For any behavioral change, taking the first step is always the most difficult part. And that is certainly the case when it comes to changing eating habits to improve health or lose weight.
Setting realistic goals is probably the single most important factor is setting yourself up for success. Follow the acronym SMART to set attainable weight loss goals. A SMART goal is: specific, measurable, attainable, realistic and tangible.
Are six-pack abs or fitting into a dress from 20 years ago realistic? Or getting to a size 4 when you’ve always been a size 12 or more? When we set realistic goals, we give ourselves a chance to be successful. Specifically, when setting weight loss goals, setting and achieving goals in increments gives us a sense of accomplishment and encourages us to continue.
First, you should determine if you actually need to lose weight. Weight loss indicators include a body mass index (BMI) above 25, a waist circumference greater than 35 inches for women and 40 inches for men, your clothes getting uncomfortably tight or your weight is increasing and you’re short of breath with minimal physical exertion.
General recommendations include an initial weight loss goal of 5 to 10 percent of your body weight or losing 1 to 2 pounds per week.
A healthy approach to weight loss includes smarter food choices in combination with increased physical activity. Start small. Take stairs, park further away from store or work entrances, add a 15-minute walk every day, lift some light weights while watching television and then increase your activity from there.
Identify your most unhealthy food habit. Do you drink a liter of soda a day? Do you snack on candy bars every afternoon at work? Are most dinners from a drive-thru window? Start with one unhealthy food habit and find a healthy alternative. Once you’ve conquered one, move to the next.
Lastly, seek out guidance from reputable professionals like a registered dietitian. Just as get-rich-quick schemes don’t work, neither do most “diets” that promise rapid weight loss but don’t teach you to develop a healthy approach to eating and physical activity to last you a lifetime.
Registered dietitian Barb Walsh is the community nutrition educator in the Tevis Center for Wellness.