A study by the National Institutes of Health concluded that during the Holiday season most Americans probably gain only about a pound. That doesn’t sound like much until you consider that this extra weight doesn’t tend to go away after January 1st. It tends to accumulate through the years and a small-yet-sneaky successive holiday weight gain can snowball to become a major contributor to obesity later in life, the study determined. Plus, the one-pound holiday weight gain is an average.
“In my experience, there are plenty of people who gain more like six to eight pounds,” says Linda Spangle, a weight-loss counselor in Boulder, Colorado and author of 100 Days of Weight Loss. If that sounds like you, or you’ve just got some winter weight you want to shed, there’s no time like the New Year to take action. But before you get started, personalize your weight-loss tactics. The key to successful weight-loss lies in discovering the plan that suits your personality.
If you're outgoing and gregarious (think Kirstie Alley), for example, you might benefit from telling everyone you know (not to mention a few million television viewers) that you're trying to shed pounds. A more reserved person, however, might do better with a more mellow approach.
“The key to finding a successful strategy is being honest about your strengths and weaknesses,” says Martin Binks, Ph.D., director of behavioral health at the Duke Diet and Fitness Center in Durham, North Carolina. “To violate your basic nature makes the already challenging process of weight loss more difficult.”
Each of these four plans is targeted to a different personality trait, whether it’s being goal-oriented, extroverted, shy or spiritual. A little of this and a little of that? Combine the techniques to personalize your approach. It’s soul-searching that—bonus!—slims you down.
Even though we live in a tell-all culture, you'd prefer to keep your weight-loss plans to yourself. “Telling friends, family and coworkers invites them to monitor your progress, which feels like added pressure to you,” says Daniel Stettner, Ph.D., a clinical weight-loss psychologist in Berkley, Michigan. In addition, keeping your plans a secret saves you from any potential embarrassment if you fail to reach your goal within a specific time frame. While such self-reliance does provide a safe haven and can help you focus, going it alone isn't easy. “Making weight loss public also tends to increase commitment,” says Daniel Kirschenbaum, Ph.D., director of the Center for Behavioral Medicine in Chicago. In fact, a recent University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine study found that those who involved friends or family in their plans lost more weight and kept it off longer than those who tried to shed pounds solo. Without that public declaration and subsequent affirmation from your peers, you'll have to be more clever at cultivating your own personal support system.
Find some form of support that feels good to you. That could mean joining an online dieting group, where you can hide behind a user name, or seeking out a registered dietitian in your area for some private one-on-one counseling. If you've got a trusted friend who also wants to lose weight, consider forming an alliance that’s just between the two of you. “Having a select group of supporters can keep you accountable and motivated without making you feel too exposed,” says Kirschenbaum. “If your plan runs into a snag, your support system can brainstorm about the changes you might make and even reignite your resolve during difficult periods like a plateau.” Implement proven, structured weight-loss techniques that don't depend on other people. Maintain a food and exercise diary. Instead of just re-reading yesterday’s entry, however, write down specific goals for tomorrow. Then chart your progress. You can also wear a pedometer and gradually increase your step requirement each day. “These will help strengthen your sense of personal accountability in the absence of an extensive support system,” says Kirschenbaum.
Set more process-driven goals, such as eating fruit for every snack, instead of end-result goals (like losing 10 pounds by a particular day). “Process-driven goals are usually easier to achieve because they focus on one step toward a result that can take months to achieve,” explains Kirschenbaum. “That gives you many individual opportunities to celebrate personal achievement, which can keep you motivated.”
When you start a weight-loss plan (or anything, for that matter), your policy is full disclosure to friends, family members and coworkers. (You may even spill the beans to your neighbors, grocer, mailman and anyone who crosses your path for the next few weeks.) You intuitively want and need everyone’s support and encouragement, and you know that being accountable to them will help boost your motivation and keep you on track.
