As many of you know, successful weight loss includes more than just reducing calories; it’s about changing your lifestyle and mindset to accommodate healthy habits and to increase continued commitment and motivation.
The National Weight Control Registry is a self-selected group of over 5,000 individuals who have lost at least 30 pounds and maintained the weight loss for more than a year. Ninety percent of the individuals who are listed in the registry reported exercising, on average, about 60 minutes per day. Seventy-eight percent eat breakfast every day, and 62 percent watch fewer than 10 hours of TV per week.
However, we all know it’s easier said than done to make healthy changes like the ones listed above. These nine behavioral strategies can help.
• Set the right goals. Your goals should focus on specific dietary and exercise changes, such as, "I will eat at least five servings of fruits and vegetables every day this week," or, "I will work up to being able to walk briskly for 30 minutes at a time," rather than just on weight loss. Select two or three goals at a time to incorporate into your lifestyle rather than trying to change everything at once. Effective goals are specific, attainable and forgiving, which means that you don't have to be absolutely perfect. Instead of focusing on eliminating unhealthy foods, concentrate on adding in healthy options that will eventually replace the former.
In setting your goals, remember that losing more than one or two pounds per week can be unhealthy and greatly increases your chances of regaining the weight.
• Reward success. To encourage yourself to attain your goals, reward yourself for successes. An effective reward is something that is desirable and timely, such as attending a movie, getting a massage or taking an hour for yourself. Don't use food as a reward!
• Keep a food and exercise diary. Many behavioral psychologists believe it's necessary to track your daily food consumption to achieve long-term weight loss. From a simple pad of paper or handy phone app to a computerized program that provides reports and analyses of your progress, the best tool is the one you use every day. Incorporate your goals, such as eating five servings of fruits or vegetables daily, into your self-monitoring efforts.
• Monitor your weight sensibly. Keep track of your weight, but don't weigh yourself too often. One day's diet and exercise patterns won't have a measurable effect on the scale the next day, and your body's water weight can change from day to day, which may frustrate you and derail your efforts.
• Find support. Weekly meetings at a nearby support group or even over the Internet can help in a variety of ways. They provide accountability, helpful ideas, emotional support, an outlet for sharing frustrations and a variety of other psychological benefits. If you support groups aren't for you, consider finding a friend or family member to join in your diet and fitness efforts. Having a weight-loss buddy can improve your chances of success.
• Use positive self-talk. Take responsibility and see yourself as in control, able to talk yourself into exercising every day rather than being angry, hopeless or in denial. If you slip up one day, don’t beat yourself up; no one is perfect.
• Find ways other than food to respond to stress and other situations in your life. We all know that stress can trigger emotional eating. Address this in your life by seeking out alternative relaxation strategies including options such as meditation, exercise or journaling. Consider seeking talk therapy to cope with past traumatic experiences or current emotional concerns that keep popping up and that can sometimes lead to overeating without us even realizing it.
Certain cues, from stress to watching television, may stimulate unhealthy eating (often called triggers). In some cases, you can avoid those cues: don't go to that Mexican restaurant where you always eat too many chips, for example. For situations that can't be avoided, such as a business lunch or an argument with your spouse, plan strategies ahead for new ways to respond. If you track the situations surrounding your overeating in your food diary, you can more easily determine the cues you need to be aware of.
• Change the way you go about eating. There are a variety of tricks—from using a smaller plate to drinking a full glass of water before meals—that can help you eat less. Try being more mindful about eating, which includes chewing more slowly, savoring your food and limiting distractions such as television or eating on the run.
• Control your portions. The steady growth of food portion sizes served both in restaurants and at home has encouraged the overeating that is fueling the obesity epidemic in the United States, according to a survey by the American Institute for Cancer Research.
When dining out, try to take home at least half of your dish. If you have trouble withstanding temptation, ask your waiter to box half the portion before it comes to your table.
When eating at home, serve your plate and leave the remaining food in the kitchen; do not place it on the table. Half of your plate should be filled with vegetables, one quarter with a protein and one quarter with whole grains.
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