Tips to Help You Go the Distance

Small steps pave the road to long-term success

By Kathleen Zelman, MPH, LD, RD
WebMD Weight Loss Clinic - Expert Column

There's no time like the present to take stock of where you are and where you're going in your weight loss journey. You may have been losing weight for some time now, and need a little boost to help keep your motivation high.

Changing old habits into new and improved ones takes perseverance. Maybe it's time to create a new plan or pump up your fitness routine to keep the scale's needle moving downward. Or you may just need to get back into the habit of these tried-and-true weight loss strategies:

  • Weighing in weekly
  • Filling in your journal every day
  • Keeping a positive attitude
  • Getting a good night's sleep to keep those hunger hormones under control

Handling Hunger

The trick to losing weight and staying trim is knowing how to eat more for less (less calories, that is). We all know that hunger is the Achilles heel of the well-intentioned dieter. That gnawing feeling in your stomach can cause you to do things you swore you'd never do again -- such as devouring an entire box of donuts. The principles of hunger control are:

  • Planning ahead and anticipating hunger swings
  • Never going more than a few hours without a nutritious meal or snack
  • Making better selections so you can fill up on delicious foods that are nutritious and satisfying

To stay full longer, choose protein and high-fiber foods such as nuts, beans, low-fat dairy, fruits, veggies, soups, and whole grains.

Choose the Right Foods

In fact, most of your eating plan should be made up of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, low-fat dairy, beans, nuts, lean meats, and seafood. Of course, there is room for a few extras -- what the new U.S. Department of Agriculture dietary guidelines call "discretionary calories." But if you power up your plate with the good stuff first, you'll probably be less likely to reach for those "discretionary" foods.

Some successful members follow the "80-20 rule": they stick strictly to their eating plan 80% of the time and let loose (but don't go overboard!) the remaining 20%. This approach is very practical, and it's one that I use myself. I save my discretionary calories for special occasions or weekend indulgences, and stick with my eating plan and daily fitness activities through the week.

To help give you some ideas on how to fit in those seven to nine servings of fruits and vegetables recommended by the new dietary guidelines, I've developed sample 1,600- and 1,800-calorie menus. Evaluate your eating plan and see how it stacks up against these menus. It may be time to tweak your plan to include more fruit, veggies, or low-fat dairy.

Portion Creep

It's so easy to let those portions sizes creep up. Yet controlling portion sizes is one of the most effective strategies for weight management.

If your portions have started getting away from you, try:

  • Using smaller plates
  • Scooping out your portions using measuring cups
  • Staying away from situations that encourage overeating, like family-style or buffet restaurants

Don't forget to portion-control your snacks as well as your meals!

Buddy Up

Your long-term weight loss success depends on many factors, and studies have shown that support is one of the most important ones.

With a buddy or loved one cheering you on, you have someone to lean on when the going gets rough. So if you haven't done so already, connect with the WLC community -- or your own personal team.

Pump It Up

You've heard it before, but it's worth repeating. Getting regular physical activity pays you back in spades. As hard as it may be to get started, once you make the commitment to fit exercise into your daily routine, you'll start seeing and feeling the benefits. And the more you do and the harder you work, the better those benefits.

Start slowly, and gradually increase your stamina. Your ultimate goal should be the 60-90 minutes each day as recommended by the new dietary guidelines -- but remember that any exercise is much better than none.

Check out these practical tips from the American Medical Association Family Medical Guide, 4th Edition for fitting more movement into your day:

  • Get off the bus a stop or two early and walk the rest of the way to work.
  • Use the stairs instead of the elevator whenever you can.
  • Go for bike rides with your children, or pull them around the neighborhood in a wagon or sled.
  • Take family walks after dinner.
  • Do your own housecleaning, yard work, and gardening.
  • In bad weather, walk around inside the local shopping mall a few times.
  • On weekends, plan active outings such as hiking, skiing, or ice-skating instead of going to the movies. Or go dancing!
  • Ride a stationary bicycle or use hand weights as you watch TV.
  • Take the dog (or an elderly neighbor's dog) for a walk.
  • Wash and wax the car.
  • Park in a parking space farther from the store or office, and walk to the building.
  • Jump rope!

Inch by Inch

Don't lose your momentum -- keep making those small changes that slowly become part of your life.

Do an honest evaluation of your current eating and exercise routines, and make a list of ways you can improve them: switch from cream in your coffee to low-fat milk; take the stairs instead of the elevator; use light salad dressing or mustard instead of mayo; stop eating after dinner. Once you've successfully made one change, move on to another.

Over time, those small steps will pave the road to long-term success.

Originally published Mar. 03, 2005.
Medically updated Feb. 16, 2006.

©2006 WebMD Inc. All rights reserved.

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