If you want to lose weight and keep it off, you need to start with the right weight-loss plan, and the right goals.
New year, same old resolutions. If 2014 marks the start of another year of attempted weight loss for you, set yourself up for success, and learn how to set the right kind of weight-loss goals. After all, one reason why so many dieters abandon their resolutions so quickly is because they often have unreasonable expectations for weight loss.
It’s important to remember that losing weight isn’t complicated, but shedding pounds and keeping them off takes time and serious effort. Quick-fix weight-loss programs and fad diets will try to sell you on the idea that they hold the secret to weight-loss success. In reality, there is no secret. Weight loss is just a matter of burning more calories than you take in — and it takes time and commitment, two things often in short supply.
“Fad diets and crash diets don’t work because they are not designed to be maintained over the long haul,” Kristin Kirkpatrick, RD, a nutrition specialist at the Cleveland Clinic, says. “That means any weight you lose on a fad diet tends to come back over time.”
Setting Reasonable Goals for Losing Weight
Have you ever had the experience of meeting a friend and being amazed at how much weight he or she had lost, only to see the same friend a few months later and be amazed that all those pounds came right back?
“That’s a common experience because when you starve yourself, your metabolism slows down to conserve fuel,” Kirkpatrick explains. “Your body is trying to protect you from starvation. Once you start eating normally again, you have a metabolic rebound, and your body tries to hold on to every calorie you eat.”
To prevent metabolic rebound, set a realistic goal of losing weight at a rate of about one pound a week. Remember that one pound of fat is equal to about 3,500 calories, and you need to cut that amount from your diet — or burn it off through exercise — to lose one pound. “That means if you cut back on 500 calories each day, you can lose that 1 pound a week without shocking your metabolism,” Kirkpatrick says.
Restricting your calories further without medical supervision can be extremely dangerous, and it often doesn’t result in faster weight loss because your body will begin to store fat.
Losing Pounds Step by Step
Based on the one-pound-per-week benchmark, create a plan around your existing lifestyle. Don’t try to overhaul your entire routine from day one, and don’t set goals you’re bound to break, such as skipping all of your favorite foods, or getting up early to go the gym every day when you know you’re not a morning person.
Now that you know some don’ts, here are a few do’s for lasting weight-loss success:
- Pick a weight-loss plan you can stick with for a lifetime. Most good plans are balanced and sensible and include getting most of your calories from lean proteins, fruits, vegetables, and whole grains. If your plan includes expensive ready-made meals or the elimination of whole food groups, you won’t be able to stick with it.
- Keep a food diary. “Once you have a good plan and a realistic goal, a food diary is a good way to keep yourself honest,” Kirkpatrick says. “Studies show that a food diary really helps, even if nobody but you sees it. Just the process of writing things down and being aware of what you eat makes a big difference.”
- Find a weight-loss buddy. “Research also shows that sharing a weight-loss goal with a supportive friend or group of friends makes a big difference,” she says.
- Always eat breakfast. “The idea of starting your day and going as long as you can without eating never works,” Kirkpatrick warns. “Studies show this usually leads to binge eating.” Plus, eating breakfast jumpstarts your metabolism, and gives you energy for the day ahead.
- Eat mindfully. Don’t eat to relieve stress, do pay attention to your food. Don’t wait until you are starving, do eat slowly, and do stop eating before you feel full.
- Indulge occasionally. If your diet is so restrictive that you can’t enjoy eating, your weight-loss goals will be too hard to keep. Avoid the “all or nothing” attitude. Weight loss is a process. Don’t be discouraged if you give in to temptation once in a while.
“My final tip is to treat the whole self,” Kirkpatrick says. “A good weight-loss goal should also include stress reduction and exercise. High stress and inactivity are closely linked to obesity. Walking, meditating, and a balanced diet you can stick with for life should be your goal.”