You hear a lot of advice about lifestyle change for weight management these days, but what does it mean? Everyone has a lifestyle of their own. It's made up of patterns. Just think about the kinds of patterns you have in your life and how they affect your weight.
For example, most of us tend to get up and go to bed around the same time each day. Some of us are early birds and some of us are night owls.
We also have eating patterns.
I tend to get up before dawn and eat right away. Then I tend to get hungry again after three hours. My last meal of the day usually is around 5 p.m.
On the other hand, I have some friends who eat breakfast when I'm eating lunch, and they have dinner when I'm preparing for bed.
What patterns do you have with respect to the types and quantities of foods you eat? These patterns are part of your personal lifestyle.
Now think about what patterns you have in regard to activity. Exercise is part of a lifestyle for some people. Others rarely move during the day, spending most of their waking hours in a sitting position.
Your eating and exercise or movement patterns make up your lifestyle. But to really be part of your lifestyle, you have to consistently display the same pattern of behaviors over a relatively long time. Going on a diet for a month or to a spinning class for a week doesn't count. A lifestyle is established when you continue behaviors regularly and long-term. How long? There's no standard time period, but if you've been doing something regularly for at least six months with few interruptions, you're probably well on your way to having changed your lifestyle. You'll really know you've changed your lifestyle when your behavior feels like a habit and you don't have to think too much about what you do.
So, why is lifestyle important? Because some lifestyles can make it easier for you to achieve and maintain your goals of weight loss and fitness. Of course, some lifestyles can have the opposite effect. Here are some examples:
Rigid lifestyles: Rigidity makes it impossible to make behaviors a lifestyle because you can't sustain them. Eliminating carbohydrates to lose weight will get you what you want, but not for long, because you can't go the rest of your life without eating carbs. Sooner or later, a rigid system will break down and you'll be right back where you started.
Fast lifestyles: If your life is so hectic that you don't have time to do what it takes to lose weight, good intentions and a wealth of weight-loss information won't matter. You must make time for the things that work.
Sedentary lifestyles: It's next to impossible to maintain a lean weight and be healthy for the rest of your life unless you make your body engine work to burn calories.
Stressful lifestyles: Stress can do a double whammy on weight. Chronic stress tends to encourage the body to retain fat stores. It also robs your mind of the focus and time needed to do healthy things.
Priority-challenged lifestyles: Too often I hear people complain of failures with their weight when they lead a life in which they've made themselves last on the priority list. If you put everything and everyone above you, a lifestyle change is the only way to get you the results you want.
Too often when people set out to lose weight, they think with psychological blinders on, focusing only on starting the latest fad diet. Instead, they should carefully examine their lifestyle. If areas in your lifestyle are setting you up to fail, concentrate on those and make long-term changes that will result in a permanent difference. Be a problem-solver, not just a follower of the latest, greatest weight-loss idea. A lifestyle change is important if you want to achieve your weight-loss goals and be a healthy, fit person for the long haul. If you're only interested in temporary results and don't mind the roller coaster, don't change a thing.
Dr. Lavinia Rodriguez is a Tampa psychologist and expert in weight management. She is the author of "Mind Over Fat Matters: Conquering Psychological Barriers to Weight Management." Send questions to her at [email protected]