Losing weight is hard, but knowing exactly how to do it is almost as difficult. The average person is bombarded with a dizzying amount of weight-loss advice, from flashy exercise classes to trendy cleanses and celebrity-backed diet plans.
It’s nice to know there are plenty of ways to slim down, but the best weight-loss secret is already in your pocket: You just do what you’ve always done. “Many people don’t know [how to lose weight] because they don’t learn about their bodies or pay attention to what’s worked in the past,” says fitness coach Krista Scott-Dixon, Ph.D.
This could mean hitting the same running trail, downing your go-to green smoothie or simply avoiding the office candy bowl. Either way, the healthy habits that have worked for you before are likely the best strategies for your body and lifestyle.
“Do what’s worked before” sounds simple enough. So why do we often flock to the latest diet and exercise craze?
“Weight loss is a profit-making industry. In order to create demand, companies need to sell novelty and entertainment,” Scott-Dixon says. That approach works well, she adds, because “many standard forms of exercise are boring — no flashing lights, bells and whistles or potential for Instagram.”
Of course, there are legitimate reasons to change how you eat and exercise, such as pregnancy, age or injury. And since the body does eventually adapt to routine, challenging your muscles is important if you want to see results more quickly. Still, there’s value in listening to what your body needs and trusting yourself to nourish it.
Here’s how to use insight about your body, mind and lifestyle to achieve your weight-loss goals.
1. Check in with yourself.
Ask yourself: Do you exercise for an endorphin rush or to feel the burn? Are you a morning or night person? What’s your favorite meal of the day? Knowing what you naturally gravitate toward will reveal your preferences and strengths. “Take notes or journal your observations,” says Scott-Dixon. “You’ll build self-awareness in tangible ways.”
2. Don’t force it.
The most solid weight-loss plan can be pointless if it’s not intuitive. If you’ve never been a morning person, don’t think that willpower will magically make you get up at 5 a.m. to hit the gym. If you hate salad, avoid that raw food diet. “Weight-loss advice is only as good as your ability to follow it,” says fitness trainer Molly Galbraith, CSCS, co-founder of Girls Gone Strong. A better approach is making healthy decisions that feel true to you.
3. Embrace your rut.
When it comes to nutrition, food ruts aren’t so bad. A study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition found that women who ate macaroni and cheese on a short-term basis (five consecutive days) consumed 100 calories less by the end of the week because they lost interest in the meal. No, we’re not suggesting that you eat the same thing for three squares every day. But if you find something that works for you — say, grabbing lunch from the salad bar on workdays — stick with it.
Plus, habits don’t have to be boring. For example, you could make a routine out of cooking dinner every night at 6 p.m. “Your diet could involve different cooking methods or new recipes,” notes Galbraith. “It may require time and energy and present challenges [just like any other weight-loss plan]. But the method will feel familiar, which boosts confidence.”
4. Move with purpose.
Your go-to habits work for a reason — they maximize your natural strengths. So keep making healthy decisions that help you evolve. If you’re a runner, for example, don’t feel pressured to take up Spinning just because you’ve heard it burns tons of calories. Run intervals or choose a hilly route to increase your intensity and calorie burn.
This also means skipping fads in favor of established sports, such as martial arts or gymnastics, suggests Scott-Dixon. “Such activities offer long-term development and build your skills,” she says. Along the same lines, stick to meal plans that represent a healthy lifestyle, not get-thin-quick offers.
5. Reframe your goals.
“Shift your motivation from ‘losing weight’ to ‘making healthy habits,’” suggests registered dietitian Rebecca Scritchfield. “Ask yourself: ‘What habits do I want to develop and change — and why?’” she says. It’s easier to envision success when you can describe how it feels. For example, if mindful eating is your surefire trick, focus on how satiated you feel after a balanced meal.