You’re energized, and the pounds start dropping. But for long-lasting success, you’ll need to outsmart a few problems that can derail even your best efforts. That’s why Prevention’s come up with 24 tips for overcoming the most common weight loss obstacles. Read on…and lose as much as you want!
Learn how to…
* stop cravings before they start
* make exercise automatic
* get the body you want
* eat your favorite foods without gaining weight
* triumph over temptations
1. “I’m dying for a hot fudge sundae.”
Cutting way back on calories, skipping meals, or vowing to never again eat Hershey’s Kisses may help you drop pounds fast, but will ultimately undo your success.” Quick fix, short-term thinking can trip you up,” says Diane Grabowski-Nepa, RD, a nutrition educator at the Pritikin Longevity Center in Santa Monica, CA.
The more you deprive yourself, the stronger-and harder to resist-the cravings. The same is true if you’re eating the same thing day after day, no matter how healthy it is.
“If you’re bored with your food, you’re eating the wrong food,” says Nancy Clark, RD, of Brookline, MA, author of Nancy Clark’s Sports Nutrition Guidebook (Human Kinetics, 1996). You won’t stick with any diet if you don’t like the food. Here’s how to enjoy healthy eating and stop those cravings.
Don’t abandon favorites.
With careful planning, you can have chocolate, ice cream, or any other high-calorie, high-fat treat-and still lose weight. “The key is to eat what you want, and mind the portions,” says Ronette L. Kolotkin, PhD, clinical psychologist at the Duke University Diet and Fitness Center in Durham, NC, who recalls a client who lost-and kept off-100 pounds, even though he never gave up his love of pizza. “He knew from past dieting experiences that giving it up completely wouldn’t last, so he found a way to fit it into his long-term plan.”
Fuel your body.
Think of your diet strategy as fueling your body. Eating frequently in small amounts throughout the day and evening helps avoid the hunger that leads to temptation. Expand your culinary skills. Learning how to prepare food will help you appreciate it more-and make it easier for you to stick with a pleasurable eating plan. Take a low-fat-cooking class, or ask a friend who’s lost weight to share her recipes and ideas.
Buy at least one new food-an exotic grain such as quinoa, or interesting produce such as jicama or star fruit-every time you go shopping. If you like it, incorporate it into your usual meal plans. If not, try something else next time.
Make it easy.
Invest in low-fat cooking tools-nonstick pots and pans, rice cooker, vegetable steamer, and garlic press. These kitchen gadgets make healthy-meal prep easier and more enjoyable.
2. “I’m not seeing results.”
You’re doing everything right. So why has your progress stalled? “A plateau is your body’s way of acclimating to a new weight in a healthy way,” Grabowski-Nepa says. Think of it as the weight loss equivalent of a climber ascending Mt. Everest, resting at different levels for a few days until her body gets used to the altitude. If you’ve been in a holding pattern for more than two weeks, however, here’s how to take yourself to the next level.
Mix things up.
Learn to play tennis-or any other activity that you’ve never tried before. Doing the same type of exercise day after day, week after week, can actually decrease the number of calories you burn. Your muscles become efficient so they don’t have to work as hard. Variety will keep muscles at their calorie-burning max.
Keep a diary.
Now is a good time to revisit your exercise and eating habits. Once the pounds start coming off, it’s easy to slip back into old habits: having dessert more often, shortening your walks-or skipping them altogether. Keeping a food and activity log may be all you need to get back on track.
Throw away the scale.
Instead, focus on the increased energy you now have, how easy it is to race up a flight of stairs, the way your favorite skirt no longer digs into your tummy, or the decrease in your blood pressure. The scale is not your best measure of success. In fact, if you’re strength training (which Prevention highly recommends), the scale may actually go up a bit because you’re building muscle. Don’t panic! While muscle may weigh a bit more than fat, it looks a heck of a lot better, and burns calories like crazy!
Get a new weight loss plan.
What helped you to lose the first 10, 30, or even 50 pounds may not be the right way to lose your last 10, 30, or even 50 pounds. So you may need to make some adjustments: Exercise a bit more or eat a little differently. Including more fruit, salads, vegetables, and vegetable-based soups at lunch, dinner, and snack time can help you fill up on fewer calories while dropping pounds.
3. “I can’t stick with exercise.”
Going from a couch potato-or even an occasional exerciser-to walking, jogging, or cycling almost daily is a big commitment. But you can do it if you avoid some common traps: A surefire way to end up back on the couch is to choose an activity that rates on the excitement meter with folding laundry. If you don’t enjoy it, you won’t commit. Another is doing too much, too fast. Trying to keep up with your husband who runs 5-Ks or going for a 25-mile bike ride could leave you feeling bad about yourself-or with sore muscles or an injury. Here’s how to love exercise and make it as regular as brushing your teeth.
Learn to crawl.
If your primary form of exercise has been doing laps around the grocery aisles once a week, it’s unrealistic to expect yourself to power walk an hour a day. But it’s not impossible — with time. Break your goal down into smaller, more manageable bits. “I know one woman who started exercising for 5 minutes at a time,” says Dr. Kolotkin. “By feeling positive about it and patting herself on the back, she gradually worked her way up to walking marathons.”
