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Choosing a Weight Loss Strategy: The Basics

Every journey does NOT begin with a single step — at least not the physical act of moving forward. However, every journey does begin with a decision — a decision that today is the day that you move forward to pursue a weight loss goal.

The groundwork for that decision may have been laid long in advance, or only recently. You may have been encouraged to arrive at that decision, or reached that starting point independently. No matter the decision, no matter the circumstances, and no matter how decided your options seem, if you are choosing to head in a certain direction it is because you have made the decision to do so.

Many of us will feel at some point that we only have one option, when in truth we always have the option to make a different choice. It can be very powerful to recognize that no matter the path you travel down, the choice to do so was your own.

Are your choices helping to reach your weight loss goal?

A question that is always worth asking in making any decision is, “Does this path serve my goals?” Not everything you try will help you to be successful in decreasing the number on the scale, leading to frustration. Some paths to weight loss can lead to trouble in other aspects of health, and you want to be on the look-out for those pitfalls.

Once you make the decision to pursue weight loss, many other decisions may present themselves:

  • What are the first steps I should take?
  • Do I start with something small to get the ball rolling?
  • Do I start with something large and tackle the biggest challenge first?
  • Do I research potential options?
  • Do I meet with someone to help me determine what direction to go?

Common Strategies for Successful Weight Loss

If you have not pursued weight loss before, or even if you have, it can be very helpful to review the strategies that have helped others to lose weight — and keep it off. One long-standing program, the National Weight Control Registry (NWCR), attempts to identify weight loss strategies that are common among those that have lost weight without regaining it. The registry identifies the following strategies a majority of it's 10,000 participants have in common:

  1. Eating a low calorie diet, and more commonly, lower in fat
  2. Eating on a regular schedule, generally four to five times per day
  3. Eating breakfast consistently
  4. Exercising 60 to 90 minutes per day, or the equivalent of taking 11,000 to 12,000 steps per day
  5. Weighing at regular intervals (weekly, monthly, etc.)
  6. Watching television less than 10 hours per week
  7. Responding to any amount of weight regain by adjusting the plan of action

This isn't to say that any of these strategies will work for everyone, and certainly there are other strategies that you can use. Every single body is different, and responds to food and activity in different ways. The strategy that works for your wife, husband, neighbor, friend, doctor, or postal carrier may not work the same for you. Their strategies may be a good starting place, but ultimately the measure of how well they work for you is whether you lose weight.

What if a weight loss strategy fails?

If a strategy fails to produce your goal for weight loss, it doesn’t mean you failed, because you learned a little bit more about your body and what causes you to lose or not lose weight. Health and wellness are lifelong goals, and do not have an expiration date, so there is always time and room to improve. Achieving weight loss often takes multiple changes in strategy and many attempts for a variety of reasons. It can be discouraging when a chosen weight loss strategy does not produce the expected results, especially if it was a strategy that allowed someone else you know to lose weight.

How often have we heard statements like “I cut out regular soda and I lost 20 pounds!” or “I started drinking nutrition shakes every morning instead of eating a breakfast sandwich, and I went down three sizes!”? These examples are food-based strategies that result in a decrease in calorie intake. They can certainly be a part of the equation, but are not the only part.

When choosing a strategy, try to avoid over-simplifying. Try to make changes that will impact your health beyond just changing a number on a scale. That person who stopped drinking regular soda may have been drinking four large regular sodas per day and, by avoiding it, managed to decrease their daily calorie intake by over 1,000 calories per day. If someone who drinks only one small soda a day makes the same change to cut out soda, we would expect that their weight loss results are going to be different. Calorie intake simply wasn’t changed as much for the second person, even though there are still a variety of ways that their short- and long-term health may benefit. Weight loss plans that are the sum of several behavioral changes over an extended period of time are the kind that are not only going to be most effective but also will have the most positive impact on overall health.

Choosing a Weight Loss Strategy with Your Overall Health in Mind

If the goal is only to change the number on the scale as fast as possible, then the body and mind are more likely to break down. Whereas if the goal is to make choices that support long-term physical and mental health and bring weight down, then you are far more likely to sustain any changes you make. At Sauk Prairie Healthcare, our recommendation in choosing weight loss strategies is to do so with your overall health in mind. Choosing weight loss strategies that incorporate all aspects of health not only impacts the number on the scale, but also lowers the risk of cardiovascular disease, diabetes, cancer, kidney disease, and countless other chronic conditions.

Try to think about the things that help you to feel good. Think about the changes that will be easiest to make and will give you a boost of energy to take on those things that are more challenging about your weight loss strategy. For example, maybe you notice that you feel much better when you are consistently well-hydrated. Realizing that drinking enough water may be easier than exercising 30 minutes per day, you may start by aiming to meet your hydration goals for the day knowing that doing so is likely to help you to reduce total calorie intake. Or you read that those who average seven to nine hours of sleep per night have a greater likelihood of achieving weight loss goals, and you commit to improving your sleep habits. Both of these changes have positive benefits on your overall physical and mental wellness, long before and whether or not you lose weight.

Consider the impact that any change would make on other aspects of your life. If you are bending your life in the pursuit of weight loss, what is the point at which you break and become unable or unwilling to continue to try to lose weight and maintain weight loss? Sustainable changes that are made with improving your long-term health in mind are more likely to benefit you long into the future rather than a quick fix approach to weight loss.

Weight Loss Support at Sauk Prairie Healthcare

If you have questions about losing weight, please contact our Nutrition Counseling team. Our Registered Dietitian Nutritionists can help.