Scott at the 2004 Boston Marathon

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 everything.

  1. 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.
  2. Customize your weight management program to fit your interests, personality, strengths, and weaknesses. Don't mindlessly follow this or any other lifestyle program.
  3. 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 foods." These negative thoughts will lead back to the old lifestyle that got you overweight in the first place.
  4. 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.
  5. 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 fruits, whole grains, and legumes. Wean yourself gradually away from the desire for fatty and sugary foods.
  6. 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.
  7. 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.
  8. 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.
  9. 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.
  10. 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.
  11. 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.
  12. Give yourself a break. You don't 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.
  13. 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.
  14. 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.
  15. 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.
  16. 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.
  17. 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.
  18. 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.
  19. 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!
  20. 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.
  21. 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.