Look at your first workouts as experiments, not commitments, Dr. Kolotkin says. (You’re committed to exercising, but not in any particular form.) “If you hate what you’re doing and you can’t wait to stop, that’s not the right kind of exercise for you,” she says. Pick three activities of interest-maybe kickboxing, inline skating, and swimming. Then try each one, individually, for at least a week. Chances are that you’ll like one, and can have fun mastering it. If not, try some others.
Forget the sweat.
If you hate the thought of exercise because you envision a huffing, puffing, shirt-drenching workout, go the moderate route. You can burn loads of calories with less-strenuous activities. Try walking, swing dancing, golf, or gardening.
Changing habits is hard work, so reward yourself along the way. Didn’t miss a single walk last week? Treat yourself to those cute sandals you’ve been eyeing. Made it all the way through an hour-long step class? Buy yourself a big bouquet of flowers. Began a strength training program? Schedule a massage. Choose anything that feels like a reward.
Double your pleasure.
If you cherish a good book, want to spend more time with your kids, or meet friends regularly, make these part of your workout. Sign up for an exercise class with a friend. Take the kids hiking. Listen to books on tape while you use the treadmill. The added incentive will help to make you a regular exerciser.
4. “I might as well eat the whole box now.”
“Psychologists call this the ‘what-the-hell’ effect,” says Andrea Dunn, PhD, an exercise psychologist at the Cooper Institute for Aerobics Research in Dallas. “It happens when you’ve started to change a poor habit, but then make a mistake. You have a Big Mac, and then think, ‘What the hell, I’ve already blown it. I might as well eat the fries too.’” The same phenomenon occurs with exercise. You miss a workout or two, decide the whole thing is a loss, and never go back to the gym.
But the idea that you’ve blown anything is false, Dr. Dunn says. “You haven’t failed if you eat something high calorie or miss a workout-you’ve just had a momentary lapse.” Here’s how to keep a brief tumble off the weight loss wagon from turning into a colossal failure.
Save your pennies.
Every time you do something right, put a penny in a big glass jar. Passed on the doughnuts at work? Add a penny. Walked 30 minutes on the treadmill? Another penny. Ate three pieces of fruit today? Another. Then, when you have a slipup, put a penny in a different jar. Over time, you’ll see that most of the time you’re doing well. It’s the big picture that counts.
After bingeing at your neighbor’s Fourth of July picnic, the worst thing that you could do is starve yourself the next day. Yes, in theory it seems that might compensate for all the calories you ate yesterday, but you’re actually setting yourself up for another binge. The best strategy: Get back to your normal eating and exercise plan as soon as possible.
Give yourself a pep talk.
A big part of changing behaviors is changing the way we think. Instead of berating yourself for eating a brownie or missing a workout, be positive. Tell yourself, “I’m doing well. I’m really making progress.” Say it aloud for more emphasis!
5. “My husband keeps bringing ice cream home.”
Unsupportive family, friends, and co-workers can make weight loss even tougher, says Susan J. Bartlett, PhD, a clinical psychologist who treats weight disorders at the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine in Baltimore. “But that type of frontal assault is the exception, not the rule,” she says. More often, you’ll face a more subtle sabotage: the sniping from people who resent your success and are looking for ways to register their jealousy — or hurt feelings. This sometimes happens if your new schedule means you have less time to spend with them. Here’s how to get the support you need.
You need to be frank about what you see happening and how it’s affecting you. Often, the other person isn’t even aware that she’s sabotaging your efforts and doesn’t understand that you need her support, says Dr. Bartlett. “Often, those who’ve never had to lose weight have no concept of how hard it is.”
If you’re spending less time with friends because you’ve sworn off girls’ night out at the coffeehouse with the double fudge cheesecake you just can’t resist, suggest meeting someplace with fewer temptations. Or better yet, do something active together: a stroll through the park or a night out dancing.
Nothing is more annoying than a fresh convert, so spare your friends and family the diatribe about how healthy you’ve become. “When you preach, you’re putting yourself up on a holier-than-thou pedestal,” says Grabowski-Nepa, “and people will only knock you down.” Yes, you should be proud of yourself. Just don’t try to constantly convert others.
6. “I just don’t have time.”
After a busy day of pleasing the boss, keeping the house running smoothly, and chauffeuring the kids, a trip through the drive-thru and an evening on the couch may sound appealing. But it won’t do anything to get you back into that little black dress you love.
Marathon runners don’t have more time than you, but they manage to cram in workouts. They do something that you can too: Make exercise a priority, a nonnegotiable part of your life. Here’s how.
Pen it in.
Take a look at your day planner and decide where you’ve got some extra time — even 10 minutes is a start. If every day is crammed, decide what can go. Be ruthless: Do you really need to socialize at every lunch hour? Or sleep in as late as possible every day?
Buy convenience foods.
Stock up on frozen, low-cal dinners and low-fat canned soups-and then hit the rest of the store for precut vegetables, salads in a bag, and low-fat dressings and sauces to spoon over a baked potato or chicken breast. “This stuff is as easy as fast food,” says Grabowski-Nepa. “All you need is a microwave and a spoon.”
Schedule your workouts for the first thing in the morning. “We know that people who exercise earlier in the day are more likely to be regular exercisers,” says Dr. Bartlett. “We suspect that’s because the later in the day you schedule it, the more likely it is that things will come up to prevent you from doing it.”
Do two things at once.
Patients tell me that they look for opportunities to combine physical activity with other necessary evils.