Ever woken up on the morning after a particularly indulgent weekend or holiday after overeating?
Maybe you thought, Ugh, that’s it! I’m fed up! I’m never going to have another weekend like that again! Yup, I’ve been there, too. The good news is that this time can be different. You can achieve weight loss results that last and set you up on a healthy path for life—not just until your next beach vacation. Don’t attempt to overhaul your entire life and daily habits in one day, or even one week for that matter. Being too strict with your diet and too hard-core with your exercise routine is likely to backfire on you, not to mention take a toll on your mood and energy.
Instead, develop a step-by-step action plan to guide yourself through the process. According to one of Chicago’s top dietitians and author of The Flexitarian Diet, Dawn Blatner, RDN, a good plan includes your ultimate weight loss goal and takes into account your current routine. Look at good habits to continue and bad ones to change, as well as specific weight loss struggles you may have.
Here’s a guide to building and following a weight loss plan that will challenge you and help you reach your goal without making you feel overwhelmed.
To identify your weight loss goal you need to know your starting point. If you haven’t stepped on the scale yet, measure your starting weight and record it. Then decide if you’re going to weigh yourself daily or weekly. Both work, so it’s just a question of personal preference. Research says that people who weigh themselves regularly are more successful at weight loss and maintenance than those who don’t.
Use the same scale and measure yourself at the same time each day to standardize the number, says Blatner. “Sometimes it’s going to be up, sometimes it’s down. You’re just looking for trends over time.”
And remember, weight loss doesn’t happen in a straight downward line. Mentally prepare yourself for hitting plateaus and possibly small gains. But overall your weight should be trending down. Try using a weight tracker to capture and visualize the trend.
Set a realistic ultimate weight loss goal once you know your starting point. Then break up your goal into smaller, more manageable milestones you can reach over time. While yes, it would be nice for many of us to get back to our “thinnest” weight, realize that the number you were in high school might not be realistic anymore. If you need to, consult with your doctor to set a sensible and healthy goal weight.
Research has shown that losing just 5 to 10 percent of your starting weight can result in significant health benefits like taking pressure off your knees, and improving blood pressure, blood cholesterol and blood sugar levels, to name a few.
Craft a healthier eating plan by identifying the eating behaviors that cause you to gain. Common culprits include snacking, large portion sizes, soda, alcohol, dining out, nighttime eating and emotional eating. Next, develop an action plan to tackle those behaviors one at a time. “You want to feel like you’re putting in time and care to develop new healthy habits, but you don’t want to feel overwhelmed,” says Blatner. “You have to work at it but it can’t be too hard nor feel impossible. When you’re feeling confident maintaining one change, then work on another habit to reset.”
Experiencing weight loss success involves constant dedication to “pre-thinking” and “pre-planning,” says Blatner. “I get clients thinking about what they’re going to have to eat for most of their meals and then what day they will be doing the shopping. You’re only as healthy as your last trip to the grocery store.”
Planning prevents you from reaching for the wrong foods when you’re already hungry. Think about it: If you’ve got your healthy snacks and lunch packed for your workday and know exactly what you’re eating for dinner when you come home from the gym, you won’t have to worry about the calories or portion sizes. Instead, you can just relax and enjoy your meal.
But don’t let the idea of planning stress you out. You don’t need to eat something different everyday. Choose two breakfasts, two lunches, two dinners and two snacks, and rotate them throughout the week. Pick a new rotation for the following week to avoid burnout. Too much variety and choice can backfire by making you feel overwhelmed.
Put together a checklist of behaviors you want to change and write your list down so you can reference it daily. For instance, if you don’t drink enough water, note a goal of drinking a large glass in the morning before breakfast. As soon as you do it, check it off your list. This gives you a record of your progress and helps hold you accountable. Keep plugging away at these small changes day by day. Once you feel confident that you can maintain your current list of changes, add one or two more.
