Dr Nicola Davies is a health psychologist, counsellor, and writer specialising in raising awareness about health, wellbeing and weight loss. She is a member of the British Psychological Society and the British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy. Nicola also keeps a health psychology blog and runs an online forum for counsellors. She is the author of I Can Beat Obesity! and I Can Beat Anorexia! and the co-author of the Eating Disorder Recovery Handbook.

There are many people who struggle to lose weight, but more people who struggle to keep it off. There are countless fads designed to draw in people seeking honest help with their weight struggles, only to palm them off with expensive quick fixes that offer short-term rather than long-term results. These results are short-term because you are being sold a product or regime that doesn’t take into consideration your individual needs and motivations. Weight loss is a personal and individual journey – a journey toward self-care. Here are four steps to help you along the way.

Step 1: Know Your Past and Current Self
The first step on your weight loss journey is a difficult one, but once you have this firmly under foot your path ahead will become clearer. An inscription over the entrance to the temple of Apollo in Delphi sums up your first step to long-term weight loss: “Know Thyself.” To identify the best way to lose weight and keep it off, you need to know what made you gain the weight in the first place. Is it a medical condition? Do you eat when you are stressed? Do you simply make the wrong food choices?
Once you have a firm grasp of the path that led up to this moment, consider who you are now. Are you active or inactive? Are you making healthy eating choices? Are you aware of the nutritional value of the foods you eat? Are you feeling lonely, depressed, stressed, tired, distracted, or bored? What triggers you to eat and how much do you eat during one meal or snack? What impact do these factors have on your eating patterns and food choices? The more details you can pin down, the clearer the overall picture will be. It is only when you consider your path to obesity in the context of your current lifestyle that you can determine how to get to where you want to be.

Step 2: Determine Your Future Self
What are your goals? These should not be limited to weight loss and you need to be able to see yourself achieving these goals. It is okay to have an end goal of losing a certain number of pounds, but include some short-term goals along the way. For instance, you could break your weight loss goals into smaller goals of dropping one dress size or making healthy the food choices – this could be a daily goal. A goal of educating yourself on the nutritional value of food you eat will not only make you more aware of what you eat, but it will also have the long-term benefit of informing every step of your weight loss journey. Exercise goals will aid your weight loss efforts and will show quicker results than staring at a scale. These goals can also be modified as you achieve them, for example, walking for 30 minutes every day can become brisk walking for 30 minutes every day. Brisk walking can be intensified by adding some jogging when you are able.
Including goals that have no impact on weight loss are also fundamental as they shift your focus off your weight, allowing you to view yourself as a whole person, worthy of love and recognition that is not dependent on your appearance. These goals could be learning a new skill or craft, or studying towards a new qualification. They could be as simple as finishing that book you bought but have not had a chance to read, or as complicated as starting your own business. What do you want out of life?

Step 3: Develop a Plan of Action
Once you have realistic and achievable goals in place, you need a plan of action to reach those goals. Intentions often go nowhere without a plan of action. For example, if you want to change your dietary choices, how are you going to achieve this? Are you going to educate yourself on new, healthier foods? Are you going to experiment with new recipes? Perhaps you’re going to ensure that you don’t keep certain tempting food in the cupboard?

Step 4: Keep Going!
The fourth and final step on your journey is to keep going. If you stumble along the way, pick yourself up and start again. Everyone has a bad day occasionally and you need to be kind to yourself. Understand that no one is perfect. You can’t, and likely don’t, hold everyone else up to unachievable standards; and you are just as worthy of the same consideration as you show to everyone else. If you find yourself going backwards, go through these steps again, re-find your path, and keep to it. If your goals need to be modified or your plan of action changed, don’t be afraid to change them or even make completely new ones. Every step you take on this journey will teach you something new – about your body, your abilities, and your worth. This is not a journey towards a slimmer version of yourself. This is a journey towards a healthier and happier version of yourself.

For more information on how to beat obesity, lose a little weight, or learn to develop a healthy relationship with yourself, you will find advice and personal tools within my book I Can Beat Obesity! Finding the Motivation, Confidence and Skills to Lose Weight and Avoid Relapse.

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