Whether you’re managing your weight as part of your self-care for another health condition or you want to reduce your chances of weight-related issues down the road, there’s no one-size-fits-all approach. Some people need medication, others see progress with lifestyle changes in their eating and exercise regimens, and many even benefit from a little of this and a little of that. The common thread, though, is the ability to take ownership of your health and understand what’s happening in your body.
“Knowing what is going on in our bodies and with our health is extremely helpful in knowing where we want to focus efforts to stay as healthy as possible for as long as possible,” says One Drop coach, Julia Dugas, a registered dietitian/nutritionist (RDN) and certified personal trainer (CPT).
However, continues Dugas, if our goal is to take care of ourselves and manage or prevent any health issues that are associated with being overweight—from type 2 diabetes to high blood pressure and other heart conditions—it’s not enough to simply know about what’s going on in our bodies. “It’s what we choose to do with that information that matters,” she says. “When we combine data with conscious changes to our lives—ideally, small changes that build up over time, rather than overhauling life all at once (which a One Drop coach can help you navigate)—that’s when the data truly helps us obtain and maintain health in the long run.”
But First, Let’s Talk About Fat-Shaming In Weight Management
Before diving into what healthy weight management strategies can look like, it’s important to acknowledge the realities of fatphobia and weight discrimination, and how this type of body-shaming can disrupt your progress and potentially lead to further health issues.
“Weight discrimination is a serious problem,” says Dugas. In fact, feeling shamed and stigmatized about your weight can actually lead to weight gain, especially if you use food to cope with your emotions or avoid exercise due to fears of social judgment and isolation in places like the gym, she explains. Plus, of course, research shows that weight discrimination can be extremely detrimental to mental health, as it’s been associated with disordered eating habits as well as depression.
Dismantling weight-based stigma ultimately depends on us and our ability to change the way we think and talk about not just others’ bodies, but our own as well, notes Dugas. “We can’t control others, but we can control our own thoughts and behaviors,” she explains. “If we feel judgmental about someone because of their body shape or size, we are more likely to assume others are judging us for our own body, which can lead to long-term body image issues. When we stop judging others, we can make progress in our own self-acceptance.”
That means recognizing that, regardless of someone’s body size, shape, or even their health background, “they deserve the same respect as everyone else,” says Dugas. “Not all fat people are unhealthy, just like not all thin people are healthy,” she continues. “Something we can do to benefit everyone around us, and ourselves, is to drop the judgment.”
Setting Goals for Weight Management
You’ve heard the phrase “slow and steady wins the race,” right? The same applies to long-term healthy weight management, says One Drop coach, Hanna, RDN, certified diabetes care and education specialist (CDCES).
Generally speaking, losing 1 to 2 pounds per week is considered safe for most people, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). But it’s also important to remember that weight loss can happen rapidly at first—particularly if you’re cutting calories—because, initially, you’re mostly losing water weight, notes Kuldeep Singh, MD, a weight loss surgeon and the director of The Maryland Bariatric Center at Mercy Medical Center. Cutting calories means your body has to get energy by releasing glycogen, a form of glucose stored in the muscles and liver that’s partly bound to water. So, by releasing glycogen, your body is releasing water weight.
While you might see these physical changes right away when you start managing your weight, keep in mind that you don’t necessarily need to undergo a drastic body transformation to see meaningful changes in your overall health. According to the CDC, losing just 5% to 10% of your total body weight (for example, if you weigh 200 pounds, losing 5% of your weight would mean losing 10 pounds) can lead to improvements in areas such as blood pressure, cholesterol, and blood sugar. And, while weight loss may happen rapidly at first, remember that weight loss plateaus are bound to happen at some point, no matter how consistent you are. (Here’s how to overcome weight-loss plateaus when you get to them.)
Regardless of what your weight management goals may be, the key is to build small habits that will last a lifetime. Here are a few ideas to help you get started.
Learn to Eat Slowly and Mindfully
When you sit down for a meal, what are you usually doing as you eat? Watching TV? Scrolling through social media? Reading emails? Whatever it is, when we multitask while eating, we’re more likely to fall out of touch with our body’s hunger and fullness cues that let us know when we’re truly satiated.
