Some people make weight loss harder than it should be, by getting the basics wrong.
To be slim and healthy for life requires a different approach to the one most people take.
So, if you’re beginning your weight loss journey, here is my weight loss checklist for ensuring that you’re starting on the right foot.
1. A strong desire / feeling absolutely fed up
For clients I see at my clinic, at the first appointment, many will say things to me like: “I can’t take it any more. I am absolutely fed up. I never want to go on another diet again”.
This is my perfect client.
Now, don’t get me wrong. It’s not nice to feel fed up. It feels awful. It feels so frustrating to not be able to figure out what to do about a major problem in your life. Some of my clients have spent 30-40 years trying to figure out their weight problems.
But this frustration and feeling fed up makes you focus on long-term solutions and not just the next short-term diet. That is a good thing.
A Strong Desire
This strong desire is also very important to keep you motivated and on track.
The desire has two parts to it.
One part is the desire for all the wonderful things that you would associate with losing weight.
I don’t mean to sound like a fad diet commercial, but obviously I spend a lot of my working day interacting with women who have lost weight, and the one thing that they all say, is that as much as they desired to lose weight, they never realized what a positive effect it would have on their lives.
The second aspect of desire is wanting to escape the pain of being overweight.
Part of this is based on the realities of the current situation, which can vary from rock-bottom confidence to serious health problems.
But part of it is also the fear of what is going to happen next. If each 6 months your weight is increasing by a few pounds, where is it headed?
If you couldn’t control it going up this much, what’s to stop it going up more? Will you be 20 pounds heavier in the next 2-3 years? What will your health be like then?
When you really want to achieve your goal and you’re fed up with dieting, that’s when your chances of long-term success are maximized.
2. Figure out the right goal.
Most people think that if they’re going to be slim and healthy for life, they need to focus on how to lose weight.
But I think this is the wrong goal.
When you focus only on losing weight, it’s all about getting to a certain goal, preferably as fast as possible. When you think like this, then any method becomes fair game.
It makes people willing to go on all manner of fad diets, just to get there. But even if you do stick with the diet long enough to get to your goal, then what? Deprivation is not a long-term strategy.
Once you stop the diet, the weight starts piling on again.
Lose weight AND keep it off
Instead, your goal should be to lose weight and keep it off. What this requires is a totally different attitude.
When you are aiming to be slim for life, then you have to start thinking about your “long game”. You have to be ready to do things that you’ll be able to stick with, for the rest of your life. It’s all about changing your habits.
Deprivation is no longer an option. And it becomes less about speed and more about sustainability.
3. An Un-intimidating goal
So, we’ve already talked about how your goal needs to focus on long-term weight loss, not just starving down to a weight only to bounce back later.
But this means you need to keep yourself motivated and focused to keep going.
Suddenly, your biggest challenge isn’t how to survive the deprivation, because you shouldn’t feel deprived (if you’re feeling deprived, then you won’t stick to it, in which case it’s just a short-term solution).
Your biggest challenge is now how to stick at it for the long-term.
This means re-framing the goal in a way that motivates you.
The Problem with Big Goals
A big goal is supposed to be invigorating and inspiring. If you read most self-help books, they talk about setting BIG goals.
But I find that with weight loss, big goals can be intimidating and ultimately demotivating.
If you need to lose 50 pounds then that’s a lot of weight to lose. And such a large goal feels a long way away. Even if you lose 5 pounds, which is great progress, it will feel like nothing compared to the 50 pounds.
Think Small (to begin with)
This is why it’s important to set smaller sub-goals. 10 pounds is a good one. Maybe 15 pounds. It’s up to you, but keep it small.
You can see that with a 10 pound goal, even losing 3 pounds is a big deal. You’re 30% there.
You might think that 10 pounds is not enough, but it’s just a stepping stone. And for most people, 10 pounds weight loss is noticeable.
A small initial goal is just the thing for keeping your motivation high.
4. A laid back attitude about the speed of achieving the goal
Another by-product of thinking long-term is that in the interests of making things pleasant and sustainable, you have to content yourself with being relaxed about the timeframes of your weight loss goal.
If you’re over 40, in some ways this will be forced on you. It’s harder for a women in her forties or fifties, to lose weight as quickly as a woman in her twenties or thirties. This isn’t a bad thing, but it’s something you have to be aware of.
I often get emails from women in their fifties, bemoaning their “slow” weight loss. When I ask for more information, I hear things like “I’ve only lost 5 pounds in 5 weeks”. But that’s 1 pound a week. That’s pretty good!
Of course, it doesn’t feel good if you compare it to what you might have achieved when you were 25. But that’s not a valid comparison.
