Break the weight-loss barrier

Dieters must be able to manage their everyday lives to avoid barriers to their weightloss efforts. Strategies include avoiding or controlling everyday cravings, setting goals and priorities, and consistent exercise.

Millions of Americans face the weight-loss front today. Some people are just thinking about battling their bulging bellies. Others have lost a few – or maybe many – pounds, but need to do more to reach their goals. It isn’t that people don’t know the basic math – eat fewer calories, exercise more. It’s that they don’t know how to make that equation work in their day-to-day lives. Weight loss isn’t attained by only one decision. It’s the culmination of thousands of decisions made day in and day out – decisions that break the weight-loss barrier.

And there are lots of ways to make those decisions easier, less complicated, even enjoyable. We asked some of the country’s leading weight-loss experts in nutrition, physiology and psychology for their best tips on how to help you, whether you’re trying to lose your first pound or your fiftieth.

Plan, Plan, Plan

You’ve probably heard the old saying, “failing to plan is planning to fail.” And many of our weight-loss experts agree that planning, in a variety of forms, is what makes the difference between a successful weight-loss strategy and one that never gets legs.

If you set goals and don’t make plans to meet them, you’ll fall back into the same eating and exercise patterns you’re used to. Many of the suggestions we got from the experts are about taking the time to set goals and plan each and every day for the ways you’ll meet them.

Crush mall cravings. If you’re going to the mall and you know you’re going to smell pizza or cinnamon buns that will make your mouth water, be prepared. Eat before you go out so you won’t be as tempt able. And don’t shop until you drop. Plan a snack that fits into your calorie/fat-gram plan. Either carry it with you or know just where to purchase it.

Learn the 10-minute rule. If a craving hits for a hot-fudge sundae and it’s not in your plan for the day, distract yourself for at least 10 minutes. In most cases, the craving will pass. Meditate, call a friend, go for a walk. If after 10 minutes your craving hasn’t subsided, you may be truly hungry. Look for a healthy low-fat snack. Plan to eat at home. That’s one of the few places where you really know what you’re putting in your mouth. But if your lifestyle demands eating out, or occasional fast fixes, plan for them! Most fast-food eateries supply handy pamphlets describing in detail the caloric and fat content of their menu items. Collect these pamphlets and analyze them for your favorite low-fat meals. Then when you have to make a stop, you know just what to order, without even looking at the choices.

For more-expensive restaurants, call ahead and ask what’s low fat and low calorie on the menu. Many places will prepare a special meal if you give them notice. Poring over the menu when you get there puts too many tempting images in your mind.

Don’t plan on willpower. Physiology always beats out psychology. In other words, hunger beats out self-control. To get around that, try to plan your day so you aren’t forced to use self-control. It’s the old “don’t-go-grocery-shopping-on-an-empty-stomach” idea. Expand that concept to your whole day. Don’t blame yourself for lack of willpower after an indulgence. Just evaluate how you can plan better to avoid it in the future.

Keep a food diary. Choose a way to keep track of what and when you eat every day. You may choose to track fat grams, calories, exchanges – the method is up to you. It seems that just keeping track is what helps people cut back, not brutal honesty or a foolproof memory. In fact, when starting out, don’t even try to make any changes. Just get an idea of what it is you’re eating every day to maintain the weight that you are.

Get A New Attitude

Changing your lifestyle means changing your attitude toward a lot of things. You set new priorities and you learn new likes and dislikes. Be ready to incorporate new ideas to help you change old habits.

Set goals and priorities. Spend some time working out your goals on paper. It’s important that they’re not vague. It’s also important that they’re reasonable. If you’re not sure if your weight loss goals are reasonable, seek out a qualified health professional to give you an objective perspective.

Take stock of your shelves. Look through your pantry and your refrigerator and get rid of any foods that don’t fit in with your new goals for weight control. Donate them to a local charity and then restock with foods that fit in with your new meal plans. There are lots of new foods on the market that can help you cut calories and fat without sacrificing taste. You can change just about any favorite high-fat meal into a low-fat version.

Read about it. Read a lot about weight loss, diet, nutrition and exercise. Not only may you find it motivating and inspiring, you should also have more ideas to help you tailor a program that meets your needs. One study has shown that people who take the bull by the horns and design their own programs are the most successful at losing weight and keeping it off.

Focus on maintenance. There is a possibility that weight cycling (losing, gaining, losing) is linked to bad health. However, a fear of weight cycling should not deter anyone from attempting to reach a healthy weight. Lately, a popular theory has been that most people who lose weight eventually gain it back, and then some. Which may fast become a self-fulfilling prophecy. The problem is, most studies on people losing weight are done in clinical or hospital settings. And Often those People comply with a special weight-reduction program as long as they are active (or captive) participants. When they go back home, they go back to old habits. People who design their own programs at home often are much more successful at maintaining their weight losses. Just look around you. Chances are you know people who’ve lost weight and kept it off for years. And you thought they were an exception to the rule!

Know serving sizes. Counting fat grams is not enough. Studies show that people can still gain weight eating a low-fat diet. They may load up on low-fat foods. It’s important to watch the total amount of food you eat. Portion control is essential. Spend some time measuring out portions and seeing what they look like on the plate so you can judge when to stop serving yourself. Do you really know what a cup of spaghetti looks like?

