Most people think of weight loss as a formula: Burn more calories than you take in. However, there are other factors that also play into it—some of which may be preventing you from reaching all of your weight loss goals. Gary Foster, Ph.D., Chief Scientific Officer at WW, and author of The Shift: 7 Powerful Mindset Changes for Lasting Weight Loss reveals to Eat This, Not That that many of the fundamentals of losing weight have nothing to do with food or exercise. Read on for Dr. Foster’s tips for losing weight—and to ensure your health and the health of others, don’t miss these Sure Signs You Have “Long” COVID and May Not Even Know It.
People think being tough on themselves is helpful: the tougher the better. However, Dr. Foster points out that self-compassion always wins over self-criticism. “Being hard on yourself leads to more anxiety, less confidence and feeling less motivated,” he says. Practicing self-compassion has many wellness benefits. “For instance, it can help you better maintain a healthy diet, take care of your health (e.g., eat well, be active) even when you’re ill or stressed, and feel more motivated to be active for positive, internal reasons (e.g., it’s fun, it makes you feel good) rather than feelings of guilt or external pressure. You are your most important ally.”
Dr. Foster warns against buying into societal belief that your weight or shape is an indicator of your value. “Your worth cannot be measured on the scale,” he says. Additionally, many people believe that the more critical they are of their bodies, the better they’ll do on a weight loss journey. But that’s not the case. “Negative body image stops you from engaging in health-promoting behaviors and activities,” he points out. To help develop a more positive body image, he suggests celebrating all the things your body does. “Placing value in your body’s utility rather than its appearance will help you not only be less critical about your physical self, but also less fixated on weight and shape as the sole measures of health and well-being. For example, instead of saying my arms or legs are too this, or too that, focus on what your arms can do for you, such as hugging your kids or loved ones, or what your legs can do for you, like helping you climb stairs and move throughout the day.”
You don’t have to go on the weight loss journey alone. “Having a community of like-minded allies is a key component to helping you to reach your health and wellness goals,” notes Dr. Foster. “They can be a source of inspiration and a sounding board for when you do face setbacks.” He notes that there are multiple studies finding that those with a social support system are more likely to engage in healthy eating and physical activity behaviors, less likely to regain weight or turn back to unhealthy eating or physical activity behaviors, and more likely to lose weight than those that go it alone.
Goal setting is key, and the more specific, the more likely you are to achieve it, Dr. Foster reveals. “Think about the what, when and where. Deciding ‘I’ll walk more this week’ won’t be as effective as a specific plan like, ‘I’ll walk on Monday, Wednesday and Thursday from 5:30-6:00 pm at the park,'” he explains. Pick goals that are reasonable rather than dramatic or draconian. “So instead of ‘I will never have dessert,’ commit to something more reasonable like, ‘I will limit dessert to 1 night each week.’ Small, realistic changes lead to sustainable results over time.”
When the actions we take are rewarding or satisfying, we’re more likely to keep doing them, Dr. Foster notes, citing research. In other words, the actions are reinforcing. “By making activity more reinforcing, we can start to be more active —and make it a habit.” When you can’t find an activity you enjoy, making the experience of being active enjoyable can help you repeat it. “There are many ways you can make the experience more enjoyable. For example, enlisting a family member or friend to do it at the same time. Or, saving something you want to do for a time when you are being active, only watching your favorite show when you’re on the treadmill, only listening to the new music you downloaded or your favorite podcast when you’re walking.”
Setbacks to not equate to failure. “It is not about IF you have a setback, it’s about WHEN you have a setback and HOW you respond to it,” Dr. Foster explains. There are two keys to effectively managing setbacks. The first? Recover quickly. “Just because you did something in the afternoon that goes against your initial goal, doesn’t mean you have to throw the rest of the day away. For example: if you ate more than you wanted to at lunch, you can get back on track at dinner, you don’t have to wait until the next day or ‘I’ll get back on track on Monday.’ One slip (no matter how big you think it is) can’t derail your journey. Get back to your regular routine as soon as you can and put the setback in your rear-view mirror.” Also, learn from your setbacks. “Think about ‘how’ it happened and what you can learn from the experience,” he urges. “Avoid asking ‘why’ it happened since it usually leads to self-critical thoughts that are inaccurate and not actionable (ex: I have no willpower). Identify what got in the way and how you can try something differently next time.”
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By recognizing your eating habits, you can change your environment to make it easier to manage, notes Dr. Foster. “For instance, if you work at home, try to separate your eating area from your working area, or put food away from your pantry, to avoid mindless eating. Research shows that people who consistently behave in ‘healthy’ ways do so by relying on habits—skills—not willpower. That’s because they don’t spend lots of time deciding whether or not to make a healthy choice, or struggling with urges that can pull them off track. They’ve set up their environments in this intentional way or chose such environments to help set them up for success.” And now that you’ve got a great foundation, don’t miss these additional 19 Weight Loss Foods That Really Work.