Take Action: How to Lose Weight and Keep Pounds Off for Good

Willpower, determination, and perseverance are all part of weight loss success, but even with the greatest of intentions, the realities of life can take you off track. Find out how to lose weight and keep it off even if you get discouraged or sidetracked; these tips can turn your plan into action.
  • Make Your Goals About Health

    Rather than focusing only on dropping pounds, set your goals with a focus on making healthy lifestyle changes that can lead to improvements in 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 John Zrebiec, M.S.W, CDE, director of Behavioral Health Services at the Joslin Diabetes Center in Boston and a Diabetic Living editorial advisory board member. 

    Action step: Think about your overall health goals and the motivating factors that will keep you pushing forward. Whether it’s family, such as spending time with grandchildren, or goals you want to achieve, like taking an adventure trip or finishing a 5K race, these overarching goals can make your journey less about weight loss and more about living life to the fullest.

  • Set Smaller, Achievable Goals

    People often set themselves up for failure by expecting to lose too much weight too fast, and then expect the pounds to stay off without continued effort. They expect to lose weight through unrealistic diets and unsustainable exercise dreams. Overblown expectations lead to failure, setting off a vicious cycle: One small failure can cause discouragement, which can lead to more failure. And it's natural to give up when faced with failure, says Zrebiec.

    Setting smaller, achievable goals so you can experience a series of small victories is the smoothest road to long-term success because you change behavior gradually.

    Action step: Set small, short-term goals to slowly improve your diabetes management, exercise plan, and meal planning and food choices. Once you’ve put these into action, keep practicing them until your natural reflex is to incorporate them into your daily lifestyle. Restrict your goals to accomplishments you can make within one week's time, such as attending an exercise class or eating a certain amount of fruit or vegetables. You'll achieve long-term success by piecing together one small victory after another 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—or even your finances. Making a change can be bigger than personal benefits: Your good health can have positive effects on everyone around you. Carry pictures with you as reminders or a note of encouragement when you feel frustrated.

    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 diabetes educator or registered dietitian can help create the framework you need to succeed so you’re making the best food choices for your health. Diabetes education programs might be covered by your insurance plan or Medicare Part B as part of medical nutrition therapy (MNT) or diabetes self-management education and support (DSMES), says diabetes educator Laura Hieronymous.

    Action step: Ask your primary care provider to refer you to an accredited or recognized DSMES program or to a registered dietitian (RD)/registered dietitian nutritionist (RDN) for MNT.

    Note: Be sure to ask if you have to meet a deductible to get coverage for either DSMES or MNT. DSMES obtained from one of the accredited or recognized programs below is covered by Medicare Part B and many private health plans.

    Find AADE-accredited programs

    Find ADA-recognized programs


  • 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 website to read through the menu. Think about how you can put together a reasonably healthy meal. If it’s a large chain restaurant you may find nutrition information on their website as well. Attending a party? Don’t cross the threshold starving. Have a healthy snack before you get there. Then position yourself away from the food displays. When you’re ready to eat, survey the available foods. Choose mainly healthy foods and a few tablespoons of a few splurge-worthy foods, if you want.

    Real-life example: A story Zrebiec tells about a former client with diabetes demonstrates planning: The client knew that the carbohydrate and fat servings on his meal plan meant he could eat 11 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.

  • 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 step: 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, who have type 2 diabetes, joined the National Weight Control Registry (, a research-based registry that studies more than 10,000 people who have lost more than 30 pounds and kept it off for at least one year. The registry's goal is to determine why certain people succeed with weight loss by examining their behavioral and psychological characteristics. 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 plan and eat a healthful breakfast, lunch, and dinner. If you find that snacks help you succeed with weight loss and healthy eating goals, then include them in your eating plan. If eating snacks has an opposite effect and leads to overeating, then recognize that temptation and skip snack time if you’re not at risk for hypoglycemia. 

  • 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. You don’t have to do this every time you eat or even every day, but test yourself weekly or a few times a month to see how accurate your portions really are. 


  • 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. If mornings don’t work for you, it’s still beneficial to fit in physical activity anytime you can. Even short bursts of exercise add up throughout the day.

  • 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, and you’ll be more likely to give up before you see any results.

    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. If cookies are your weakness and you can’t just eat one serving, skip the cookie aisle so you’re not tempted to binge, or find a healthier recipe that you can make at home to control the ingredients.

    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.

    Another study published in the January 2015 issue of JAMA Internal Medicine focused on partners making healthy changes together, whether that was quitting smoking or losing weight. The study concluded that people had higher success at achieving their healthy goals and stopping bad habits if their partner followed suit.

    Action step: Enlist your spouse or relative 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.

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