To successfully lose weight and keep it off, you don’t have to completely revamp your lifestyle. In fact, science shows small strategies like drinking more water and increasing your step count yields big benefits for shedding pounds. The reality is weight loss isn’t linear, and you’re bound to experience setbacks from time to time. To stay on track with weight loss, here are five things you can start (or return to) whenever you need a little help.
“The health habits we’ve formed throughout our lives are really engrained,” says Kirby Walter, RD. At the beginning, when you’re trying to lose weight, the changes you’re making are novel, and you’re likely feeling very hopeful. It can be exciting to eat in a new way, especially if you see progress on the scale and in your energy levels and mood. But then those old unhealthy habits can come roaring back, threatening to derail your progress. It may be second nature to sit down after dinner and flip on the TV rather than take a walk in the neighborhood or reach for a sugary snack when you’re feeling stressed.
To get back on track, you’ll want to revamp your mindset. “Weight loss is not going to be a complete overhaul of everything, but instead a series of small things that add up over time,” says Walter. In other words, think about how you can chip away at those little habits or tweak them to work for you in a new way, she suggests. You might decide to have a glass of wine once a week instead of every other night or plan for a Friday homemade pizza night with a big salad on the side rather than ordering out (or trying to deny yourself a slice altogether).
To make healthy eating habits more automatic, Walter recommends setting up a regular meal schedule. “Your body expects to be fed at certain points of the day. That’s when your metabolism will start to pick up [to process your food]. When your body can expect to be fed regularly, it knows it doesn’t have to save and store everything you’re putting in your body,” she says. Regular eating habits help keep hormones and blood sugar balanced, as well as regulate your metabolism to help you shed pounds. This could be as simple as scheduling when you plan to eat, or it can be more advanced by dedicating a day to meal prep so you always have healthy meals on hand.
There are days when things are crazy. Maybe you’re running from place to place or there are tons of deadlines thrown at you. Maybe it’s just a ‘blah’ day, and your eating habits slip. “If you have that routine to fall back on, those days don’t matter as much because you can jump right back into the healthy routine you established,” says Walter.
There’s no doubt a list of everything you hope to accomplish in a day, and that list can be long. “I find people have a lot of ‘shoulds’ in terms of what they’re doing that stand in the way of their progress,” says Walter. Many of those ‘shoulds’ revolve around what you have to do for others. It’s wonderful to take care of the people you love, but you also have to take care of yourself. Think about whether there’s a way you can let go of some of your responsibilities (or pass them onto another member of your household). Or, when faced with a choice, choose yourself. “For example, is it worth it to clean the kitchen right now (again), or can you do 10 minutes on the bike?” she asks.
If you lost some weight but now are at a standstill, it doesn’t mean your efforts were for nothing or that you’ll never reach your goal. “Plateaus are a good thing. It shows your body is adjusting to a new level. Smaller dip downs in weight are better because it means the change will likely be more permanent,” says Walter. Stay consistent — those new habits will pay off, and you’ll see another dip. Regularly logging your food and weight in an app like MyFitnessPal, where you can see graphs and trends over time, as well as progress photos, can serve as an important reminder of how far you’ve come and keep you on track to hit your goals.
The unwritten rule in weight loss: You probably need more sleep. Research found people on calorie-restricted diets who cut their sleep short by about an hour on weeknights lost less fat mass compared to dieters with normal sleep times. (Both groups lost a similar amount of weight overall.) “When there’s not enough time to rest and regenerate, it’s difficult for your body to focus on weight loss,” says Walter. Not to mention, research shows a lack of sleep negatively influences hormones that govern your appetite, meaning you may find you’re hungrier than normal when tired.
If you’re hitting a wall in weight loss, before reducing calories even more or spending more time exercising, look at the amount and quality of sleep you’re getting. If you’re falling short of 7–8 hours per night, try to increase your sleep time in small increments (think 15 or 20 minutes), recommends Walter.
Make progress every day while you work on mini fitness and nutrition goals, like walking more steps or learning to track macros. Go to “Plans” in the MyFitnessPal app for daily coaching and easy-to-follow tasks to keep you motivated.
This content was originally published here.