5 Weight-Loss Tweaks That Actually Work, According to Dietitians
Can't lose the weight for good? You might need to check your self-talk as much as you check your fitness tracker.
If you feel like you've tried all the diets and still can't lose weight, it may be time to take the focus off the food and on to something a little less tangible—your thoughts. This may sound a little "woo woo," but stick with us. Have you ever felt guilty for eating something? Do you struggle from being "all or nothing" with food and exercise? Ever told yourself: "Screw it, I'll start over Monday?" If so, even though you may not be on a diet, you're still stuck in a dieting mentality. And as long as you're in a dieting mentality, it will be tough to lose the weight for good. Why? Because our thoughts influence our feelings, actions and behaviors.
It's time to reframe the sabotaging self-talk and make these five mental shifts to lose the weight for good. Trust us, it works.
Related: What Is Intuitive Eating?
5 Weight-Loss Tips That Actually Work
1. Ditch quick fixes and embrace the long game.
If you can't keep eating a certain way forever, you won't see the results forever. Instead of making drastic changes that lead to drastic results, think about small changes you can make to your diet, exercise, stress or sleep that you can keep up with week after week, month after month and year after year. Make half your plate vegetables at most meals, eat every 3-4 hours, walk 10,000 steps per day or strength train two times per week. Just don't tackle it all at once.
Ashley Larsen, R.D.N., registered dietitian at Ashley Larsen Nutrition, who works with clients who feel frustrated and defeated that they haven't been able to stick to a diet plan before, recommends reframing thoughts like, "I have no willpower, diets suck all the fun out of life and I just can't stick to it" to "Getting healthy takes skill power, not willpower. If I tune into my body and plan ahead, I can be successful."
2. Stop saying: "Screw it, I'll start over Monday."
Ever had an emotional eating binge on a Friday night and then told yourself the weekend is ruined and you'll start over Monday? This is the exact self-sabotaging talk that keeps people in a vicious cycle of restricting and then overeating.
Instead of saying, "I shouldn't have eaten that," tell yourself, "I chose to eat that and it was delicious so I won't feel guilty about it. I know one meal won't make or break my weight-loss efforts."
Rachel Paul, Ph.D., R.D., registered dietitian at the College Nutritionist, gives her clients "Helpful Thought Switches" for reframing negative thoughts. Instead of saying, "Screw it, I'll start over Monday or in the New Year," Paul recommends telling yourself, "I will be happier now if I make choices I'll be proud of now," or "Overeating doesn't actually feel good" or "I choose myself, right now."
Write down these positive reframes so you can refer to them when you're feeling defeated. And remember you don't have to wait until Monday to "start over." Every meal is a new chance to make a small change—and those small changes add up over time.
3. Get out of the all-or-nothing mentality.
The "starting over Monday" mindset is a result of being in an all-or-nothing mentality. You're either on or off a diet, doing a program or not doing a program, tracking your food and being "good" or not tracking and eating whatever you want. This leads to extremes in eating and emotions, not balance.
Paul says, "Don't make it a big deal if you go over calories—we make it a big deal, by making it a big deal." Instead, remind yourself, "It's just one day. If I go over my calories, it's not a big deal at all." Think about weekly averages instead.
Focus on the slow and steady approach of changing habits one at a time to help you ditch the all or nothing mentality. And embrace that it's a lifestyle change, not a diet. When you're on a diet, you're waiting for it to be over, but remember that you have to keep eating like this for life to maintain the results for life.
4. Stop seeing foods as "good" or "bad."
If you feel guilty when eating certain things—like carbs or sweets—then you're seeing foods as "good" or "bad," and it's holding you back from lasting weight loss. While some foods are better for our health than others, you don't have to give up any food or food group for successful weight loss. And, in fact, the more "bad" you see certain foods, the more it backfires, usually via overeating once it's around.
Embrace an 80/20 approach where 80% of the time you aim to fill half your plate with vegetables, a quarter with whole grains and a quarter with protein, along with some healthy fat. And 20% of the time have some chips or brownies; enjoy them mindfully; don't feel guilty and move on. Don't save up all your indulgences for the weekend either. Have a glass of wine on a Wednesday and some pizza on a Monday. This will make your life more balanced and less "good all week, binge all weekend."
5. Remind yourself the scale is only one way to measure progress.
It's easy to become fixated on the number on the scale, but the scale isn't a measurement of fat. As Paul tells her clients, "Fat loss is late to the party." In other words, keep going!
Larsen helps her clients reframe the thought of: "I'm frustrated that the scale is not moving, maybe I need to cut out carbs" to "The scale may have not moved yet, but I'm feeling better and have more energy with choosing healthier foods. I know that restricting my food will only backfire later. If I keep up with my healthy choices, eventually the weight will come off."
The number on the scale represents everything in the body, including water, blood, muscle, bone, organs and fat. It's normal for weight to fluctuate 3-4 pounds throughout the week, and even day. Instead of obsessing over the number, think about moving the range down instead. For example, if you weigh 157-160 pounds, you may shift to 155-157 pounds, 153-155 pounds and so on.
Also, zoom out and think about your weight trend over 3 to 6 months. Even though week to week it's going up and down, over several months, is it trending down? If not, consider working with a dietitian who can help you stay accountable and make sure you're making the proper changes to your diet and exercise.
Weighing once a week instead of every day can keep you from going crazy. In addition, come up with a list of 3 to 5 ways you can track progress along with the scale. For example, measurements, progress photos, how much weight you can lift, energy, stress level and/or quality of sleep.
Finally, keep in mind that the best weight for you might be a different number than what you originally had in mind. If you have to restrict your food or over-exercise to maintain your weight, it may be time to come to terms with a different number on the scale that allows you to continue your healthy habits and live your best life.
The Bottom Line
If you can't seem to lose the weight for good, check your self-talk. Work on reframing the negative thoughts that hold you back and remember slow and steady wins the race (of keeping off the weight you lost!). "When it comes to weight loss, it's important to focus on what we can control," says Larsen. "We may not be able to control the number on the scale, other people's support (or lack thereof) or even our schedules to some degree. However, we can control the choices we make, how we plan for our day, and the thoughts we have that can either encourage or discourage us on our journey. The more we focus on what we can control, the more positive actions we will take." We couldn't agree more.