If you want to lose weight, you’ll need to make changes.
Change is hard, to be sure. But it’s possible. To make lasting changes that will improve your health and wellness long term, you must first consider why you want to change.
Thinking about your motivation can help galvanize your resolve and make you more likely to stay on track, says Krissy Maurin, lead wellness coordinator with Providence St. Joseph Hospital Wellness Center in Southern California. Lasting changes will stick for the long term when they come from “a place of self-love and trying to do what’s best for you.”
Knowing your “why” is the first step on the journey — which may be long and winding. The following 10 tips can help you stay on track in following a weight loss plan or making any other sustainable lifestyle changes that can support good health.
1. Reframe your language.
Maurin notes that “the word ‘diet’ already has a negative connotation tied to it, and that will automatically cause some anxiety.” You may find that you’ll meet some resistance within yourself to change because of the complex associations that come with the language you’re using.
“Let’s be real,” she adds. “No one is excited to say, ‘I’m starting a diet tomorrow.’ But if you can change your mindset to ‘I can’t wait to start making healthier choices for myself,'” that can shift your thought patterns and allow you to more freely make the changes you need to.
Janine Souffront, supervisor and health educator for L.A. Care Health Plan, also recommends shifting the way you think about dieting from “sticking with a diet” to “something like ‘striving to eat healthier.’ That helps remove the sense of failure when things don’t go as planned, which can undermine your efforts and make you give up.”
Dr. Jason Doescher, chief medical officer at MOBE, a guided health solutions company based in Minneapolis, agrees. He notes “the phrase ‘long-term dieting’ can seem daunting and restrictive.” He encourages people to “think about diet as part of an overall lifestyle change rather than a temporary activity. Just like remodeling a room in your home, remodeling nutrition behavior and choices is a slow, steady commitment to getting it right and getting healthier every day, week, month and year.”
2. Plan ahead.
Lisa Cooper, a registered dietitian for prevention and wellness services at Orlando Health in Florida, says that planning ahead is a key way to be successful when making lasting changes for health. “Keeping your diet on track takes time, knowledge, consistency and goal-oriented plans.”
In addition to focusing on new eating behaviors, you’ll also need to take the time to “plan and learn new menu ideas or preparation techniques.” Make a weekly meal plan to take the guesswork out of busy weekday nights and plan for events, such as kids’ after-school activities or visits from out-of-town guests, she says.
And shop according to your plan. “Plan to shop at least once a week to keep your pantry and refrigerator stocked with items that support your eating plan.”
You should also develop a plan for those times when you aren’t preparing your own meals, such as going to a restaurant, holidays or out-of-town travel. For example, Doescher recommends “placing healthy nuts in the car or even designating a water bottle for the car to help spare a trip to a local fast food joint or eliminating calorie-filled beverages.”
It’s this forward-looking mindset that can make a real difference day to day. “Anticipating events and pre-planning menus and food choices are tools to make long-term maintenance more successful,” Cooper says.
3. Prepare for setbacks.
Losing weight or changing your dietary habits isn’t a linear process, and “there will be ups and downs” along the way, Souffront says.
Maurin uses an analogy to describe the bumpy road that dieting can be. “Imagine yourself as a car. Your tire goes flat while driving on the freeway. What do you do next? You pull over, change your tire and get back on track. Same goes for our eating plan. When something causes us to veer off the road, you simply take note and get back on track for the very next meal.”
As you course correct, she also encourages you to “allow yourself some grace and lots of self-love when trying to change old habits.”
4. Make time for food prep.
“Either prep foods ahead of time if you know your weeknights are busy, or allow time to prepare healthy meals each day. Cutting vegetables, defrosting meats and packing lunches are all examples of important pieces to preparing healthy meals.”
5. Go slow to prevent yo-yoing.
Souffront warns against yo-yo dieting, a seemingly endless cycle of restricted eating followed by a relapse into old habits that pile the weight back on. Yo-yo dieting isn’t good for your mental or physical health, but it’s avoidable.
