Discipline vs. Willpower: 7 Tips for Weight Loss Success

I often find that March is when I can get more serious about taking off the few winter pounds I've taken on, and that I'm more incentivized to take my workout to a new level now too . . . spring is in the air, even if Mother Nature is a fickle old bird. The holidays are over, Girl Scout cookies are gone, and we've gotten our winter vacation out of the way. I have a 3-4 month span of nicer weather with few holidays and temptations to help me get where I want to be for summertime.

I'm no stranger to losing weight. In 1991, I lost 40 pounds, and I've kept it off for 21 years by watching what I eat, staying physically active, and dieting back down when I gain. These past few weeks, I've been successfully losing my post-op weight at my healthy loss-rate of 1 lb./week, doing "my usual" of counting calories and working out 7 days/week. 1,200 calories is my magic intake number and at least 300 calories burned per day is my output. This time around, I'm trying to double up on workouts a few days a week - one hard cardio session (around 700 calories burned) followed by an hour of Pilates (only busts around 200 calories, but it keeps me limber and keeps my arthritis at bay). Since I'm already so close to my goal, I'm tempted to see if I can keep this up and lose a bit more. I've been thinking that a great way to come-back after cancer Round II is to be in the best physical condition of my life. Last time around, I ran a 10K just a few months after completing treatment. Running's over for me, but pushups, hellraisers and supermans are not!

Today I was asked by someone - "how do you find the willpower to stick to your plan?" And it got me thinking. I actually have VERY little willpower. Have you SEEN me near a bag of Cheetos? Freshly baked bread and butter? In a gourmet restaurant with lots of lovely options? I love food. I really, truly do. Moderation and healthful eating are usually my savior, but for these times when I need to get things back in order, I actually do "diet." And my success in dieting is much more attributable to discipline than willpower - when I want to lose weight, I get very organized. Here're my 7 top tips for making it work:

  • I get rid of all the obviously tempting foods we have in the cupboards (I say "obviously," because as anyone who's been on a diet for a few weeks can tell you, you'll nosh on the weirdest stuff when you get desperate!).
  • I plan meals for the week that are around 300 calories, maybe 4-500 on the days when I'm burning close to 900 calories off in exercise.
  • I make sure we have lots of healthful "grab-n-go" snacks on hand, like apples, bananas, low-fat string cheese, low-fat Greek yogurts, etc.
  • I plan out what I'm going to eat each day down to every last bite - breakfast, lunch, afternoon snack and dinner.
  • If I'm meeting friends or going out with my husband, I budget in that evening out (if possible, I look at the restaurant menu on-line and get my game-plan ready before I show up. Many chain restaurants have their nutritional info. on line now, too, which is super helpful). Where there's no nutritional info. available, I scan the menu and choose from the more healthful options - often ordering a salad (no cheese, croutons, etc. and dressing on the side, or ask for just vinegar) and an appetizer instead of an entree.
  • I repeat meals a lot. I eat virtually the same breakfast and often the same lunch for days on end - for one, this makes things easy, I can copy from one day to the next in my on-line diary. Secondly, studies have shown that dieters who eat the same foods over and over again get bored, essentially, and feel fuller and more satisfied. I do find that when I try something new it's like my taste buds "wake up" and say, "Hey! There is a whole universe of deliciousness we're missing!" and then I have to calm them down and resist the urge to stray from the plan. That's a crappy feeling, so I try to avoid it.
  • Most importantly, I measure out my portions and keep track of everything I eat, using CalorieKing. Studies have also shown that people who're trying to lose weight are FAR more successful if they keep a food diary. Having it on-line is enormously helpful - you can access it from work, home, and even your mobile device. CalorieKing also has a huge food database, exercise database and there is the option to add your own foods and exercises. It's completely customizable. Every little nibble, taste and bite you take adds up quickly: Couple that with the fact that most of us underestimate what we're eating, and you've got a recipe for diet failure. Measuring and tracking it all also helps you to see trends in your hunger patterns (are you always hungry late afternoon? after dinner?) and allows you to budget your food accordingly. It also helps you make better choices - do you really want that snack of 15 crackers when you can have a whole apple AND a whole orange for the same amount of calories and stay satisfied for so much longer because of all the fiber? Some days, you might go for the crackers - but at least you'll understand the trade-offs.

It all takes work, it's a little unpleasant some days, and it's boring. But it's time-limited (even if you have a lot to lose) and when you are losing, it's the most gratifying thing. Who doesn't love to be rewarded for a good effort?

How 'bout you? Do you ever "diet?" What're your secrets to success?

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