Want to lose weight? You’re in good company. According to a 2020 survey, nearly three in five Americans reported wanting to shed pounds.
That said, lasting weight loss can be a major effort requiring mental and emotional commitment. Whereas fad diets may help you drop pounds quickly, keeping weight off for good often means rooting out long-held patterns for true lifestyle change.
If you’re looking to lose weight—and keep it off—you’ll want to be prepared for the journey. Before taking flight, consider these six questions.
1. Why Do I Want to Lose Weight?
As you look down the vista of weight loss, the first (and possibly most important) question to ask is simply “why”? Determining your own motivation can help you identify your goals and how you’ll achieve them.
“The ‘why’ is really very important because you want to lose weight for the right reasons,” says dietitian Bonnie Taub-Dix, R.D.N., creator of BetterThanDieting.com. (Among other reasons, says Taub-Dix, she’s seen people want to lose weight merely to impress the opposite sex or to win a car as a reward.) “If you have diabetes or heart issues, or you’re just very unhappy with the way you look and feel, then those would be reasons why you may want to embark upon a weight-loss journey.”
Establishing your own personal “why” will not only keep you focused along the way. When you’ve got a concrete motivation for weight loss, such as being able to keep up with your kids or run without pain, you’ll be better able to monitor your progress as you go.
2. How Ready Am I to Make Lasting Change?
Once you’ve determined your reasons for wanting to trim down, a follow-up question naturally arises. Are you truly ready to make the changes weight loss requires? Or, perhaps more accurately, how ready are you?
Some dietitians walk weight-loss clients through assessment tools like a readiness scale of one to 10 or a written questionnaire. These tools can be helpful, but they’re not one-size-fits-all. “You can use a tool or scale to assess your readiness, but it really depends on what that scale means to you,” says Taub-Dix. Deciding your own level of readiness for change may take some more in-depth reflection. Think about the time and energy you’re prepared to devote to the cause.
3. How Will I Incorporate Foods I Enjoy So I Won’t Feel Deprived?
It’s an all-too-common pitfall dietitians say they see time and again: Excessive deprivation spells the end of a diet. Go too long feeling robbed of your favorite foods (or enough food, period) and you’ll eventually overcompensate—or give up healthy eating altogether.
Fortunately, a weight-loss program doesn’t have to mean monastic avoidance of cupcakes or mac and cheese. In fact, incorporating best-loved foods is often an important tool for sticking with your eating plan. “A weight-loss program should be more about making healthy, sustainable lifestyle changes, not learning to live without your favorite foods,” says dietitian Anne Danahy, M.S., R.D.N., who’s a fan of the 80/20 rule. “If you’re making the best choices you can 80 percent of the time, you’ll be moving forward and realizing benefits.”
As for the other 20 percent? Opting for more indulgent choices on occasion could actually help you stay grounded. “A bit of indulgence won’t make a significant dent in your progress,” Danahy says. “In many cases, it will help you continue your positive changes because you’ll learn how to indulge in moderation.”
Before diving into a new diet, consider which foods are non-negotiable. Whatever your answers, don’t purge them from your pantry.
4. Will My Family and Friends Support This Journey?
Social support is an undeniable component of a successful weight-loss journey. (The Mayo Clinic even calls it a “necessity” for weight loss.) Numerous studies have established the helpfulness of having your community in your corner—like 2016 research in the Journal of Behavioral Medicine, which found that people who maintained weight loss were more likely to have active participation from their friends and family.
With prospective diet changes on the horizon, how supportive will your social circle be? “It’s important to discuss this with a spouse, partner, or close friend,” says Taub-Dix. “Hopefully they will be supportive in a positive way.” Feel free to get specific with those closest to you about how they can help you succeed (especially if they live with you). Perhaps they can commit to encouraging you when the going gets tough, or to eating one meal a day that aligns with your diet choices.
Not convinced the people closest to you will be your best cheerleaders? Perhaps it’s time to seek out others who will. Research in the journal Pilot and Feasibility Studies showed that even online support groups can have a positive impact on weight loss. If in-person support is hard to come by, consider finding a pro-weight loss group on social media or an online message board.
Read More: 7 Signs Your Weight Loss Isn’t Sustainable
5. How Will I Celebrate My Successes?
Lasting weight loss shouldn’t be a nose-to-the-grindstone downer day after day. After all, underneath the challenge of losing weight is the wonderful reward of looking and feeling your best. To acknowledge your hard work and encourage yourself to stay the course, consider how you’ll incorporate some fun into the process.
“Acknowledge and celebrate your successes by doing nice things for yourself periodically,” says Danahy. “I don’t recommend food rewards, but instead, treat yourself to a new outfit, new workout clothes (motivation to get to the gym more), or an afternoon at the spa—anything that makes you feel good about yourself.”
6. How Will I Monitor My Progress?
So you’re lacing up your metaphorical (and literal) sneakers for a weight-loss journey—but where’s the finish line? Though you may have a numerical goal in mind, many dietitians say it’s better to let the journey take you where it will. “It’s not always realistic to set goals on the scale because you may not even know what it’ll feel like to be there,” says Taub-Dix.
Rather than zero in on a specific number of pounds lost, ask yourself how you might monitor your progress with other measures. Taub-Dix suggests paying more attention to indicators like walking without shortness of breath, lowering your blood sugar, or simply fitting more comfortably in your clothes.
Meanwhile, since the goal of weight loss is to develop a healthier lifestyle overall, focusing too narrowly on an end point could be counterproductive. “It seems as if this is a finite thing, as if you go on a diet, you lose weight, and then you’re done,” explains Taub-Dix. “But if you’re improving your eating habits, it’s not done. You may be adding more foods or adding different foods—all of this is your choice. It’s more of a transition.”