More than Willpower: How to Lose Weight for Good

Wish you had more willpower? Don't worry -- experts say weight loss and diabetes control come from a plan of action, not a will of iron.
  • Small Steps to Weight Loss

    If you think a lack of willpower is sabotaging your efforts, think again. Willpower isn't a magic quality essential for weight loss and diabetes control.

    "Willpower is not a very useful concept," says Michael R. Lowe, Ph.D., professor of psychology at Drexel University in Philadelphia. "People think in terms of depending on an imaginary internal resource. But that's not going to do much good for the majority of people. Ultimately, you have to translate that into action."

    These 11 easy-to-follow (and easy-to-achieve) expert tips will help you get on track to your weight loss and diabetes control goals.

  • Make Your Goals About Health

    Rather than focusing only on dropping pounds, make your goals about your overall health.

    "This is what distinguishes diabetes from other weight loss programs -- you really want to look at the broader health picture, especially blood glucose control," says behavioral expert John Zrebiec, M.S.W, CDE, a Diabetic Living advisory board member.

    Action step: Think about your overall health goals. Aim to improve diabetes management, exercise, and meal planning.

  • Set Smaller, Achievable Goals

    People set themselves up for failure by expecting to lose too much too fast, often through unrealistic diets and unsustainable exercise dreams. Overblown expectations lead to failure, setting off a vicious cycle: One small failure causes discouragement, which leads to more failure. And it's natural to give up when faced with failure, says behavioral expert John Zrebiec.

    Planning a series of small victories is the smoothest road to long-term success because you change behavior gradually.

    Action step: Write down small, stair-step goals that you can cross off as you achieve them. Restrict your goals to accomplishments you can make within one week's time, such as attending an exercise class this week or scheduling your annual doctor appointments. You'll achieve long-term success with victories along the way.

  • Remember Your Motivation to Lose Weight

    How do you go about changing behavior that has been ingrained for decades? "The reason for making the change has to be more important than the reason for staying the same," says Laura Hieronymous, APRN, BC-ADM, CDE, coauthor of 8 Weeks to Maximizing Diabetes Control (American Diabetes Association, 2008).

    Action step: Consider your long-term health and the effects poor health will have on your family and friends. Making a change can be bigger than personal benefits: Your good health has positive effects on everyone around you.

    Real-life example: Bob Laford, PWD type 2, had a doctor tell him that he could drop one or two of his six daily medications if he lost 20 pounds. Bob was motivated enough to lose 90 pounds over the course of a year and was able to come off multiple medications as a result.

  • Consider a Dietitian's Help

    An appointment with a registered dietitian is often covered by insurance and Medicare as part of nutrition therapy or diabetes education, says diabetes educator Laura Hieronymous.

    Action step: Contact a dietitian (they're listed in the yellow pages), and have the dietitian contact your insurance provider to see if you're covered. Ask for a price quote if you're not covered; a single session to help you with your meal planning and shopping may be worth the cost to improve your health.

  • Develop a Plan for Temptation

    Behavioral expert John Zrebiec's best advice: "Plan ahead. If you're already at the $6.99 all-you-can-eat buffet, thinking What am I going to do now?, it's too late," he says. "People hit a wall and wonder why their personal motivation didn't carry them through. They really haven't defined what the obstacles will be and what they're going to do about them."

    Action step: Do the legwork to prepare for a tempting situation. For example, if you're going out for dinner, look on the restaurant's web site for nutrition information and plan your meal before you go. Attending a party? Eat a healthful, filling meal before you go so you'll be less tempted by buffet snacks.

    Real-life example: A story Zrebiec tells about a former client with diabetes demonstrates planning: The client knew that the carb and fat exchanges on his meal plan meant that he could only eat 11 french fries. Most restaurants serve double or triple that number. When eating out, he asked for 11 fries and promised a good tip if that's what was served.

    Tips to conquer your cravings and avoid temptation.

  • Create a Weight Loss Contract with Yourself

    A written weight loss and diabetes control "contract" maps your road to success. Go public with a formal, written commitment to your weight loss and diabetes control goals and action steps. That makes you accountable, says diabetes educator Laura Hieronymous. The more people who know your plan, the more support you'll have.

    Action plan: Post your goals and share them often with others, even on a week or a day when you haven't met your goals. Their feedback can keep you going.

    Real-life example: Successful weight losers Beth Anne Caplinger and Bob Laford, PWDs type 2, joined the National Weight Control Registry (, a research organization that studies people who have lost more than 35 pounds and kept it off. The registry's goal is to determine why these people succeeded when so many others have failed. Just the act of joining made her accountable, Beth Anne says. "When you write something down, that gives it power, and you want to live up to those words."

  • Never Go Hungry

    Starving yourself for weight loss isn't a long-term solution and often doesn't work in the short term. If you're hungry, you're likely to eat what's closest, and that could be a doughnut. And some potato chips. And whatever's on the next shelf.

    Action step: Make sure you have a healthful breakfast, lunch, and dinner, with nutritious snacks in between, watching your carb and calorie counts along the way.

    Our favorite diabetic menus

  • Don't Trust Your Eyes for Portions

    Think you can eyeball 1 tablespoon of peanut butter? Chances are your dip is overly generous. As restaurant portions have grown, we've also been retrained on what portion sizes look like. Many restaurant meals are double the size of a healthful meal.

    Action step: Use a scale and measuring spoons and cups to ensure you're eating the right portions.

    Our super simple visual guide to portions

  • Exercise Early in the Day

    Complete your physical activity early in the day. Behavioral expert John Zrebiec says the best predictor of fitness success is doing it first thing in the morning.

    Action step: Set your alarm 30 minutes early to fit in a cardiovascular and/or strength training workout.

    Try our easy chair workout

  • Treat Yourself and Be Realistic

    If you have a serious sweet tooth, don't think you can will it away. If you truly hate to run, don't plan to jog off the pounds. Trying to reach a goal through changes you hate will make the process frustrating.

    Action step: Be realistic in planning how you'll reach your goals, and reward yourself along the way to stay motivated. If your goals include food, remember that you don't have to give up the things you enjoy: Eat in moderation, and account for those foods in your daily diet (and give away extra treats so you're not tempted!).

    Real-life example: Bob Laford, PWD type 2, had already been walking a mile every morning when he set a goal to get more exercise; he just doubled that.

  • Encourage Others to Drop Pounds with You

    The support of others can, in itself, help you lose weight, according to a study published in 2007 in the New England Journal of Medicine. Obesity occurs in clusters -- if you have overweight family members and friends, chances are you're also overweight. This isn't an issue of genetics, the scientists noted, but a result of an acceptance of obesity and the behaviors that cause it.

    You're more likely to lose weight if others in your social network also drop pounds.

    Action step: Enlist your spouse to join you in getting healthier, and encourage each other as you achieve those goals; organize a work group that wants to walk together at lunch; or ask friends over for a nutritious-food swap and regular weekend healthful dinner.

  • Foods to Avoid

    We're all about eating what you love. But even in moderation, some foods are poor choices for anyone -- even people without diabetes. These top foods to avoid contain high amounts of fat, sodium, carbohydrate, and calories. Instead, indulge with our satisfying and delicious alternatives!

    Think Before You Eat: 22 Foods to Avoid with Diabetes

Diabetic Living Video


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