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Winning Mental Strategies for Weight Loss

Realistic expectations lead to lasting lifestyle changes.
By Pamela Peeke, MD, MPH
WebMD Weight Loss Clinic-Feature

What's keeping you from losing weight successfully? Chances are, it's not just what you're eating and how much (or how little) you're exercising. For most people, a major part of the problem is how they think about their food, their exercise, and themselves.

(Not So) Great Expectations

Life's greatest stresses come from unmet expectations. Here you are, expecting to lose precisely 2.5 pounds per week. Where did you get that? Develop realistic expectations. Most people who are 20 to 50 pounds overweight can count on shedding one to two pounds per week, if they're on top of their game. (But we're not always on top of our game. More about that later.) You get excited and want to take care of this problem all at once, and that's not what this is about. Learn how to take off the weight commensurate with what your body can give you.

You might be saying, "Peeke, that's too slow. I want to do it faster." Well, then, you'll suffer. With short cuts, I'll guarantee you consequences -- consequences you don't want. Short cuts give you consequences, patience gives you progress.

Regroup and Recover

Now, let's talk about how to handle it when you're not at the top of your game. Life happens. Maybe you're doing very well and have lost 10 pounds of the 50 you're trying to lose. Then life hits. Your mother gets ill, your husband gets depressed, or you're having serious problems at work. Since life has obstacles, expect them. If you do, you'll be much better prepared to handle them. People who do best at maintaining a healthy body weight over time are people I call "master regroupers."

How do you regroup? First, expect to have multiple starts. Maybe you did pretty well this week, but then winter hit and it killed your plans to exercise outside. When something comes along, don't feel hopeless, helpless, defeated. Have in the back of your mind a plan A, B, and C. A is wonderful, B is OK, and C is not so great, but it'll do. A might be a beautiful walk outside, B might be, "If it snows, I'll be on the treadmill at the gym." C might be, "If I can't get to the gym, I'll climb the stairs at home for 20 minutes." It's the people who are paralyzed in plan A who fall apart. They find it impossible to sustain any kind of lifestyle change.

Your Own Worst Enemy

People have way too much negative speak. One of my patients is a lawyer in downtown Washington, married to a lawyer, and they have three kids. You can imagine her balancing act. She came to me last year at 5'5" and 250 pounds -- at only 44 years old. She was not in great shape. But she started in with me and plugged along on her weight loss plan, losing two to five pounds a month. Well, she just hit 198 pounds. While she still has a way to go, she's knocked off 52 pounds! She looks like a brand new woman. But you know what she said to me? Instead of rejoicing and saying "What an achievement!" she said, "God, why did it take me so long?"

She completely missed the point. I don't care if it took her 25 years -- she dropped 52 pounds. Although she hit plateaus several times, she never went back. She didn't gain weight during her most stressful times. I caught her at it and she said, "I had no idea I was thinking that way." Don't beat yourself up! When I trained Olympians, I asked them how they handled a crappy day or a bad week. Invariably, they never beat themselves up. They acknowledged what it was, and just got over it.

Is This Normal? Get the Facts Fast!

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If the level is below 70 and you are experiencing symptoms such as shaking, sweating or difficulty thinking, you will need to raise the number immediately. A quick solution is to eat a few pieces of hard candy or 1 tablespoon of sugar or honey. Recheck your numbers again in 15 minutes to see if the number has gone up. If not, repeat the steps above or call your doctor.

People who experience hypoglycemia several times in a week should call their health care provider. It's important to monitor your levels each day so you can make sure your numbers are within the range. If you are pregnant always consult with your health care provider.

Congratulations on taking steps to manage your health.

However, it's important to continue to track your numbers so that you can make lifestyle changes if needed. If you are pregnant always consult with your physician.

Your level is high if this reading was taken before eating. Aim for 70-130 before meals and less than 180 two hours after meals.

Even if your number is high, it's not too late for you to take control of your health and lower your blood sugar.

One of the first steps is to monitor your levels each day. If you are pregnant always consult with your physician.

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