Most people who try to lose weight know they should exercise and watch what they eat. But old habits often get us jammed up.
You can achieve your goals by thinking about what's getting in your way. You can come up with a plan. And you can make lasting changes that fit with your life. It is important to have the plan tailored for what works for you.
Here are some tips to help you as you begin to make changes:
Set realistic goals
Do you jump into diets determined to lose 10 pounds a week? Or start an exercise program that involves getting to the gym by 6 a.m. — when you're a night owl? Lifestyle changes are ones that you can stick with. Start small and build over time. Write down your goals — both long-term (six to 12 months) and short-term (week by week). Track your accomplishments. Then update your goals as you make progress.
Take small steps
If you try to change too much at once, you may feel overwhelmed. You may be tempted to give up. Instead, take it a little at a time. It's best to set small goals that are not too hard to reach.
For instance, instead of giving up foods, start with adding a salad or a piece of fruit each day. Or switch to low-fat milk instead of whole milk on your cereal.
Practice environmental control
You won't need willpower if you keep your kitchen stocked with healthy foods and leave the cookies on the supermarket shelves.
- Shop smarter. Don't go to the store when you're hungry. Use a shopping list and stick to it. Keep the kitchen stocked with healthy basics so that you can be ready to make nutritious meals rather than ordering takeout. Keep an ample supply of healthier snacks like fat-free or low-fat yogurt and cottage cheese, low-fat and low-sodium crackers, hummus, salsa, vegetables and fruits.
- Keep healthy snacks at your desk for when a colleague brings doughnuts.
- Use smaller plates, bowls and glasses to serve food. It will look like the portions are actually bigger than they are.
Figure out your obstacles
What is keeping you from reaching your goals? Where do you slip up? Take some time to pinpoint your hurdles and think about how you could overcome them.
- Too rushed to cook healthy meals? Find a cookbook with quick, simple recipes.
- Can't make it to the gym? Try three 10-minute walks instead of a half-hour workout.
- Unhappy about the thought of giving up sweets or high-fat foods? Take it slowly. You don't have to forever banish your favorite indulgences from your diet. But you may have to change how often you eat them.
- Think healthy means expensive? Buy store brands rather than name brands.
- Plan for meals so that you don't have to go out to eat at the last minute.
Tracking your progress and asking for support when you need it can help keep you motivated.
- Keep a journal. Note your weight changes regularly and list foods you eat.
- Get support. Tell your family and friends about your plan and why it's important to you. Ask family members to join you in eating healthy. Make planning and cooking healthy meals a fun activity with you family and friends. Ask for encouragement and respect for your new habits.
- Ask your family and friends to be active with you. It is safer and more fun.
Restructure your thoughts
- Banish guilt. Don't be ashamed or mad at yourself if you eat a bag of potato chips or down a mocha. Think about what led you to make those choices. Then move on.
- Don't focus on the negative. If you dwell on your slip-ups, you won't recognize the good choices you made.
- Avoid all-or-nothing thinking. Trading in old habits doesn't happen overnight. Having a bad day with your eating plan doesn't mean you're a failure or that you can never accomplish your goals. You're not perfect, and that's OK.
- Choose to think positively. Pay attention to your self-talk. Is it encouraging? If not, make a conscious effort to give yourself helpful messages. Reward yourself with non-food items such as a workout outfit, a book you've wanted, a magazine you can read while working out, a warm bath or other motivating healthy rewards.
Finally, take care of yourself physically and mentally. Get a good night's sleep. Seek out ways to relax and spend time with loved ones.
Created on 02/05/2008
Updated on 04/12/2013
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Healthy weight. Improving your eating habits.
- National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute. Tip sheet: Healthy eating starts with healthy food shopping.
- Weight-control Information Network. Changing habits.