Mind and Body: Setting realistic, healthy weight loss goals

When it comes to weight loss, there is no lack of fad diets promising fast results. But such diets limit your nutritional intake, can be unhealthy and tend to fail in the long run.

The key to achieving and maintaining a healthy weight isn’t about short-term dietary changes. It’s about a lifestyle that includes healthy eating, regular physical activity and balancing the number of calories you consume with the number of calories your body uses.

Staying in control of your weight contributes to good health now and as you age.

It’s natural for anyone trying to lose weight to want to lose it quickly. But evidence shows people who lose weight gradually and steadily (about one to two pounds per week) are more successful at keeping weight off.

Healthy weight loss isn’t just about a “diet” or “program.” It’s about an ongoing lifestyle that includes long-term changes in daily eating and exercise habits.

Once you have achieved a healthy weight, by relying on healthy eating and physical activity most days of the week (about 60 to 90 minutes at moderate intensity), you are more likely to be successful at keeping the weight off for long-term.

Losing weight is not easy, and it takes commitment. But if you’re ready to get started, the Centers for Disease Control has a step-by-step guide to help get you on the road to weight loss and better health.

Step 1: Make a commitment.

Making the decision to lose weight, change your lifestyle, and become healthier is a big step to take.

Start by making a commitment to yourself. Many people find it helpful to sign a written contract committing to the process. This contract may include things like the amount of weight you want to lose, the date you would like to lose the weight by, the dietary changes you will make to establish healthy eating habits, and a plan for getting regular physical activity.

Writing down the reasons why you want to lose weight can also help. It might be because you have a family history of heart disease, because you want to see your kids get married or because you want to feel better in your clothes.

Post these reasons where they serve as a daily reminder of why you want to make this change.

Step 2: Take stock of where you are.

Consider talking to your health care provider who can evaluate your height and weight and explore other weight-related risk factors you may have.

Ask for a follow-up appointment to monitor changes in your weight or any related health conditions.

Keep a “food diary” for a few days, in which you write down everything you eat. By doing this, you become more aware of what you are eating and when you are eating. This awareness can help you avoid mindless eating.

Next, examine your current lifestyle, identify things that might pose challenges to your weight loss efforts. For example, does your work or travel schedule make it difficult to get enough physical activity? Do you find yourself eating sugary foods because that’s what you buy for your kids? Do your coworkers frequently bring high-calorie items, such as donuts, to the workplace to share with everyone?

Think through things you can do to help overcome these challenges.

Finally, think about aspects of your lifestyle that can help you lose weight. For example, is there an area near your workplace where you and some coworkers can take a walk at lunchtime? Is there a place in your community, such as a YMCA, with exercise facilities for you and child care for your kids?

Step 3: Set realistic goals.

Set some short-term goals and reward your efforts along the way. If your long-term goal is to lose 40 pounds and to control your high blood pressure, some short-term eating and physical activity goals might be to start eating breakfast, taking a 15 minute walk in the evenings or having a salad or vegetable with supper.

Focus on two or three goals at a time. Great, effective goals are specific, realistic and forgiving (less than perfect).

For example, “Exercise More” is not a specific goal. But if you say, “I will walk for 15 minutes, three days a week for the first week,” you are setting a specific and realistic goal for the first week.

Remember, small changes every day can lead to big results in the long run.

Also remember realistic goals are achievable goals. By achieving your short-term goals day-by-day, you will feel good about your progress and be motivated to continue.

Setting unrealistic goals, such as losing 20 pounds in two weeks, can leave you feeling defeated and frustrated.

Being realistic also means expecting occasional setbacks.

Setbacks happen when you get away from your plan for whatever reason — maybe the holidays, longer work hours or another life change. When setbacks happen, get back on track as quickly as possible. Also take some time to think about what you would do differently if a similar situation happens, to prevent setbacks.

Keep in mind everyone is different. What works for someone else might not be right for you. Just because your neighbor lost weight by taking up running, doesn’t mean running is the best option for you.

Try a variety of activities like walking, swimming, tennis or group exercise classes to see what you enjoy most and can fit into your life. These activities will be easier to stick with over the long term.

Step 4: Identify resources for information and support.

Find family members or friends who will support your weight loss efforts.

Making lifestyle changes can feel easier when you have others you can talk to and rely on for support.

You might have coworkers or neighbors with similar goals, and together you can share healthy recipes and plan group exercise.

Joining a weight loss group or visiting a health care professional such as a registered dietitian can help.

Step 5: “Check in” with yourself to monitor progress.

Revisit the goals you set for yourself and evaluate your progress regularly. If you set a goal to walk each morning but are having trouble fitting it in before work, see if you can shift your work hours or if you can get your walk in at lunchtime or after work.

Evaluate which parts of your plan are working well and which ones need tweaking. Then rewrite your goals and plan accordingly.

If you are consistently achieving a particular goal, add a new goal to help you continue on your pathway to success.

Reward yourself for your successes. Recognize when you are meeting your goals and be proud of your progress.

Use non-food rewards, such as a bouquet of freshly-picked flowers, a sports outing with friends or a relaxing bath. Rewards help keep you motivated on the path to better health.

Clark County Health Department provides programs for the entire family, including Nutrition Therapy, WIC, HANDS, family planning, well-child care/immunizations and home health care. For more information on services, call 744-4482 or visit clarkhealthdept.org