But there’s a catch: “It’s possible to become overly dependent on social support,” says Edward Abramson, Ph.D., a clinical psychologist in Lafayette, California, and author of Body Intelligence (McGraw-Hill, 2005). If your coworkers want to try the latest fad, for example, you can easily get caught up in group-think, which is counterproductive (fad diets tend to produce fleeting results, if any). And when people lose interest in your progress or stop telling you how great you look, your motivation can take a nose dive. Worse, in your quest for listeners, you may stumble on a few people who will try to undermine your success out of jealousy. It’s a sad reality, but “not everybody will be ecstatic to see you reach your goal,” says Stettner.
Be choosy about whom you tell and what you say. Assess who is likely to be helpful and who might be jealous, resentful or fearful as your waistline grows smaller. “Even your thinner friends might not be as supportive as you think because your weight loss can change the power balance of the relationship,” says Stettner.
Consider joining a group-based weight-loss program, especially one that offers in-person meetings so you can get face time with fellow dieters who are there to offer and receive support themselves. Often, giving support can be just as motivating as getting it.
Ask yourself tough questions, such as: What will I get out of losing weight? What are the possible pros and cons? What are the difficulties going to be? The answers will help you find a more personal source of motivation, so you're not so dependent on others.
You feel a reverent connection to the universe. Whether or not you belong to any organized religion, you believe that there’s a higher power guiding you through your decisions. “If things don't go your way, you also have a tendency to ask yourself why and really learn from the answer,” says Dorie McCubbrey, Ph.D., an eating and weight-loss specialist in Boulder, Colorado, and author of How Much Does Your Soul Weigh? (Harper Collins, 2003).
Faith can strengthen your commitment and give you the support you need to achieve your weight-loss goals, but relying solely on powers other than your own can be naive. “You can't run a four-minute mile just by praying you can do it,” says Kirschenbaum.
Weave supportive spiritual habits into your daily routine. Kick off your morning with a prayer or meditation that incorporates positive affirmations, such as “I'm in touch with my body’s true needs today. I can eat slowly and consciously. My workouts are enjoyable and I'm energized.” A “soulful” wake-up routine can reinforce goals and keep them in the forefront of your mind throughout your day. If you sometimes need reminding, carrying a notepad with written affirmations in your purse can help. Pause before each meal or snack to reflect on what you're eating or how you're nourishing your spirit. When you quickly check-in with your spiritual center throughout the day, you're less likely to retreat to autopilot and start snacking out of boredom or some other negative emotion. In addition, by linking your mealtimes with checkpoints, you actually make them more special. “Eating then becomes a means to feed your soul and connect with your higher power, not just satisfy hunger,” says McCubbrey. The more meaningful your mealtimes become, the more respect you're likely to give your food. Bye-bye, takeout: hello, homemade. Mentally replay the day’s events before you drift off to sleep, and try to learn from your mistakes. “If you're spiritually inclined, you're probably really good at learning from parables and other types of lessons,” McCubbrey says. Try to see the day’s experiences objectively, as if you're reading a story, and develop suitable “morals” to help guide you through the following day’s challenges.
You get motivated to lose weight when you've got a big event on the horizon. Weddings and class reunions are perfect (except that they may not occur as often as you'd like). Unfortunately, once the event has passed, your motivation goes up in smoke, and it’s back to your old habits. “Goal-oriented dieters are particularly susceptible to regaining because they tend to lose weight with extreme measures that they can't sustain for the long term,” says Abramson. The result: weight cycling, which may make it harder to lose any weight you regain, according to a University of Pennsylvania study. Research there suggests it could take twice as long with each successive attempt.
Be realistic. Choose events that are far enough into the future that you don't need to take drastic measures to reach the weight-loss goals you set. Aim to lose no more than two pounds per week, preferably one. The slower your weight loss, the more likely it is to be fat, not water or muscle, you're losing. The more muscle you preserve while you're dieting, the easier it will be to keep the weight off.
Make diet and exercise changes you can sustain long after the event is over. Ask yourself, Will I still want to eat prepackaged frozen meals every day for lunch after I get married? If the answer is probably not, amend your diet to include strategies you can incorporate into your lifestyle forever (or close to it).
Replace every goal you achieve with another one—fast! Goals are the foundation of your motivation, so never be without one. “Event-oriented weight control works as long as there’s always another event on the horizon you can target,” says Kirschenbaum.