Use the one-to-one rule. Use fat-free and sugar-free products, but use them wisely. A one-to-one substitution is best. In other words, substitute one fat-free Twinkie for one regular Twinkie. Don’t kid yourself into thinking you can eat two or three because they’re low in fat. Sugary calories add up to fat in your body.

No food outlaws. Don’t feel you have to ban chocolate or any other favorite foods. If you watch your portions and/or your calories, you can find room for any food. Depriving yourself may set you up for bingeing. To lose weight and keep it off, exercise has to become a regular part of your everyday life, no ifs, ands or “but I don’t have the time” about it. If you don’t have time for exercise, you don’t have the means to permanent weight control. Once you realize it’s the only way out, you may begin to find the time you need.

Team up with your doctor. Find a doctor who will encourage you. Although there are no studies to confirm the results for weight loss, studies have shown that doctors’ encouragement definitely helped people quit smoking.

Learn to love resistance training. Increasing or maintaining your lean body mass is a crucial component in the weight-loss game plan. The more muscle you have, the more calories you burn, whether you’re exercising or sleeping. Weight lifting is a unique exercise in that it enhances lean body mass. While aerobic exercises, such as walking, jogging and bicycling, are important for fat burning, they don’t substantially increase lean body mass. And as we age, that lean body mass tends to decrease.

Weight training should be done two or three times a week, unless you target different muscle groups on different days, in which case you can work out more often.

Learn the 80 percent solution. To increase muscle mass, you need to do high-intensity weight training. That means finding the weight that you can lift about 8 to 12 times and no more. At that rate, you’re lifting about 80 percent of your capacity. (If you lift a weight 25 times without tiring, you tone your muscles, but you don’t increase muscle mass.) It’s fine to start with lighter weights to train your muscles to get ready for heavier work.

Walk and weight train. To lose weight, most people need to commit to at least 45 minutes to an hour of low-intensity endurance training, like brisk walking, almost every day. So if you’re lifting weights one day, you should still try to get your walk in. (We know it’s hard.) Unless you’re a bodybuilder who needs to maximize her output in one area, you can do both and enhance your weight-loss program without harming your body. Try doing one in the morning and the other in the late afternoon or evening, to avoid fatigue.

Try dumbbells. To weight train, you don’t have to buy a membership in a fitness center or buy expensive home gyms. To start out, buy a $20 set of barbells with instructions, and work out at home. You can see how you like it without a big investment. If you’re unsure how to use your barbells, seek instruction from a certified health and fitness instructor at your local YMCA or fitness club. As you progress, you may find fitness centers great places to meet lifting buddies or to learn more about your new sport.

Keep a journal. Just like food diaries, exercise journals help keep you motivated to do what it is you want to do. Keep one for weight lifting to show your progress and keep another for aerobic activity. If you’re not keen on spending a full hour exercising continuously, remember, it’s the sum total of exercise you do in one day that matters most, not whether you do it all at the same time. Four 15-minute sessions are as effective at burning calories as one continuous hour.

Find some good videos. Ask your friends if they have any favorite workout videos. Keep a collection around so you can vary your workout from time to time to avoid boredom. You can even borrow videos from your local public library to keep things interesting. Instead of a walk outside, go inside and try step-aerobics, or polka or country-western dancing. Just don’t try to do the whole tape the first day out. Ease into it, or you may be too sore to get out of bed the next day.

Brain Work

Many of our barriers to weight loss are mental and emotional ones. While some people may need counseling to break through their weight-loss wall, others can use simple mental techniques to help institute healthy habits.

Visualize your goal and how you’ll get there. Spend some time every day visualizing yourself at your ideal and realistic weight. See yourself doing the behaviors you need to do to obtain the results you want. Use all your senses to imagine yourself enjoying a delicious apple if you need to eat more fruit. Or vividly imagine how you’ll feel on a brisk morning walk.

De-stress to fight fat. Stress might have an impact on the way your body metabolizes fat. In addition to that, you may eat more when you’re feeling pressured. So find ways, such as walking or meditation, to reduce the effects of stress. Do whatever you need to do to keep your life in balance.

Stop negative self-talk. Become aware of all the little ways you sabotage yourself through your thoughts. We all occasionally carry on internal dialogues that can stand in the way of success. Catch yourself saying “I’ll never lose weight,” or “I hate to exercise” and replace those thoughts with more positive ones.

Learn relapse prevention. It’s normal to relapse – to go back to being a slug or eating high-fat foods – for a day, a week or even more. That’s part of the pattern of change and growth, not the end of your weight-loss efforts. When it happens, use it as a learning experience. Ask yourself what was going on in your life when the relapse occurred. Family pressures? Work stress? Your sister Mary offering you homemade chocolate cake? Then try to make plans to meet those relapse triggers more successfully in the future.

Get more sleep. Many people work too hard and get too little sleep. We may even eat to compensate for our lack of sleep. It may give us a quick boost, but we end up storing the extra calories as fat. When you need to work long hours, try walks or showers rather than candy bars to boost your energy.

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