Therapy in Mind

Exploring ways to improve your life through practical behavioral therapy.

5 Most Powerful Weight Loss Tips

The real deal on weight management, sans the hocus pocus!

It's almost February, and you may have found it a bit hard to stick to your resolutions. Or maybe you've sworn off New Year's resolutions altogether so you won't have to feel bad about breaking them. In any case, you might need a little boost, reminder and/or new ideas on how to get on track to your weight loss goal. Here are my 5 most helpful tips. Ready?

1) Eat in a balanced, rational way. Forget about fads, diet pills, supplements, frozen foods, and artificial, unsustainable meal routines. Sure, there may be some rare exceptions, but in most cases, diets don't work. They may work for a short time, but if you eat in a distorted way and then return to old patterns, you are likely going to return to your previous body weight (and sometimes worse). What does help people to lose weight and maintain their progress is a sensible way to eat that is based on science. Vegetables, fruits, lean protein, whole grains, complex carbohydrates and low-fat dairy are great from nutritional and weight management perspectives. Mediterranean-based dietary habits (that you maintain) comprise one healthy, balanced and low-fat way to keep off the pounds (though traditional Mediterranean cuisine is not the only path). Portion size is also key - listen to your body's signals by eating meals when you are hungry and stopping when you are full.

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2) Log your food. Food diaries are not the easiest route to take, but for those who are serious about losing and maintaining weight loss, a food journal is one of the most powerful and successful tools at your disposal. When you don't write it down, you may forget what you ate, or you may even discount it. Denial is a tricky foe when it comes to the issue of weight loss. You also may need that information over a period of time to identify what it going right for you and what isn't in your eating habits. Writing down what you eat may be a bit of a pain, but it is important and more effective to keep your food in check by tracking it in undeniable, concrete, black and white.

3) Exercise 3 times a week. Moderate exercise that you find you feel better after doing is best and is most likely to be sustainable. Generally, a comfortably energetic aerobic workout for about 30 minutes, followed by 10 minutes of weight bearing exercises (again, suitable to your fitness level) and 5 minutes of calm stretching is all you really need. It will make you feel better and more inclined to repeat. Remind yourself before you go about how good you will feel (mentally, emotionally and physically) after you work out. Consulting with a physician for a physical exam and recommendations is prudent if you don't already exercise; for instance, you may be advised to start with shorter aerobic sessions initially, and build up over time.

4) Learn better ways of coping. So many people rely on food for comfort, or for fun, or for distraction. Food is inherently rewarding, and it is painful to deny oneself of what one desires. Also, we can easily feel deprived, overwhelmed, and even desperate when making changes, especially if we are talking about removing a coping strategy that helps us navigate through uncomfortable feelings. First, we need to remind ourselves to be compassionate and kind to ourselves during such a time. Then, we need to use alternative strategies for coping that work for us in order to off-set the removal of reliance on food to accomplish the task. Spend more time with friends, read, take up a hobby, go for walks, meditate, do some yoga...the list goes on. But find your substitute coping strategies and employ them when you feel yourself reaching for the snacks you don't need.

5) Get support. A support network, be it family members, friends, a therapist, support group, etc., can be very helpful in keeping you feeling more satisfied in life, and less likely to rely on food to assuage feelings of loneliness, anxiety, depression, anger or other negative emotions. Positive relationships are helpful in providing encouragement and revitalizing you when you feel your enthusiasm waning. You can also be a support to yourself, by writing positive messages of encouragement and keeping a journal of your progress. If you find that you are struggling with negative thoughts and feelings (which is actually quite common), there are effective ways to correct them by learning and using the methods of cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT). CBT has been proven to be successful in helping people to modify negative, distorted thoughts that can lead to a host of problematic feelings and behaviors, including addictions and overeating. Changing problematic thought patterns typically leads to positive changes in both your emotions and your behavior, and can clear your path to a healthier you.

By: Allison Conner, Psy.D.

Allison Conner, Psy.D., is the founder of Cognitive Therapy Associates.

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