Hundreds of fad diets, weight-loss programs and outright scams promise quick and easy weight loss. However, the foundation of successful weight loss remains a healthy, calorie-controlled diet combined with increased physical activity. For successful, long-term weight loss, you must make permanent changes in your lifestyle and health habits.
How do you make those permanent changes? Consider following these six strategies for weight-loss success.
1. Make sure you're ready
Long-term weight loss takes time and effort — and a long-term commitment. While you don't want to put off weight loss indefinitely, you should make sure you're ready to make permanent changes to eating and activity habits. Ask yourself the following questions to help you determine your readiness:
- Am I motivated to lose weight?
- Am I too distracted by other pressures?
- Do I use food as a means to cope with stress?
- Am I ready to learn or use other strategies to cope with stress?
- Do I need other support — either from friends or professionals — to manage stress?
- Am I willing to change eating habits?
- Am I willing to change activity habits?
- Do I have the time to spend on making these changes?
Talk to your doctor if you need help addressing stressors or emotions that seem like obstacles to your readiness. When you're ready, you'll find it easier to set goals, stay committed and change habits.
2. Find your inner motivation
No one else can make you lose weight. You must undertake diet and exercise changes to please yourself. What's going to give you the burning drive to stick to your weight-loss plan?
Make a list of what's important to you to help you stay motivated and focused, whether it's an upcoming vacation or better overall health. Then find a way to make sure that you can call on your motivational factors during moments of temptation. You might want to post an encouraging note to yourself on the pantry door or refrigerator, for instance.
While you have to take responsibility for your own behavior for successful weight loss, it helps to have support — of the right kind. Pick people to support you who will encourage you in positive ways, without shame, embarrassment or sabotage.
Ideally, find people who will listen to your concerns and feelings, spend time exercising with you or creating healthy menus, and share the priority you've placed on developing a healthier lifestyle. Your support group can also offer accountability, which can be a strong motivation for sticking to your weight-loss goals.
If you prefer to keep your weight-loss plans private, be accountable to yourself by having regular weigh-ins, recording your diet and exercise progress in a journal, or tracking your progress using digital tools.
3. Set realistic goals
It may seem obvious to set realistic weight-loss goals. But do you really know what's realistic? Over the long term, it's smart to aim for losing 1 to 2 pounds (0.5 to 1 kilogram) a week. Generally to lose 1 to 2 pounds a week, you need to burn 500 to 1,000 calories more than you consume each day, through a lower calorie diet and regular physical activity.
Depending on your weight, 5% of your current weight may be a realistic goal, at least for an initial goal. If you weigh 180 pounds (82 kilograms), that's 9 pounds (4 kilograms). Even this level of weight loss can help lower your risk of chronic health problems, such as heart disease and type 2 diabetes.
When you're setting goals, think about both process and outcome goals. "Walk every day for 30 minutes" is an example of a process goal. "Lose 10 pounds" is an example of an outcome goal. It isn't essential that you have an outcome goal, but you should set process goals because changing your habits is a key to weight loss.
4. Enjoy healthier foods
Adopting a new eating style that promotes weight loss must include lowering your total calorie intake. But decreasing calories need not mean giving up taste, satisfaction or even ease of meal preparation.
One way you can lower your calorie intake is by eating more plant-based foods — fruits, vegetables and whole grains. Strive for variety to help you achieve your goals without giving up taste or nutrition.
Get your weight loss started with these tips:
- Eat at least four servings of vegetables and three servings of fruits daily.
- Replace refined grains with whole grains.
- Use modest amounts of healthy fats, such as olive oil, vegetable oils, avocados, nuts, nut butters and nut oils.
- Cut back on sugar as much as possible, except the natural sugar in fruit.
- Choose low-fat dairy products and lean meat and poultry in limited amounts.
5. Get active, stay active
While you can lose weight without exercise, regular physical activity plus calorie restriction can help give you the weight-loss edge. Exercise can help burn off the excess calories you can't cut through diet alone.
Exercise also offers numerous health benefits, including boosting your mood, strengthening your cardiovascular system and reducing your blood pressure. Exercise can also help in maintaining weight loss. Studies show that people who maintain their weight loss over the long term get regular physical activity.
How many calories you burn depends on the frequency, duration and intensity of your activities. One of the best ways to lose body fat is through steady aerobic exercise — such as brisk walking — for at least 30 minutes most days of the week. Some people may require more physical activity than this to lose weight and maintain that weight loss.
Any extra movement helps burn calories. Think about ways you can increase your physical activity throughout the day if you can't fit in formal exercise on a given day. For example, make several trips up and down stairs instead of using the elevator, or park at the far end of the lot when shopping.
6. Change your perspective
It's not enough to eat healthy foods and exercise for only a few weeks or even months if you want long-term, successful weight management. These habits must become a way of life. Lifestyle changes start with taking an honest look at your eating patterns and daily routine.
After assessing your personal challenges to weight loss, try working out a strategy to gradually change habits and attitudes that have sabotaged your past efforts. Then move beyond simply recognizing your challenges — plan for how you'll deal with them if you're going to succeed in losing weight once and for all.
You likely will have an occasional setback. But instead of giving up entirely after a setback, simply start fresh the next day. Remember that you're planning to change your life. It won't happen all at once. Stick to your healthy lifestyle and the results will be worth it.
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