Beware the fad-diet brainwashing
Also, it’s unavoidable that most people get influenced by fad diet claims of people losing unbelievable amounts of weight in incredibly short periods of time.
When you hear claims like “Lost 10 pounds in 10 days”
Firstly, most of these are dubious.
Secondly, they are often achieved by men (who can lose weight much quicker) and women in their twenties.
Thirdly : We don’t know if they were able to maintain the weight loss.
(I am still looking for an example of a woman in her fifties who lost 10 pounds in 10 days and kept it off. If you know of an example, please let me know.)
5. A willingness to face mistakes
No one really likes things going wrong. But it’s part of the process of improving.
It’s when things go wrong, that you can see what needs to change.
If you have an episode of over-eating, it’s not enough to say “I’m not sure what happened there, it was bad, but let’s just move on”
No! It doesn’t work that way. You need to understand what happened, so that you can make changes to ensure it doesn’t happen again.
My philosophy around weight loss is based on a behavioral approach. The entire focus of this approach is, not surprisingly, how to change your behavior. With this in mind, you can’t sweep things under the carpet. You can’t write off things happening as “unusual”. You have to face it, and make changes.
When you make these changes and create new habits, that is when you go from being reliant on diets to lose weight, to being someone who can manage their weight naturally.
6. A good plan that makes sense and is sustainable
Of course, the best will in the world is nothing without a proper plan.
Most people think that a good plan that involves spelling out exactly what they can and can’t eat.
But if you really think about it, do you need someone else to tell you what you should and shouldn’t eat?
Most of us know what we should and shouldn’t be eating. If we forget all the fad diets and the sensationalist health claims in the media, we generally know what’s healthy and what’s not.
Most people also know the mantra: eat in moderation.
So what do you need a plan for?
The plan is how to get back in touch with what YOU need. It’s about understanding things like:
These are questions that every person (overweight or not) should know the answer to. Because they form the foundation of a healthy eating plan tailored to YOU.
But the importance of the plan is that you can’t attack all of these things at the same time. And because we are talking about changing habits and reversing years of conditioning, it requires consistency.
When I created my 20 week weight transformation e-course, there were a few people who said that 20 weeks was too long. But when you realize the long-term nature of the goal, you can see that it’s not enough to be consistent for a few days. You need to be consistent for week after week.
The consistent approach and a plan is necessary, because if you are just doing it aimlessly, it’s easy to start with a bang and then lose the focus and the momentum.
7. A Supporter
The evidence from the NWCR research study (1) is that 45% of people on their study who lost weight and kept it off, did so without any help from others (such as physicians, nutritionists, commercial weight loss programs).
How do we interpret this? On one hand, it means you don’t necessarily need help to achieve the goal.
But on the other hand, 55% of people did need help.
So which one are you?
If you decide you can do this on your own, that’s perfectly fine. Go for it.
But if you find that despite your best intentions, that you’re still struggling, then it’s time to consider getting some help.
The benefits of support are someone to keep you accountable, give you guidance, feedback and encouragement. Remember, support doesn’t have to be paid for, but if you’re relying on friends or family, make sure that they’re reliable. Most of them don’t have the time or inclination to devote themselves properly to the task.
8. A commitment to never give up
I have bad news for you. When losing weight, there will be hiccups along the way. Yes it’s true!
Your weight might not budge for a week or two. It might even go up. You might have a few episodes of over-eating that you didn’t expect or understand.
You will, at some stage, question the whole thing and wonder if it’s just easier to give up.
With every client I see, they go through something like this at some point (usually more than once). And each time, I see it in their eyes: the fear, the frustration, the temptation to give up.
When the chips are down it’s hard to see straight. Memories of past failures flood back. “Oh no, not again” is the thought that reverberates through your mind when things are going wrong.
But you need to prepare yourself for this. It will happen. It’s the reality. It’s the big challenge of losing weight.
But you just need to keep going.
The good news is that’s all you need to do. Keep going. No matter what. And each time you stare failure in the face and don’t flinch, it becomes easier the next time.
Before embarking on a journey, you need to be fully prepared. The extent to which you’re prepared can determine the outcome of the journey.
Don’t beat yourself up over past failures. Those are gone. What you can focus on is doing things right this time. Have a long-term perspective, and be kind to yourself. With a bit of patience and a determination to keep going no matter what, you can achieve this.
If you’re a woman over 40 and want to know exactly how you can lose weight and keep it off using a behavioral approach,…
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1. Wing RR & Phelan S. Long-term weight loss maintenance. Am J Clinical Nutr 2005; 82, 222S-225S.