Has your New Year’s weight-loss resolution fallen by the wayside? If you’ve already abandoned those hopes for losing weight in 2021, it may not be entirely your fault that you couldn’t quite get to where you wanted to be. For instance, if you attempted to lose weight simply by changing your eating and exercise habits, you may not have realized that there are other things you should be doing, as well, to help yourself along the way. Eating right and getting more exercise puts you on the right track, but there are other factors – “missing links,” if you will – that can help you on the road to long-term weight loss success.
Blount Memorial registered dietitian Angie Tillman says many people stumble by thinking changing their diet and exercise habits alone will do the job. “For some people, especially those with relatively small amounts of weight to lose and few or no health problems, eating better and exercising more will get them to their desired goals,” Tillman said. “But for many others, especially those with lifelong obesity or morbid obesity, it isn’t quite that simple. There often are other practices or issues that must be addressed first or in combination with small eating and exercise behavior goals. There are four areas that can play a huge role in long-term weight loss success. These are the possible ‘missing links’ to consider if diet and exercise alone don’t seem to be working,” she said.
“First and foremost are our sleep habits. Research repeatedly shows that lack of sleep is linked to weight gain and overeating. Sleep deprivation has been linked to increased late-night snacking, eating larger portion sizes overall, increased hunger and increased cravings for high-calorie, carbohydrate-rich foods. The stress hormone cortisol also is increased with sleep deprivation, which signals energy conservation, which, in turn, can mean increased fat storage,” Tillman explained. “If sleep is an issue, first, try to focus on good sleep hygiene, and if you’re not seeing improvement, it’s probably time to consult a sleep specialist to address possible medical issues, or consider cognitive behavioral therapy to help reestablish good sleeping patterns,” she added.
Tillman says the next thing to consider is stress. “Stress impacts weight management both from hormonal effects and from stress-related habits such as emotional eating,” she said. “The ‘fight or flight’ response activated by stress sets us up to crave carbohydrates and sugar the body believes we need to fight or flee. The problem is that many of our stresses now are met with inactivity, such as sitting on your couch or at your desk at work. This doesn’t “burn up” the added carbohydrates and sugar. Fortunately, exercise happens to be one of the best stress-busters. Other strategies include evaluating those stressors in our lives that we can control, such as our overbooked schedules, time management and difficult interpersonal relationships,” she explained. “Depending on the intensity of stress, it often can be beneficial to seek counseling for support,” she added.
The third “missing link” to long-term weight loss success, Tillman says, is body image. “Positive body image repeatedly is linked to better long-term weight loss success,” she said. “Often when facing lifestyle change, it can be easy to be too hard on ourselves and beat ourselves up when we eat off-plan or miss an exercise session. Practice patting yourself on your back for the positive changes you have made and talking to yourself kindly when you slip a little. Make sure to care for the body you currently have – wear attractive clothes that fit you now, and don’t constantly put things off until a time when you’ve lost ‘enough’ weight,” she explained.
Finally, Tillman says, taking better care of ourselves, in general, can help with weight loss goals. “Many adults, especially women, seem to allow themselves to fall to the very bottom of their ‘to-do’ lists,” Tillman said. “It often happens gradually – work, kids, family, aging parents, volunteer commitments all seem to become priorities. If you can’t remember the last time you did something fun that you enjoy, you probably need to prioritize self-care. Self-care comes in many forms, such as time alone, hanging out with friends, a date night with your spouse or time for a hobby you enjoy. It also comes in the form of positive changes to your eating and exercise habits,” she said. “Try thinking of eating well and exercising as rewards, not punishments,” she added.