Behavioral Tips for Successful Weight Loss

Or how to make that weight loss success a lifetime habit

From the WebMD Archives

Do you eat while you are preparing meals? Finish the leftovers on the kid's plates? Eat when you are stressed out or unhappy? If you want to be successful at weight loss, you need to alter behaviors that caused the weight gain in the first place. Sure, it matters what you are eating, but how, when, and where you eat are equally as important. Behavior modification techniques that help you get in touch with your eating habits are the true silver bullet to permanent weight loss.

A Lifetime of Bad Habits

You need to become more aware of your eating habits and recognize that eating is so much more than meeting your nutritional needs. Changing your habits takes time, effort, and a great deal of discipline, but the rewards could last a lifetime. To make the necessary changes, you have to think differently, dismiss self-defeating thoughts and behaviors, and replace them with positive behaviors that help you gain self-control. You need to view eating well and exercising as a lifelong pursuit; highs and lows are all part of the journey toward successful weight management.

Slow and Steady

Don't try to change everything at once. Slow and steady is the operating plan. If initially you can only handle a few minutes of exercise each day, that's fine. Each day, try to do a few more minutes and before long you will be meeting your goal. If you try to change a lifetime of poor habits all at one time, you will be frustrated and tempted to revert back to those old habits. Rapid changes and quick weight loss can rob you of energy and make you feel deprived. Give yourself time to unlearn those old habits and replace them with more healthful ones

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Best Behavioral Tips

I have gathered tips from the experts that will help you control your urges, cope with stressful situations, and use behavioral principles that will enable you to make small changes in your habits. There are no magic bullets and no substitutions for calorie control, but there are behavioral techniques that can help you increase your awareness of your eating habits and help you meet your weight loss goals. Be realistic and only make the changes that you can maintain and incorporate into your lifestyle.

  • Journal your food intake every day along with your thoughts, feelings, emotions, and your analysis of your progress.
  • Write down your goals, desires, and simple wishes -- put them on paper and refer to them often to help you stay focused on what you want in life (i.e. to lose weight, be healthier, have more energy, climb a flight of stairs easily).
  • When the urge to eat strikes you, call a supportive buddy, check into one of our community support boards, take the dog for a walk -- do something that diverts your attention from the food to a more healthful activity.
  • Plan ahead so that your cupboards and refrigerator are stocked with healthy food.
  • Learn to cook differently. Subscribe to a healthy cooking magazine.
  • Eating out at restaurants can be very challenging. Have a plan in hand and stay away from buffets.
  • When self-defeating thoughts creep into your head, refer to your list of goals and remind yourself that this is hard work, but you are worth it.
  • Chew your food slowly, savoring each and every bite. Make sure you swallow everything in your mouth before taking another bite of food.
  • Eat only at the kitchen table -- not standing up, not in the car, not while on the phone. Limiting your eating to one spot will help control your intake.
  • Use luncheon-sized plates for your meals so the food will look more plentiful.
  • Don't fixate on food. Instead, talk about things in your life.
  • Weigh-in once a week only. Being tethered to the scale is emotionally defeating.
  • Record your physical activities every day or buy a pedometer and keep track of the number of steps, striving for 10,000 daily.
  • Cope with cravings by taking just a few bites. Then ask yourself whether it is worth it to continue or if you've satisfied your desire.

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Member Tips, Too

WebMD Weight Loss Clinic members weigh in with their tricks and techniques that have helped them stick to their eating plans:

  • Keep your hands busy while watching television -- try folding laundry or doing something that needs to get done.
  • A ten-minute brisk walk will raise your energy level for two hours afterward.
  • Plan meals that everyone in the family can enjoy. Making separate meals takes too much time and energy.
  • Have a back-up plan so there are no excuses for not getting your exercise. Join a gym with childcare in case your babysitter gets sick.
  • Ask for a treadmill for your birthday so if it is raining or cold, you can still do your workout.
  • Chew gum while cooking -- it will help you keep your hands out of the pot.
  • It is OK if you don't want to weigh in this week. Just get back on the wagon and weigh in next week.

Dare I Repeat? Journal!

You always need to be thinking about what you are eating and how active you are. The simple act of writing it down and self-monitoring is enormously helpful in keeping you on task. Several studies have shown that documenting what you eat makes a huge difference because it forces you to own up to your actions. People who are successful at managing their weight use their heads to balance their calories and exercise, just like your checkbook. I call it constant vigilance, as adults, you need to be ever mindful of your food intake and energy expenditure every day.

The True Key: Rewarding Yourself

We all need a pat on the back once in a while. You need to reward your successes and progress in changing your old ways. Make a list of non-food related rewards that you would enjoy. Treat yourself to these rewards when you lose five pounds or make it to the gym every day during the week. You set the goal and establish the reward, whether it is a night at the movies or a new outfit -- whatever will make you feel good about yourself.

Most of us are great at taking care of others but this time, you need to recognize the importance of taking care of yourself. Put yourself first -- you deserve it and your loved ones will benefit from your improved vitality and health.

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Get Support!

Remember, you are not alone! Sign up for our daily newsletter, which contains fast and easy to read motivational reminders to help you stay on track. Keeping in touch with your buddies through our community boards and reading the articles featured on the WLC homepage will also help you change those old behaviors once and for all.

WebMD Weight Loss Clinic - Expert Column
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