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Road with mountains and trees behind it.

What now? A guide for figuring out the next step on the journey to a healthier weight…

By Melinda Maryniuk, MEd, RD, CDCES

A recent survey of over 1,700 individuals trying to reach a healthier weight revealed that almost half of them weren’t sure what they should do next.  Even many people who had had a conversation about managing their weight with their physician didn’t have a clear idea of what their next step should be.  

For anyone who is feeling stuck and needs some encouragement or guidance to move forward in their weight loss journey, here are some tips that may help:

Get the facts:

There is so much misinformation about weight loss circulating on the internet—it can be hard to sort it all out. Here’s what you need to know: 

  • Excess weight is not your fault.  Stop the self-blame and shame game.  It is well recognized that obesity / excess weight is a chronic medical condition and there are medical treatments that can help.   
  • Aim for a reasonable weight loss goal.  Recognize that we aren’t in control of the number on the scale… focus on the healthy behaviors that will lead to better physical and mental health, and let the scale take care of itself.  
  • Different diets work for different people!  There are many meal planning approaches that have proven effective for good health including the Mediterranean diet, the Plate Method, plant-based eating, a whole-foods approach (minimizing processed foods) and a lower-carb eating style. Choose the one that feels like something you’ll be able to stick with and enjoy.
  • Ask about other options.  For most people with obesity, a healthy diet and exercise alone are not enough to help them reach and maintain a healthier weight. The good news is that there are medical treatments available for obesity, including medications, surgery and psychological interventions.  Even if you’ve tried weight loss medicines in the past – there are newer and better options. Surgery may also be something to consider.  

Talk with your doctor:

Your doctor may not bring up the subject of your weight – so you might think he or she doesn’t want to talk about it.  The truth is that sometimes they wait for you to raise the issue.  If you’re ready to make weight loss a priority – talk to your doctor about treatment options and discuss what you think you need to have in place to be successful.  

  • What is a reasonable weight loss goal for me?
  • Are any of the medicines I’m taking contributing to weight gain?  
  • Is there a weight loss program that your patients have found helpful?
  • Is there a dietitian you’d recommend for me?    
  • Is there a psychologist or behavioral medicine specialist who could help me talk out ways to build a better relationship with food?
  • I’m feeling that I’ve given diet and exercise my best shot (and I’ll keep doing so…), but what else should I consider?  Are there weight-loss medications that might be right for me?

Create your P-A-P (Personal Action Plan):

You’re ready.  You’ve got the facts.  You’ve talked with your doctor… but now what?  It’s up to you to take the next steps.   Every journey is personal and there is no one right way.   Here are some suggestions that many who have been successful with weight loss and weight maintenance have found helpful to get you started.

  • Know your “why.”  It’s helpful to articulate the reason why weight loss is important to you.  Why is it going to be worth the effort?  Dig deep and think about that reason.  For the grandchildren?  To better walk without feeling tired? To enjoy a longer life?
  • Write it down.  Keep it somewhere to serve as your reminder. Keeping a food and / or activity record is also a good way to hold yourself accountable to your goals.
  • Understand the biology of weight regain. Many of us have lost weight in the past, but then gained it back. That doesn’t mean that we weren’t working hard enough… there are biological mechanisms inside our bodies that can drive weight regain. (for more about that, read this.) Being informed about what’s happening in your body can help you and your doctor figure out a plan for counterbalancing your body’s response to weight loss.
  • Assess what’s helped you in the past… and what hasn’t. Doing an inventory of times when you’ve had success and the tools that were useful can be a helpful exercise. Perhaps the encouragement of an online community or the structured check-ins of a formal program helped you stay on track… there might be a way to incorporate those helpful elements into your plan. (And also think through what you’ve tried that wasn’t a good fit… it can save you time and energy.)
  • Choose your approach. This might be joining a formal weight loss program (make sure that it’s reputable and medically-supervised), talking with your doctor about a medical treatment or following a do-it-yourself approach (such as using an app). 
  • Know that no choice is “forever.”  It’s okay to try different approaches… there are many paths to success. If your first plan isn’t feeling like something you can stick with over the long-term – try something else.  And if your doctor suggests something that doesn’t feel like the right fit – take time to think through what your concerns are.  Ask more questions if you need to better understand why something is being recommended. 
  • Have a support buddy.  It’s hard to be on this journey alone.  Ask a partner, loved one or friend for the kind of support you need.  It might be someone to walk with or someone who can provide gentle reminders of why you’re trying to reach a healthier weight.  Think through what would be helpful to you. Being part of a social media community (such as Facebook) of supporters is also awesome!
  • Make a list of the action steps you will take. Choose 2 – 3 for each week.   (see the list below for some ideas).  Make sure the goals you set are specific and realistic. (And keep in mind that everyone should be eating healthy and exercising to maintain good health, but lifestyle changes aren’t a treatment for obesity.) Set yourself up for success.  
  • Focus more on the positive.  Be thinking about what you can do… and less on what you want to avoid.  For example, instead of thinking “I can’t have ice cream every night,” think, “I can have ½ cup ice cream twice a week.

Remember – there is no one right way. Everyone’s journey is different – but you can be successful.  Take the first step and be kind to yourself!

Action Step Ideas!

  • I will take a brisk walk for ____ (10-20) minutes, ___ (4-6) days a week.  
  • I will drink ______ (water, seltzer, tea) instead of my usual higher calorie drinks (juice, soda).
  • I will make more healthy swaps of whole foods such as ______ for processed foods______.
  • I will weigh myself daily (or weekly).
  • I will plan meals ahead of time… and I will plan in some treats.
  • I will use a smaller plate/bowl/glass to help me reduce portion sizes.
  • I will make an appointment to talk with my doctor about the treatment options available.

Finding a doctor who specializes in helping people reach a healthier weight can make a huge difference on your health journey. To find a physician near you who specializes in weight management, click here.

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