The 7 Habits of Highly Effective Dieters

Powerful Lessons for Weight Loss

Have you ever wondered what makes some dieters successful at losing weight and keeping it off?

Let me share with you some powerful lessons in weight loss 😊 that I have learned from being a nutritionist-dietitian and personal trainer who helped clients lose weight, and from writing my thesis about weight management.

Habit No. 1: Achieve caloric deficit

You may wonder if there is such a thing as the “best diet” for weight loss and sometimes you are tempted to rely on testimonials and popularity when choosing a diet to follow. But, if you look closely at these diets you’ll realize that these diets are effective only when they help you achieve a caloric deficit, that is, to eat less calories. For example, intermittent fasting seems to be effective in helping you lose weight simply because you limit the window of opportunities for eating. The Ketogenic diet, on the other hand, is very high in fat and very low in carbohydrates – this limits your food choices and fatty foods make you feel full for a longer period of time thereby making you eat less. Therefore, the real “magic” in these diets is the calorie restriction that comes with them.

Habit No. 2: Aim for long-term

As I have mentioned in my previous Facebook post, adherence to a diet is a much better predictor of weight loss success than the actual type of diet a person follows. In other words, it’s not just the foods you eat but more importantly, how long you can stick to eating those foods. Any diet can work for you if you can successfully stick to the reduction in calories most diets create. This is where fad diets become problematic – their long-term effects on health is questionable, if not downright dangerous. So, even if you can stick to a diet long enough to see a drop in your weight but your doctor is telling you to stop because it’s messing with your health, chances are you have no choice but to stop. If you want to live longer, that is.

Habit No. 3: Account for individual preferences

To achieve Habit #2, the diet you choose to follow should be in line with your food preferences, health concerns, lifestyle, and culture. For example, the Mediterranean diet is widely accepted for its effects on weight management and general health but if you Google it, most of the foods included are olive oil, Greek yogurt, salads, berries, salmon, almonds, etc. It may work easily for people living in Western/Mediterraniean countries but the challenge is how to make it work for Pinoys given that our palate (and our wallets ☹) are not accustomed to these foods. If the diet you follow doesn’t take into account you as a person and your lifestyle, there is a good chance you won’t be able to stick to it long enough to see a significant weight loss.

Habit No. 4: Address behavior

We often underestimate the importance of individual autonomy and our capacity to self-regulate our own health. This is where behavior modification becomes essential in preventing and treating obesity. Think of weight management as an iceberg – the weight lost is the tip of the iceberg while the biggest chunk – the foundation – is our knowledge, attitudes, behavior and system towards weight management. You can address the tip of the iceberg by temporarily changing your diet, as in fad diets, but without enough knowledge and with negative attitude towards healthy weight loss, your iceberg is bound to melt in the ocean of frustration.

Habit No. 5: Exercise for weight maintenance

Unfortunately, according to studies, exercise only modestly contributes to weight loss in overweight and obese adults. The good news is that physical activity may decrease abdominal fat, increase cardiorespiratory fitness and may help with maintenance of weight loss. This is where exercise becomes important – when the getting gets tough with your diet, exercise may just save the day and give you that push towards sustainable weight loss.

Habit No. 6: Aim for fat loss, not weight loss

I once met a client who has the same height and weight as me but she looks “flabby” and I look a lot slimmer compared to her. She was baffled and calmed down only when we compared our body composition analysis. My body fat percent was 20% (at that time 😊) and hers was 29%. It is possible to lose weight and still have a high body fat percent – by losing muscle and water weight, which is common to crash dieters. Even if you lose weight if you still have a high body fat percentage, you will not look as slim as you wanted to be. I bet you want to lose weight to look good NOT on top of your weighing scale but in front of the mirror, right?  It’s not the weight lost per se that will make you look good – it’s your body fat percentage, and a little bit of dressing up maybe.

Habit No. 7: Slow and steady

In the first few weeks of dieting, weight is usually lost but is almost gained back even if you continue doing the things that made you lose weight in the first place. This is because losing too much weight rapidly puts your body in a “defensive mode” where it fights to maintain the weight range in which it is used to function at its best. This does not mean that efforts to lose weight is futile. It means that you need to give your body enough time to adjust to its new weight for it to go down further and stay there. If you don’t, your weight might just go up and down but not going anywhere – like a yo-yo. So, if you want to lose weight for real and for good, don’t hurry. You didn’t become overweight or obese in a month so don’t expect to be skinny in a month either, right? Work on achieving and sticking to good health habits as you wait for that elusive goal weight.  

In life as in weight loss, we are what we repeatedly do. Weight loss success is not a once-in-a-lifetime transformation but a product of your daily habits. Looking at your daily weight management habits, do they point towards success or do they lead you down the doughnut hole?

Additional readings:

Atomic Habits by James Clear

The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen R. Covey

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