Weight loss is a confusing, frustrating issue for a lot of women. So many of the women who come to see me tell me they’ve tried everything to lose weight. And sometimes their efforts pay off…but only in the short term. So many of them end up yo-yo dieting, which takes a toll on both physical and mental health.
“I’m so confused, and I’ve never been more frustrated!” That’s what Rita said, near tears, when she came to see me. She’d been trying for years to lose weight. She tried every new program that came along, and followed them exactly.
Sometimes, her efforts paid off and she dropped a significant amount of weight. But a few months later, she’d be right back where she started – if not heavier! She was stuck in a cycle of yo-yo dieting, and the constant up and down was taking a toll on her physical health and her mental health.
She knew she couldn’t keep doing the same old things. That’s why she came to me for help!
I know first hand how frustrating it is to have trouble losing weight. And I know well the euphoria of losing several pounds and the crushing disappointment when the number on the scale creeps up again.
Do you know how this feels too? Have you grown weary of trying, and considered giving up? While I understand the feeling, I urge you to reconsider!
Is long-term weight loss possible?
Maintaining weight loss long-term is difficult – but not impossible!
The research has been discouraging for many years. A 2001 meta-analysis of studies found that in 29 long-term weight loss studies more than half of weight lost was regained within just two years. And after five years, that jumped to ¾! These are certainly not the statistics we hope for when exploring how to lose weight and keep it off.
But study results aren’t all bad! More recent research shows some promise in determining how weight loss can be sustained long-term. A 2018 study showed that when habits were changed (either bad habits broken or new healthy habits formed), weight loss was maintained for a year. Participants in two intervention groups not only kept off the weight they’d dropped over the 12-weeks of intervention, but continued to lose weight even after the intervention was over.
Sixty-five percent had lost more than 5% of their body weight at the 12-month follow up. And there were other positive results as well – participants also increased fruit and vegetable consumption and their mental health improved.
This research illustrates just how important changing habits is to maintaining a healthy lifestyle. It also demonstrates the personal power we each have over our own lives – and bodies!
No one knows better than me how easy this is to say, and how hard it can be to do. If forming good habits was simple, everyone would be doing it naturally! There are so many factors that influence the habits we have, especially when it comes to food. That’s why we need to really understand not only what we should be eating, but why we choose to consume certain foods.
Examining and understanding food choices
Often, eating is less about hunger and more about tradition/habit. Without even thinking about it, women eat things simply because they always have. I have a client, Erin, who has to stop at a specific store to pick up some gummy bears every time she takes a trip to the lake.
What does the lake have to do with gummy bears? Nothing, of course. But the first time her mother took her to the lake when she was a child, that’s what they did. And her mother continued the tradition each and every time they went for a day trip. Now, it’s just what she does…but she’s 25! When I suggested that she just drive past the store, she had an “aha” moment: She doesn’t even like gummy bears.
Erin’s story isn’t unique. Whether it’s cake on birthdays, or salty snacks at the movies, or a juicy burger because it’s the 4th of July…so much of what people eat is tied to emotions (good or bad).
An interesting article published in 2007 explored how aware people are of food decisions they are making. The article detailed just how little people think about the food choices we make each and every day.
In one study, the authors determined that people grossly underestimate the number of food decisions they make per day – by an average of 221 decisions! In another study, they found that an exaggerated environmental cue, such as a large bowl, caused people to eat 31% more food.
Of the 192 people studied, 21% didn’t believe they had eaten more, and 75% had other reasons, such as hunger, to explain why they had consumed more. Only 4% attributed the overeating to the cue.
The authors said that these studies showed that people are aware of very few food decisions they make. They’re also unaware of the impact of environmental factors on these decisions — or unwilling to acknowledge them.
But if we want to change habits that lead to being overweight or obese, we must acknowledge how these choices influence eating behavior. And if we’re unaware, it’s time to open our eyes, and our minds. We need to begin noticing the opportunities we have to make good decisions and avoid overconsumption. Only then do we have that personal power I was talking about. And honestly, who doesn’t want to have a little more control over their own life?
9 Daily Habits and Routines That Can Lead to Healthy Weight Loss
Changing habits can be tough, but the following can easily be added to your daily routine to help shift your eating behaviors and assist you in losing weight. You don’t have to tackle them all at once. If you try to change too many things at the same time, you might end up overwhelmed and revert to your old ways. Try one to start, and when that feels easy, add another…until you’ve mastered them all!
1. Track Everything
Information is power. If you don’t keep an accurate record of what you are eating, how you are feeling, and why you make the choices you do it’s tough to examine what might not be working for you. I suggest keeping a journal – not just of food, but all the pieces that impact weight.
You can use a trick journalists use when writing to be sure you aren’t missing anything important. Ask these questions: Who, what, when, where, why and how. Who were you eating with (and did their behavior change yours)? What did you eat (and how did it make you feel afterwards)? When and where were you eating? Why were you eating (hunger or habit)?
And finally, how were you eating? Standing up at the refrigerator makes it far more likely that you’ll eat too much, or make unhealthy choices, than if you are sitting at a table, paying attention to every bite.
When you have everything in writing, you can really reflect on it later. It’s so easy to forget the details, so I suggest getting them down as soon after you eat as possible. The deeper questions and reflection can happen later, when you have more time.
