When it comes to weight loss, many think you should “Go big or go home!” But decades of science and weight loss success stories don’t really back this up. So, what’s the best way to lose weight?
When embarking on a weight loss journey, it’s important to remember that slow and steady wins the race. The small-steps approach focuses on making gradual, sustainable changes to your lifestyle.
It’s not about drastically revamping your entire diet in one fell swoop or going from couch potato to marathon runner overnight. Instead, it’s about making small, manageable adjustments that you can stick to long-term.
What’s So Effective About Small Steps For Weight Loss?
Big goals— like eliminating all processed and sugary foods from your diet or losing a significant amount of weight without any guidance — are too challenging for most people for a variety of reasons:
- They can feel overwhelming, leading to procrastination and demotivation.
- They can fuel feelings of impatience and frustration when progress is slowed.
- They require an ‘all-or-nothing’ mindset. Any deviation from the goal is seen as failure, which undermines any (good!) progress made.
- They often require an overhaul of habits and lifestyle, which is harder to sustain in the long term compared to smaller… you guessed it, smaller steps.
“Small behavior changes such as cutting out sugar-sweetened beverages are often much more feasible and sustainable than larger behavior changes,” explains Katherine Basbaum, a registered dietitian that works with MyFitnessPal.
“A lot of scientific studies have shown the small-steps approach as a highly-effective strategy for weight management.” For example:
- A study in the International Journal of Behavioral Nutrition and Physical Activity found that merely walking an extra 2000 steps per day can lead to significant weight loss.
- A study from Penn State University found that munching on an apple before a meal can reduce overall calorie intake by 15%.
- A study published in the International Journal of Obesity revealed that swapping a full-sugar soda for a sugar-free option can help reduce body weight.
- A research project by the University of New Mexico found that individuals who choose stairs over elevators can burn twice as many calories, potentially leading to notable weight loss over time.
You see! Small changes can have big impacts.
Ready to get started? We can help! Join our newest Small Steps Plan in the MyFitnessPal app.
How to Set Weight Loss Goals With the Small Steps Approach
When coming up with the small, gradual changes you want to tackle to achieve your weight loss goals, be as specific as possible. That is, outline the what, how and when.
“It is often referred to as a SMART goal (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, and Time-bound),” explains Basbaum.
Instead of: I will pack healthy snacks instead of buying junk food at convenience stores.
Be more specific: I will add healthy snack ideas to my grocery list on Sundays (nuts, fruit, baby carrots, low-fat cheese sticks) and prep them in baggies so I can grab and go during the week on my way out the door.
The rationale for using SMART goals when using the small-step approach is that it helps you lay out not only what you want to do but how exactly you are going to make it happen and measure your progress.
“Research shows that setting your small change goals this way is much more successful than goals that are general and vague.”
Need an idea for a small step or change to start with? Consider one that revolves around increasing dietary fiber. “Not only is there a significant amount of data showing the weight loss benefits of increased fiber in the diet, but a nutrition study published this past summer showed that subjects placed on a fiber-rich diet had increased levels of hormones such as GLP-1, which promotes satiety.”
Addressing Weight Loss Myths
Myth: Small changes don’t make a difference.
Fact: Don’t underestimate the power of small steps! Small changes, when consistently implemented, can lead to significant results over time.
Myth: Progress tracking isn’t necessary.
Fact: It takes time to develop new habits and see tangible results. Tracking your progress, whether it’s through measurements, photos, or journaling, can provide motivation and help you stay on track.
Myth: Sudden and extreme changes guarantee success.
Fact: Actually, quite the opposite. The old adage “slow and steady wins the race” holds true in the realm of weight loss and fitness. Sudden and extreme changes are much harder to stick to. While small steps may take longer to yield the results you want, they’re proven easier to sustain long term.
Bottom line: Progress is Perfect
Weight loss is a journey that requires patience, persistence, and a practical approach.
By understanding the science behind taking small steps, setting SMART goals, and making gradual changes to your lifestyle, you’ll pave the way for sustainable weight loss success.
It’s not about quick fixes or drastic measures; it’s about making consistent progress and building healthy habits.