It all starts with that "aha" moment, when you decide you're going to lose weight -- and this time, it will be for good. Gone are the days of yo-yo dieting, when you'd watch your weight go up, then down, then back up again. What it comes down to is that you are finally ready to make permanent changes in your lifestyle. And so begins the first day of the rest of your life.
But once you've made your commitment to a healthier life by joining the WebMD Weight Loss Clinic (WLC), what can you expect along the way? Our members and staff have noted that there are three basic stages to the WLC program -- starting out, getting comfortable with your new lifestyle, and, finally, switching to weight-maintenance mode.
Here's a step-by-step guide to each stage:
Welcome to the Weight Loss Clinic
First of all, we're delighted that you found the WebMD Weight Loss Clinic. All of us look forward to helping you begin your lifelong journey of weight management.
One important point before you get going: If you have any medical concerns, print out our "For Your Doctor" letter and get your physician's approval before embarking on the program.
When you joined, you should have completed the questionnaire on your eating habits and created your own unique eating plan. It's a good idea to always keep a printed copy of your plan handy so you can refer to it anytime, anywhere.
While this eating plan will be your guideline throughout the program, it's not set in stone. Feel free to create a new one whenever you need a change. Just follow the instructions under "Create New Plan." Keep in mind that our expert system strives to honor your food preferences. So, for example, if you want a plan with more fruit, select fruit more often on the questionnaire.
Stage One: Orientation
The first thing you should do after joining the Weight Loss Clinic is read the New Member Guide, a primer on the main points of the program. (But it's not just for beginners; revisit it anytime you need a refresher course.)
Next, try to spend a little time each day on our site. Read the columns and articles, find a new recipe to try, post a question or comment on one of the message boards, or join a scheduled chat. The site offers a wealth of information to help motivate and support you, whatever stage you're in.
It's important to get familiar with our interactive journal and start tracking your meals, physical activity, fluid intake, and weight. This serves two purposes: It lets us give you feedback on how well you're doing, and it helps you acknowledge your own eating habits. The first step toward change is recognizing what you need to change, and patterns and habits are easier to recognize when you write them down. Journaling is a powerful tool, both in helping you lose weight and in maintaining the loss. Consider it a new health habit.
Now is the time to break free from patterns or foods that cause weight gain. So no more skipping meals! Breakfast really is one of the most important meals of the day; don't leave home without it. A good strategy is to divide your eating plan into three or more meals, so you eat nutritiously and often. All your meals and snacks should contain both lean protein and complex carbs (such as fruit and yogurt) to help you feel satisfied until the next meal.
Learning to manage hunger is another centerpiece of weight control. You know what happens when you don't -- you get so ravenous that you eat everything in sight. Distributing your food intake throughout the day will help you stay away from the cookie jar. Use the journal to get familiar with your own eating patterns, and find foods on your plan that help you get through the day without bingeing. I reach for spicy tomato juice or a hot cup of tea when I feel hungry between meals. Find the foods that work for you -- and don't forget to plan nourishing snacks to enjoy during the day.
Since we're changing unhealthy habits, this is also the time to say goodbye to a sedentary lifestyle. Getting started might simply be moving more during the day (for example, fitting in 10-minute walks whenever you have time) -- or it could mean joining a gym for formal workouts. You get to choose. All we ask is that you commit to do a little something each day, and aim for getting the national recommendation of 60 minutes a day.
That may sound like a lot, but remember that several short bouts of activity can add up to your daily total. Just do the best you can, and remember any activity is better than none! For suggestions tailored to fit your lifestyle and physical needs, visit our fitness guru Rich Weil
Stage 2: Getting Comfortable
After several weeks of adjusting to your new and improved lifestyle, you should be developing a healthier relationship with food. Eating nutritious foods and getting physical activity have become part of your daily routine.
Friends and family have started to notice the new you. Your clothes are looser, and the numbers on the scale and tape measure are going down. You have more energy, and you're feeling pretty good. Pat yourself on the back; you deserve kudos for a job well done!
But even as you congratulate yourself, don't get too comfortable. It is so easy to slide back into old habits. After an initial burst of energy and enthusiasm, you can become lax about portion sizes, exercise, and/or journaling. That's when you hit a weight loss plateau.
Stage 2 is the time to figure out what works for you and what doesn't. Remember that your goal is to find changes that you are comfortable with and can sustain. If in doubt, ask yourself these questions:
If the needle on your scale remains stuck, you may need to decrease the calories in your eating plan and/or increase your physical activity. Consider adding strength training to your fitness routine. Increase the intensity or duration of your routine; walk faster for a block, or increase the incline on your treadmill. A few tweaks should get you off that plateau.
Don't let Stage 2 turn into a slippery slope. If you find yourself in trouble, turn to your friends on the message boards. We're there to support you, 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
This stage can be tough, but it's also critical to your success. Think of it as a hill to climb; when you get to the top, you'll be thrilled to see how easy it will be going forward. At some point (exactly when differs for everyone), sustaining a healthier lifestyle becomes easy.
Stage 3: The New You
You're nearly at your goal weight. The victory lap is within reach. But those last few pounds can be tough to shake loose. So instead of focusing on the scale, think about how good you feel, how terrific you look, how much more energy you have, and how much more confident you feel. The crowning glory will occur when you visit your doctor and get a much-improved bill of health.
Weight loss experts agree that losing weight is actually the easy part; maintaining it is tougher. And having a support system -- the Weight Loss Clinic, your friends, and/or family -- is essential to your continued success.
To make sure you successfully maintain, we encourage you to continue on the Weight Loss Clinic program. Once you hit your goal weight, just create a new eating plan with approximately 200 additional calories, which should be just about right for maintenance.
Learn from the successful "losers" -- people who've maintained a major weight loss over several years -- on the National Weight Control Registry. They maintain their weight by:
- Getting regular physical activity (often, by walking).
- Enjoying breakfast each day.
- Following a low-fat meal plan.
- Weighing in weekly.
- Keeping a journal.
So take a page from their book, couple it with a strong support network, and you, too, will keep the pounds off for good.
I call it constant vigilance: accepting the fact that a trim, healthy body requires attention to what you put in your mouth and a commitment to physical activity. Whatever you call it, learning these "tools of the trade" will help you manage your weight while enjoying a healthier lifestyle and a new, improved you.