Does this sound familiar?
“This year, I’m going to lose weight!”
“Ugh, swim suit season is around the corner. Again.”
“My new year’s resolution is to go to the gym every day.”
The new year feels like a new start for many of us. We emerge from the fog of last year with a renewed sense of commitment, feeling ready to make changes that are oftentimes centered around improving our health. If you’re like many people, you may start off strong, only to find that the resolve wears off within a few weeks. Schedules get hectic, life gets in the way, and coming down from the sugar high feels a lot worse than expected.
Struggling with weight management has become so commonplace that many of us don’t realize the serious effects it can have on our overall health, and even our day-to-day functioning; not to mention our future, since those extra pounds can set us up for the development of serious chronic conditions like diabetes or sleep apnea. Many people may feel like it’s time to change eating and activity habits, but find themselves repeatedly falling short of their goals. Once discouragement sets in, the goals can easily get lost in the shuffle, and the weight stays on or even continues to creep up.
If all of this hits close to home, you are definitely not alone. Here are five tips for setting and reaching your weight loss goals (or should we call them health goals?) this year:
- Set goals that are realistic and implemented gradually.
An ambitious goal is great, and helps guide your smaller goals; but your day-to-day focus should be on whether you are achieving your goal incrementally. For example: let’s say you want to lose 50 pounds, which can have seriously positive effects on your health. Know that this effort will not happen overnight. Depending on your starting point and current abilities, you are likely doing very well if you can lose 50 pounds over the course of the year. Your focus should be on losing one pound at a time, and the efforts you need to make in order to achieve that. Even better, focus less on the weight, and more on the behaviors that will make the weight melt away. For example, focus on how many minutes of exercise you achieve in one week; meeting your “steps” goal; or remembering to track your food/water intake every day.
- Reinforce your efforts.
One great way to make behavioral changes is to put something less desirable in front of something that you want. It’s why we feed toddlers peas and carrots before cookies. It’s tempting to use food as a reward – it’s easy to get, and activates the reward center of the brain, temporarily giving us a feeling of happiness. But with a weight loss and health effort underway, you will need to explore other ways of reinforcing yourself. Oftentimes, exercise can become self-reinforcing because it releases endorphins, but this is not always the case at first. Alternative rewards could include purchasing a new digital song to add to the end of your playlist (bonus – it keeps you exercising longer too!); or, perhaps a day off from work to do something relaxing, or allowing yourself time to take a nap.
- Adopt a flexible attitude.
Incorporating major changes into your life, like exercise and healthy eating habits, takes time and effort. It can be tempting to adopt an all-or-nothing attitude, such as feeling like the whole diet is “blown” if you eat something you shouldn’t one day. When it feels hopeless or useless, we are more likely to give up. Know that you will have good days and difficult days, and every day, and every moment, is a new chance to commit and start again.
- Get some support.
People who exercise and change eating habits with someone else are much more likely to succeed. Doing this with a friend or family member is ideal; but there are even online sources of support, or free community groups to help you feel connected and energized in your efforts. There are some great fitness apps as well, such as MyFitnessPal, which are free and can help out a lot.
- Know when you need some help.
If you find yourself feeling discouraged or stuck, or you aren’t able to make changes the way you like, consider setting up an appointment with a health psychologist. For many people, it’s a matter of problem-solving and making it through some rough patches. Health psychologists usually focus on short-term behavioral treatments, aimed at getting you “unstuck” and on your way. Many insurance companies cover the service as well, making it a sound investment. (For more on this topic, see the article, “What is a Health Psychologist?”)
Knowing that you want to live a healthier life and take care of your body is an important first step, and it’s a first step of many that need to happen in order to arrive at your goal. You can set yourself up for success by fine-tuning your approach in these small ways. If you find yourself wanting or needing help to make it happen, call to schedule an appointment today!