Why don’t diets work? Because weight gain doesn’t happen just because you ate two cookies yesterday, weight change is the result of many lifestyle factors. Weight loss is a complicated equation with many moving parts. Similar to starting a business, you need a comprehensive plan to ensure successful, sustainable weight loss. From my experience as a nutritionist, sustainable weight loss is the result of motivation, commitment, realistic goals, food and beverage choices, exercise, stress management, sleep and social support. If you skip a part or two of the plan, you are less likely to achieve your goals.
What is your motivation for weight loss? Motivation can range from health and longevity to body image. Improved health is a wonderful motivator and for many people waking with more energy, less joint pain and looser pants will continue to support your plan. However, motivation can and will wane. Some days the pillow under your head or the cake in the breakroom will test your motivation for change. Life is full of barriers to success, but we can climb any wall with the right tools; part of your plan will be to develop solutions to these possible issues. For example, when the alarm goes off at 4:45am but you want to reset it for 7am and skip the gym, you respond with the boundary you have set, “I will not bail at the last minute but I can reevaluate my exercise schedule tonight to identify a better time to workout”.
Like any promise or commitment, you enter into lifestyle change with the boundaries established in your plan. You do not begin a lifestyle change planning to cheat or quit. Working with a team holds you accountable. Identify your commitment to your partner, close friends, nutritionist, therapist, trainer and/or doctor; these are all people who can help you with accountability.
Setting realistic goals when it comes to food and weight can be very challenging. The goal is sustainable life changes, so keep this in mind when establishing goals. Take weight for example, due to reality shows and quick weight loss gimmicks, many of us anticipate losing 10lbs in a week and view losing 2lbs a week as a failure. Realistic, sustainable weight loss can range from ½ to 4lbs per week. Small, sustainable goals are key. Break a large goal into several small goals which allows time for new habits to form, a sense of accomplishment and feelings of success.
Undoubtedly, there is some change in diet that would benefit your overall health. There is no one diet for everyone. Listen to your body’s cues including energy, lack of bloat, a happy GI system, mental clarity, skin health and weight to better understand the foods that help you thrive and those that make your system unhappy. The one piece of nutrition advice I hold true for all is that we do best with real food, minimally processed.
Research shows that people who exercise have better body image regardless of actual weight. Most of us are familiar with the benefits of exercise, but it is an integral component of health and weight loss. Variety is key when it comes to exercise. Avoid single activity ruts because they can lead to weight stagnation and injury. Women, in particular, are often guilty of cardio heavy routines. It is very important that we also include weight activities which help with muscle tone, bone health and metabolism. So, if you find yourself on the treadmill seven days a week, consider High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT), a kettle ball class or crossfit 2-4 times per week.
Even the best intentions can be sidetracked by a stressful event if you don’t have coping skills already in place. A negative interaction at work or home can lead to consumption of comfort food or beverages. In response, you feel slightly better because neurotransmitters are released essentially giving you a hug. Many other things will improve mood through the same action as food. In place of food, try exercise, meditation, screaming, punching a pillow, guided meditation or journaling. There is a lengthy list of healthy coping skills out there, identify 3-4 that appeal to you and try them the next time the need arises.
It’s free, but it sure isn’t easy for some of us. People with poor sleep habits and/or limited hours of sleep each day often struggle with weight and overall health. There are many great articles out there discussing sleep hygiene and how to improve your sleep quality, checkout 9 Steps to Perfect Health – #8: Get More Sleep from Chris Kresser or Getting Better Sleep – Cool, Dark And Lots of B6, Carbs, Calories and Fat by Chris Masterjohn.
How often have you heard terms such as “you’ve been working so hard, you deserve a treat”, “just a couple bites won’t hurt you”, “take a cheat day”, or “it’s a celebration” when trying to make healthy changes? It is important that we surround ourselves with supportive people who respect our choices and current goals. Communicate your needs and plans with those closest to you and identify how they can help you succeed.
In this New Year, as you work toward the best you possible, I encourage you to think on each of these steps toward sustainable change. Don’t hesitate to visit your friendly, local nutritionist for support.
Sherrill Collins, MS, RDN