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10 Behaviors for Healthy Weight Loss

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Weight loss is a difficult and complicated process, and there is no one-size-fits-all solution. Various factors such as age, gender, body type, underlying health issues, physical activity, genetics, past experiences with dieting, and food preferences can all impact a person's ability to lose weight and keep it off.

In the United States, nearly 70% of adults are overweight or obese, despite about half of them attempting to lose weight at some point in the previous year. Obesity is linked to severe health conditions, including cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes, and some cancers.

While there is no perfect diet for weight loss, research suggests certain universal behaviors that can aid in losing weight. These include eliminating soda and sugary drinks, leading an active lifestyle, and concentrating on the quality of food rather than just calorie count.

Here are ten actions that can promote weight loss and healthy eating habits:

  • Keep a food diary for three days to assess where you are starting. Record all food and drink consumption, along with portion sizes. Determine how often you eat out, eat takeout, or purchase food on the go.
  • Set a goal and develop a plan. Determine your objective, such as improving your health or fitting into an old pair of jeans. Consider ways to achieve your goal, such as preparing more meals at home or eating smaller portions. Start with specific and achievable goals.
  • Identify obstacles to your objectives and develop solutions. For example, if a hectic schedule prevents you from going to the gym, consider waking up an hour earlier. If an empty pantry hinders you from cooking at home, research healthy recipes and create a grocery list with the necessary ingredients.
  • Identify current habits that lead to unhealthy eating. Do you snack in front of the TV or skip lunch, only to feel famished in the afternoon? Do you eat everything on your plate even after feeling full?
  • Control your portions. Reacquaint yourself with standard serving sizes. For instance, a serving of poultry or meat is four ounces, about the size of a deck of playing cards, while a serving of pasta is only half a cup.
  • Recognize hunger and satiety cues. Distinguish physical hunger from emotional hunger. Eat when you feel a physical urge to eat, and stop eating before you feel full. It takes approximately 20 minutes for your brain to register "stop eating" signals from your stomach. Consume high-fiber foods, including vegetables, whole grains, beans, legumes, protein, and water to stay fuller for longer.
  • Concentrate on positive changes. Changing behavior takes time, usually at least three months. Do not give up if you slip up along the way. Seek support from others and acknowledge the progress you have made.
  • Adhere to the 80/20 rule. Stay on track 80% of the time but allow yourself some indulgences. Avoid feeling deprived or guilty.
  • Emphasize overall health. Engage in activities you enjoy, such as walking, dancing, cycling, gardening, or raking leaves. Avoid the "diet" aisle and focus on whole, seasonal, and high-quality foods.
  • Eat slowly and mindfully. Savor the entire experience of eating. Take the time to appreciate the aromas, flavors, and textures of your meal.

Changing behavior requires time and effort, but taking small steps today can make a significant difference in your health tomorrow.

William H. McDaniel, MD

Dr. Robert H. Shmerling is the former clinical chief of the division of rheumatology at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center (BIDMC), and is a current member of the corresponding faculty in medicine at Harvard Medical School.

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