When you’re trying to lose weight or maintain a hard-fought weight loss, willpower alone often isn’t enough to keep you on track. And even if you think you’re maintaining your goal weight, it’s all too easy for a few pounds to creep back on your frame. A study published online in the Journal of Women’s Health found that a significant number of women were unable to recognize small weight gains — between 4.5 and 8.8 pounds — over a period of six months, and those little gains can add up fast.
Here are some little tricks and tools that can help you maintain accountability to the one person who really matters — you!
Make Friends With Your Scale
You might have a love-hate relationship with your bathroom scale — normal daily fluctuations can be maddening when all you want to see is 1 fewer pound. But it can still be a very useful tool, says J. Graham Thomas, PhD, an associate professor at the Miriam Hospital and Brown Medical Center in Providence, R.I., which runs the National Weight Control Registry. In fact, 75 percent of the 10,000 successful dieters enrolled in the registry weigh themselves weekly, and 38 percent do so every day — giving the scale a resounding endorsement for weight-loss maintenance. “Weight creeps up over time, so our members find that this is the best way they can keep track and make immediate corrections in their diet,” Thomas says.
Use a Tape Measure to Stay on Track
A very exacting way to measure success is with a cloth tape measure, says Sue Gebo, RD, assistant professor at the University of Connecticut. By measuring your waistline, hips, bust, and even thighs and calves, you can record tangible progress toward your goal with the kind of detail that a scale can’t give you. Because muscle takes up less volume than fat, you’ll see inches drop, even when there might not be a corresponding change on the scale. It’s very empowering — and encouraging — Gebo says.
Use a Food Diary
“I’m a huge fan of ‘tracking’ when it comes to food because I think it is an excellent tool and is easier than people think,” says dietitian Melissa Dobbins, RD, a spokeswoman for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. She notes that you can list the foods or calories you’re eating, or simply mark an “X” on the calendar for every day you met your daily goal to, say, eat healthier snacks or avoid nighttime eating.
One accountability trick she recommends is to write down what you plan to eat before you eat it, not after. “The power in this is that it really increases your awareness more and makes you think literally twice about a food before you eat it,” she says.
Save Your Skinny Jeans
Some people keep a pair of “fat pants” as a tip-off to weight loss that starts to creep back, but this technique isn’t effective for everyone. You might be better off keeping a different pair of pants handy — ones you know you always want to fit into, says Cristina Harder, RD, of the Loyola University Health System in Maywood, Ill. “Some people like to keep a pair of pants that is not far from their goal around so they know when they reach it. As for having a pair of fat pants, I have all my clients get rid of anything like that once they reach their goal so they know that there’s no going back.”
Go Steady With Your Diet BFF
Having a “we’re in this together” buddy not only reinforces accountability, but also provides positive weight-loss and weight-maintenance motivation. You can call your buddy if you find yourself wavering, and you won’t be inclined to hit the snooze button and skip your morning walk if your friend is depending on you, too. “You can even get a little competition going, and have one buddy give a reward to the other if they stay on track — just be sure it isn’t a hot fudge sundae,” Gebo suggests.
Keep the Big Picture in Mind
Setting a specific goal can be a very effective weight-loss strategy. “One of the most common reasons people come to see me is because they are working towards a goal, like their child is getting married, or they’ve got a reunion coming up, or they’ve gotten divorced and they want to start dating again,” notes Daisy Merey, MD, PhD, a bariatric medicine specialist in West Palm Beach, Fla., and author of The Merey Way to Healthy Weight. However, she notes, be careful not to focus so much on a single transitory milestone that your plan falls apart afterwards. “I had one patient who slimmed down because she was going on a cruise, but then she ate like mad on the cruise, and it all came back,” Dr. Merey says. Set permanent objectives, too, such as living longer or even feeling more comfortable in your clothes.
Chart Your Fitness Feats
Experts agree that physical activity is key to maintaining weight loss, and one of the best ways to stay on track is to keep a fitness log. It can be as simple as marking an “X” on a calendar on days you exercise — it’s motivating to see a chain of Xs that you won’t want to break. Or opt for a more sophisticated record of accountability, noting each time you do strength training and aerobics. “At the end of the week, I have my clients tally it up,” Dobbins says, “and they are usually very encouraged to find they did more exercise than they thought.”
There’s an App for That
Ever wish you had a drill sergeant who could put you through your exercise paces? You might not be able to afford a personal trainer who pushes you to complete reps, stick to your weight loss diet, and set new goals, but you can have a virtual one, courtesy of one of the hundreds of fitness apps available. Dobbins likes MyFitness Pal, Lose It!, and SparkPeople, to name just three.
Push Yourself With a Pedometer
Walking is one of the easiest exercises around, and with the right motivation you can add to your daily tally. An inexpensive pedometer is a great accountability aid that can prompt you to forge further ahead to reach fitness goals. “We strive for people to get to 10,000 steps a day, which is about five miles,” Harder says. “That may seem like a lot, but if you have a pedometer and you see that you’re at 8,000 steps, you’ll be more inclined to put on your sneakers and head out after dinner for one more walk.” There are even apps that can turn your smartphone into a pedometer, including a free one from the Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, which is affiliated with the Harvard Medical School.
Create Your Own Rewards Program
Losing weight and maintaining that ideal weight is a journey, Harder says, so she recommends that her clients set up little rewards along the way to keep them on the right path. “Maybe it’s a size goal, a weight goal, or an inches goal — the trick is to reward yourself along the way,” she says. “It’s another way of staying accountable.” It worked for one of her clients who was a bartender and realized that drinking was adding unwanted calories to her diet. Harder says the woman “decided not to drink, so, after a certain number of days, she got a massage or facial or went to see a movie.”