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 seven habits described in this issue of HEALTHbeat can help you move toward your weight-loss goal. Most target the common reasons people are overweight.
Don't do all of these at once. Choose the one that seems the most feasible for you, and try to stick with it for a week or so. Once you're doing it fairly consistently, add another one. Over time, you will realize that many of these habits can be interconnected.
1. 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.
2. Start self-monitoring.
Writing down what you eat and how much you exercise can help you gain awareness of your behaviors and track your changes toward specific goals. To keep tabs on your eating and exercise, you can go low-tech (a pocket-size notebook with a pen) or high-tech (a smartphone app). The idea is to pinpoint areas you need to improve.
3. Find a support network.
Find at least one weight-loss buddy — your spouse, a friend, a relative, or a colleague — to help motivate you and hold you accountable. In-person groups, like those offered by Weight Watchers, can serve this purpose; so can online support groups.
4. Energize your exercise.
Try a new form of exercise. Swim laps at a local pool; go dancing; play Frisbee. Finding a form of exercise that you really enjoy will make it easier to stick to an exercise routine — and incorporating new types of exercise can keep you challenged and less likely to become bored.
5. Make sure you're getting enough sleep.
Research shows inadequate sleep can lead to weight gain. Most people need about eight hours of sleep a night, but there's a lot of variability — some people need more, some less. You can tell if you're getting enough sleep if you wake up feeling refreshed and ready to go, rather than groggy and grouchy.
6. 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 and practice putting down your utensil or sipping water, coffee, or tea between bites.
7. Monitor and modify your screen time.
People often complain that they don't have enough time to exercise or to shop for and prepare healthy meals. But in fact, most people spend many hours watching TV or using their computer for fun. Keep track of your screen time for a week, then try scaling back the number of hours by a quarter or a third, and devote that time to your weight-loss efforts.