The parties are over, the leftovers are eaten, and the lingering chocolates have been given away. Now, finally, you can get to the task at hand – tackling that excess weight you’ve resolved to shed this year.
For some, it’s a matter of dropping only a few pounds that have crept on after a food-centered month. For others, goals involve losing 10, 15 or 20-plus pounds that have accumulated over the years – a task that requires motivation, focus and a willingness to work through the lapses.
Unfortunately, there is no magic bullet to weight loss. There are no special formulas, effortless plans, or targeted exercises that melt the pounds away. Being successful at losing weight and maintaining a weight loss requires dedication throughout the year and for years to come. It takes a slow and steady approach to making permanent changes to your eating habits.
Whether you have access to a personal dietitian for a customized meal plan and ongoing coaching or you’re going it alone, the following strategies will help you get started and stay on track.
Set realistic goals
First determine a healthy weight goal. Although there is some debate over what constitutes a healthy weight, a good definition for adults aged 18 to 65 is based on the body mass index (BMI), the ratio of your weight to height.
You’ll find many BMI calculators online. Your weight is considered to be healthy if your BMI is between 18.5 and 24.9. (If you have a muscular build, your weight can be healthy at a higher BMI since muscle weighs more than fat.)
Consider also your weight history over the past 10 to 20 years. What’s the lowest weight you’ve comfortably maintained for a period of time – not a fleeting moment – during adulthood? Maintain perspective. Avoid setting your sights on a weight that’s impossible to achieve because your current lifestyle won’t permit it.
You don’t have to set a big goal. Losing as little as 5 to 10 percent of your current body weight can lead to significant improvements in weight-related health conditions such as high blood pressure, high blood cholesterol and elevated blood sugar.
Break down large goals into monthly targets. Doing so will keep you motivated because they’re easier and quicker to achieve.
Spread out your calories
For women, aim for 1,400 to 1,600 calories per day; men 1,800 to 2,100. Identify where you can cut 500 calories from your daily diet. By eliminating second helpings? Curbing nighttime snacking? Making smarter choices in the food court at lunch?
To prevent becoming overly hungry during the day, divide your calories over three meals and one or two snacks. Aim to eat every three hours to prevent hunger and overeating.
Plan for a mid-morning snack and afternoon snack. Healthy snacks that sustain your energy should contain protein and carbohydrate such as fruit and nuts, fruit and yogurt, or a small energy bar. A general guide for snacks is 150 to 200 calories for women and 200 to 250 for men.
Fat proof your environment
Even if you’re following a healthy plan, knowing there are cookies in the cupboard or ice cream in the freezer can be tempting. Eventually those foods will call out to you, usually when you’re bored or stressed. To stay in control, keep “off plan” foods out of the house. If the rest of the family doesn’t buy in, ask them to keep their own treats out of sight.
To help you stay focused, especially when progress is difficult, having accountability systems in place will help you move forward instead of giving up. Keep a food diary and list everything you eat and drink each day. Doing so will keep you committed and prevent mindless nibbling. If you prefer, use an app to keep your diet on track such as MyFitness Pal, Sparkspeople, Lose It! and MyNetDiary.
Weigh in weekly, or as often as it feels right for you. Seeing progress on the scale motivates you to keep on going. Conversely, seeing an upward blip the morning after a larger than normal dinner will force you to follow your plan more closely. Take your measurements (waist, hips, chest) once per month.
Stay focused on weekends
Be consistent during the week and on the weekend. Once you start giving yourself a few breaks on the weekend, you’re more likely to ease off on Friday and then Thursday. Eventually those breaks will show up on the bathroom scale and you’ll end up chasing the same two pounds each week.
You’re more likely to succeed if you add regular exercise to your regime. Working out increases your motivation to stick to your plan. Physical activity also helps reduce stress, which otherwise might lead to overeating. And studies show that exercise is critical to prevent regaining your weight.
Follow up with yourself
Once you’ve achieved your goal, give yourself a big pat on the back. But don’t get overconfident. Just because your clothes feel great, or your cholesterol numbers are on the healthy range, doesn’t mean you can get away with second helpings at dinner or a few extra desserts each week. It’s a slippery slope that can lead you back to your starting point.
Copyright © Leslie Beck, 2017.