Ever felt that everyone you know seems to be losing weight, but when you try their dieting tricks, you don't have the same success? You may not be doing anything wrong. It could be that those strategies just aren't a good match for you. Achieving your goals is all about finding the specific lifestyle fixes that work for you — not for your neighbor. Try these 13 tactics. You have nothing but weight to lose!
1. Start with Sneakers
Everyone knows it takes a combination of diet and exercise to lose body fat, but researchers now believe that it's best to tackle exercise first. "Once you invest time in a daily workout, you'll be motivated to make the more difficult dietary changes," says John Foreyt, PhD, director of the Nutrition Research Clinic at Baylor College of Medicine in Houston.
2. Make Ambitious Exercise Goals
Instead of saying "I will exercise three days a week," plan to exercise every day, even if you know you won't make it. Most of us accomplish only 60 percent of our weekly fitness goals, according to research from the College of Public Health and Health Professions at the University of Florida in Gainesville. So if you plan to work out for an hour every day, you'll probably make it to three or four workouts a week.
3. Find a Groove
Blocking out an hour or two for a sweaty workout takes dedication. Make the prospect a little more fun by buying an MP3 player. A recent study from Fairleigh Dickinson University in New Jersey found that women who listened to music while walking lost twice as much weight as those who didn't. The music-listeners walked more often each week and adhered to the full program, which also included weekly dieting and group meetings, says the study's lead researcher, Christopher A. Capuano, PhD.
4. Keep Your Diet Simple
Most successful losers are unadventurous when it comes to eating. "Too much variety actually stimulates your appetite," explains Hollie A. Raynor, PhD, RD, assistant professor of research at Brown Medical School in Providence. "If you're faced with a ton of options, you'll likely eat more just out of curiosity." (Or perhaps because the various choices are right there, tempting you.) Curtail your dietary diversity by preparing dinners at home instead of eating out. Stick to cooking a few tried-and-true recipes with a wide range of nutrients, and rotate them often.
5. Overestimate Your Calories
Most dieters under-report the calories they consume by a third and over-report the amount of exercise they do by half, says Foreyt. Keeping an accurate journal allows you to objectively analyze what you're eating and why. "But even more than that, keeping a record helps you to stay committed to your goal," says Daniel S. Kirschenbaum, PhD, director of the Center for Behavioral Medicine & Sport Psychology in Chicago and author of The Healthy Obsession Program. When you do guesstimate, round up by a few hundred calories.
6. Target Weekend Calories
A recent study found that on the weekends, Americans tend to eat about 82 calories more per day than on the weekdays, most of them from fat and alcohol. That doesn't sound like much, but after a year it adds up to more than two pounds. Weekends are usually a time to let it all go; but losing weight is a precise numbers game, so you can't really afford to loosen the reins too much. Skip the extra margarita and find other ways to relax.
7. Order First
When you're dining out, be the first to place your order. "You can be influenced by other people's food decisions," says Gerard J. Musante, PhD, a clinical psychologist and founder of Structure House, a residential weight-loss center in Durham, North Carolina. If everyone is ordering the burger and fries, for example, you'll be more apt to go with the flow. Set a healthier tone by ordering a salad and the grilled fish.
When you overindulge (and you will, because you're human), don't beat yourself up, but don't slough it off either. Instead, "consider what led you to overeat, and think of ways to ensure it doesn't happen again," says Kirschenbaum. Taking a problem-solving approach reinforces your sense of accountability, a key factor in losing weight. For example, if you scarfed down a tray of appetizers at the office party, was it because you skipped lunch? Were you nervous about an upcoming meeting? Once you think you've nailed the cause, formulate a plan for what you'll do differently the next time you encounter the same situation.
9. Weigh In
Daily weighing is a winning weight-loss strategy, according to research from the National Weight Control Registry, which tracks more than 4,000 people who have lost 30 pounds and kept them off for at least one year. "It's essential to know where you are and where you're going, up or down, pound-wise," says Raynor. Minor weight gain (up to five pounds) is acceptable if you're trying to maintain, because it could be traced to monthly water retention. "If you're actively trying to lose weight, gaining more than that over a week is a red flag that your calorie intake or exercise plan needs some tweaking," says Raynor.
10. Outwit Your Appetite
Eating six small meals a day to help control your appetite doesn't work for everybody. "Eating that often increases your exposure to food and ups the chances that you'll be tempted to overeat," says Musante. To control calories, he advises that you have just three meals a day and skip snacks. Musante also notes that the sight of food can stimulate your appetite, so keep it all out of view. "You should even wrap leftovers in aluminum foil, not plastic, so you won't be tempted when you open the fridge," he says.
11. Make a Connection
A good support system may help you make better diet and exercise decisions by boosting accountability, says Raynor. A recent study found that people who got support through face-to-face meetings with a counselor or through an Internet-based program regained less weight than participants who didn't use either.
12. Take Eight (Hours)
Shortchanging yourself on sleep lowers the level of the hormone leptin — this can increase your desire to eat and decrease your ability to burn calories. To lose or maintain weight, there's an ideal sleep zone of about eight hours a night, say researchers. According to the National Sleep Foundation, an estimated 71 percent of Americans get less than that on weekdays. If you have trouble getting to sleep, develop a ritual that helps you relax.
13. Limit Tempting High-Fat Foods
For a while, conventional wisdom urged the no-diet approach: Don't avoid tempting foods like chocolate ice cream, because avoidance only leads to cravings and results in bingeing. But in some studies, those who actually followed this method ran into trouble. "The reality is that most people trying to lose weight can't give themselves permission to eat problem foods," says Kirschenbaum. Temptation just creates difficulties.
Effective weight controllers limit their exposure to these foods by not bringing them into the house. They also eat other things that are lower in calories and fat but comparable in taste, he says. Choose replacements such as chocolate sorbet instead of saturated-fat-packed chocolate ice cream.
Originally published in FITNESS magazine, July 2006.