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Harvard Commentaries
Harvard Commentaries
Reviewed by the Faculty of Harvard Medical School

Food for Thought Food for Thought

End Your Weight Loss Struggles

October 23, 2014

By Julie Redfern, R.D., L.D.N.
Brigham and Women's Hospital

We usually have the best of intentions when it comes to losing weight. But many of us find our efforts sabotaged by people, places or things. Do any of these scenarios sound familiar?

Plan: Eat a nutritious breakfast at home
Reality: Got up late, rushed out the door, stopped at the gournet coffee shop for a latte and a bagel with cream cheese

Plan: Refuse second helpings or dessert at the holiday dinner Reality: Aunt Bessie baked your favorite pie; it would feel rude not to have some

Plan: Walk three times a week
Reality: It's either too hot, rainy, cold, windy, snowy... whatever.

Each of these situations contains a barrier that can be successfully eliminated using these strategies:

  1. Be assertive
  2. Ask for support
  3. Set realistic goals
  4. Plan

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Know Your Barriers

You can probably list in a snap the reasons you want to lose weight: be healthier, look better, have more energy, feel better about yourself. But did you ever think about why you don't want to lost weight? There are usually some reasons for not wanting to diet or change our eating habits. Think a minute. Are any of these on your list?

  • It's too much effort.
  • I'll be hungry.
  • I'll have to give up my favorite foods.
  • It'll make me tired and irritable.
  • I'm not sure I'll be comfortable in my new body.

Come up with as many as you can and then use the following strategies to eliminate them.

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Be Assertive

When you're in an Aunt Bessie-like situation, don't allow others to make food decisions for you. Be honest, direct, and tactful about what you want and don't want to eat. Replace passive responses with assertive ones and take control. Here are some examples.

Passive Response
Assertive Response
Aunt Bessie brings out a homemade pie she baked just for you
"You shouldn't have. I guess one small piece won't hurt."

Afterwards: Feelings of guilt, anger

"Thank you, your pies are delicious, but I'll full and will take a piece home."

Afterwards: Feeling in control; didn't hurt aunt's feelings

Your spouse wants to take you out for your favorite dessert
"What a nice idea. I love their cakes."

Afterwards: Feeling lethargic, disappointed in yourself

"Let's take a walk around the lake instead. It's beautiful out."

Afterwards: Feeling happy, lighter, in control

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Ask for Support

People around you can make it difficult for you to lose weight. They often use high calorie treats as a sign of affection. Time together always includes food. Family members, friends, and co-workers may not know how to react to you or help you. They may wonder if your relationship will change or if they have to match your self-control.

Let them know how they can support you. Be specific. Here are some examples:

  • Tell them you'd appreciate compliments for your efforts.
  • Ask for non-food treats such as flowers, tickets to a special event, or time together every time you've lost another 5 pounds.
  • Ask them to take a walk with you after dinner each day as exercise.
  • Request that snack foods be kept out of sight.

Above all, ask them not to make comments about what and how much you eat.

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Set Realistic Goals

Successful weight loss involves setting realistic and specific goals. Too often people make statements such as "I want to lose weight." But it's too vague and doesn't include any concrete steps to achieve your goal. It's more helpful, for example, to say "I will go food shopping weekly and purchase the healthy foods on my list. This will help me make healthier selections during the week." By working on another small step or goal each week, you will begin to achieve your overall goal of losing weight.

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Plan, Plan, Plan

Many people feel overwhelmed with all the tasks involved when trying to change their eating habits. It seems like so much work! But if you break things down into small, manageable steps, you'll be more successful. Choose one behavior or goal a week to work on and ask yourself what you need to do to achieve it.

Specific Steps
Buy healthier foods
Learn to read labels and compare the calorie and fat contents and serving sizes of foods
Take time for breakfast at home
Get up 15 minutes earlier; have quick, healthy foods on hand such as low-fat cheese, yogurt, whole-grain bread or cereal, fruit, nuts
Eat smaller portions
Keep measuring cups and spoons handy to measure serving sizes and become more aware of how much you are eating

Julie Redfern , R.D., L.D.N. is a registered dietitian and manager of the Nutrition Consultation Services at Brigham and Women's Hospital. She specializes in nutrition counseling for the obstetrics and gynecology department. She is a graduate of the University of Vermont and completed her dietetic internship at the Universit of Cincinnati Medical Center.

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