“Eat as slowly as you can,” suggests Hanna. More and more research demonstrates that eating slowly and mindfully can help with weight management by reducing the chances of overeating. “You may find that, over time, you train yourself to have smaller amounts of food in a way that’s just as enjoyable to you,” explains Hanna.
So, instead of distracting yourself with a screen, try to enjoy a meal with someone you love, or simply sit with yourself, and perhaps some good music or an interesting podcast, and think about the flavors of your food as you taste them, and the satisfaction you feel after finishing a hearty meal.
Focus On Transforming Both Your Self-Talk *and* Your Body
It’s easy to think about aesthetics when it comes to weight management, but so much of our success can be shaped by our thoughts, beliefs, and how we talk to ourselves, says One Drop coach, Sandra, RDN, CDCES. Through all the ups and downs of weight management, she explains, it’s crucial to stay positive and keep moving toward your goals.
To shift negative thoughts about your body, Sandra suggests you channel gratitude for all of the little, yet meaningful things your body does for you every single day: getting you from your house to your favorite park, giving you the strength to complete a fun dance class, or even energizing you enough to play with your toddler on your day off.
Whatever it is you’re grateful for, don’t just think about it; try writing it down somewhere, or even typing it into the Notes app on your phone. Research shows that gratitude can not only benefit your general mental health but also your weight management progress by helping you establish a healthier relationship with your body. (Here are more ways to conquer body shame and transform your self-talk, especially in the face of weight-related stigma.)
Aim for a Balance of Nutrients Instead of a Specific Calorie Count
When we talk about weight management, we usually focus a lot on counting calories and carbohydrates. While there can certainly be value in tracking these numbers—especially if you live with diabetes and need to count carbs as part of your management of the condition—they’re not everything.
“Many people hyperfocus on calorie consumption when trying to lose weight, so they choose so-called ‘diet’ foods or over-restrict themselves on key nutrients,” explains Michelle Routhenstein, CDCES, RDN, who specializes in preventive cardiology.
Consider healthy fats, for example. Thanks to decades of marketing that fueled widespread fear of any and all foods containing fat, many of us still assume that we need to avoid all fat at all costs if we want to manage our weight. On the contrary, not all fats are created equally. While saturated and trans fats (found in highly processed food, fried food, red meat, dairy products, etc.) can lead to weight gain and other long-term health issues, diets that are high in monounsaturated fats (found in olive oil, nuts, seeds, etc.) have actually been associated with improvements in not just body weight, but also heart health and type 2 diabetes.
In addition to fat, fiber—a type of carbohydrate that the body can’t digest—is another key nutrient for healthy weight management. Fiber, in general, helps you feel fuller for longer after eating, and soluble fiber (found in oats, beans, apples, citrus fruits, carrots, etc.), in particular, can help lower cholesterol, slow down digestion, and keep your gut bacteria healthy, while promoting overall fat loss.
And, while carbs aren’t the end-all-be-all to healthy weight management, it’s still important to distinguish between different types of carbs and how they can affect your health goals. “Refined carbohydrates (found in white bread, tortillas, pizza dough, artificial sweeteners, etc.) tend to be high in sugars or starches (or both),” explains One Drop coach, Alexa Stelzer, RDN, CDCES. “When eaten, these nutrients trigger a release of insulin in our body. Insulin is a hormone that generally promotes weight gain and fat storage. Frequent intake of refined carbohydrates can result in frequent releases of insulin,” potentially leading to insulin resistance and, over time, higher blood sugar levels and an increased risk of diabetes.
In addition to sticking with generally low-carb foods, aim for foods with complex carbs, such as peas, beans, whole grains, vegetables, and other whole plant foods.
Engage In Exercise That You Actually Enjoy
There’s no shortage of information out there about the so-called “best” workouts for weight management. But, according to Dugas, the actual “best” exercise to manage weight really depends on the person. Generally speaking, though, “a combination of strength training and other methods of activity, like walking or biking, is ideal,” she explains.
