New year, new you: Setting weight loss goals

December 22, 2011 By Thomas J. Lane, M.D., FACP

With typically richer, more festive foods at holiday parties and family gatherings, many people gain 3-5 pounds during this time each year. Over the years, that can really add up! Most New Year's resolutions to lose weight seem to last just a week or two.

After the holidays, your first goal should be to lose your new weight gain. Set a specific, short-term goal to lose those pounds over one to two weeks. Get the leftover cookies out of the house! Avoid fatty foods, refined carbohydrates such as table sugar and soda, and empty calories. Get out of the recliner and walk an hour a day.

After this first success, you might want to gradually bring your weight down further, to achieve a more healthy level. Now you need to get serious about long-term lifestyle changes. Doing so can reduce your risk of diabetes, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, sleep apnea, and arthritis, or help you control these conditions. Here are tips to help make long-term changes:

1. Focus on foods that are good for you and reduce caloric intake. Your diet should contain foods you enjoy, but concentrate on low-density, high-fiber foods like fruits, vegetables, and whole grains. White-meat chicken, fish, or egg whites are excellent sources of lean protein. A Mediterranean-type diet with legumes, olives, and fish makes good sense metabolically. Eat smaller portions, especially of high-calorie foods. For meal planning and preparation, enlist help from everyone in your household.

2. Increase physical activity to achieve and maintain weight loss. Get a pedometer and see how many steps you walk each day. If your medical circumstances permit, increase gradually until you are walking 10,000 steps or more daily. In bad weather, a treadmill, exercise bicycle or elliptical device can be a big help. Schedule your physical activity time. Consider joining a gym. Get a family member or friend to exercise with you.

3. Meet with a registered dietitian or enroll in a weight loss program. Regular interaction and feedback about your eating habits and activity level can improve your focus and commitment.

Long-term weight loss is more gradual; aim for 1 to 2 pounds per week. Losing 20 pounds will often take three to six months. There will be slip-ups and setbacks. Forgive yourself and move on. The goal is lifelong behavioral change, not a quick fix. You will look and feel better, and be healthier and happier. Good luck!

Dr. Thomas Lane is director, Division of General Medicine and Geriatrics and medical director, Department of Health Promotion at The Hospital of Central Connecticut (HOCC). For information about our Weigh Your Options program, please call 866.668.5070.