If motivation is the spark that lights the weight-loss fire, then smart planning is the timber that will keep your desire burning. Lots of folks jump into a new diet or weight-loss plan without giving it much thought. This can lead to disappointment later when results aren't as stellar as had been hoped and people don't understand what went wrong.
Losing weight or maintaining a healthful weight brings the promise of feeling great, looking good and decreasing the negative impact that being overweight has on your health. Here's a rundown of the factors that most weight-loss experts agree will help you succeed.
Draw on internal motivation
Write down your reasons for wanting to lose weight. An honest assessment can go a long way toward predicting whether you will succeed. Knowing why you want to lose weight can also help you focus your efforts more definitively. Play to your strongest internal motivation. In general, internal motivators (getting healthy, feeling better) lead to long-term success. External motivators (fitting into new clothes in time for a friend's wedding) tend to be powerful but short-lived. Aim for something like climbing stairs without becoming winded rather than trying to fit into that old dress or suit. Specific motivators make powerful inducements. A man who enjoys restoring antique cars finds that because of his weight gain he can no longer slide under the cars to work on them. The desire to recapture the joy of his hobby motivates him to lose weight. A mother with a toddler at home can't easily get down on the floor to play with the baby. She makes significant changes in her life (and to her weight) based on her desire to share time with her child. A strong desire for change can lead to a very real commitment to action.
You could go it alone, but support makes the job easier and more pleasant. Telling the people closest to you about your intentions announces that you're serious and committed to your new lifestyle. This doesn't have to be a media event. Just tell your family and friends that you plan to change some important aspects of your life and that you'd appreciate their support. A caveat: Don't proclaim, "I'm starting a new diet." Diets are temporary. You're making changes for the long haul. Having a support partner works for many people. Together, you can bolster one another's sagging spirits by offering encouragement. Promising to meet a partner for regularly scheduled gym time is a great way to stick to a workout routine. Other people choose to attend weight-management programs, either alone or with a friend. Putting out money for a program or health club membership turns a wishful idea into a business transaction. "I've already paid for this, so I might as well go," is the mantra of many.
Make gradual changes
Dramatic changes tend to disappear dramatically; gradual changes stay with you for a lifetime. Make a list of your long-term goals. They may include reaching and maintaining a certain weight, feeling more energetic or reclaiming a sense of control over your life. Break this list into manageable chunks. Perhaps you'll say, "Over the course of the next year, I want to lose X pounds." Divide that number by months or weeks, then plan how you can meet that goal through decreased caloric intake and increased activity. If you've been inactive for a long time, don't start by exercising 30 minutes per session. Ease into it. And when planning your new menu, don't eliminate all "bad" foods in one sweep. With milk, for example, you can reduce fat content in steps, becoming accustomed to the taste and consistency of each type at your own pace. Switch from whole milk to 2% — which actually has 36% of calories from fat! — then to 1% milk and finally to skim, which has no calories from fat.
Schedule regular activity
Exercise burns calories and makes you feel better. It also may curb appetite. Make exercise an automatic part of your day and pretty soon you won't remember a time when you weren't active. On days when a full workout is impossible, you can accumulate activity by squeezing in short bouts of action throughout the day. Park your car far from a building's entrance and walk. Take a brisk stroll after lunch. Perform desk exercises while you work. Tap your foot to music. Use the stairs. These all can add up to more calories burned than are burned during a workout at the gym, and are a lot more convenient.
Eat smaller, more frequent meals
Smaller meals help stave off feelings of starvation, which can lead to binge eating. It's also an easy way to get fruits and vegetables into your diet. Keep healthful foods handy so "calorie-dispensing" vending machines or fast food joints won't tempt you. Stock staples like apples and raisins in a desk drawer, purse or locker. Baby short cut carrots and celery stalks can fill you up while providing lots of fiber. Almost any recipes you currently use can be turned into a mini meal.
How small should these meals be? Aim for snack-like portions of about 100 to 150 calories. Examine typical vending machine snacks and you'll find most are well over this amount. A small package of cheese crackers with peanut butter filling has about 230 calories. By choosing fruit and vegetable snacks instead, you can easily satisfy your hunger without the extra calories. A quarter cup of raisins, for example, has about 130 calories.
You can eat as often as you feel genuinely hungry. This means not eating out of habit or boredom. Drink a glass of water before you eat anything. You need water anyway, plus it helps you fill up without adding calories.