1. Set your goals – and write them down
"Lose some weight" and "get skinnier" aren't smart goals – they're vague ideas that are unlikely to get you what you want. Instead, figure out what you really want to achieve. Is it a certain number of pounds? To fit that "skinny" pair of jeans that's been hanging in your closet for the past five years? Or maybe weight loss is just a side-effect of your health goals: to be fit enough to run after your kids without getting winded, or to clean up your diet to prevent or treat diseases such as diabetes.
Whether your goals are small or large depends on the kind of person you are – do you function best working toward grand plans or do you prefer to be able to check things off weekly? Either way, choose your goals, write them down – a note on the fridge or a secret file on your computer, it's up to you – and commit to achieving them.
2. Find your problem areas
In order to lose weight, you have to figure out what made you gain it in the first place. Are you an evening snacker? Do you find the lunchroom doughnuts at work irresistible? Or is the walk across your house the most exercise you get in a day?
Maybe the answers are obvious. If not, consider keeping a food and exercise journal for a week to help you analyze your patterns of behaviour. Make sure to note what you eat and when, as well as every bit of exercise you get, and be brutally honest – that grocery-store cookie sample really does count. Then decide on where you can make changes.
Page 1 of 33. Have a plan – and write it down too
Don't force your poor memory to keep track of everything you're supposed to be doing. Instead, come up with a plan to reach your weight-loss goals, put it on paper (real or virtual), and then follow it, tailoring when necessary.
Your plan should be based on your personal problem areas, not on what the latest fad diet says will work. If you always eat in front of the TV (and you wouldn't be the only one), find a solution – even if it means turning it off and reading a magazine instead. If you always mean to exercise right after work but end up going straight home instead, move your workout time. It may mean sitting down and thinking for a couple of hours, but you'll come up with a food and exercise plan that will set you up for success, not for failure. (Click here for a downloadable plan that will help you set small, realistic weekly goals.)
4. Enlist support
Never underestimate the lemming factor – we all like to do what our friends and family are doing. In fact, one study published in the New England Journal of Medicine in 2007 shows that you're more likely to be obese if the people in your social network are, too. So don't try to go it alone. Invite friends and family members to live healthier with you. Find exercise partners (or even join a team) or start a healthy-cooking potluck group. If you prefer to keep your goals private, online forums are another great way to connect with other people.
5. Avoid quick fixes
Aside from the product testimonials, have you ever heard of someone who's lost a lot of weight fast from pills, powders or "secret plans" – and kept it off? Not only are there no magic diet tricks, diets themselves – even if they work in the short term – are a poor way to reach your long-term goals. Think about it: if your "normal" lifestyle made you gain 20 pounds over a couple of years, and your "diet" helped you lose those 20 pounds, what's going to stop you from gaining them back once you return to "normal"?
The only solution if you want to reach your weight-loss goals and maintain them is to change your concept of what's normal. Be realistic, be practical and know that by making healthy changes in your life, you'll live it in greater health and for longer.
Page 2 of 36. Make it fun
Yes, maybe there's someone out there who enjoys 45 minutes on the treadmill in the morning followed by a day of boring, flavourless food, but most of us would rather die young than live like that every day. Erase from your mind the idea that losing weight, and keeping it off, has to mean a life of deprivation. While you're at it, erase the idea that you a) hate vegetables, b) hate fruit or c) hate exercise.
It's important to maintain an open mind and try whatever comes your way. If you really do hate a) broccoli, b) bananas and c) running, then by all means, avoid them. Instead, when it comes to healthy living, do activities that are fun and eat food that's enjoyable.
Just because Great-Aunt Millie's overboiled carrots made you gag doesn't mean you won't love carrots prepared in another way. Experiment with new, healthier ways to cook familiar foods, and while you're at it, experiment with new foods and cuisines as well. And if you don't think you're much of a cook, then maybe now's the time to learn how.
The same goes for exercise – if you've always harboured a secret desire to take up karate, there's never a better time than now to start. If you're afraid of taking a class alone and "looking dumb," invite a friend who's also a beginner – looking dumb together just makes the activity that much more fun.
8. Go with what works for you, and ditch what doesn't
Even if your best friend swears by eating five small meals a day or exercising at 6 am, that doesn't mean it will work for you. Give new habits a chance to sink in, but if you're still suffering after a couple weeks of trying, then it's time to try a new approach. Tailor your personal plan to what works for your personality and lifestyle, and adjust it as you need to – after all, there's a very big difference between 6 am in January and 6 am in June.
9. Set new goals
Once you've reached the goals you set in step 1, that doesn't mean it's time to slack off. Setting new goals will help you stay motivated with your healthy lifestyle and give you something to look forward to. Find something you can work toward, such as running a 10K, eating greens daily or going to the park every evening to play tag with your kids, and aim for it. Your body will thank you.
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