Per the CDC, losing weight and keeping it off requires both “a high amount of physical activity” (which, of course, will vary from person to person) and a diet that reduces your calorie intake (which will also depend on the person and their initial calorie intake). To maintain your weight, on the other hand, the CDC recommends that, in addition to sticking to generally healthy eating patterns, you work your way up to 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic activity (think: power walking, light yard work, playing with kids), 75 minutes of vigorous-intensity aerobic activity (think: running, swimming laps, jumping rope), or an equivalent combination of the two, per week—but, again, all of these recommendations can change depending on the individual.
All of that said, the real key is to find a form of exercise that you genuinely like, says Dugas. So, if you absolutely hate strength training—or walking, or bicycling, or some other form of exercise—and you find yourself having an internal battle every time you’re “supposed” to engage in that activity, act on that feeling and avoid forcing yourself to do something you don’t want to do.
“The stress and dread of trying to force ourselves to do activities we hate aren’t good for our health either,” explains Dugas. “If we aren’t choosing exercise methods we enjoy, the chance we’ll stick with them long-term is unlikely. Habits are so much easier to maintain when we stop fighting ourselves and give in to what we actually enjoy.”
Manage Your Stress Levels
Stress can affect your weight management goals in multiple ways. For one thing, “stress can lead to stress eating, which is a type of emotional eating,” says Dugas. “Eating when we aren’t physically hungry won’t benefit us in the long run, so instead, we should be looking inward.”
In other words, ask yourself what exactly you’re feeling in those moments when you feel an urge to reach for food, but you know you don’t actually feel that hunger pang in your stomach. What was the catalyst that led to your search for food? And what can you do instead to process your feelings in a more productive way? (Here are some expert-approved strategies to cope with stress and emotional eating.)
Stress can also affect us biologically. “Our body’s stress response triggers the release of several hormones that increase blood sugar,” explains One Drop coach, Lindsay Vettleson, RDN, CDCES, CPT. And, as we already know, increased blood sugar levels can make it harder to manage your weight.
Remember, though, that your body’s stress response is a normal process, one that you technically need to survive. So, the goal isn’t to shut down that response, but rather, know how to deal with it when it happens. (For more advice on coping with stress, learn about the power of mindfulness in chronic condition management.)
Don’t Forget About Your Sleep Schedule
Much like the effects of stress on your body, poor sleep hygiene can impact you both biologically and behaviorally. On the biological side, lack of sleep can cause a spike in cortisol (a stress hormone) and insulin resistance, which are both associated with increased blood sugar levels. Plus, lack of sleep can disrupt the hormones that regulate your appetite: When you’re running on little to no sleep, your body tends to produce more ghrelin, a hormone that makes you feel hungry, and less leptin, a hormone that makes you feel full.
Behaviorally, lack of sleep means you might not have enough energy to prepare a nutritious meal, and instead, you might resort to quicker, yet potentially more fattening foods throughout the day. Plus, anyone who’s tried to function without enough sleep knows that doing so can often leave you feeling grumpy and moody, and who among us hasn’t quelled a bad mood with a tasty treat?
While the occasional sleepless night is bound to happen to all of us from time to time, “chronic sleep deprivation and poor quality sleep can increase the risk of both obesity and diabetes,” says Vettleson.
Proper sleep hygiene mainly comes down to consistent self-care routines: going to bed and waking up at the same time, sticking to eating patterns that promote, rather than sabotage, your sleep, and getting enough time outside in natural sunlight. Need some tips to help you get started? Here’s what One Drop coaches recommend for healthy sleep patterns.
Regardless of which strategy (or strategies) you use to manage your weight, track your progress with One Drop’s Complete Weight for Diabetes or Complete Weight for Heart Health package. You’ll not only get to work one-on-one with a certified health coach who can help you reach your goals, but you’ll also get access to a Withings Body weight and BMI Wi-Fi scale, which can give you a detailed, well-rounded reading of your overall body composition so you know exactly where you’re at in your weight management journey.This article has been clinically reviewed by Jamillah Hoy-Rosas, MPH, RDN, CDCES, and VP of clinical operations and program design at One Drop.