The multi-billion dollar diet industry wants people to believe that managing weight takes a complete diet overhaul, giving up their favorite foods and participating in specific exercises. The reality is that busy parents simply don’t have the time or energy to do these things for long.

As a registered dietitian who has worked in the field for 15 years, I believe maintaining a healthy weight does not have to be complicated.  In fact, I think it’s much, much easier than people realize.

During my twenties, I went through a period where my weight fluctuated and I struggled with eating.  But when I learned the following lessons, my weight naturally fell to the right place for me.  And the best part about it wasn’t my stable weight, but how simple and enjoyable eating had become.

Lesson #1. Eat what you want.

“Do you even enjoy eating, Maryann?” was the question a friend had for me as I bemoaned about bread served with butter already on it.  That question changed my life — and how I viewed food.

I realized that I was so caught up in “good” and “bad” food — and my weight — that I no longer enjoyed eating.  When I finally did eat the “bad” food, I’d eat too much.  And I’d eat too much of the “good” food because it wasn’t always what I truly wanted to eat. I was simply eating too much!

Photo by Adrienne Bassett

So instead of categorizing food as “good” or “bad,” I included all foods in my diet without judgment.  What I discovered rocked my world.  My body didn’t crave junk — it wanted mostly nutritious foods with smaller amounts of my favorite sweets.

Lesson #2. Let your stomach decide.

Something amazing happened after I learned lesson number one: I started listening to my body more.

Because I could eat any food I wanted, any time I wanted, my desire to overeat practically disappeared.  No more stuffing myself on vacations, on Friday nights or at birthday parties.  When I got comfortably full and satisfied, I’d leave food on my plate.  I watched my body signals, took my time to sit for meals, and ate more slowly.

If you really pay attention to your stomach and its signals, you won’t have to count calories or eat food that doesn’t satisfy.  This is the first nutrition lesson my four year-old gets:  when she wants more food or asks to leave the kitchen table early, I ask her what her tummy says.

Lesson #3. Make feeding yourself a priority.

Feeding myself regular meals and snacks has never been a problem of mine, but it has been so for many of my clients.

The rare times I do skip breakfast, or put off a meal later than it should be, I’m attacked by a relentless hunger later that is hard to satisfy. The better job I do feeding myself during the day, the easier it is to manage my hunger overall.

Lesson #4. Get enough slumber.

Photo by Deborah Morrison

When I had my second child, the extra weight lingered for much longer than it did the first time around.  And it was due to one thing: lack of sleep. My son was colicky and slept horribly the first four months of his life.

Research shows that inadequate sleep is associated with higher weights. Scientists believe that hunger hormones rise in sleep-deprived individuals, causing hunger and overeating.

So when I find myself wanting to eat 24/7, I check my sleep, and often find it’s time to go to bed earlier or have a sleep-in day.

Lesson #5. Follow those passions.

“I’m happy,” was the answer a co-worker gave me after I asked about the considerable amount of weight she had lost.  She told me she had finally pursued her passion of acting and recently landed a role in a play.  Being involved in something she loved made eating less attractive, and she lost weight without even trying.

I believe I used to eat more for this same reason.  I was scared to do the things I really wanted to do, and food was a nice comfort.  But as I slowly started taking chances in life and found activities that made me feel alive, food became less desirable.

So there they are — five simple lessons that helped me get (and stay) at a weight that’s right for me.  You’ll notice that I didn’t mention a thing about carbs, fat or calories.

I believe what matters most for weight management is “how much” someone eats.  And for me, discovering what caused me to eat more than my body needed made the biggest difference.  It really can be that simple.

So tell me, what lessons have you learned about keeping weight management simple?