Motivation to lose weight often hits an all-time high when the first buds of spring pop out, signaling that bathing suit season is not far behind. And while there's no getting around the need to exercise and eat healthier, long-term weight loss starts in your head. Experts say that having the right attitude can help you think yourself thin.
If you want to succeed at weight loss, you need to "cut the mental fat, and that will lead to cutting the waistline fat," says Pamela Peeke, MD, author of Fit to Live. "Look at the patterns and habits in your life that you are dragging around with you that get in the way of success."
Everyone has their own excuses. When trying to improve their lifestyle and diet, most people do fine until something happens -- whether it's work pressure, family issues, or something else. Whatever your personal issue, the pattern needs to change if you want to be successful.
"I want to empower people to identify these patterns, deal with the real issues, so they can move on and be able to succeed at improving their health," says Peeke.
To Think Yourself Thin, Have Patience
One major mental block to weight loss is wanting too much, too fast. Blame it on our instant-gratification society, with its instant messaging, PDAs, and digital cameras: Weight loss is too slow to satisfy most dieters.
"Losers want immediate results. … Even though it took them years to gain weight, once they decide to lose weight, they have no patience with the recommended 1-2 pounds per week," says Cynthia Sass, MS, RD, a spokeswoman for the American Dietetic Association.
But you'll get the best results when you lose weight slowly. Sass reminds her clients that when they lose weight too quickly, they're often losing usually water or lean tissue, not fat.
"When you lose lean tissue, metabolism slows down, making it even harder to lose weight," she adds.
Think Thin: 8 Strategies
Get that overweight mentality out of your head and start thinking like a thin person with these eight strategies:
1. Picture Yourself Thin.
If you want to be thin, picture yourself thin. Visualize your future self, six months to a year down the road, and think of how good you'll look and feel without the extra pounds. Dig up old photographs of your thinner self and put them in a place as a reminder of what you are working toward. Ask yourself what you did back then that you could incorporate into your lifestyle today. And, advises Peeke, think about activities you would like to do but can’t because of your weight.
"To break old habits, you need to see yourself in a positive light," Peeke says.
2. Have Realistic Expectations.
When doctors ask their patients how much they want to weigh, the number is often one that is realistically attainable. Peeke has her patients identify a realistic weight range, not a single number.
"I ask them to look ahead 12 months, and would they be happier being 12 or 24 pounds thinner?" she says "It only amounts to 1-2 pounds per month, which is totally doable, sustainable and manageable in the context of career and family." She suggests reevaluating your weight goal after six months.
3. Set Small Goals.
Make a list of smaller goals that will help you achieve your weight loss goals.These mini-goals should be things that will improve your lifestyle without wreaking havoc in your life, such as:
- Eating more fruits and vegetables every day.
- Getting some kind of physical activity for at least 30 minutes a day.
- Drinking alcohol only on the weekends.
- Eating low-fat popcorn instead of chips,
- Ordering a side salad instead of french fries.
- Being able to walk up a flight of stairs without gasping for breath.
"We all know that change is hard and it is especially difficult if you try to make too many changes, so start small and gradually make lifestyle improvements," suggests Sass.
4. Get Support.
We all need support, especially during the tough times. Find a friend, family member or support group you can connect with on a regular basis. Studies show people who are connected with others, whether it's in person or online, do better than dieters who try to go it alone.
5. Create a Detailed Action Plan.
Sass suggests that each night, you plan your healthy meals and fitness for the next day. Planning ahead is 80% of the battle. If you're equipped with a detailed plan, results will follow.
"Schedule your fitness like you would an appointment," Sass says. "Pack up dried fruits, veggies or meal replacement bars so you won’t be tempted to eat the wrong kinds of foods."
Make your health a priority by building such steps into your life, and ultimately these healthy behaviors will become a routine part of your life.
6. Reward Yourself.
Give yourself a pat on the back with a trip to the movies, a manicure, or whatever will help you feel good about your accomplishments (other than food rewards).
"Reward yourself after you have met one of your mini-goals or lost 5 pounds or a few inches around your waist, so you recognize your hard work and celebrate the steps you are taking to be healthier," Peeke says.
7. Ditch Old Habits.
Old habits die hard, but you can't continue to do things the way you used to if you want to succeed at weight loss.
"Slowly but surely, try to identify where you are engaging in behaviors that lead to weight gain and turn them around with little steps that you can easily handle without feeling deprived," says Sass.
For example, if you are an evening couch potato, start by changing your snack from a bag of cookies or chips to a piece of fruit. The next night, try having just a calorie-free drink. Eventually, you can start doing exercises while you watch television.
Another way to get started ditching your bad habits: Get rid of the tempting, empty-calorie foods in your kitchen and replace them with healthier options.
8. Keep Track.
Weigh in regularly and keep journals detailing what you eat, how much you exercise, your emotions, and your weight and measurements. Studies show that keeping track of this information helps promote positive behaviors and minimize the unhealthy ones. Simply knowing that you're tracking your food intake could help you resist that piece of cake!
"Journals are a form of accountability … that help reveal which strategies are working" says Peeke. "When you are accountable, you are less likely to have food disassociations, or be 'asleep at the meal.'"