As a self-proclaimed weight management expert, people always expect me to TELL them how to lose weight. Well, when I started my nutrition education at Colorado State University I also expected to learn what to TELL people when the came to me with this question, and I kind of did, but the answer, as many things in health-science are, is not exactly clear cut.
In short, the best answer to this question is "whatever works for you". If you poke around and do some research, I am sure you will find experts and researchers in the field of weight management or obesity treatment and prevention that believe they know THE right way people can lose weight, and believe me, they will try to sell you on it. Paleo, low-carb, gluten free, high protein, low fat, high fat, macros, cross-fit and the list goes on, and on.
The reason my answer is "whatever works for you" is because there are a number of ways to improve your health. All that really matters is that you participate in healthy behaviors consistently. Time is either your best friend or worst enemy as the choices you make over time will compound over time- for better or worse. Look up how much weight one soda per day can cause you to put on as an example.
Okay, I will give you a little better answer than "whatever works for you". This is very simplistic as various factors such as knowledge of weight loss and nutrition is vital. "Healthy food" is a general term; if it comes in a package or wrapped, it is probably not that healthy. Furthermore, if the package tells you it is healthy, it is probably even worse for you.....this is a topic for another day. In general, stick to "whole" unprocessed foods (shop the perimeter of the store). It is hard to have too many vegetables, and 3-5 servings of whole fruit per day is probably fine. Nuts, beans, seeds are great, as are small servings of whole-grain foods and small portions of lean proteins. Fish is awesome in most cases. Drink water.
Once you have your achievable, specific goal. (Look up SMART goals)
First: It is important to UNCOVER your motivation (why do you want to lose weight? ...This is your driver. This is what will help you PRIORITIZE healthy choices over taste alone, and chose a brisk walk over plopping in front of the tv.
Second: DISCOVER ACHIEVABLE goals. What can you do to make the healthy choice the easy choice? These are often the action steps, or action steps that support the action steps. I like to focus on environment with my clients as environment drives a lot of what we do. Start with an achievable action that is evidence-based to improve health and maintain a healthy weight- Overarching goal: eat more vegetables, for example. In order to eat more vegetables, you first have to have vegetables to eat, right? Action Step #1 Keep vegetables at home. Supportive Action Step: Frequent a farmers market or grocery store regularly.
Do you ONLY eat at home? No, right, a good portion is spent at work or in your car. Action step #2 Invest in a mini-fridge, or maybe a lunch box with Tupperware to store healthy food at work. Action Step # 3 Keep healthy snacks in the glove compartment or in your purse so you aren't tempted to stop at a drive-thru on the way home.
Third: orchestrate a good support system. A person or network that can support (or sabotage) your goals. Inform these people of what you are trying to achieve, and it will make your goal even more real; you will also solicit support and encouragement. You should have a partner or a system that can hold you accountable. A secondary result is that you will often inspire people in your support network.
The things that I have found that work for people, are very unique to individuals- even amongst the families and couples I have worked with, each person is a little different. For example, some people are ready to tackle nutrition and others may be ready to take on physical activity; One person may be ready to change "whatever it takes( just tell me what to do)" in their eating plan, while others come right out and say "I'm not going to give up soda (lets work on everything else)" . Likewise, alcohol may be a significant contributor to excess calorie intake for some, while portion sizes are the mail culprit of excess calories for others. My job is to work with my clients and ask the right questions to figure out high-impact, yet achievable, areas of focus. Then to support and empower the client with fluid strategies to achieve our goals and objectives.
The journey to a healthy weight and optimal health isn't easy. It takes trial and error, and sometimes relapses to achieve success. Addiction plays a significant role in health behaviors. Often times, just like life, people's road to success is not without failures. These failures though, should not be viewed negatively, but rather as a learning experience with which you can assess what factors contributed to the relapse and take steps to ensure success the next time around. Each day, each meal, each choice is an opportunity to succeed. The only thing that matters is that you make an effort to improve your health. If you fail, you are no worse than you were prior to trying; in fact, you are much better off because of the confidence you gain and the lessons you learn. ,
Check out my evaluation form under the "forms" tab, and discover some questions that can help you discover insight into motivation (the driver of action;action drives change), help you set some reasonable goals, and get started on a plan to achieve weight loss. Be sure to contact me with any questions!
