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The arrival of warmer weather is one of the best times to re-evaluate your lifestyle. Summer means lighter clothing, days at the beach or pool, farmers markets filled with produce, and long evenings to enjoy the extended daylight of the season.
Our new series — with the help of two viewers, Bibi and Joann — will provide a step-by-step approach to personalize the healthy habits you need to help you look and feel your best for summer and get on track for successful, realistic weight loss that can last a lifetime.
Whether you want to get your snacking under control or learn some new ways to add activity to your day, you’ll learn to identify your weight loss barriers along with Bibi and Joann, and come up with some solutions that work for you to build your own weight loss tool kit.
When it comes to losing weight, we all know what to do; the tough part is how to do it. One size does not fit all. Over the next seven weeks, we’ll provide the “how" — with ideas to help you personalize your own plan.
Here are seven simple steps to jump start your weight loss effort:
1. Identify your weight loss barriers
While it’s always a good idea to pat yourself on the back for the positive lifestyle choices you make, it’s equally important to honestly identify your barriers, which can derail even the best-designed plan. When you know your barriers, you can develop solutions to manage them, and boost your likelihood of long-term success.
2. Write down everything you eat and drink — and rate your hunger
When you record everything that goes into your mouth, it’s a sure way to be accountable to yourself. Calories do count, so you need to document your choices. While there many apps to easily log your food, one of the most effective tools is to use a pencil and paper. Grab a notebook and write it down. Include your hunger rating at the same time. Almost everyone trying to lose weight says eating is often not tied to hunger. Use our easy 5-point scale to rate your own hunger.
3. Think before you eat
Losing weight is not about deprivation, it’s about smart choices. Think before you eat does not mean “don’t eat,” it means make a better choice. That’s what mindful eating is all about. Learning to barter and make smart food swaps that work for you boosts your ability to effectively control your total calories over the day. Want that baked sweet potato? Enjoy it, but skip the whole wheat dinner roll.
4. Boost your everyday activity — be a mindful mover
Lack of time is the reason most people give for skipping physical activity. But you can boost your everyday activity and burn calories by being a “mindful mover.” Take the stairs when you can, and get off the elevator a floor or two before your stop. Walk around while talking on the phone. Park your car farther from your destination. Be a kid again, and enjoy some family time at a park (and keep pushing that stroller). Stand on one leg while you brush your teeth. Housework counts — a double bonus of a workout and a clean house. Keep track of your steps with a wearable, or a simple pedometer, because working up a sweat doesn’t always translate into more activity!
While 10,000 steps is often cited as a daily goal, track your steps and aim to boost them by 1,000 every week (with your doctor’s clearance for any changes in your daily routine). When you’ve achieved those 10,000 daily steps, that’s a great milestone, but it also represents the starting point for additional activity, if desired. Think about all three pillars of physical activity — cardio (like walking), strength training (weights), and flexibility (yoga, pilates).
5. Eat more fruits and vegetables
A variety of colorful fruits and vegetables provides a triple-plus: fiber, water, and a portion/calorie controlled food — all three are key factors to successful weight loss. Fresh is not your only option; frozen produce has the same nutrient value as fresh, and there’s no waste. Skip the dried fruit, as removing all the water (most of the “bulk” of fruit) makes these a healthy, but calorie-dense choice.
Think of fruit as “nature’s candy.” Make vegetables of all kinds an unlimited go-to choice, except for the starchier and calorie-dense peas, corn, and potatoes that need smart portion control.
Keep a fruit bowl on the table — studies show that if you see it, you’ll eat it.
6. Get more sleep
If you’re sleeping fewer than six hours a night most of the time, studies show you’re at risk for overeating and weight gain. While biological factors may contribute to this, two big behavioral factors surface when sleep deprivation kicks in: It’s very easy to eat in an attempt to boost energy and the mental focus to stay on a calorie-controlled track dissolves. Both result in eating extra calories that add up fast. While it might not be possible to get seven to eight hours every night, evaluate your schedule to see where you can make changes to boost your sleep by a total of an hour a night, to start. While nothing replaces a solid night’s sleep, a nap of around 15 minutes can often provide a much needed energy boost (instead of a high calorie snack).
7. Find the right support
While you’re building your own tool kit for success, a key factor is the right kind of support for your effort. It’s a personal decision whether one person or a group works best. For some people, a close friend or relative with whom to compare experiences is ideal — whether in person or by phone and email. Others prefer a group support, where there’s the choice of talking, or just being an “active listener”.
Madelyn Fernstrom, PhD, is NBC News Health and Nutrition Editor. Follow her on @drfernstrom.