We get it. Trying to lose weight—whether it's 10 pounds or 100—isn't exactly a barrel of fun. It's a long and often arduous journey marked by confusing signs and steep hills, with the occasional pothole or detour thrown in for good measure.
Planning nutritious meals and exercising regularly is hard work, and it can be maddening when the scale doesn't respond as quickly or as dramatically as you'd like. But that doesn't mean you can't find ways to lighten things up a bit. Weight loss can be an emotional roller coaster—so, next time you feel like want to cry, look for opportunities to laugh instead.
1. Think about what else you're gaining besides weight loss. Katie Ziskind, a licensed marriage and family therapist at Wisdom Within Counseling, says it's important to focus on the benefits beyond body
image. "Often, people lose weight to get a fit body. However, that mindset only creates more negative thinking and fuels your inner critic," she says. When losing weight, think about what you want to gain as part of this growth process—like new, healthier friends, more confidence, lower blood pressure, healthy cholesterol levels and an energy boost.
2. Stop weighing yourself if it's driving you crazy. "Stressing yourself out is hormonally keeping you from your goals by pushing up your cortisol levels and making you store your fat cells instead of burn them," notes Dr. Heather Hammerstedt, a board-certified emergency physician and CEO of Wholist, a lifestyle coaching company. She suggests choosing a time once per month to step on the scale, and then concentrate on making the right choices every day instead of boarding the emotional roller coaster.
3. Find fun ways to measure your progress. Joni Hough, who became a certified health coach after losing 150 pounds herself, has a unique way of measuring progress: "Once a month or so, wrap a piece yarn around your waist and cut it when it goes around once, then tape it up on a wall. As the yarn gets shorter, you'll be able to see your progress."
4. Don't pick a number for your target weight. Instead, fitness trainer Jeff Miller with Function Fitness suggests setting goals that are functional rather than number-based. For example, "I will be able to climb 20 stairs without getting out of breath," or "I will be able to run five minutes without stopping," or "I will be able to fit into this pair of jeans."
5. Know your audience. Dr. Karen R. Koenig, a psychotherapist with an expertise in eating psychology, says not to assume that your weight-loss journey and eating habits are as interesting to others as they are to you. "It’s unlikely that they want to hear a blow-by-blow description of your every meal and interaction with the scale," she says.
6. Blame the food, not yourself. Registered dietitian Ilana Muhlstein followed this rule along her own 100-pound weight-loss journey, and advises her clients to do the same. "When we eat a whole sleeve of cookies, it is so easy to blame ourselves, feel guilty and like a failure—but most of these foods are scientifically designed to cause addictive eating," she notes. "Next time you overeat a food and feel powerless to it, don't beat yourself up. You aren't the wrongdoer; the food is—so instead of punishing yourself, focus on avoiding it better in the future."
7. Banish the "good/bad" mentality. "Remember that you’re not 'good' because you eat healthy foods and lose weight, and you're not 'bad' for eating non-nutritious foods and not losing weight," Koenig says. "Good and bad are moral terms, so don’t let anyone judge your eating or weight—and don’t judge yourself, either."
8. Ditch the strict diets. Instead, Hough says, focus on choosing whole, nourishing foods that help you do what you want with your body.
9. Know that weight fluctuation is okay. "A lot of people beat themselves up when they, for example, lose two pounds Monday to Friday and then gain one back over the weekend," Muhlstein says. "That still means they are losing about a pound a week, which is great, which would be about 50 pounds of weight loss in a year, and would only need to make some minor food choice improvements over the weekends to see a greater weight loss overall."
10. Treat healthy food like a reward, not a deprivation. Registered dietitian Ruth Crocker suggests pretending that you are rewarding yourself by eating a simple, regulated diet. "It won’t have to last forever, and it may even turn off some of those urges for high-carb, high-fat combo foods."
11. Take the time to learn something new that has always interested you. Summer Yule had always wanted to learn to make a colonial-style braided rug, so she mastered the skill during the period in her life when she was working on weight loss.
12. Look for the humor in (almost) everything. According to Allen Klein, author of "The Healing Power of Humor," laughter relieves stress, prevents burnout and puts a fresh perspective on any situation. "If you are unhappy with something, like perhaps not losing weight fast enough, a self-directed chuckle can ease the negative feelings," Klein says. As a bonus, studies have shown that a hearty laugh can burn calories and reduce emotional eating triggers.
13. Don't expect weight loss to equate to instant happiness. "Don’t expect your life to become more fabulous just because you’re slimmer," Koenig says. "You’re still the same person. Put your energy into working toward who you want to be."
14. Watch your language. Licensed psychotherapist Eliza Kingsford says it's important to be mindful of the negative messages you are giving yourself if you are having a bad day, and to replace them with kinder, gentler ones. “I look so fat in these jeans” might become “I choose to be kind to myself exactly as I am, even as I am working toward changing my shape." Never speak to yourself in an unkind manner, even if you don’t believe the positive words just yet.
15. Forgive yourself quickly for food "mistakes." "If you are in a situation where you don't get to choose what you eat, it's not that big of a deal," Hough says. "You aren't 'cheating' or 'being bad,' and you don't need to confess it to anyone. Instead of getting mad at yourself and spiraling into a binge, just move on and make healthier choices in the future."
16. Keep it simple—even boring. You don't have to devise complex meal plans that require a bevy of ingredients and equipment. Crocker says it's best to stay within a realm of food choices that are easy to add up (calorie-wise) and easy to decrease for a caloric deficit. "Remove triggers (high-calorie foods and snacks) and create a neutral environment of nutritious, lower-calorie foods," she suggests.
17. If the scale goes up, don't get mad—get curious. "It is very difficult to be angry and curious at the same time," Muhlstein says. "If the scale goes up, it is more productive to try and examine what could have caused that, rather than focus on feeling hatred for an objective measuring device."
18. Recognize your body's power. Immediately upon waking up each morning, Hough thinks about what her body lets her do. "My body lets me communicate with the people I love," she says. Maybe yours lets you stretch, walk the dog and prepare breakfast for your family. Losing weight is not your body's only job, and it's certainly not the most important.
19. Include play in your day. As a registered play therapist Kimberly Tucker encourages people to include playfulness as a weight-loss strategy. "Go do all of those things that you used to love. If you've been meaning to pick up that tennis racket and get back into playing, start small by hitting some balls against your garage door. Or when it's dusk and the basketball courts are empty, go take a few shots. You can get back into fitness slowly in a fun, playful way, and all those little baby steps add up and contribute to overall wellness."