If your smartphone is with you at all times, it’s the perfect tool to track your calories and exercise. Download an app to track daily food and fitness logging to monitor your net calorie consumption. The app should personalize your caloric requirements according to your weight, height, age and activity level. In general, for weight loss, women should aim for roughly 1,500 calories a day and men should go for about 1,800 calories a day, according to Blatner.
“Logging is important, not just for tracking calories, but for being aware of your overall food intake, eating successes and struggles,” says Blatner. “It’s good to have a history so you can say, ‘Wow, I’m doing better than I thought I was.'” Logging your meals can also help you identify trends in your eating habits—like if you tend to snack at certain times of the day or under certain conditions like a stressful workday. Don’t forget to track your liquid calories too!
“We’re looking for progress, not perfection,” she adds. “We all have days [in which we] aren’t as healthy as we could have been.” Take it one meal at a time and when you slip up, resolve to do better at the next meal. Don’t wait until Monday to get back on track.
Just because you embark on a healthier diet doesn’t mean you (and your family) have to give up treats for good. Remove trigger foods from your house, whether it’s ice cream, chips, cookies or any other high-calorie, low-nutrient foods, but tell your family they aren’t off limits for good. “They can be eaten outside of the house, but don’t keep them in the home,” advises Blatner. “If you really want ice cream as a family, go out and get it. If you want cookies, go with your family to a bakery, sit down and have cookies and tea [to] enjoy them. Turn [snacking] into an experience. Sweets should be a fun social experience, not a guilt-filled binge in the kitchen or couch alone.”
Once you establish a sound nutrition plan, introduce exercise to your routine. Regular exercise not only helps you burn calories but it’s also important for maintaining overall health and wellness.
“When it comes to getting started with a fitness plan, you need to assess where you’re at right now and start looking for additional ways to add more movement to your day,” says Jessica Matthews, exercise physiologist and spokesperson at the American Council on Exercise.
Matthews recommends working with a personal trainer or a health coach. They will evaluate your starting point, teach you how to safely use gym equipment, give you new exercise ideas and set fitness goals. Even just a few one-on-one sessions will help you put together a workout routine that’s personalized for your body and specific goals.
“Think beyond the stereotypes of what fitness has to look like,” says Matthews. “It’s not just about lifting weights or running on the treadmill at the gym.” Shift your perception of exercise away from the gym and instead think about getting more movement and physical activity in general. This will help you realize there are many opportunities to be physically active that are actually fun.
For example, go bike riding with your family or sign up for a sport you loved as a child. And don’t forget that walking is one of the best and easiest forms of exercise. Of the members of the National Weight Control Registry (a group of people who’ve lost at least 30 pounds and kept it off for one year or more), 94 percent maintained their weight loss by increasing their physical activity, with the most frequently reported activity being walking.
Finding subtle ways to sneak in more activity really does add up to more calories burned, which fuels weight loss, Matthews says.
If you already have a regular fitness routine but want to burn more calories or challenge yourself, tack extra time on your workout or increase the intensity. Add jogging intervals to your walking route or strap on a weighted vest before your long walk to add resistance training and amp up the calorie burn.
Stay motivated by measuring your successes in ways other than just the scale. We tell ourselves that seeing improvement on the scale is what matters. But stay attuned to other improvements, like clothes fitting better, improved sleep, increased energy levels, and even positive changes in your mood.
“Obsessing and trying to control the number on the scale isn’t where you should spend energy. Instead turn your focus to making improvements to daily health habits and long-term lifestyle changes,” says Blatner.
Losing weight is great, but feeling good and staying healthy is even better.
Read the full article on Walgreens.
Get Diana Kelly Levey’s weekly e-newsletter with actionable freelance writing tips . When you sign up for her weekly email newsletter, she’ll send you her “15 Best Freelance Writing Tips” PDF as a thank you gift.
See a recent example. Like it? Sign up.
Diana can help with:
Email Diana about opportunities: Diana(at)DianaKelly.com.