Launching a successful lifestyle-changing food program is difficult, not to mention the additional, unexpected barriers you may face along the way. Use these strategies to overcome them.
Are you really ready?
Knowing whether you are truly ready to make such a change can be tricky.
Only people who have determined what they want to do and why can make lasting change, experts say. Only people who truly want to make a difference in their lives and are really ready should start a lifestyle-changing food program, said Barb Cady, president of TOPS Club, Inc. (Take off Pounds Sensibly), a nonprofit network of weight-loss support groups. Cady lost 80 pounds after she joined decades ago when she was having difficulty conceiving.
Every person’s body is very individual, echoed Susan Ojanen, a certified, integrative nutrition coach and owner of smallstepswellness.com, based in Bristol, Tennessee. Perhaps a person has food sensitivities or negative eating patterns that were entrenched in childhood and are hard to kick.
Hiring a certified health coach can help pinpoint your internal obstacles and clarify your goals, said Ojanen. “Not being able to lose weight might not have anything to do with food,” she said, explaining there might be stressors in a person’s life causing them to eat emotionally.
Often, Ojanen finds fear is what is keeping clients from implementing change. Once the cause is revealed, the client and coach can work through it together.
Falling off the wagon
One of the biggest barriers to weight loss is not losing it quickly enough, said Amy Fischl, a dietitian at the University of Chicago Medical System. That is why it is so important to set a small, realistic weight-loss goal and, once you achieve it, set another.
“Everybody is going to fall off the wagon, but what happens when you fall off the wagon is you say, ‘I’m done,’” said Fischl. “It’s really important that even if you fall, you brush yourself off and start all over again.” There will be peaks and valleys.
In addition to setting a short-term weight-loss goal, people can set small lifestyle-change goals as well. For example, you could set a goal to eliminate processed foods. Instead of eating a granola bar for a snack, try a thick smoothie and a piece of dark chocolate, said Ojanen. Instead of applesauce, eat a whole apple. Do this step for a week, and if you are comfortable with it add a new step, she said.
Another tip: Think about what methods have worked for you in the past and try to work them into your current plan. Perhaps when you ate healthily in the past, substituting green tea for coffee helped with weight loss. If something worked, try it again, Ojanen said. Troubleshoot the things that didn’t work and try to come up with new solutions. For example, if when you last tried to change your eating patterns you felt sabotaged by work lunch meetings at which you had no control over the food, perhaps this time try to order your meals in advance, said Ojanen.
As a society, we do not do a good job of eating healthily, said Fischl. People have too much going on to remember to plan their meals ahead of time.
That is where reminders come in. Fischl’s regular patients tell her they eat healthily right after their visits, but after a month or two, they start to slip. Find ways to create weekly or monthly reminders to keep healthy eating at the top of your mind. While Wayne Vandenlangenberg was working to lose hundreds of pounds, he carried a picture of himself at a heavy weight as a reminder to follow his food program, because he never wanted to look like that again.
Not everyone will be on board with your new plan for healthy eating and a healthy lifestyle. Believe it or not, some of the biggest saboteurs are mothers, Fischl said. “They may say, ‘You have to eat!’ or ‘What’s wrong with you?’ or ‘Food is life,’” she said. Friends also may encourage you to eat unhealthily and not be supportive. To get the people in your life on board, Fischl suggested making everyone in your life understand your goals and asking them to help you stay away from trigger foods.
You also may sabotage yourself. That was the case for Vandenlangenberg, who at one point weighed over 600 pounds. As a child, he was bullied at school, and his father was verbally abusive, and as a result, he took comfort in food. He hid food in sandwich bags under a tree in the yard or in the garage. As an adult, he ate away sad feelings. “I felt good when I was doing it. I felt like it was overpowering, it was stronger than my marriage,” he said.
Vandenlangenberg grew up eating a large amount of carbohydrates and not many vegetables. Through the course of losing weight, he learned about healthier patterns. In addition to giving up red meat, consuming few carbohydrates, and eating a lot of produce, he hikes and explores zoos with his wife Laurie. At one point, the pull toward food was stronger than that toward Laurie — until the moment came when he realized he might die or lose her, and he couldn’t bear to let that happen.
His advice: Don’t give up. Everybody has the power. “There is no situation that can’t be solved,” he said, and it doesn’t have to be solved with food. “Just sit back and analyze the situation.
“I’m not a miracle worker,” said Vandenlangenberg. “I’m just a normal person who fought back.”