To do so, Maurin recommends starting by “making one to two healthy changes that are realistic in your lifestyle. Once you feel like you have those down, add another one. This process continues throughout time and before you know it, a lot of your old habits have been kicked to the curb by healthier ones.”
Souffront recommends simple changes, such as “swapping your daily soda for mineral water or adding a vegetable to your lunch and dinner. Once this becomes part of how you eat, then move to another change, such as using less meat and switching to small amounts of olive oil and vinegar or lemon on your salads.”
Trying to do too much at once can have you reverting to old habits soon.
6. Keep a food diary.
“Journaling has proven to be one of the most useful strategies for success when making changes,” Souffront says. “Track what you eat, physical activities, emotions and note any particular triggers to eating when you’re not hungry.”
Cooper agrees that tracking what you eat is a helpful way of staying on track. “Write it on paper, enter your food into an app or take pictures of your meals. Do whatever it takes to have a record of what you eat. It makes it easy to look back and see if you’re staying on track and determine if possible adjustments need to be made to move in the right direction.”
In contrast, flying blind or eating unintentionally “provides a gateway to eating foods that may not be part of your plan. Logging foods eaten throughout the day provides a tool to keep you on track,” Cooper adds.
7. Build in some flexibility.
You can’t be rigid all the time and you have to give yourself a little space for fun once in a while, Souffront says. “You’ll need to navigate parties and gatherings as we return to a more social life. Have a strategy to enjoy celebratory foods and drinks without overeating or overdrinking.”
8. Explore other ways of eating.
Souffront notes that there’s no one-size-fits all answer to how to eat for health and wellness, but she recommends exploring a “Mediterranean or plant-based way of eating. It’s relatively easy to adapt the way you eat to fit these eating patterns. The more restrictive a way of eating, the more difficult it’ll be to stick with it.”
She adds that being mindful of portion sizes is also important to sustainable eating.
9. Find good support.
If you can recruit your family or a friend or two to support you in your efforts to improve your eating habits, that can make the going a little easier. “Progress is not linear, and outside encouragement can help us recognize momentum and reshape our choices and habits to create a new, healthier ‘normal’ that defines the outcome,” Doescher says.
A workout buddy or someone who will hold you accountable for making good choices can be a big help when making healthy changes. “You can also get the whole household involved with new meals and healthy snacks,” Maurin says. “This way you won’t feel secluded and left out at family meals.”
Professional help may also be a good option to consider. “Registered dietitian nutritionists can help you in all stages of your journey to improve your eating habits,” Souffront says.
However, “remember to do what works for you! Creating a plan to improve health is not a one-size-fits-all practice,” Doescher adds.
Beyond that, if you have a history of eating disorders, body image concerns or find that you’re sabotaging your own weight loss journey, it may be helpful to connect with a mental health professional.
“Consider seeking help from a therapist,” Maurin says. “They can help you look deeper at your behaviors toward food. To put it in perspective, most fully comprehensive weight loss programs include a cognitive behavior learning class to help shed light on the most common scenarios that play out while someone is trying to change their habits.”
10. Celebrate your success.
Change is hard, but it can also be fun. As you achieve new goals, be sure to take a moment to recognize how far you’ve come. “Rewarding yourself for achievements can make the journey fulfilling, lending itself to long-term change,” Cooper says.
“Our bodies and selves are an investment, and an investment in health and happiness begets greater health and more happiness, so be kind to yourself,” Doescher concludes.
10 tips to keep your diet on track:
— Reframe your language.
— Plan ahead.
— Prepare for setbacks.
— Make time for food prep.
— Go slow to prevent yo-yoing.
— Keep a food diary.
— Build in some flexibility.
— Explore other ways of eating.
— Find good support.
— Celebrate your success.
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Update 01/11/22: This story was previously published at an earlier date and has been updated with new information.