Is it time for a diet?

At a time when many New Year’s vows tend to slip off track, Columbia experts offer tips and suggestions.
Wednesday, January 7, 2004 | 12:00 a.m. CST; updated 7:03 a.m. CDT, Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Four years ago, Cathy Forbes, a licensed insurance agent for State Farm, decided it was time to lose those extra pounds.

“I was feeling like I needed to lose weight because I didn’t like the way I looked,” Forbes says. “I was approaching my 49th birthday at the time, and I wanted the weight off before I was 50.”

Forbes didn’t start her weight loss program on Jan. 1, but her resolution wasn’t unlike many people’s New Year’s resolutions to get healthier and lose weight. No matter when you start a weight loss program, Forbes says that staying motivated can be a challenge. But with realistic goals, healthy priorities and a little help, that New Year’s resolution can lead you to a healthier, thinner lifestyle, nutrition experts say.

Find a program that works for you

When Forbes started her weight loss program, she turned to Meta-Health for Life — a high-protein, low-fat and moderate-carbohydrate diet program — for help. While the Meta-Health program, which emphasizes healthy eating and exercise, helped her lose 27 pounds, Forbes says that deciding which program to use is a very personal choice.

“You have to research and see what’s going to fit your lifestyle and know what’s going to work for you,” Forbes says. “Find a program that you think you can stay with. It really has to be a personal choice of what will change your lifestyle, not just what will work until you lose the weight.”

Jill Williams, a registered dietician for the Boone Hospital Center WellAware, says that no matter which program you choose, the initial motivation to lose weight must come from within.

“They need to be doing it for themselves,” Williams says. “It must be motivated internally, because it’s what they want, not what someone else wants.”

Set reasonable goals

Phil Edwards, owner of Meta-Health for Life, says that setting reasonable goals is the first key to successful weight loss in his program.

“Don’t set yourself up for failure. Set realistic goals, and break them up into little pieces,” he says. “Have a long-term goal, but break it down into 10-pound segments. Then you’ll get rewarded more and you will have more success.”

Sarah Borengasser, a personal trainer at Wilson’s Total Fitness, applied the same theory to exercise.

“Make a short-term goal of getting to the gym one to two times a week, then make it three to four times a week,” she says.

While setting small, reasonable goals can be important to success, Williams says that the primary goal should be health motivated, with weight loss as a positive side affect.

“If you are constantly looking at the scale, you are going to be disappointed because your weight fluctuates,” Williams says. “Motivation should be focused more on health than on a number.”

Small goals such as increasing water intake or eating an extra serving of fruits or vegetables every day are healthy goals that will lead not only to weight loss but to healthy living, Williams says.

Have someone hold you accountable

Accountability is another key to maintaining a successful weight loss program, Forbes says. “I felt I needed a plan and accountability to really get the weight off,” Forbes says. “It’s still up to you to lose the weight, but they can help hold you accountable and keep you going.”

Borengasser says that having a workout partner to hold you accountable will help you stick to your weight loss plan. She also suggested having a personal trainer to help plan an exercise program that will keep you motivated.

“Seventy-five percent of people who join a gym drop out after the first four to six weeks,” Borengasser says. “We encourage people to use a personal trainer because you will always be moving forward. You won’t be doing the same thing every day, so you won’t get bored.”

Staying motivated can be a hard thing for people to overcome, but Edwards says that having people who support you and help keep you on track can make the program easier.

“Write down your goal, and plan how you are going to obtain it as if you were doing a business plan,” Edwards says. “Then share your resolutions with the people around you and ask them to support you.”

Forbes and her husband were both on the Meta-Health program together, something that she says made it easier to stay motivated.

“It was exciting to have us both in the same program because we encouraged each other,” Forbes says.

Practice positive thinking

Another motivational technique Edwards uses with clients is visualization. He says that positive thoughts and visualization can have a great impact on the success of a weight loss program.

“Sit down daily, shut your eyes and visualize the end result. Stop negative thoughts. If you say you can’t do it, eventually you aren’t going to,” Edwards says. “It’s like the little engine that could — negative thoughts set you up for failure.”

Edwards says in order to be useful, visualization should be done four or five times a day for about a minute.

Using positive thinking can also help get dieters back on track, even after they think they’ve blown it. Williams says it is important to get back on track after these little slips and not to use them as excuses to stop eating well.

“You have to get over the all-or-nothing thinking and know that one bad day is not going to blow our long goal of getting healthy,” Williams says. “Rather than using it as an excuse, turn it around to be your reason. Stay positive and just move on.”

Make lifestyle changes

Forbes says that in order to maintain a healthy weight loss the changes have to be lifestyle changes, not just temporary solutions.

“It has to be a life change, you can’t just reach a goal and say, ‘OK, I can go back to the way I used to eat now,’” Forbes says. “What I’ve learned has given me the proper tools to know the proper eating habits for life.”

Borengasser agreed that exercise changes must be for the long term.

“Instead of thinking you need to go on a diet for a short time, think of making a lifestyle change,” she says.

Be patient

Making a lifestyle change can take time — and a lot of patience. Borengassen says that being patient and letting your body get adapted to exercise is a crucial step in beginning a weight loss or fitness program.

She also warns that expecting too much too quickly can lead to disappointment.

“A lot of people want instant gratification,” she says. “Your body is highly adaptive, but it’s not going to be an overnight change.”

To make lifestyle changes that will be more lasting, Williams suggested focusing on behaviors rather than on a specific weight loss goal.

“Focus on one behavior at a time until you’ve mastered it, then move on to the next,” Williams says. “It’s a lot slower but usually more long term.”

After the initial goal has been met, Forbes says it still takes work to keep the weight off. While Forbes says she tries to eat a healthy diet, she still lets herself splurge every now and again.

“It’s not saying you can never have it, just maybe don’t have it as frequently,” Forbes says. “It wouldn’t be life if you didn’t have a cookie or cake every once and a while.”

However, Forbes keeps those splurges to a minimum because she doesn’t want to regain the weight she has worked hard to lose. Knowing how good it feels to have lost the extra weight keeps her motivated, she says.

Edwards expresses that same idea to his clients to help keep them on track.

“Nothing tastes as good as being thin feels,” he says. “I always tell my clients to remember that.”

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