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Nutrition and Weight Control Special Report

Changing Behavior to Lose Weight

An ability to alter lifelong attitudes toward diet and exercise may ultimately be the key to successful weight management: You must be motivated enough to change habits not for a few weeks or months, but for a lifetime. The importance of this resolve cannot be underestimated.

The desire to lose weight must come from within. A person who wants to shed 20 lbs. to please a spouse is not likely to be as motivated, or as successful, as someone whose goal is to improve health or increase self-esteem. Choosing the right time to start a weight-loss program is also important. People under stress or pressure may not be able to devote the considerable attention and effort required to make lifestyle changes that lead to weight loss.

Culled from medical research, the following weight-loss guidelines incorporate strategies employed by people who have lost weight and kept it off. Use them in constructing a weight-loss program on your own or as an adjunct to medical or surgical treatments.

Weight-Loss Strategy #1. Set realistic goals. Remember that weight tables give estimates of ideal weights; you can probably be healthy at weights above “ideal” if you have a nutritious diet and exercise. Instead of attempting to lose a specific number of pounds, make it your goal to adopt healthier eating and exercise habits.

Weight-Loss Strategy #2. Seek support from family and friends. People who receive social support are more successful in changing their behaviors. Ask family and friends for help, whether this means keeping high-fat foods out of the house or relieving you of some chores so that you have time to exercise. You may be more motivated to exercise if you work out with a friend or family member.

Weight-Loss Strategy #3. Make changes gradually. Trying to make many changes quickly can leave you feeling overwhelmed and frustrated. Instead, ease into exercise; do not overdo it. Incorporate low-fat eating in stages. For example, if you typically drink whole milk, switch to reduced-fat (2%) milk, then to low-fat (1%), and then to fat-free milk.

Weight-Loss Strategy #4. Eat slowly. Many people consume more calories than needed to satisfy their hunger because they eat too quickly. Since it takes about 20 minutes for the brain to recognize that the stomach is full, slowing down helps you feel satisfied on less food.

Weight-Loss Strategy #5. Eat three meals a day, plus snacks. Skipping meals is counterproductive, as is severely reducing food intake, since such strict changes are impossible to maintain and are ultimately unhealthy. In addition, eating the bulk of your calories at one sitting may impair metabolism. You will be more successful in the long run if you allow yourself to eat when you are hungry, eat enough nutritious low-fat food to satisfy that hunger, and spread your calorie intake over the course of the day.

Weight-Loss Strategy #6. Plan for exercise. Choose activities that are convenient and enjoyable for you to do on a regular basis, and then treat exercise like any other appointment -- set a time and jot it down in your date book.

Weight-Loss Strategy #7. Record your progress. Start a food diary and exercise log to keep track of your accomplishments. Keeping such detailed diaries may seem cumbersome, but they can help you stay motivated, and reviewing the entries can reveal any problem areas.

Weight-Loss Strategy #8. Evaluate your relationship to food. Behavioral and emotional cues frequently trigger an inappropriate desire to eat. The most common cues are habit, stress, boredom, sadness, anxiety, loneliness, and the use of food as a reward. Many people also relate food to love or care and derive comfort from it.

Weight-Loss Strategy #9. Recall your accomplishments. Over your lifetime you have probably been successful in tackling many difficult tasks -- quitting smoking, learning a new skill, or advancing in the workplace, for example. Reminding yourself of past achievements can help you feel more confident about making the changes that will lead to weight loss.

Weight-Loss Strategy #10. Don’t try to be perfect. While losing weight requires significant changes in eating and exercise habits, not every high-calorie food must be banished forever, and you need not exercise vigorously every day.

Posted in Nutrition and Weight Control on March 18, 2009

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