You’ve decided to lose weight. Congratulations! Changing your lifestyle may take commitment and time, but taking off those excess pounds can really improve your health and happiness.|
In this early phase, you may have checked out some online weight-loss programs (like the ones here at SparkPeople), talked to your friends about the programs they've had success with, or even visited your local weight-loss support group. After deliberation, you’ve chosen the plan that seems most suited to you. You’re excited and ready to start. This time you just know you'll be successful!
Before you dive in, take a step back. Statistically, your chances of taking those pounds off and keeping them off are pretty dismal. One of the largest studies on weight loss conducted at UCLA showed that although most individuals who follow any number of different diet plans will lose 5-10% of their body weight, most will gain it all back--and more--within a year. Other long-term studies show that only 10-20% of individuals who follow a structured weight loss plan were able to maintain at least 5% of the pounds lost after five years.
If chances of permanent success are slim (pardon the pun), why bother trying? Wouldn’t you hate to work that hard, and then find yourself right back where you started a few months down the road?
Don’t despair. There is a way you can succeed at permanent weight loss. The key is to spend time in a preparation phase before you jump into action. Let’s build a foundation for permanent weight loss now, and you’ll never need to go on another diet again.
Prepare to Succeed at Weight Loss
There are lots of great tools to help you get ready to make a big change. In my experience as a health and wellness coach, these are these seven things can help set you up for success before you start your weight loss plan. While you may be motivated to jump right in to the diet plan of your choice, taking the time to prepare with these steps will increase your likelihood of success.
1. Create your personal wellness vision.
What does success look like for you? Imagine what your life will look like and feel like when you have accomplished your weight loss goal. Don’t let it depend on a number on the scale. What will be different and better? What will you be doing on a daily basis? What new habits concerning food and exercise will you be practicing daily? All behavioral change leads to a shift in who we are. Who will you be in your new strong, trim body? What will you be capable of that you might not be now?
2. Solidify your commitment.
Writing a statement of what you are committing to will help strengthen your resolve. Putting pen to paper, taking the ideas out of your head and into a written agreement with yourself will help concretize your plan. Reading it out loud to others, or even just to yourself, is a powerful exercise.
3. Increase your confidence.
No matter how committed and motivated you are, there still might be a tiny voice in the back of your head whispering that you'll probably fail, especially if you’ve tried to lose weight before. Don’t focus on the big picture or on that number you're trying to reach. Identify small steps you can take that are realistic and actionable. For instance, if you’ve been skipping breakfast only to end up overeating at lunch, work on adding a healthy breakfast into your day. Start with three days a week (not being perfect every day). When that feels easy, add a fourth. Not exercising on a regular basis? Begin with one 10-minute workout, such as a walk, a day. By creating a plan of small, manageable changes that you’ll work on one step at a time, and acknowledging each success, your confidence will grow.
4. Anticipate obstacles and create strategies to overcome them.
What barriers to weight loss have you experienced in the past, or do you fear will trip you up in the future? Anticipate problems before they occur and create strategies to avoid them. Do you travel long hours in the car for work and find yourself at road stops buying anything available to ward off hunger? Brainstorm a list of non-perishable and portable snacks you can bring with you. Do your friends meet for happy hour every Friday after work, only to end up drinking and eating more calories than you'd like? Perhaps you can convince one or two of them to join you at the gym instead, and then head out for a healthy dinner together.
5. Build a support team.
You must recognize that the job of weight loss is your responsibility and no one else’s. But that doesn’t mean you have to go at it alone. Who will support your journey along the way? Sharing your vision with family and friends and telling them how they can help you can be wonderfully useful. Perhaps using SparkPeople's online Community features is a good fit for you. Having the camaraderie of others who are working on weight loss, too, can give you a place to swap ideas, help keep you motivated and make the journey more fun. You can also build a team of professionals to help you with different aspects of your weight loss journey: your doctor, to monitor your health along the way; a personal trainer, to help you learn new exercises; or a psychologist, to help you overcome emotional eating issues.
6. Set up your environment for success.
It’s time to start thinking about what needs to be in place so that once you jump into action, the landmines have been removed. Are your fridge and cabinets filled with junk food and unhealthy choices? Give it away or throw it out! Stock your shelves with lots of healthy choices so that when hunger strikes or it’s time to prepare meals, you’ve got what you need on hand. Same goes for your office. Clear out the candy and chips from your desk drawers. Keep good choices on hand. If you don’t have access to a fridge, you might want to purchase a small one or at least get a cooler to keep the right types of snacks available. If you’re thinking of joining a gym, make sure it’s convenient to your home or office. Ask for a trial membership and make sure you feel comfortable with the atmosphere.
7. Create your plan of action.
Now that you’ve done the cognitive work, it’s time to build your plan. Here’s where you get to decide what steps feel like the right ones for you to take. Will you follow a structured food plan, or just slowly work healthier foods into your daily intake? Will you begin a walking program in the park near your home, join a gym or sign up to take dance classes? Will you decide to start brown bagging lunches rather than eating out every day? The beauty in the system is you choose what will fit your unique life. Don’t attempt to follow rules that feel uncomfortable for you. There is no perfect diet plan that works for everyone. When it comes to losing weight, one size (or diet) definitely does not fit all.
Anderson, JW, Konz, EC, Frederich, RC, Wood, CL, "Long-term weight-loss maintenance: a meta-analysis of US studies," American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 2001 Nov;74(5):579-84.
Prochaska, James, John Norcross and Carlo DiClemente. Changing for Good. (New York: Avon Books, 1994).
The National Weight Control Registry, accessed on May 1, 2013. www.nwcr.ws.
Wolpert, Stuart, "Dieting Doesn’t Work," UCLA Magazine, accessed on May 1, 2013. Magazine.ucla.edu.