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Reversing bad habits is no easy task

March is National Nutrition Month, so I want to share some simple ideas that will help you get in shape and keep you there. But before I do, let me come clean on something we’ve all been misled to believe. Little changes don’t work. We are led to believe that little changes here and there will add up to a healthy weight, when there is no evidence that little changes work.

From interviews of people who have accomplished long-term weight loss (three years or more), they don’t describe what they’ve done as easy, or just small changes — especially at first. Reversing years or even a lifetime of bad habits takes a major effort, not just parking farther from the entrance to the store or taking the stairs instead of the elevator. Nor, as my Mom tells me, “Working in my flower garden is all the exercise I need!”

As I was reviewing results from our recent weight-loss challenge, I was thinking about how seemingly easy it is for people to lose a great deal of weight by making simple lifestyle changes. In only eight weeks, the 29 participants lost an average of over 13 pounds, with the biggest single weight loss being 27 pounds. In reality, the program is simple, but all these successful losers made big changes.

It’s not easy counsel to give or receive, but the truth is, it’s not easy. Understanding the facts will give you a real shot at finally making the big changes needed to achieve and sustain a healthy weight. They went from little activity to exercising 30-60 minutes daily, from eating mostly fast food to eating more vegetables and whole grains, from late night snacking to no after-dinner eating, and from drinking sweet tea and soft drinks to drinking water.

The good news is, you don’t have to go on a fad starvation diet or beat yourself up with some “Biggest Loser”-style workout program. Ironically, these approaches are part of our easy way out. We mistakenly try to reverse years of bad habits in a few weeks.

The real effort comes in making those “simple” lifestyle changes that involve consistent moderate healthy doses of exercise and adjustments to healthy nutrition and portion control. Eating a few more vegetables and drinking more water can be more of a sacrifice to some than going on some 12-week program of special food supplements and a low-carb diet. The reason being, we assume after the program ends we can resume our fried chicken and cinnamon bun diet. Or with the extreme workout program, we become injured and burnt out.

Can you really lose weight and expect to keep it off? For the answer, other than looking at my small group of 29 losers who lost close to 400 pounds in eight weeks, consider the National Weight Control Registry. This validated study tracks 3,000 successful weight-loss participants who have kept at least 30 pounds of weight off for at least 10 years. According to the latest research for the Registry, this group has kept off an average 51 pounds of fat lost. Those stats are very encouraging. All of the following tips are simple, but involve major lifestyle changes for most people who struggle to lose weight.

The participant’s maintenance tips include:

— Eat a healthy breakfast regularly;

— Exercise 30-60 minutes a day;

— Track your food intake;

— Enjoy your food, but eat less, avoiding oversized portions;

— Drink water instead of sugary drinks;

— Limit eating out and seldom splurge;

— Make major sources of saturated fats and empty calories such as desserts, pizza, cheese, sausages and hot dogs occasional choices, not everyday foods;

— Foods like vegetables, fruits, and whole grains contain the nutrients you need without extra empty calories;

— For lean protein foods, select low-fat or fat-free dairy products and lean cuts of meat or poultry;

— Watch less TV;

— Weigh at least weekly.

Regardless of what weight loss tools you choose, maybe the most important thing you can do is realize the truth that losing weight and keeping it off take a huge effort. Changing the habits causing you to be overweight will require extreme vigilance. Little changes are too close to old habits ... taking responsibility for your weight and your health means completely breaking out of your old habits.

Perry Buchanan, owner of PT Gym, is certified as Health Fitness Specialist through the American College of Sports Medicine and has been in the fitness industry for over 30 years.