If you're like most Americans, regardless of your size your body weight fluctuates throughout the year. For frequent dieters, those fluctuations can be quite dramatic and large. But, even people who manage their weight relatively successfully experience weight changes through time, although those changes may be less significant.
It's logical that some weight fluctuations are normal. Nobody eats the same number of calories each day, nor is their daily activity level exactly the same. In addition, the typical American lifestyle involves seasons, vacations and holidays, when people are more likely to gain weight due to increased eating or other factors.
The typical dieter's mentality would have you get upset at the first sign of weight gain and then immediately try to get on a restrictive diet. However, that may not be the smartest thing to do if you want to successfully get back to your trimmer self. There may be a simpler, easier and more comfortable solution.
The fact is that there can be numerous reasons you've gained weight. You might be eating the same amount but not exercising as much as you did before the weight gain. You might be eating about the same quantity of food but eating food of poorer quality. You might be overeating despite eating nutritious foods. Perhaps you've been under a tremendous amount of stress, which has been causing you to eat poorly and avoid exercise. You might even find that in the past few weeks you've been drinking more alcohol due to more dinner parties and not counting the drinks as part of your caloric intake. It might even seem like you're eating and exercising the same amount except for the additional two or three Girl Scout cookies each day (which don't seem like much on a daily basis but can add up to a significant amount over several weeks).
The best way to address a recent weight gain is to approach the matter like a detective. Try following these simple steps:
1. Don't get upset about gaining weight. That will not help or fix the problem. Remember that to expect that your weight never fluctuate is not logical. After all, you wouldn't expect your house never to get dirty even though there's daily traffic going in and out and you just had a big birthday party for your child. Human bodies require regular maintenance. Sometimes that means tweaking things a little whenever it seems to be getting out of its healthy weight range, so stay cool.
2. Don't assume you've gained weight only because you're eating too much, and that you must get on a diet. Investigate what has changed from your usual healthful lifestyle. Your body reflects changes you've made. Is the weight gain a matter of too little exercise, large portion sizes, poor food choices, excessive drinking, chronic stress or just daily intake of Girl Scout cookies?
3. Zero in on the culprits and make a step-by-step plan for how to alter or eliminate them. Sometimes it means decreasing something (such as Girl Scout cookie consumption or stress). Other times it's about increasing something (such as exercise or nutritious foods). Wouldn't it be easier to focus on the Girl Scout cookies, if they're the cause of your weight gain, rather than get on an all-encompassing rigid and depriving diet?
4. Make sure you have a reasonable and achievable plan. If something needs to be eliminated and the thought of doing it cold turkey doesn't feel overwhelming, go right ahead. If it does feel overwhelming, it's better to make a plan that gradually eliminates the culprit of your weight gain than to set goals that are too big and lead to failure and a feeling of defeat. This is about reacting in a smarter way — by understanding how your mind works best. If your initial plan begins to feel overwhelming, simply break the larger steps into smaller, more comfortable steps.
5. Maintain your focus on the root cause and don't allow yourself to get distracted and on yet another rigid diet. If you fall back into this pattern you won't have learned how to avoid the issue that caused the weight gain in the first place. However, if you maintain your focus, you'll become better and better at stopping the weight-gain perpetrator sooner next time.
Weight fluctuations are a normal part of life, and they can be dealt with easily if you approach the matter calmly and wisely. When you gain weight, don't impulsively get on a diet. Assess why, and zero in on the real problem.
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@example.com.