Behavior change is at the core of managing weight. Knowledge is a piece of the puzzle, certainly, but finding ways to implement what you know into your daily life, day after day is how people sustain healthy behaviors that eventually result in health, energy, fitness and optimal food choices. Weight loss, then is a product of achieving these things over the long-term.
So what factors play into behavior change?
Motivation is one key player. Uncovering one's motivation leads to discovering WHY they want to... X,Y or Z.
It is more effective to realize WHY you want to carry out a behavior, rather than being told to do something by someone else.
Confidence (or self efficacy) is a major predictor of successful behavior change. So starting small with achievable goals is highly recommended. It is often helpful to look back on prior successes and reflect on what has worked in the past. Identifying strengths and weaknesses is also helpful- play to your strengths.
Health beliefs (knowledge) do come into play. Understanding the logic or science behind a health recommendation can increase the chances one will follow through on a given behavior. Believing eating a certain way will eventually lead to weight loss, makes it more likely one will eat that way.
Goal Setting is an important part of a change plan. Setting realistic appropriate goals is vital. Remember, you can always modify goals, but it is best to start with an easy goal and build confidence to tackle more challenging goals.
Try to set SMART goals
Try to set "Be" goals vs. "Do" goals
("Do" goals are okay, especially at the beginning)
Avoid abstinence goals (I won't have any more chocolate)
Instead, set positive goals (I will eat 3 servings of vegetables a day)
Substituting, especially at first, is a great strategy (I will drink 1% milk or almond milk in place of whole milk)
Values are also important to address.
A goal is more likely to be met if it satisfies more than one value. (cooking at home vs. eating out may satisfy health and financial values simultaneously)
A behavior is more likely to be met depending on how quickly or certain it is to satisfy a goal/value.
Hierarchy or prioritization of goals and values matter, with higher priorities (goals/values) being placed before others. It is essential to have a plan to deal with competing desires/behaviors.
Urgency or perceived urgency is another factor that affects how likely a goal is to be met. Diagnosis of a disease or seeing a particular number on the scale may increase the urgency to adopt different behaviors.
It is very likely you will feel ambivalent toward some of your goals. Ambivalence is the feeling of conflict between two desires. For example, you want to eat healthfully to lose weight, but you also want to have a beer during happy hour with your coworkers. Or, you want to go to the gym, but you also would enjoy staying home to watch your favorite TV show.
Can you find behaviors or compromises that allow you to satisfy both of your desires? Like watching your favorite show on the treadmill at the health club? When this isn't possible, try to find an action that deliveres similar satisfaction or at least destructs you from the action that will not help you achieve your overall goal.
Creating strategies, plans and compromises are necessary to follow through on healthy behaviors. This is also why motivation, support, accountability and skill power (not will power) are all so important.
Addiction also often a very big part, especially with food, alcohol, caffeine, sugar and smoking.
Environment drives a lot of what we do. This goes back to making the healthy choice the easy choice. I cannot stress this part enough.
If you want to avoid drive-thu's, carry healthy snacks with you in the car. If you want to go to the gym in the morning, pack your gym bag the night before and put in in your car.
Behaviors can also relate to triggers and cues.
Try to create healthy, positive triggers and cues, and eliminate negative, detrimental ones. You can set alarms as reminders to eat, pack your gym bag or make your lunch. Set an appointment with your gym buddy or carve out an hour on your schedule to meal prep.
Have healthy foods stocked and easily visible while keeping treats stashed away. Small bowls and cups can also cue you to know when it's time to stop eating.
None of these concepts are magical. They take a lot of time, thought, sacrifice, practice and fine-tuning. But nothing good ever comes easy, does it :)? The payoff will come, and it is well worth the sacrifice!
Mike Aguilar RD, CPT
Personal Fitness and Weight Management Consultant
Start Fresh Fitness
Personal Life Coach