For Healthy Weight Loss: 4 Tips for Making Changes that Last

by Marsha Hudnall MS, RDN, CD

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Stages of change for healthy weight loss | The Green Mountain at Fox Run approach

“I want to lose weight.”

When most women arrive at our doorstep, their primary goal can be summed up those five words.

What that means to many ranges from changing what, when and how much they eat as well as their emotional attachment to food.  For others, it’s all about exercise.  Still others recognize it’s their attitudes about their bodies, or realize their relationship with food and their bodies is just a reflection of bigger things in their lives.

Where You Start Influences Whether You Finish and How Long It Takes

Knowing where to begin is key to successful change.  That means your strategies meet you where you are – they’re related to what’s really getting in your way.  For example, if your issue is emotional eating, jumpstarting an exercise program doesn’t address that.

One Size Doesn’t Fit All

Further, we believe the failure of most weight loss programs is that they generally don’t consider individual needs. One size doesn’t fit all. For successful change, strategies need to match the stage of change a person is in.

Four Proven Strategies for Successful Change

  • Define and focus.
  • Break it down into small steps.
  • Be realistic and compassionate.Turn off the old voices in your head.

The stages of change theory identifies six phases of successful change: pre-contemplation, contemplation, decision, action, relapse and maintenance.  Pre-contemplation and contemplation are about recognizing that change needs to happen.

By the time women get to Green Mountain, they are generally at the decision stage.  They’re ready for change.  The work we do focuses on discovering what actually needs to change, then matching it with strategies that work for them.

Here’s an example of how it works:

A woman arrives at Green Mountain at Fox Run having decided she wants to lose weight.

1Decision Stage Successful Change Tip:  Define & Focus.

It’s easy to overwhelm yourself by trying to make too many changes at once.  For example, if you want to lose weight, is it your eating, your exercise, your negative self-talk, or something else that drives behaviors that cause weight struggles?  If you don’t know, guess – your gut feelings can guide you.  Then focus on changing that.  When you make changes where it counts, you may find an issue resolves without further action.

In this example, our participant decides that frequent overeating is causing her struggles.  So in the next stage – Action — she focuses on exploring what drives her overeating and practicing the new behaviors that will help resolve it.

2Action Stage Successful Change Tip: Take Small Steps

Trying to leap from one place to another invites falling down.  Small steps can get you where you want to go more reliably.  Break down your process into practical steps that you can take time and time again until they become habit.

For example: Many women who come to Green Mountain discover that simply starting to feed themselves regular, balanced meals makes a huge dent in their overeating.

Small step #1, then, is to make sure to eat breakfast, lunch and dinner, and maybe a snack or two if the time between meals is too long.  How to do that can differ.  Some women plan when they will eat each day, and sometimes even set a reminder on their computer if they tend to get too involved in work.

Small step #2 often involves the realization that a meal or snack with protein, fat and carbohydrate stays with them much longer.  So you take an additional step of making sure to choose foods that provide these three nutrients when you do eat.

As the days and weeks pass, things go smoothly; eating regular, balanced meals happens on a regular basis.  But then life happens, and you realize you haven’t eaten well for over a week.  That’s the Relapse Stage.

3Relapse Stage Successful Change Tip: Be Realistic and Compassionate

What else do you do in life that always turns out perfectly?  Change does not occur in a simple straight line. There will be lapses, slips, returns to old habits, feelings and patterns. Change is about learning, which means making mistakes.  This is the time to see those mistakes as bumps in the road, as opportunities for gaining mastery, getting better at identifying the early signals, the risky situations that compromise you.  Embrace mistakes — they only occur because you are learning to do something.  In the end, remember the words of the founders of the stages of change approach:

  “A lapse does not a relapse make.”

As you successfully maneuver through the inevitable back and forth of change, your new behaviors become habits and you’ve reached your goal.  You’re now in the Maintenance Stage.  But the common reaction to that is to question yourself.

4Maintenance Stage Successful Change Tip: Change Your Self-Talk

Read Related Article: Stopping the Negative Self Talk

Replacing old habits with new ones and maintaining them for the long haul often brings up much fear. “What if I can’t maintain what I started?” is spoken as if this is the last chance. It is important to remember that the presence of fear does not predict failure—it is fear, not fact.  Patience, persistence and support are especially important in this stage.

A Word about Defining Success

At this point, your overall goal may have been achieved, or it may be time to reassess the situation to discover whether there is another issue that needs addressing.  Regardless, it’s the old rabbit/turtle story:

Slow and steady wins the race.

The key is moving away from the all-or-nothing thinking and behaviors of the past and getting clear about what’s getting in your way.  Many of us achieve success faster by focusing on changing only one behavior at a time, moving on to other behaviors once we succeed at one.  No matter how you approach it, however, throughout your process of change, remember to talk positively to yourself and recognize and celebrate your progress.

Above all, make it fun.  That’s key to keeping going.  Enjoy!

Have you decided to make a lasting change?
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