by Stan Spencer (@DrStanSpencer)
Most of us have dieted to lose weight, only to gain it back again within a few weeks or months. It isn’t that diets don’t work. It’s that they don’t last. Most diets are so unpleasant, inconvenient, boring, complex, or expensive that they are difficult to stick with for very long. When you quite the diet, the weight returns.
Think of excess fat as a collection of bad habits. Lose the habits and you will lose the fat. Each time you give up one of these bad habits (all other things being equal), you will lose fat until your body naturally settles at a lower weight. The key to making these habits stick and successfully keeping the weight off is to create your own weight loss plan—one custom made to fit your particular needs, abilities, and preferences. When designed correctly, this custom plan is your easiest path to a naturally thin lifestyle and body. While each person’s optimal plan is unique, every plan for permanent weight loss should have the following elements:
There is no single formula for natural, permanent weight loss. You don’t need to make yourself miserable. Eating yogurt can help you lose weight, but if you really don’t like yogurt, don’t include it in your plan. There are plenty of other things you can do to lose weight naturally.
Changes You Can Live With:
Include in your plan only those things you are willing to make lifelong habits. Giving up desserts for a month to lose weight may accomplish that goal, but the lost weight will return just as soon as you start eating desserts again. A better approach might be to limit yourself to one dessert a day, with more allowed on a few special days, and to make it a lifelong habit. You’ll lose less weight, but the weight you lose won’t be coming back. Permanent weight loss requires permanent changes in habits.
Easy Ways to Control Emotional Eating:
We often eat for emotional comfort, not because we are hungry. This is called emotional eating. The best way to prevent emotional eating is to learn how to regulate your emotions in other ways. These may include getting more social interaction or using techniques such as meditation or mindfulness to calm your emotions.
Quick Ways to Calm Cravings:
Cravings for junk food can crush even the strongest resolve and wreck your attempts to lose weight. The key is not to have more willpower, but to know how to make the cravings weaker so the willpower you already have does the job. For example, taking a brisk, short walk has been shown in scientific studies to reduce chocolate cravings.
Trying to lose weight by doing exercises you hate is a recipe for failure. Find ways to get exercise that you enjoy. Even better, exercise with someone else. You’ll stick with it longer. Do exercises that build muscle, not just burn calories directly. The new muscle will boost your metabolism so you burn more calories even while you’re sleeping.
Removing the Temptations at Home:
It’s usually easier to remove temptations than to resist them. Get rid of the junk food in your house. Try to avoid places that tempt you to overeat. Stock your refrigerator with weight loss foods such as fresh fruits and vegetables, yogurt, nuts, and whole grains.
Making the Easiest Changes in Habits First:
Your weight loss plan might include forming new habits such as meditating daily, eating more whole grains for breakfast, eating sweets only once a day, and exercising five days a week. Don’t try to develop all of your weight loss habits at once. Start with the ones that are easiest. After you have reaped the weight loss rewards of the easier habits you will have extra motivation to tackle habits that require more effort.
Not Expecting Quick or Immediate Results:
It’s better to lose twenty pounds over the course of a year than to lose twenty pounds in a month then gain it all back. Changing habits takes time. You probably gained your extra weight slowly, one habit at a time. Let yourself lose it the same way. After two or three weeks with each new habit, it will begin to feel natural, and you will be a naturally thinner person.
So make a new plan for the new year—one that gives you the best chance of long term success.
Find more help for making your New Year’s weight-loss resolution a success in The Diet Dropout’s Guide to Natural Weight Loss.
Stan Spencer, PhD, is a biological consultant, former research scientist, and author of The Diet Dropout’s Guide to Natural Weight Loss: Find Your Easiest Path to Naturally Thin (Fine Life Books, 2013). He lives in southern California and blogs on natural weight loss techniques at fatlossscience.org.