Good news: According to a Harvard University School of Public Health study, losing as little as 5 to 10 percent of body weight offers meaningful health benefits to people who are obese, even if they never achieve their “ideal” weight and even if they only begin to lose weight later in life. Even small changes can mean big results.
The National Institutes of Health recommends the following tips to help lose weight and keep it off:
- Set the right goals. Instead of simply focusing on weight loss, think about dietary and physical activity changes that will lead to a long-term healthy weight. Your goals should be specific, do-able and forgiving (less than perfect). For example, “Walk 30 minutes, five days a week” is more specific, do-able and forgiving than “Walk five miles every day.”
- Set yourself up for success. Select a series of short-term goals that get you closer to your ultimate goal; for example, an initial reduction of fat intake from 40 percent of calories to 35 percent, and later to 30 percent. This kind of goal-shaping moves you ahead in small steps towards a big goal and keeps your overall effort invigorated.
- Reward successes (but not with food). Frequent small rewards, like a movie or an afternoon off work, are more effective than bigger rewards that require a long, difficult effort.
- Monitor your progress. Observe and record your calorie intake, servings of fruits and vegetables and amount of physical activity. You might also record outcomes of these behaviors, such as weight, sleep and general mood. Keeping track of these things usually moves you in the right direction and gives you and your healthcare provider data to look at together. Keep in mind that one day’s diet and exercise patterns won’t have a measurable effect on your weight the next day.
- Avoid a chain reaction. Pay attention to triggers that cause you to overeat, such as watching television; seeing treats on display by the coffee pot at work; or spending time with a certain friend. You might then try to change the situation by separating the association of eating from the cue (don’t eat in front of the TV); avoiding or eliminating the cue (leave the coffee room immediately after pouring coffee); or plan to meet your friend in a non-food setting. In general, food you can see and reach is often a cue for unplanned eating.
- Get the fullness message. Changing the way you eat can make it easier to eat less without feeling deprived. It takes 15 or more minutes for your brain to get the message that you’ve eaten, so eating slowly will help you feel satisfied. Eating lots of vegetables and fruits can help you feel fuller. Another strategy is to use small plates so moderate portions don’t look too small. Finally, changing your eating schedule – or setting one – can be helpful if you tend to skip or delay meals and overeat later.