Scott at the 2004 Boston
How To Lose and Keep Off Weight for a Lifetime
by S. Scott Zimmerman, Ph.D.
Copyright 2001-2004 by S. Scott Zimmerman
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How do you lose weight and keep it off? How do you avoid becoming part of the 97%
who revert back to their old weight and instead become part of the 3% who keep off
their weight? Here are some hints to get you going and keep you going with your
healthy lifestyle. As you read through these hints, pick those that you feel
apply to you and ignore the others; in other words, you don't have to do
- Make sure you're on a lifestyle program,
not just a temporary diet. Everyday, ask yourself, "Could I do this for
the rest of my life?" If you don't feel that you can carry out your
nutritional and exercise program for the rest of your life, change it.
Adjust your attitude and behavior as you go so that you stay happy and
positive and don't feel deprived.
- Customize your weight management program
to fit your interests, personality, strengths, and weaknesses. Don't
mindlessly follow this or any other lifestyle program.
- Keep a strictly positive attitude.
Never let negative thoughts enter your mind, like "I hate this
diet," "I don't enjoy exercise," "I'll never reach my target
weight," "Losing and maintaining weight is so hard," "I work so hard and see so
little progress," "I feel so deprived," "I am fat and
ugly," and "It's hard to live in a society that focuses so much on fatty
These negative thoughts will lead back to the old lifestyle that got you
overweight in the first place.
- Be happy with your life today. Most
successes in life have nothing to do with your weight or your body shape.
Even if you're fat, you can be a successful person. Don't fall prey to
the vicious cycle of (a) feeling unhappy or discouraged, (b) losing
will-power and self-discipline, (b) going off your diet and exercise
program, (c) gaining weight, and (d) feeling unhappy and discouraged. Break
the cycle by staying happy about life and about your body regardless of your
weight and appearance.
- Take great joy in eating light and eating right
day and night. Learn to love the "understuffed" feeling and
dislike the overstuffed feeling. Develop a love for vegetables, low-glycemic
whole grains, and legumes. Wean yourself gradually away from the desire for
fatty and sugary foods.
- Make physical fitness a hobby. Choose
an exercise that you can enjoy (but keep in mind that few exercises are fun
when you start out). Set a goal to run a 10K or marathon, to climb a
mountain or go on a backpacking trip, to go on a long bike trip, or to do
some other enjoyable physical activity. Start with little goals ("I will
run a 5K road race," or "I will go on a 5-mile hike") and work up to
more exotic goals ("I will run the Boston Marathon," or "I will hike a
12,000-foot mountain."). If you're inclined to do so, subscribe to a
health or fitness magazine or join a fitness or weight-control discussion
group on the Internet. Read good books on health, diet, aerobic exercise,
and weight training. Unless you make physical fitness an enjoyable pastime
and a lifetime pursuit, you risk slipping back into inactivity.
- Include most or all of the following in your weight-loss and
weight-control lifestyle: (a) low-calorie diet
(focused on low-sugar foods, low-glycemic foods (i.e., avoid white bread,
white potatoes, white rice, white pasta, fruit juices, and some fruits), low-saturated-fat foods, although moderate amounts of foods
high in omega-3 fatty acids and other unsaturated oils (e.g., olive and
canola oil) are good, with lots of quality fruits, vegetables,
and legumes); (b) aerobic (cardio) exercise
(working up to at least 20 minutes and preferably 40 minutes per day, at
least four days (but preferable six days) per week of walking, running, biking, hiking, swimming,
aerobic dancing, kick-boxing, or other similar exercise); (c) strength
training (weight lifting two or three days per week, but with at
least a day of rest between each exercise bout of a particular muscle group,
using proper form and working each major muscle group to temporary fatigue);
(c) flexibility (static stretching); and
(d) behavioral modification and stress
management (which involves attitude adjustments). Find out how to eat and
exercise properly by talking to experts and reading good books. Avoid fads
in exercise or diet.
- Set long-range (distal) goals for your
target weight, exercise level, strength, flexibility, sleep habits, eating
habits, and stress management. Make sure the distal goals are what you truly
want to achieve in life. As you set these goals, be specific and realistic
in terms of what you want to achieve and your target date for achievement.
- Set short-range (proximal) goals that
will lead you to your distal goals. Proximal goals should include daily,
weekly, and monthly goals. Monitor your proximal goals on a daily and weekly
basis. If you consistently meet your proximal goals, your distal goals will
take care of themselves.
