is.
Finding your plan for a healthy weight and a healthy heart
This plan may not work for everyone. For those who can afford dieting systems with prepared foods, or are facile with calorie-counting apps, those may be better. But for the average person, who just wants to see some progress in his or her weight loss, this might be for you. Some people hear this and think it will be easy, until they start. Others are concerned that it seems too restrictive, but the process is actually easier than they thought. Most people are able to stick with it long enough to see some small gains (actually, losses), which is sometimes all the motivation you need to dedicate yourself to the plan for a bit longer. Whatever your plan, make it approachable, stick with it, and forgive yourself if you stray — but get back on board quickly.
Happy Valentine's Day to all, and here's to a healthy and well-moderated New Year.
About the Author
Ami Bhatt, MD, FACC, Contributor
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