Drink water when you first get up, before each meal, before a snack (to help determine if you’re even hungry), and an hour before bed. Drink water when you are driving to and from work. Drink when you are in between meetings. On the weekend, drink a glass of water before you head out shopping, and when you return from an outing. Basically, every time you transition activities is a great time for a drink of water. If you are getting up – head to the sink or water pitcher first!
3. Eat consciously and mindfully
So many of those choices we are unaware of is because we aren’t truly paying attention to what we are doing. If you focus only on eating, you will be making those choices intentionally.
Setting a regular routine will help avoid impulse eating, and can make you more aware of the decisions you are making about what goes on your plate. When you stick to a regular eating schedule, anything out of the norm will be a conscious choice.
This is far more effective for losing or maintaining weight than allowing “cheat” days. A day without rules or routine opens you up to excess. You may try to squeeze in everything you’ve been missing instead of eating because you’re actually hungry. Instead, stick to your schedules, but allow yourself the occasional intentional splurge.
Eat without distractions so you can be mindful of the food in front of you. Take a bite, then put down your fork while you chew. Notice the taste, smell, and textures of the food. Notice any memories or emotions that surface as you eat. This can feel strange when you first begin, but once you’ve tried it a few times you may start to realize that mindful eating allows you the space to truly enjoy food – and notice when you are satisfied a lot more quickly!
4. Include protein and healthy fats in every meal and snack
Some people suggest never skipping breakfast, but I know that different eating patterns work for different people. I’m a big fan of intermittent fasting myself, so I stop eating at a certain time in the evening and rarely eat breakfast.
Though timing can vary, the essential elements of your meals shouldn’t. Whenever you eat, it’s important to incorporate some protein and healthy fats. These stick with you much longer than simple carbohydrates, and won’t cause blood sugar spikes and crashes.
5. Read labels
Knowing exactly what is in your food can help you make better choices. If you’re eating anything other than fresh, whole foods look carefully at the label. How much sugar are you eating? Sodium? Trans fats?
Don’t just read the label when you buy something — read it each time you’re about to eat the product. Ask yourself if it’s worth it before you open the package. If you’re eating out, ask if nutrition information is available before you place your order.
6. Weigh yourself daily
Some women tell me they’d rather throw their scale away than step on it every day. I know this can be a tough habit to handle emotionally, especially since weight fluctuates naturally so it’s inevitable that the numbers will go up some days, down on others.
But monitoring your weight at the same time, in the same (or no) clothing, allows you to notice right away if the number is consistently going in the wrong direction. Sometimes, that’s all it takes to get back on track – especially when you’ve worked so hard to lose weight and want to keep it off!
An added bonus to weighing yourself daily is that the more you do it, the less power the scale has. You can begin to see it not as judge and jury, but as a tool you can use to guide your own behavior.
7. Boost your fruit and vegetable intake
Adding more fruits and vegetables to your plate is a great strategy for losing weight. Because they’re natural, whole foods, they fill you up, and they’re full of nutrients that help your body use the food as efficiently as possible for energy.
Have at least one serving of fruits or vegetables at each meal. Two is even better! A serving of fresh fruit or vegetables is just one cup – not as big as you might think. A hearty stir fry or large salad can add up quickly.
Fresh fruits and vegetables also make a great snack. Pop some cauliflower in the air fryer, dip carrots in hummus, slice an apple or make a fruit salad — the options are endless, and delicious!
8. Stay active by walking
There’s a lot of evidence that physical activity positively contributes to weight loss, and it doesn’t have to be intense exercise. Especially if you haven’t been very active before, starting with walking can be a great option.
If you live near enough, try walking to the office a day or two each week. Or go for a short walk at lunchtime and eat outside instead of at your desk. Park as far away from the building as you can instead of looking for the closest spot. Walk the stairs instead of using the elevator. Commit to one ten minute walk each day to begin, and try to build to 20 or 30 minutes (either at once or in two blocks).
If you spend all day at your desk, build a five minute walk into each hour. You don’t have to go far – up and down the hall will suffice. Being too sedentary promotes weight gain, so this one habit can really keep you on the right path.
9. Build in planning/prep time
Some of the worst decisions people make around food happen because they aren’t prepared. Taking a little time each day to pack a lunch and healthy snacks before you head out (instead of relying on fast food or vending machines) can make a huge difference!
If it’s hard to find the time each morning, try prepping for the following day right before you head to bed. I know many women who set aside a couple of hours on the weekend to cut fruits and vegetables, cook meals to parcel into individual servings, and plan their entire week out ahead of time. Every one of them tells me it makes a huge difference in their eating habits all week long!
Small changes add up
There’s only so much time in a day, I know. But I think if you start to use that time intentionally, you’ll be surprised at how little time it actually takes to make a big difference! Rita started by keeping a journal. By the end of a month, she’d added each one of the above healthy habits to her day. And she didn’t have to cut anything out to fit it all in! That’s because she was already spending time thinking about food…these habits actually made her days run more smoothly! But the best part is that when she had successfully added these habits, she began to lose weight. And a year later, she’s kept it off!
Reviewed by Dr. Mark Menolascino, MD