Creatures of Habit

Effective advice for lasting habit change

Lose Weight by Eating Better and Exercising More Often

It's not easy, but it works!

Years ago, in the early days of the Internet, a top-ten list of self-help books that would never sell was circulating. The top entry?

Lose Weight by Eating Less and Exercising More

It's funny because it's true (or, close enough).

Over the past year or so, I've lost 30 pounds. In the past two months or so, the weight loss became noticeable. People who hadn't seen me for a while made flattering comments. Very nice.

A lot of them asked me how I did it. Some of them were just curious, but some of them probably wanted to know how I did it so that they could take a shot at it. My answer was disheartening to anyone who is looking for a quick fix. I told them that I did two things:

1. I ate better.


2. I exercised more often.

And, by the way, I did those two things for almost a year before I managed to get all of the weight off. Not much fun, huh? But, as far as I know, it's the only way to do it.

Key insight: Losing weight, and keeping it off, results from leading a healthy lifestyle. So, if you're overweight and out of shape, what's a healthier lifestyle?

1. Eating Better

I'm not a dietitian and so I'm probably missing some subtleties, but it turns out that a well-balanced diet, with not too much fat or too many carbohydrates with a good helping of vegetables, fruit and protein, will help you lose weight. Eating lots of chips, french fries, cheese, fatty cuts of meat, and drinking lots of beer, doesn't help much. In fact, it's downright counterproductive. Those were my vices and those were the foods that kept my weight up. Virtually cutting them out helped immensely.

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2. Exercise More Often

The statistics are clear. People don't exercise enough. Not exercising equals being out of shape and overweight. I encourage you to consult with professionals (doctors, trainers) when you decide to get serious about exercise. Meanwhile, though, go for a walk. Do something. Just move your body.

That's how you get into shape and lose weight. It happens by doing the things that you haven't been doing and that you know that you should be doing. This is not rocket science.

It's just that it's easy to say, but hard to do. Look at my tips for increasing willpower to help you. Just because something is hard doesn't mean it's impossible and understanding how your willpower works, and how you can make it stronger, should help.

Also, if your eating habits aren't great and your exercise habits aren't great, I highly recommend changing one of your habits before moving on to the next habit. I picked on exercise first. I started going to the gym every weekday and once on the weekend. I didn't touch my eating habits. In fact, I even allowed myself some indulgences now and then. I needed that. I was working hard to get myself to the gym by 5:30 every morning. I couldn't count calories at the same time.

But, here's the thing: A little bit of weight came off and I started to crave healthier foods. My body needed me to give it the fuel necessary to build muscle and recover from a workout. Can't do that with french fries. I started to enjoy eating salads. My wife watched in amazement one day as I announced, "I'm a bit peckish. I think I'll slice up some cucumber."

Maybe you'll start with better eating habits. Sure, why not? My prediction: The increased energy that you will get from eating better will make you want to exercise. You might have trouble holding yourself back!

Take it easy, though, you can certainly exercise when you feel like it, but I do not recommend trying to get a new exercise habit at the same time. You would be spreading your self-control resources too thin and risk a 'relapse.'

So, there you have it. You can continue to search, in vain, for the miracle drug/program/magnet etc. that will help you take off weight with no effort, or you can realize that losing weight means getting in shape and getting in shape takes darned hard work.

You're up to the challenge.

Go for it!

For more writing by yours truly, visit me at My Bad Habits. I am also on Twitter.

Ian Newby-Clark is a psychologist at the University of Guelph who gives research-based advice for lasting habit change.

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