To lose weight — and keep it off — don’t go on a diet. Why? Because “going on a diet” creates the false mindset that weight loss is a time-limited journey. Although we may very well lose weight in the short term when we deprive ourselves our favorite foods and drinks, exercise like a fiend, and go to bed with a stomach protesting in hunger, how long can that last? And… even if all that deprivation and self-torture did continue, would the end result be worth it?
All too often, “being on a diet” creates a frustrating cycle of hunger and guilt. When people “fall off” whatever regimen they’re on, a slew of self-destructive thoughts and behaviors can ensue: “I’ve blown it anyway; I might as well polish off the whole bag of cookies now.”
Then what happens? Sometimes a dieter will wake up the next day with a whole new resolve to be “perfect,” but then ends up “blowing it again,” which can lead to even more binging. Other times, a person may throw in the towel completely, telling himself that he has no discipline — so why even try?
So, what does work?
First of all, take a look at why you want to lose weight.
Is it for health reasons? To feel more comfortable in your own body? Or… is it because you’re trying to emulate the unrealistic standards of the “beauty” industry? Are you already at a healthy weight and feel as if you’d increase your self-esteem if you did, indeed, become model-thin? Asking yourself these questions — and answering them honestly — may help you to make better decisions regarding ongoing health choices.
It’s important to note that when there’s too much focus placed on what the scale says, self-esteem can actually go down — and when the same life problems pop up that one had to struggle with before hitting that “perfect weight,” unhealthy eating patterns are likely to emerge again.
Second, watch your self talk.
Once you’re clear on the why of losing weight, then you can focus on realistic and positive self-talk. Remind yourself that you’re not going on a diet and then going off. Rather, you’re choosing to go on an all-around lifestyle that focuses on healthy choices — while being able to have a treat here and there. So when you decide to have that piece of birthday cake at your friend’s party, enjoy a plate of nachos with some friends after work, munch on the salty goodness of popcorn while watching your favorite T.V. show, you can tell yourself that you haven’t “blown” your weight loss efforts (or maintenance) for the week. No longer do you have to label foods into “good” or “bad” categories, which can set you up for an all-or-nothing mindset, and, thus, the negative self-talk of “I’ll never be able to stay on a diet, so I might as well go for it.” Instead, you can tell yourself: “Since I’ve been eating mostly healthy foods and walking almost every day this week, this one piece of cake won’t hurt.” After all, we do live in a world full of delectable food, a pleasure that isn’t emotionally healthy to always deny.
Third, remember to keep both an emotional and physical balance.
Remind yourself that you are not your weight. No matter where you are on your weight loss journey, maintenance, or acceptance, remind yourself of all of your positive attributes (you’re a hard worker, great friend, empathetic parent, good cook — the list can go on and on). Also, it’s a good idea to keep physically balanced as well. Over exercising often leads to burnout — and injury. So, keep it realistic and steady: try to exercise 20 to 40 minutes almost every day, whether that means a power walk before work, a yoga class during your lunch break — or my favorite — dancing along to a YouTube video at home. Losing weight with more of a maintenance mindset may not result, of course, in the speedy weight loss that some strict, short-term diets may provide. However, you won’t be near as likely to gain it all back — plus you’ll have way more fun along the way and may just have a better disposition for it!