Give Yourself an Attitude Makeover

Learn to believe, and you can succeed

By Kathleen Zelman, MPH, RD, LD
WebMD Weight Loss Clinic - Expert Column

When my children were small, they could not get enough of the book, The Little Engine That Could. They loved the attitude of the little blue engine who believed she could make it to the top of the mountain and, sure enough, she did -- every time I read them their favorite book.

A can-do attitude is a wonderful virtue for young and old alike. If you want to succeed, you need to believe in yourself. And nowhere is that lesson more valuable than in the weight loss journey.

In the beginning, losing weight seems pretty simple because you're motivated and determined to accomplish your goals. Then the novelty wears off, the determination wanes -- and french fries, doughnuts, and all those other foods that don't really belong on a healthy diet taunt your brain. Add a weight loss plateau to the scenario, and it's no wonder that 60% of U.S. adults are still overweight.

That doesn't mean your weight loss effort is doomed to fail! First of all, we all know that traditional "diets" don't work. Deprivation only serves to make you want the forbidden food more.

So if you're yearning for a doughnut, go for it! Just remember that it contains nothing more than refined carbs, sugar, and fat; is not particularly healthy and should be eaten only in small portions (think one doughnut) on occasion.

Remember, you're trying to learn better eating habits, not just lose weight. And when you need something sweet, it's better to reach for fresh fruit, low-fat frozen yogurt, or a piece of hard candy.

Day by Day

Approach your weight loss program one day at a time. Of course you'd like to lose all the weight overnight, but do I need to remind you how long it took to gain it?

Keeping a positive attitude and making small changes in your lifestyle is what wins the weight loss battle. Choosing the fruit over the doughnut is a step in the right direction. Do it several more times and it becomes a habit -- and a much healthier one.

There's no denying that changing lifelong habits can be tough. After all, these habits have defined who you are. It can feel like an emotional roller coaster: Some days, chipping away at these old habits seems easy, while on others, the task feels overwhelming.

So keep your eye on the target, and if you falter, don't worry. Just pick yourself up and get right back on track. Over time, your deviations from the plan will become fewer and fewer, and your resolve will get stronger, especially when you're seeing the pounds come off. Successful members who have changed their eating and exercise habits realize they can have it all, as long as they stay in control of the situation.

Mind Games

Equip yourself with strategies to help during the times when you become vulnerable. For example, make a list of things to do other than eat when boredom or stress strikes. Doing something physical helps eliminate stress and it burns calories. Wouldn't this be the perfect time to take the dog for a long walk?

If you acknowledge your weaknesses, it's easier to plan how you'll cope when the situation strikes. Having a buddy to call or exchange emails with, reading inspiring words that strengthen your resolve, or getting out of the kitchen and cleaning out a closet -- you need coping strategies to help overcome overeating.

A new way of thinking is what allows you to modify your behaviors and make those small changes permanent. In time, the drive to overeat will be replaced with these healthier habits.

Reality Check

Improving your physical activity patterns and eating more healthfully is the prescription for good health. It does not mean you have to give up everything you like. It simply means moderation -- with you in control of the food you eat, not the food controlling you.

It's human nature to be drawn to things that we cannot have. Don't set yourself up for failure by eliminating your favorite foods; just put them in the "occasional" category. Knowing you can have them is incredibly powerful, and helps stop the cravings. It's better to have a small portion of something you crave than an out-of-control binge.

Better yet, try to curb your desire for sweets or whatever food is calling your name. Look for ways to satisfy the urge with something more nutritious.

If it's not a specific food but a time of day that sets you up for temptation (maybe after dinner, when you're sitting in front of the television) try to alter your behavior at that time. Can you watch television elsewhere? How about reading a good book, or folding laundry?

If you need to eat in the evening, try to do so before 8 p.m. Setting that hour as your final eating deadline will help control calorie intake and will get you into the habit of eating during more active times of the day. Brush your teeth at 8; it will help you honor this good habit.

Holiday Strategy

Having a positive attitude is the best medicine for coping with temptations during holidays or any time of year. When you believe in yourself, you'll know that you can enjoy the fun, family, friends and good cheer without diet disaster.

Remember the little engine: tell yourself, "I think I can, I think I can," and you will. Believing that you can conquer the situation is of utmost importance. The payoff? Not only will you lose weight, but you'll feel much better, both physically and emotionally. You can do it!

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