Building simple habits for healthy weight loss

Lasting weight loss demands that you transform your eating and exercise habits. But many other choices you make each day, such as how much time you spend sleeping or surfing the Internet, can also make a difference.

The habits described here and in the Harvard Special Health Report Healthy Solutions to Lose Weight and Keep it Off can help you move toward your weight-loss goal.

Set small, specific, and realistic goals

Perhaps you'd like to be the same size you were in high school or when you got married, but that would mean dropping more than 50 pounds. Don't go there — not yet, at least. Set a more realistic goal of losing 5% to 10% of your weight, and give yourself plenty of time and some flexibility to reach that goal, keeping in mind that most people take at least six months to achieve that degree of weight loss. Also try to avoid generalized goals, such as "I should eat less at dinner and exercise more." Instead, set specific and short-term (that is, daily or weekly) goals, such as these:

  • I will choose a few dinner recipes and shop for the ingredients on Sunday.
  • I will bring a healthy lunch from home instead of going out at least three times next week.
  • I will call a friend to take a walk after work on Monday and Wednesday.
  • I will decrease exposure to problematic food ("stimulus control") to avoid temptation, such as keeping cookies away from sight in the kitchen.

Eat breakfast slowly and mindfully every morning

Many people skip breakfast because they're too rushed or they aren't hungry. Try getting up 15 minutes earlier (which means going to bed earlier so you don't sacrifice sleep time) to make time for breakfast. Practice eating slowly by putting down your utensil or sipping water, coffee, or tea between bites. Ideally, you should spend at least 20 minutes on each meal, but that may be more realistic during your midday or evening meal; choose one to get started. Set a timer to check yourself.

From these habits or others in the Special Health Report, choose the one that seems the most feasible for you, and try to stick with it for a week or so. It's important to make these healthy habits routine. Once you find yourself doing one fairly consistently, add another. Over time you will realize that many of these habits can be interconnected.

For more ideas and information on losing weight, buy Healthy Solutions to Lose Weight and Keep It Off, a Special Health Report from Harvard Medical School.