- Be patient. Eat more slowly. Keep
telling yourself that your diet and exercise program are for a lifetime, so
you don't need to rush to lose weight. Never, ever criticize yourself for
overeating or for gaining weight, but rather stay patient and loving of
yourself. Everyone experiences relapses. Take your relapse as a learning
experience; determine the circumstances that lead to the relapse; and try to
avoid those circumstances in the future.
- Be realistic.
Don't try to lose too
much too fast, one to two pounds per week maximum. Don't think that you
can lose weight with perfect regularity, or that you can maintain a steady
weight day in and day out. That's not how the human body works.
Fluctuations in weight are unavoidable. Furthermore, few of us have the
perfect body build, even if we had the "perfect" weight, so don't
expect life to change dramatically after losing weight. You're still you.
- Give yourself a break. You
have to follow your program 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 52 weeks a year.
Remember: you'll enjoy long-term success if you stick with your diet and
exercise program only 90% of the time. The other 10% of the time you can do
whatever you want. (Be careful, however, that you don't send yourself the
wrong message by looking forward to the 10% after "depriving yourself"
during the 90%.) The fact is, you don't have to stick with your program
100% of the time; you don't have to be perfect. In other words, avoid the
all-or-none mentality ("If I slip up, I'm off my diet and exercise
program, I'm a failure, and I might as well give up.") For example, if
you go on vacation where you can't prepare your own low-fat meals, just do
the best you can with your nutrition and let it go at that.
- Make thorough and detailed written plans.
Plan your menus for the entire month. Plan ahead what and when you'll eat
each day. Plan what and when you'll exercise each day. Plan your aerobic
exercise and strength-training programs in detail, and plan each day and
week to carry out your plans. Write down your plans, put them on your
calendar, and keep a written record of how well you carry them out.
- If necessary, count fat,
protein, carbohydrate, and caloric intake,
completely and accurately. If you find that you're not losing or not
maintaining how you want, you might be kidding yourself about your caloric
intake. Write down everything you eat.
Make adjustments in your diet so you're not overeating.
- Remove temptations
and don't allow them in your home. Don't buy forbidden food. Buy food that you
like, but with high nutritional value and low in saturated fats and sugars.
- Fix delicious meals and snacks. Make
them flavorful and enjoyable. Use a wide varieties of foods and dishes.
Prepare in advance healthy treats (like sliced fruit or low-fat yogurt). Do
anything to avoid feeling deprived! You must keep your lifestyle enjoyable.
- Be creative in preparing, buying, and eating
low-saturate-fat, low-calorie meals. Buy recipe books of low-fat but
delicious food, and try a new recipe every couple weeks. When you go to a
restaurant, share an entre with someone else, or before you start to eat,
divide your meal in half, eat only one half, and take the other half home.
- Be willing to pay the price, in time and money,
to be slender and fit. Good food and exercise take time and
money. But they are excellent investments with certain positive returns. If
you don't think you have the time and money, you're probably kidding
yourself: Give up TV and other needless entertainment so you'll have time
to fix good meals and to exercise. Give up the new car so you'll have the
money for exercise equipment and for high-quality food. Be willing to leave
food on your plate. Be willing to pay for a big meal at a restaurant and not
eat all of it. Be willing to sacrifice to meet your goals.
- Remind yourself of the benefits and fun of being
slender. Besides the obvious health benefits, here are some fun
benefits: You can hike and play with your friends and family. You can fit
more comfortably into automobile and airplane seats. You feel better about
going to your class reunion or going anywhere in public and meeting new
people. You feel better about having your picture taken. You are strong and
healthy enough to take that trip to Europe and enjoy it to the fullest. You
have the energy, enthusiasm, and confidence to excel in all aspects of your
life. But don't wait until you're slender to do all these things. Start
living to the fullest now!
- Maintain (or seek) social support. Ask
your family and friends to support you--and not fight against you--in your
new lifestyle. Ask them help you keep unhealthy foods out of your home, to
prepare low-fat, high-nutrition foods, and to go to restaurants that have
low-fat, low-calorie dishes. Seek social support from exercise friends and
from Internet chat rooms and Web forums.
- Take care of your spiritual and emotional life.
Without spiritual and emotional strength, your weight loss is probably
doomed and would be meaningless even if you did get slender and fit. Learn
to handle stress with grace and calm. Read uplifting books and articles.
Pray often. Give service to your family, church, and community. Be confident
but stay humble. Be true and honest to yourself and to others.