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Realistic Weight-Management Goals for the New Year

When it comes to holiday weight gain, there’s good news and bad news. The good news is that the latest research shows that the average weight gain between Thanksgiving and New Year’s is only half a kilo, or about one pound. The bad news is that for people who are overweight or obese, a “large” weight gain of at least 5 pounds (2.3 kilograms) happens about 11% and 17% of the time, respectively, compared with only about 5% of the time in normal weight people.  Since most Americans are overweight or obese, well, you probably know how that ends 2014.

Grilled salmon and vegetablesFor 2015, maybe it’s time to try doing things differently. I know the parents and caregivers of my pediatric patients at the Nutrition Clinic of Albert Einstein College of Medicine’s Children’s Evaluation and Rehabilitation Center don’t like making drastic changes and I’d never expect it of them, but many people want big results fast. That’s the mistake. Changing your diet and lifestyle takes time. It took you a long time to acquire and refine these habits to your liking; it will take some time to change them.

Longer lead time
I want you, like my patients, to succeed, so this year, think of weight loss as a long-term goal, with the goal being New Year’s Day, 2016. This allows for some flexibility. Accept that “life stuff” happens. There might be some stops and starts along the way. No big deal.

Get specific
Next, get as specific as you can about the changes you want to make to your diet and lifestyle. “I want to eat better” isn’t specific. “I am going to eat four cups of fruits and vegetables every day” or “I’m going to do three hours of physical activity every week” are specific and measurable. Then set smaller, intermittent goals to accomplish each month.

I once had a very overweight patient who was also sedentary. I told her to walk around the block just once between now and when we met the next week. She was hesitant about committing to that. I explained that she had walked into my office, so she could definitely achieve that goal. Well, she did, and we doubled the goal the next week—to walking around one block but doing it on two separate days. I wanted to build the habit into her lifestyle. She took off with this and within six weeks she was walking half a mile daily—and she loved it because it became her “me” time.

Had I told her at the start to walk half a mile (actually only about 10 minutes of brisk walking), she’d have felt overwhelmed and probably wouldn’t even have tried. She’d also have felt that she’d failed, when the only failure was setting a goal that was wrong for her at that moment.  

Patience, please
We all want to have our goals met in 24 hours. Give that up. Anyone who tells you that you can lose lots of weight fast is selling you snake oil. The truth is, you may be able to lose weight fast—but (here’s the snake-oil part) you likely will not be able to keep it off. And that’s the ultimate measure of success.

Let 2015 be the year when you let go of bells and whistles and get down to reality. Reality in successful weight management is a little less spectacular, but feels a lot better each time you reach one of your scaled-down goals because these slowly reached milestones are the ones you’re more likely to own and keep.

You may happen to go a little overboard one month; say you decide you like your walking and don’t want to quit at 10 minutes on a lot of the days. Great—have at it! Just know that this is “extra cheese” and not required. Keep to your original goal and give yourself a high-five if you have an “extra value” day.

One valuable behavioral tool is recording your activity. You can use a small notebook, your computer or one of the many monitoring devices you can wear on your wrist. Whatever you choose, whether low- or high-tech, the goal is to chart your progress objectively.

Sometimes we distort reality. For example, you may overeat at a party on a Friday and convince yourself that you’ve had a “doomed” week. However, when you actually look at the record, you may have done extra exercise earlier that week and eaten less on other days. Recording what you do (and consume) also helps you analyze your behavior so you can identify negative triggers and positive incentives. The goal is to find a record-keeping system that you find easy to follow and can work into your schedule. Avoid making it too complicated or you’ll stop doing it.

Bottom line: Start making some gradual changes and begin with activities and behaviors you know you can do. If you slip up here and there, no big deal; just get back up and on the path again—no explanation necessary. Then, take a look at your record-keeping and see what derailed you. Be on guard for those traps the next time around and find ways to avoid them.

Here’s to achieving a healthy weight gradually!

Editors’ Note: Einstein nutrionists Keith Ayoob and Judith Wylie-Rosett will take part in a LiveScience Twitter chat about healthy eating and weight loss.  January 12 at 2:30 p.m. ET.  Join the discussion by following #LShealthchat on Twitter.

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