How's that diet going? It's easy to get discouraged if you don't reach your goals when you think you should. So maybe it's time to readjust your goals.
“If we set lofty weight loss goals, like 10, 20 or 30-plus pounds, and we don’t make progress quickly enough, it’s too easy to get distracted and have our emotions convince us that the goal is not achievable,” said Lauren Whitt, director of University of Alabama Birmingham's (UAB) Employee Wellness.
Whitt and other fitness expects believe that breaking down goals into smaller, more manageable short-term targets, like losing one to two pounds per week, can lead to better chances of success.
“Once those first one or two pounds are lost, you can celebrate,” Whitt added. “Then the next mini-goal can become the focus.”
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has also found benefit from gradual weight loss. It's especially helpful, the agency says, when it comes to maintaining your new weight.
Here's what dieters are up against. To lose one pound you need to burn or reduce 3,500 calories. For most people, walking briskly for one hour will burn about 300 calories, less than 10 percent of that. CDC recommends reducing caloric intake by 500 to 1,000 calories per day.
Going on a crash diet – reducing consumption far below that amount – can yield near-instant results. But it often results in what is known as “yo-yo dieting.” Your weight goes down and comes right back up.
Don't mess with your metabolism
By restricting so many daily calories, you are resetting your body's metabolism. Once you start eating normally again, your body burns calories more slowly. Not a good thing.
There's an abundance of commercial weight loss programs available to consumers. Some appear to be more effective than others. Before selecting one, however, the National Institutes of Health (NIH) suggests you discuss it with your doctor.
Based on your doctor's advice, the agency suggests choosing a diet that emphasizes healthy eating that reduces calories but does not forbid specific foods or food groups. Supplement that healthy eating plan with daily exercise of some kind. And again, start small, especially if you have not been very active lately.
What would such a plan yield in the way of results? According to NIH, between a half pound and two pounds per week.
How realistic are your goals?
Another important factor is having a realistic assessment of your current weight and measure your goals against that. You're here, but you want to be here – how realistic, or healthy, is that?
To start, you'll need to know your body mass index (BMI), a number calculated on your weight and height and a measure of how much fat your body is carrying. CDC has a handy online calculator to help you quickly establish your BMI. It will also give you a target weight to shoot for.
If you can't lose, stop gaining
It may be that before you can start losing weight, you need to stop gaining. Whitt says that can be a realistic and helpful goal if you are finding yourself struggling to lose weight.
“Look at the number you are now, and tell yourself you will stay right there,” Whitt said.
Whitt said a team of people supporting you, whether in a contest or in an individual weight-loss plan, is crucial.
“They are the ones who can pick you up and encourage you on a day when it feels overwhelming,” Whitt said. “These same people will also challenge you to continue to push forward, helping to propel you to greatness and encourage your efforts.”
It's also important not to focus on failure. Remember, there are going to be setbacks along the way. When you get right down to it, getting to and maintaining a healthy weight is not a destination but a journey. It's something you should try to do for the rest of your life.