Whether you're 25 or 400 pounds overweight, it's not too late to change the way you live, feel, think, and look. Your goals are within reach—if you go about achieving them the right way. What have I learned after spending a year trying to help America get real about weight? Plenty. Some of it I knew for sure, as Oprah would say, and some of it was brought home by the struggles of real people in the real world with real challenges.
First, read about the obstacles—the straight-up truth about what our eating habits mean. Then, if you're ready to change your lifestyle, see the best practices that work for many people.
The truth is that food is a tremendous coping mechanism for many people. You have probably used food to deal with emotional demands—whether to ease the pain of loneliness, anxiety, worry, or depression—or to celebrate life events. Food is powerful because it gives people a perception of relief, and if you remove that security and fail to put something else in its place, a vacuum is created. People naturally return to what they know best, which is using food for inappropriate reasons and in inappropriate ways. When you stop medicating feelings with food—which is an absolute must in order to get healthy—you need to have other ways to deal with emotions. Instead of turning to a pint of ice cream on lonely or stressful nights, make a commitment to treat psychological problems with psychological solutions, and substitute exercise, relaxation, and rational thinking for that caloric quick fix.
Overcoming the Addiction
Overcoming the momentum of a long history of emotional eating is a huge challenge. The good news is that you don't need a heart attack or other life-threatening event to motivate you to change your behavior. If you haven't gotten the wake-up call yet, I'm giving it to you: The time is now, and it's not too late. Get out of your comfort zone and do something different. When you do, you'll generate a new history that predicts a new future. For many people, food is an addiction. Addictions aren't cured; they're managed one day at a time. Days add up to weeks, weeks add up to months, and before you know it, you have a new lifestyle and a new self-image. Fifty years of living the same way do not make it impossible to start living differently. Even if you've failed at every diet you've tried, you're capable of succeeding now.
Your Personal Truth
Everyone has a personal truth—what she believes about herself when no one else is looking or listening. If you have failed with your weight loss efforts time and time again, you may be left with a personal truth that says, "I simply don't deserve to be anything other than fat and unhealthy." One of my greatest challenges has been convincing people that they can exercise control in their lives, and that they deserve to be healthy and happy.
A major hurdle that always seems to trip people up is thinking that they just need a little more willpower. It isn't about gritting your teeth, bearing down, and finding the strength deep within to carry you through the day. Willpower is fueled by emotion and is amazingly fickle. Motivation will wax and wane. Sure, you can rely on these things when you're pumped up and excited, like in the first few weeks of a New Year's resolution. The trick is to set up your life and program your world in such a way that you make progress and get closer to your goal even when you don't feel like it. When your willpower is nowhere to be found, you need to have your emotions, logic, environment, behavior, food plan, exercise, and social support system in place to keep you moving in the right direction.
Next: Best Practices
Losing weight isn't a one-size-fits-all endeavor, but there are general steps that can help almost anybody. See what Dr. Phil says can get the process going.
Clean up your environment.
Think about it: If you go through your house and remove everything that is counterproductive to the program—such as impulse foods, prepackaged foods, snacks high in sugar or fat—you'll be less prone to eat those foods. You're more likely to eat a cookie at 11 p.m. if it's sitting on your kitchen counter than if you first have to get dressed and drive to the store to buy that cookie. It's a simple environmental control, but it makes a huge difference. You can also make superficial changes to remind yourself that it's not too late to start again—rearranging your furniture, getting a new haircut, or waking up at a different time. While these actions seem to have nothing to do with weight management, they can help you feel different and reinforce that it's a new day.
Move it to lose it.
Exercise is crucial. You can't lose weight and keep it off without awakening your body and your metabolism. If you get off the couch with some regularity and increase your energy output, you will dramatically alter your body's efficiency.
Timing is everything.
Most people who slip up while trying to lose weight do it during a narrow window of time and place. Audit your day and determine when you tend to make the most destructive eating decisions. Arrange to do something else during that time, something incompatible with eating. If you usually snack in the kitchen when you get home from work, come in a different door, take a shower first, or, better yet, use that time to exercise.
Mix it up.
The problems with diets are too numerous to list here, but certainly one of them is the tendency for people to rebel against a plan that's too restrictive. You don't need to give up ice cream forever, run from carbohydrates, or count every calorie. Instead eat a variety of healthy foods—fruits and vegetables, lean proteins, good fats, and, yes, some starches—in manageable portions. It's about being flexible, creating a plan that works with your life, and practicing moderation across the board.
Don't go it alone.
If you want to lose weight and keep it off, you need the people in your life to be supportive. Educate your loved ones about the changes you are making, what your needs are, and how family and friends can help. Break free from those who weigh you down (pun intended). And don't be afraid to make new friends—people with similar values who don't feel threatened by your changes and won't urge you to eat.
Of course, there will be hard times when you make the wrong choices or when you're stuck in a rut. You need to behave your way to success. I knew I was undertaking a major task when I said that I wanted to start a movement in America, but I am seeing it happen. Millions are turning away from misleading diets, learning to get real about why they eat what they eat, and changing their lifestyles. I hope you are among them—starting now.