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Tell us if this sounds familiar: You commit to losing weight, start a diet, drop some pounds — and then regain them as soon as you go off the program. If you’re stuck in a cycle of losing and regaining the same 10 (or 15 or 30!) pounds, you’re not alone. Many people fall into this pattern because, let’s face it, it’s impossible to stay on a “diet” forever. That’s why the health experts at Mayo Clinic designed the Mayo Clinic Diet, which is less of a traditional “diet” and more of a healthy lifestyle change. The aim of the Mayo Clinic Diet is to help you lose weight and find a “diet” (as in way of life) that you can enjoy forever. The program was created to arm you with the healthy habitsyou need to reach your weight-loss goals. If you want to lose weight and keep it off, try these five tips backed by Mayo Clinic experts.
1. Never Eat While You Watch TV
You get home from work, make dinner, and watch a few episodes of Game of Thrones while you enjoy your meal. Sounds harmless enough, but according to Mayo Clinic experts, this could cause you to gain weight. One reason: Since you aren’t moving, there’s a good chance you’re sipping or nibbling on something without thinking about how much you’re eating. That’s why they recommend establishing a rule of no TV or “screen time” (that includes smartphones, tablets and computers!) while eating. You’ll focus on your food more and be less likely to overeat. Another rule they recommend: Only spend as much time watching TV as you do exercising. In other words, if you go for a 30-minute walk, you can have half an hour of TV time. This will help get you off the couch and moving more.
2. Eat “Real Food” Most of the Time
Chances are, you’ve heard the buzz surrounding the movement to eat more whole foods. And Mayo Clinic experts agree: Eating “real food” (or food that’s closest to its natural state) is healthier for you and your family. “Real food,” which includes fresh fruits, vegetables, fish and meat, is packed with nutrients. Processed foods, on the other hand, have fewer healthy nutrients and can be loaded with added fat, sugar, calories, and salt. Processed foods include many boxed, frozen and fast foods. Mayo Clinic experts recommend limiting processed foods and filling your diet with as many fresh foods as possible. “I was very pleasantly surprised to learn how to cook healthy foods and realize that adding spices to flavor healthier foods helps them satisfy me more than the sugar- and carb-loaded diet I used to crave,” says Jan, a 55-year-old who lost 81 pounds on the Mayo Clinic Diet. If you do use prepared food products, choose items with the fewest number of ingredients and check the Nutrition Facts label to make sure the product isn’t loaded with excess sugar, salt, fat, and calories.
3. Set Realistic Goals You Can Commit to Right Now
When most people start a weight-loss program, they set what Mayo Clinic experts call “outcome goals”: those that focus on an end result like “I want to weigh 125 pounds” or “I want to lose 30 pounds.” While these kinds of goals can be helpful, they’re not as effective as “performance goals,” or those that focus on a process or action such as “I will walk 30 minutes each day” or “I will eat four servings of vegetables each day.” When it comes to weight loss, performance goals are crucial because they provide the steps necessary to achieve your outcome goal. As you set your weight-loss goal (say, dropping 10 pounds), think about what actions will get you there and write them down in a notebook. Whether it’s “eat breakfast every morning” or “take the stairs instead of the elevator,” performance goals like these will help set you up for diet success. “As you learn more about what works for you, and as you start seeing progress, you’ll have even more motivation to set goals that both challenge you and fit realistically with your unique life,” notes Kristin Vickers Douglas, PhD, a professor and clinical health psychologist at the Mayo Clinic.
4. Stop Dining Out So Much
Eating out is convenient (and delicious!), but it’s also associated with weight gain. The sights and smells at a restaurant, deli counter, bakery, or food court may entice you to purchase high-calorie menu items (sometimes when you’re not even hungry!). That’s why Mayo Clinic experts suggest that you avoid dining at restaurants while you’re trying to lose weight. It may sound daunting at first, but with some smart planning, you really can eat more meals from home. An easy way to get started is to plan all your meals for the week (including breakfast, lunch, dinner, and snacks) on Sunday or whatever day works best for you. Strategizing your meals by week (rather than day by day) is more efficient and will help keep you on track.
“Your ability to control portions and plan meals will make or break your weight-loss efforts,” says Sara Wolf, RD, manager of clinical dietetics at Mayo Clinic. Cook recipes that yield more than one portion so you’ll have leftovers to eat for lunch, and prep healthy snacks in advance — slice fruits and veggies and parcel out portions of nuts, popcorn, and other healthy bites. That way, you’ll have something healthy to reach for the next time a snack attack hits. When you do eat out, make healthier choices: Pick broth-based or tomato-based soups instead of creamed soups and chowders, choose entrees that feature vegetables or fish, and try to skip dessert (if you just can’t resist, choose a fruit-based treat).
5. Engage in More Activity, More Often
You already know that exercise is crucial when it comes to losing weight. But what kind of workout is best for you? According to Mayo Clinic experts, the best exercise is the one you’ll actually do — and it doesn’t have to involve long hours at the gym. Any activity is good activity: Walking to the store, weeding the garden, and cleaning the house all count. “I started doing squats while waiting for my dogs to eat and taking the stairs instead of the elevator,” says Hilary, a 40-year-old who lost 77 pounds. In fact, some activities you already love may burn more calories than you think. For example, just one hour of leisurely biking burns 292 calories and one hour of dancing burns 219 calories (both are based on a 160-pound person). Make it your mission to do whatever you can to simply get moving daily — it truly does add up!