Most people will agree that there’s more to losing weight than will power. Relationships and activities revolve heavily around food and may make you feel like you have little control over what you eat. Schedules change, unexpected events happen — life gets in the way of weight loss efforts.
As a health educator, I hear about many of these challenges. It’s my passion to help people navigate the barriers and avoid the triggers that interfere with weight loss so they can reach — and maintain — their goals.
Losing weight and keeping it off is not easy. It’s a lifetime commitment that requires planning and persistence — for the expected and the unexpected. Here are a few tips to help you stay on track.
We all have responses to life’s inevitable stressors. Some bite their nails, pace the floors or call a friend. Others eat. The key to avoid raiding the fridge is to plan ahead for an alternative response, a diversion.
Take a hike, literally! Research shows that if you walk for 10 minutes, your mood will change, you can process stress better and you will not eat. Children who witness this positive reaction are likely to start practicing the same behavior.
Do something fun. Remember your mom telling you to go play when you were bored? It works. It will keep your mind occupied until the desire to eat passes.
Get moving. Ten minutes of activity (not in the kitchen) will increase endorphins that create energy naturally and decrease the hormone that wants quick energy foods loaded with fat and sugar.
Whatever the challenge, have a plan in place. Have a hobby, activity or task ready to delve into when you are tempted to eat.
People ask me, “Why do I eat badly soon after I achieve a weight loss milestone?” Your body has physiological responses to weight loss. It’s not happy that the fat stores that could help you survive famine are now gone. An increase in hunger is the natural survival instinct.
Now is when it’s crucial to have plenty of fruits and vegetables on hand. Eating low-calorie, high-volume foods will “trick” your body into thinking you are obeying it and eating to replenish those fat stores. But, the joke is on your body because eating these foods — even in high volume — will not make you regain the weight!
Some people celebrate weight loss with a food reward, or by thinking they “deserve” to eat since they have “suffered” through the process. Others may be overwhelmed about keeping the weight off.
To avoid this, I encourage people not to focus on a number. The helps avoid the “I did it” goal that makes them think they are finished with task of managing their weight. Weight maintenance — better yet, health maintenance — is a lifestyle, not a number.
Recovering when you fall
At some point, everyone stumbles in their weight loss efforts. When this happens, stop and think about your very next step. If you overeat at breakfast, don’t write off the rest of the day as a loss and eat everything in sight. Rather, plan for the very next thing you eat to be a healthy low-calorie food. Avoid saying, “I’ll start again tomorrow,” “Monday,” or “after the holidays.” Start NOW.
It’s okay to eat something you enjoy. Remind yourself it was a choice, not a lack of willpower. Just take ownership of it by confronting, writing down the calories, and making adjustments to the rest of your day.
Plan, plan, plan
Ultimately, obstacles are overcome by having a plan in place.
- Think of food as a budget. Buy only what you really want and don’t spend more (calories) than you have. If you overspend, plan how you will deficit on another meal.
- Avoid bedtime snacking by brushing your teeth, writing in a journal, reading or doing a crossword.
- Avoid road trip snacking by packing low-calorie treats, fruits and vegetables. Prepare a low-calorie sandwich rather than stop for fast food.
- Anticipate a lack of family support and stand up for yourself. Let family know what you are doing and be kind with your “no thanks yous” to food offers. As you engage in healthier behaviors, they will be become who you are. Most people will eventually respect your desires.
Losing weight is a challenge but it’s possible with planning and persistence.
If you feel overwhelmed when trying to modify behaviors, or feel you have an eating disorder such as binge eating, talk to your doctor, a behavioral health specialist or a faith leader.