Successful weight loss is very challenging and many individuals struggle to lose weight on a long-term basis. The key to successfully losing weight and keeping it off is to incorporate permanent lifestyle changes that include healthy eating habits while also being more physically active. Listed below are several useful strategies that will help you achieve long-term weight loss if you incorporate them into your daily lifestyle on an ongoing basis.
1. Set realistic goals and strive to gradually lose weight. Losing weight requires lifestyle changes and if you take extreme measures in hopes of losing weight very quickly this can cause adverse health effects and the likelihood of getting frustrated and giving up is higher. Losing weight gradually through permanent lifestyle changes is healthier and usually far more effective. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have discovered that individuals who gradually lose weight at a rate of 1 to 2 pounds per week are more successful at keeping the weight off on a long-term basis (1).
2. Closely read the food label and pay attention to the serving size. It is very easy to underestimate the amount of calories or fat content in various foods. For example, a typical serving of regular potato chips is usually only around 12 to15 chips which equates to approximately 150 to 160 calories. You can easily see how snacking on regular chips can easily rack up the calories given the small serving size. Also fat-free foods do not always equate to low calories. It is easy to think that fat-free cookies are a healthy snack but in reality many of these foods also have a lot of sugar and calories. If you are craving a piece of cake or a brownie it may actually be better to have a small portion of your craving versus having a handful of fat-free cookies which may have more calories. Foods that have some fat content usually provide satiety or a sense of fullness which will better satisfy cravings and may prevent over eating. This doesn’t imply that you shouldn’t eat any fat-free foods but you may feel more full and satisfied by eating a small portion of what you crave versus filling up on fat-free substitutes which may contain more calories.
3. Make sure you plan ahead. To be successful you really need to plan your meals in advance. For some individuals this may require cooking several meals ahead of time and then freezing them for later. A few years ago I was working around 60-70 hours per week while also taking online classes and getting adjusted to the demands of being a new dad. What kept me from gaining weight was cooking several healthy meals on the weekends and then freezing them for later. This made it very easy to still eat healthy meals on a weekly basis when I was pinched for time. It is also a good idea to go shopping following a meal and try to avoid shopping when you are hungry because it is more tempting to buy unhealthy cravings. For family gatherings or social events you may have to be the one to bring a healthy dish to pass. For example, I enjoy family gatherings but my in-laws often serve meals that are loaded with meats, cheeses, creamy sauces, heavy desserts, etc. So my wife and I always bring one or two healthy dishes to share. This ensures that there will at least be a few healthy foods that we can eat.
4. Minimize condiments and processed foods as much as possible. Condiments such as ketchup, regular salad dressing, mayonnaise, honey mustard, barbecue sauces, etc. will easily increase the calorie content in your meals and not provide any fullness. They certainly enhance flavor so you don’t have to eliminate them completely but try to opt for the reduced calorie versions and use them sparingly. Processed foods such as potato chips or cheese puffs are high in calories and saturated fat. Try to eliminate or at least minimize these processed foods and if you still want something similar buy baked chips or some type of whole grain cracker as a healthier alternative.
5. Skip soda and alcoholic beverages. Regular soda is loaded with sugar and high in calories and alcoholic beverages, such as beer, can also be high in calories. These types of beverages essentially provide no real nutritional value and they provide what is sometimes commonly referred to as “empty calories.”
6. Avoid eating a meal right before you go to sleep. If you eat a meal and then go to bed your body doesn’t have an opportunity to burn off some of the calories that you just consumed. This can be problematic for individuals that work shift work or who typically have to work very long shifts. Ideally try to eat several well-balanced meals throughout the day combined with healthy snacks as needed. My father used to work shift work for many years and he would typically eat one very large meal right before he went to sleep. With some persuasion I convinced him to stop this habit and he lost around 20 pounds from this one change.
7. Avoid eating just one or two very large meals a day. When you eat a very large meal you will experience a glucose surge which in turn will trigger a large release of insulin. The end result is that individuals will typically experience a period of drowsiness and feel sluggish for a while following a very large meal. The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics recommends that is healthier to consume three well-balanced meals throughout the day with healthy snacks as needed (2).
8. Utilize professional weight loss programs and community support groups. Sometimes losing weight can feel like an impossible task. For this reason joining community support groups or a professional weight loss program, such as Weight Watchers or Nutrisystem, can really help a person stay on track to success. Furthermore, when you join a professional weight loss program or support group you will learn similar challenges that others face and along the way you will learn useful tips to help you successfully lose weight.
9. Don’t give up if you have a relapse! Losing weight requires dedication and long-term success requires lifestyle changes. This requires breaking unhealthy habits and adopting a lifestyle that incorporates healthier food choices in addition to being more physically active. Breaking any habit is difficult to do and many individuals will likely experiences several relapses along the way. The key to success is to stay focused and if you experience a relapse don’t beat yourself up over it. If you totally went off track one day or for the weekend don’t dwell on this. The best thing to do is get back on track right away. So the bottom line is to hang in there and keep striving to achieve your goals and eventually the extra pounds will start melting away.
1. This information is only intended for general health advice and is not intended as a substitute for personalized health care.
2. If you intend to diet in order to lose a significant amount of weight (more than just a few pounds) it is highly beneficial and strongly recommended to first see a physician or a registered dietician.
3. If you do not normally exercise it is highly recommended to first see a physician before you start an exercise program to ensure that you do not have any medical concerns that first need to be addressed.
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1. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. “Healthy weight – it’s not a diet, it’s a lifestyle!” Available at http://www.cdc.gov/healthyweight/losing_weight/index.html. Accessed March 29, 2014.
2. Eat Right: Food, Nutrition and Health Tips from the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. Authored by the Academy of Nutrition Dietetics staff Registered Dieticians. 2012.