Adopting healthy habits to support your long-term weight-loss success doesn’t have to be excruciatingly difficult. In fact, it shouldn’t be difficult at all. While watching portion sizes, eating healthy and staying active take effort and dedication, you also want to avoid pushing yourself too hard. If you overly restrict your calorie intake, your body fights back by slowing your metabolism and dialing up hunger hormones, explains Dr. Richa Mittal, a weight-loss specialist and founder of Radiant Health Weight Loss & Wellness based in Frisco, Texas.
Instead, take it slow: “It’s best if progress is slow and steady, as this will ensure you are losing fat and making changes that become your new normal, instead of just a short, painful period of time you leave behind to go back to your old routine,” says Randy Evans, RD. That means picking up some simple, low-commitment habits that you’re more likely to stick to.
JOIN AN ONLINE SUPPORT GROUP
Camaraderie (even online) is one of the top ways you can support long-term weight-loss habits, says Brenna Cliver, a certified personal trainer and founder of Victoriam Performance. Case in point: A recent study in PLOS ONE found people who had access to an online support group lost more weight than those who were only given an informative pamphlet. To keep up your weight-loss efforts, find a support group you can tap into anytime, whether that’s a fitness-focused Facebook group, message boards on an app like MyFitnessPal or a private text stream with like-minded friends. “All it takes is a quick search and click to find a place where you can connect and ask questions, share your success with others and even serve as a mentor,” says Cliver.
STOCK UP ON GRAB-AND-GO SNACKS
Sure, you’ve taken on healthy eating habits at home, but when midday hunger pangs lead you to the vending machine for high-calorie, highly processed foods, healthy back-up snacks are in order. To support your weight loss, make sure snacks with filling fiber, lean protein and healthy fats are always within reach, advises Mittal. Keep non-perishable, emergency snacks in your office, car or bag, and fill your fridge and pantry with RD-approved on-the-go eats like single-serving packets of nuts, cheese sticks and dehydrated veggies like okra and chickpeas.
EAT MORE FIBER
Checking in on an important metric — your fiber intake — is a simple way to maintain weight loss. You can use an app like MyFitnessPal to make sure you’re getting the daily recommended amount of 25 grams for women and 35 grams for men per day (here’s what that looks like). High-fiber foods like veggies, whole grains, beans, legumes and fresh fruit not only keep hunger at bay by slowing digestion, but they also support healthy gut bacteria to help keep your metabolism humming, says Dr. Mittal. You can sneak more fiber into your diet by sticking with whole-grain products and mixing leafy greens into your favorite dishes like smoothies, pastas and curries.
BOOST YOUR HYDRATION GAME
Staying hydrated is a must for weight loss — water keeps your energy up for exercise and helps you avoid confusing thirst for hunger. That being said, plain old H20 can get boring. Rather than reaching for sugar-packed beverages like soda and juice, give your water a boost with tasty alternatives like lemon water, flavored seltzer and tea, suggests Mittal. “With an infuser bottle, you can get creative and add natural flavor from mint leaves, cucumber, basil or even fresh fruit,” she adds.
MAKE HEALTHFULNESS A WEEKLY TREAT
Meal prep and healthy eating come with a learning curve, and it’s normal for it to take months for these habits to fully set in, notes Evans. To avoid healthy food burnout and add more fun to your weight-loss journey, make it a practice to try a new healthy restaurant or recipe each week or every other week, says Cliver. Mark the date on your calendar and use it as a reward system, knowing that at the end of a hard week, you get to spoil yourself in a healthy way.
LIST YOUR FAVORITE RECIPES
For long-term weight-loss success, it’s important to make healthy eating simple, easy and enjoyable, says Katelyn Barrons, an ACE-certified health coach and NASM-certified personal trainer. One way to do that is to keep a long-running list of go-to recipes for breakfast, lunch, dinner and dessert that you truly enjoy. Whether it’s bookmarked in the MyFitnessPal app or a handwritten personal recipe book, having healthy meal ideas ready to go can help streamline grocery shopping, meal prep and eating decisions throughout the week.
USE MOVEMENT TO DE-STRESS
Stress can disrupt your weight-loss journey with a vicious cycle of poor sleep, off-kilter hunger hormones and stress eating, but exercise provides a natural, speedy solution. “If you’re under increased stress, remember to remain active to help restore hormone balance and counter its effects,” says Evans. Try a quick 20-minute de-stress workout at the gym and if you’re even more pressed for time, just go for a brisk 10-minute walk around the house, office or outside. The movement helps you ground yourself and gets feel-good endorphins pumping.
SCHEDULE REGULAR WEIGH-INS
While it’s a personal decision how often you should weigh yourself (if at all), scheduling times to step on the scale can help keep you accountable. “Regular weigh-ins can help you stay on top of your weight-loss efforts by immediately alerting you if you’ve gained weight. This way, you can course-correct should your weight creep up,” says Armen Ghazarians, a NASM-certified personal trainer, exercise physiologist and CEO of Finish Fit in Glendale, California. It’s best to weigh yourself first thing in the morning after you’ve gone to the bathroom since fluctuations in weight throughout the day are normal.
LET YOURSELF ENJOY A “FUN ZONE”
If you’ve ever tried a fad diet, you know extreme eating plans don’t work long-term. You risk creating an unhealthy relationship with food or feeling so deprived that you give up and revert to old habits. Instead, opt for a more balanced weight-loss plan by allowing for the occasional “fun zone” for special not-so-healthy foods that you love, says Bansari Acharya, RD. Practice moderation by adopting the 80/20 rule, where about 80% of your diet is healthy, nutrient-rich foods and 20% is for guilt-free indulgences.
STICK TO A SLEEP SCHEDULE
Now’s the time to commit to a solid bedtime routine if you don’t have one already. A good lack of sleep can negatively affect your weight by tweaking the hormones that regulate your metabolism, says Dr. Mittal. When you’re low on sleep, your levels of leptin (a hormone that suppresses appetite) go down, while levels of ghrelin (a hormone that increases appetite) go up, potentially triggering harder-to-ignore cravings for high-calorie sugary foods. Studies show getting too little sleep is associated with a higher body mass index. Having a set bedtime and wake-up time can help you rise refreshed and keep the pounds off.
Originally published October 2019, updated with additional reporting
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