Small goals = big success

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According to Australian data, one in three women make losing weight and improving fitness their New Year’s resolution — but almost a quarter give up after just one week. Sound familiar? If you want to lose weight, several factors can conspire to sabotage your goal-getting abilities. For example, embarking on a ‘diet’ to lose weight can be a way of setting yourself up to fail — because if the diet’s rules aren’t sustainable, you won’t get results. It’s one reason most dieters gain back the weight they’ve lost — and often a fair bit more.

Telling yourself ‘I should choose the salad’ on a weight-loss journey doesn’t help either. “Saying we ‘should’ be doing something subconsciously implies that we’re supposed to be doing or achieving that thing, but that we’re not,” says psychologist Dr Marny Lishman. “That can make us feel like we’ve already failed.” Far from spurring us on, those feelings can have the opposite effect. So, what’s the secret to lasting weight loss and better health? Well, read on. We’ll show you exactly what works — and proven ways to keep these strategies succeeding!

Reflect on ‘why’

Behavioural scientists say that keeping front of mind the reason why you want to reach your healthy weight range motivates you to keep at it, and helps you keep those kilos off. Rather than letting all those healthy behaviours that got you there fall away, you’ll keep doing them. Studies reveal managing your weight to please yourself rather than someone else delivers better results, as does doing it for a reason like getting more energy or better health, rather than purely for appearances.

And remember — no ‘should-ing’ yourself. Instead, reframe your weight-loss strategy so it sounds like something you’d like to start working on. That will put you in a more helpful frame of mind, so that you’re more likely to start taking steps towards doing it. ‘I’d like to lose weight’ is also a great way to start exploring why that goal’s important to you, especially when you put a ‘because ’ or a ‘so I can … ’ on the end.

Don’t focus too much on the end goal

You might have a number on the scale in mind, but according to a Portuguese study, making it your primary focus isn’t the best approach. Focusing on achieving a certain weight can be a subconscious ‘cue’ that you can quit weight-management friendly behaviours once you hit (or don’t hit) that target. A 2016 study also found most of us need more immediate rewards to stay motivated, rather than the far-off carrot a number on a scale represents. A better approach is to focus on the process, instead, by making a bunch of smaller changes that are rewarding — because that delivers big results over time.

The ‘small changes’ approach to reaching and maintaining a healthy weight is scientifically backed, and there are so many changes to choose from. Check out the 20 we’ve highlighted below.

Once you’ve picked a few to work on, turn them into easy routines that are Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic and Time-related (SMART).

For example, if you choose ‘exercise more‘, you might say: ‘I’m going to walk the dog after work three times a week this month’. It’s specific. You can also measure whether you achieve it. It’s very achievable and realistic — and by including ‘this month’, you’ve made it time-related.

Turn changes into habits

When something’s habitual, you’ll do it on autopilot instead of having to make a conscious effort. An effective way to do it is by using the proven TAP technique — or Trigger, Action, Practise. So, if your action is: ‘I’m going to walk the dog after work three times a week this month’, choose a trigger to act as a prompt to do it. It might be hanging the lead at the front door or refilling the dog’s water bowl. Then, whenever you encounter that trigger, practise the action.

Don’t let a setback, set you back

Gained weight instead of lost it? Or perhaps you haven’t carried out those small changes as often as you’d like? Don’t panic — and don’t give up. Research shows you don’t need a 100 per cent hit rate when acting on your trigger to make a change stick, and that weight gain doesn’t have to derail your journey towards your healthy weight goal, either.

20 weight-loss goals

A lot of small changes can help you shift weight and keep it off. Try these research-backed tips from leading health journalist Karen Fittall to get started.

  1. Shop with a grocery list – researchers confirm it helps weight loss by making it easier to avoid less healthy impulse food purchases.
  2. Track what you eat – people who did so in a study published last year lost more than two kilograms in three months — without making a conscious effort to change their diet.
  3. Eat 25g protein at breakfast – a CSIRO report has found eating at least 75g protein a day helps deliver weight loss — and that consuming one-third of it at breakfast is key.
  4. Snap your snack in half – 15 minutes after you’ve eaten it, you’ll feel just as satisfied as if you’d eaten the whole thing, but will have consumed up to 400 fewer kilojoules.
  5. Don’t eat ‘on the go’ – it upsets your ‘food memory’, which means at the next meal or snack time you could eat much more food than you otherwise would.
  6. Read food labels – people who read labels to choose food products weigh about 4 kilograms less than those who never worry about reading the nutrition information.
  7. Eat a small handful of almonds daily – eating a daily 40g serve of almonds has been linked to a reduction in stomach fat.
  8. Drink two glasses of water before each meal – you’ll consume about 370 fewer kilojoules, which can add up to losing 2.2 kilograms in 12 weeks.
  9. Pick & stick to an exercise time – increasing physical activity at the same time as making a few food-related changes delivers better weight loss than either strategy on its own. A study found that people who exercise at roughly the same time each day also do the most activity.
  10. Downsize your portions – it can shave up to 2200 kilojoules a day from your diet. Use plates no more than 25cm wide.
  11. Plan your meals – in a US study, people who bought lunch immediately after they’d eaten breakfast consumed 900 fewer kilojoules at midday than people who decided what to eat for lunch at lunchtime. Think ahead!
  12. Load your plate with prebiotics – the link between gut health and weight loss means it’s smart to feed your gut bacteria a prebiotic-rich diet, including garlic, onion, leek, chickpeas, lentils, oats and pistachio nuts.
  13. Shop for your food online – this reduces how much food winds up in your home and how many high-saturated-fat foods you’ll access.
  14. Go for a brisk walk after lunch – exercise affects the production of two gut hormones that suppress appetite, so you’ll stay satisfied for longer.
  15. Order first – research proves we mimic the food choices of people we eat with, so order first to make your healthy choices stick.
  16. Eat slowly, chew more – taking smaller mouthfuls, chewing each bite 20 times and pausing between forkfuls leaves you feeling fuller, despite consuming 290 fewer kilojoules per meal.
  17. Make sure you can hear yourself eat – when you can’t do this, you’ll eat 25 per cent more food.
  18. Divide your plate into four – fill two quarters of it with non-starchy vegies, one quarter with a wholegrain carbohydrate and the final quarter with a serve of healthy, lean protein. People who did this for six months were three times more likely to lose 5 per cent of their body weight.
  19. Avoid artificial sweeteners – the brain struggles to compute the big hit of sweetness that sweeteners deliver (minus any kilojoules), which then triggers a process that increases your appetite so you’ll eat even more.
  20. Eat your breakfast 90 minutes later and dinner 90 minutes earlier – this was enough to double the amount of body fat that participants lost during a 10–week 2018 study.

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