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By Nathan Bailey, MA, LPC

Ask anyone what self-improvement they’d like to make and losing weight or increasing exercise is almost always at the top of the list. It’s not uncommon to have made multiple attempts to make these changes only to give up in frustration. Here’s 10 ways you can help create and sustain change in your eating and exercise habits:

1. Change your perspective on what you’re trying to accomplish

Trying to lose a significant amount of weight is likely a lengthy process. If we’re trying to make it to that point, it can feel overwhelming and impossible. Particularly, if we’ve made this attempt multiple times before only to stop in frustration. Sure the long-term goal is to lose weight, but the more immediate goal is to create small, incremental changes with eating and exercise.

2. Start slow

When change seems drastic, it’s harder to stick with it. If you’re trying to change a number of eating habits and you try to shift to something fairly extreme (no bread, no dairy, only bananas etc.) you might have some success for a short time but it’s unlikely you’ll be able to stick with it.
Try the opposite and start really slow. Make one small food related change a week. How small? So small, it’s almost unnoticeable (ex. drink a large glass of water and wait 10 minutes before eating your meal). String enough of these very small changes together over the course of several months and all of a sudden you have significant change that seems almost too easy to have achieved.

3. Consider limiting your time with the scale

The problem with regularly weighing yourself is that our body weight goes up and down for many reasons unrelated to your eating behaviors. There are different opinions on how/when to weigh yourself but at its core you don’t want the discouragement of the number not being what you think it should be (having made some changes). It could cause you to give up. I’m not suggesting you shouldn’t ever weigh yourself to check your progress, but the most important thing is sticking with the small changes you’ve made that will pay off in time. If standing on a scale is going to provide more frustration than encouragement in this area, it could really help to minimize this time (ex. once a month).

4. Only tackle today

Of course you’ve heard this before and it’s not rocket science. In this context, what it means is if you’ve made choices you regret yesterday, shift your focus from being disappointed and frustrated to what you can do differently today. Don’t get stuck. You’re not going to get it right 100% of the time, embrace this and strive for continuous improvement over the long-haul (progress not perfection).

5. Celebrate the victories

It’s important to look for and enjoy the small aspects of this change. If you have an overall goal of losing significant weight, it’s going to be really hard to wait for this outcome before you feel good about what you’ve done. Completion of long-term goals is incredibly rewarding but we need more regular encouragement to keep going. Give yourself time to feel good about what small, minor changes you got right. This is another benefit of taking it one day at a time.

6. Do the exercises you enjoy

We often take on new physical exercise based on what “they” tell us we’re supposed to do. Things like running and burpees tend to be on most lists. But what if you hate running? You might be able to force yourself to do it for a short-period of time but it’s unlikely you’re going to have an ah-ha moment where running becomes your new joy (of course nothing’s impossible…). It’s important to find the physical activity you actually enjoy. This will make it much easier to stick with it. You want to look forward to it when having your “do I exercise or not” moment. Initially it might seem like “less” of an exercise because it’s not as intense as the thing you dislike but virtually all physical activities can be made to be more challenging (in different ways) as you get more settled into the routine.

7. Don’t say no, say not right now

We’re wired to rebel when you know there’s limits on our eating. If you know you need to say goodbye to some of your favorite foods because they’re going to make it really difficult (or almost impossible) to lose weight, we’ve already given them more power. Try shifting your self-talk from “I’m not eating that right now” to “I could have that now but I’m going to have it later.” Again, a subtle change but it’s a lot easier for us to embrace a delay vs. “I can’t eat that anymore.” This will get even easier over time. As you continue to “kick the can down the road,” you will come to find that you’ve sustained positive changes.

8. Think strategically

Think like you’re trying to sabotage your future self. Ask yourself these questions “under what conditions am I likely to overeat or eat stuff I’m trying to cut back on?” This might be at an event, on our own after a busy day wanting to find comfort etc. Think back to the past as a guide. With this information in hand, what changes can you make moving forward? Are there certain people you need to minimize time with because they’re not a great influence? Are there certain foods it’s easier to just not keep at your house where you have immediate access to it? Are there times of the day where you tend to feel the temptation more than others? Trying creating alternative plans for these chunks of time. The key here is to anticipate the challenges and have a plan to deal with them.

Be realistic, you’re not going to show up at a party where everyone’s pounding pizza and wings and not have some desire to join in. Don’t depend on will power. In this situation you might decide to eat before you go (sabotage your appetite), connect with someone else who’s working on similar changes and support each other etc. There’s all kinds of getting creative here but the bottom line is think/plan ahead. We tend to get caught in the same traps so let’s come up with a plan.

9. Focus on what you can, less on what you can’t…and make it easy

Are there healthy foods you enjoy? Most people have at least some vegetables, fruit or other related items they like. Provide yourself quick, easy access to these things. Lower the barrier of entry to making positive changes. For example, maybe it costs a bit more to buy your vegetables pre-cut but if that means you’re much more likely to grab them when you want a snack (not having to wash, cut and clean-up…) then it could be worth the added expense (let’s face it, you’ll probably be saving money in other areas as you make food-related changes).

10. Identify good rewards

One trap we often find ourselves in is when we “reward” ourselves with the very thing we’ve been trying to limit or eliminate. Don’t get taken down by “cheat days” that probably make it harder to keep going. If you can identify other rewards that still fit within your new, healthy lifestyle, you’ll be setting yourself up for even more success. Like tea? Splurge on some really good stuff. Set aside some time to call an old friend, catch up and laugh. There’s a lot of opportunity to get creative with this so make a list and have it available when you want that spark of encouragement.

What’s next?

It can be helpful to read this type of information but it can be even more helpful to find someone to discuss how it applies to you specifically. Lime Tree Counseling is a group of experienced therapists available to support the changes you want to make. We provide trauma counseling, addiction counseling, anxiety counseling and grief counseling. We have an office in Lower Gwynedd, PA and also provide online counseling in Pennsylvania, online counseling in North Carolina and online counseling in Colorado. Schedule an appointment with us today!