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This blog is purely informational and not meant to take the place of individual medical nutrition therapy (MNT). For serious medical conditions, ask your doctor for a referral to a dietitian. 

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Q: I want to lose weight. How do I get started?

starting line

A: Getting started with weight loss can feel overwhelming. With so many different diets, conflicting information, product claims, and all of your other responsibilities in life, it is hard to know where to start. If your past efforts have only yielded yo-yo results, you may want to consider a different approach this time. Here are some essential first steps that can get you started in the right direction.

While most diets can lead to weight loss, keeping the weight off is the bigger challenge. Long-term weight loss requires real change--not only to what you eat and how often you exercise, but also to how you think and feel about the process. These kinds of changes do not happen overnight. Real weight loss will take time. And like any journey, you need to make preparations before you can even hit the road.

1. Tell yourself why weight loss is important to you.

There are many reasons why you may want to lose weight, but dig deep to find your strongest motivation. You might find a long term desire more enduring than a short term goal. For example, a wedding or a class reunion might motivate you until those events. But a deeper reason to maintain good health might help you to establish healthy habits that stick. How might your life be different if your weight starts to affect your health? How will life be different for those around you?

After considering your various motivations, determine which is most important to you. Write it down. Post it where you will see it every day. And with every decision you make moving forward, ask yourself, "Will this carry me closer to my goal? Or further away from it?"

2. Identify why it has been so hard.

For many readers, this isn't your first rodeo. You may have tried many different diets, programs, supplements, medications, and even surgeries in the past. Yet your progress waxes and wanes.

There are times when something else in your life takes priority. In these moments, it is not that you care less about yourself. But instead, you may be seeking comfort and self-care in other ways.

Most people know that achieving weight loss requires mindful eating and physical activity. The "what" of weight loss is rarely the issue. While identifying your "why" is important, knowing your "why not" is equally critical.

For many people, food provides more than nourishment. It is also a source of comfort, stress relief, or escape. A stop at the vending machine in the afternoon breaks up the monotony of a workday. A snack in front of the TV is part of "me time" after the kids go to bed. Sweets provide a moment of pleasure during times of stress or sadness.

If you find yourself saying, "it's hard because I love food," or "I don't have will power," perhaps consider the source of your emotional draw to food. The next time you reach for a snack, stop first to examine how you are feeling in the moment. Are you physically hungry? If not, then what are you feeling? Is there a different, non-food way to address that feeling?

For example, if you find you often eat when you are feeling stressed, consider other ways you might find stress relief. Perhaps get lost in a book, or listen to calming music. Taking a walk has also shown to have therapeutic effects. Whatever strategy you think would work for you, give it a chance before you give in to that snack. If you can reduce the intensity of the emotion, perhaps you will reduce the intensity of your cravings. 3. Expect Imperfection

Often times, people fall into an "all or nothing" mentality to weight loss. They swear off carbs or count every calorie or follow a strict menu they find in a book or a web site. Then life happens. Dinner with friends. Stress at work. Kids' activities. The security of routine slips for a moment, then so do you.

There will be bumps in the road. The occasional splurge. A tricky social occasion. Some moment when you will make a less healthy choice. Expect them now to accept them later. When it happens, remind yourself that one sweet treat or one indulgent meal cannot undo all of your efforts. However, how you react to the situation might.

We've all been there. We give in to a donut in the breakroom, then we feel like we ruined the whole day. So we convince ourselves that we might as well have another. At first we laugh it off, chuckle that we're "being bad," and revel in the moment. But the moment is fleeting. The pleasure is quickly replaced with feelings of guilt and defeat. Confidence wanes, as does motivation. Before you know it, that one lapse leads to a full relapse.

If this sounds familiar, plan ahead to react differently to these moments. Remind yourself that one indulgence will not cause you to regain weight. But giving up will.

When you are faced with a treat you just can't resist, savor it mindfully, enjoy the moment, then move on. Remind yourself of the days, weeks, or even months of effort you have invested, and know that one treat cannot undo all of that work. Don't berate yourself for one slip. Instead, congratulate yourself for all you've achieved, and how good you have felt because of it. Then make your next meal a healthy one. Stay on schedule with your physical activity routine. Before you know it, you'll be right back on track. And the scale will never know the difference.

4. Accept that real change takes time.

Many popular diets boast rapid results. However, if you have a history of starting and stopping diets, then yet another fad may not be for you. While many diets can lead to rapid weight loss, they are often difficult to maintain and you may eventually find yourself starting over. Again.

Long-term results come from long-term lifestyle change. If you're up to the challenge, the results are worth it. Weight loss achieved from a balanced, healthy diet and regular physical activity can lead to improved lab values, reductions in medications, and an overall feeling of increased energy and better health.

5. When you're ready, start here.

Instead of overhauling your entire diet starting Monday, take it a step at a time.

First, identify some of the habits that are worth replacing. Check out these common calorie culprits.

Then, start logging all your food and beverages. Use an online app to help you count calories and find out how many calories you need for weight loss.

Start adjusting your meals and snacks accordingly. Consider some healthy swaps to help boost your metabolism and stay healthy longer.

More than a meal plan

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