Like a lot of people, I respond to stress by overeating. After Hurricane Katrina devastated New Orleans in 2005, I entered one of the most stressful periods of my life as we worked to rebuild the city I'd called home for 50 years. In the three years following the storm, I gained almost 100 pounds. The journey back to a healthy weight was long and hard, but I learned some important lessons, and lost 90 pounds in the process.
1. Diets aren't "one size fits all" and neither are exercises.
Some people do great on the Atkins diet; others do better with vegan meals. What worked for your friend may not work for you. For example, dieters are often advised to simply cut back calories. But in many people, this triggers a metabolic "starvation response" that actually causes the body to store more fat.
Likewise, people have different strengths, weaknesses and affinities. When starting an exercise program, talk to your doctor about your physical limitations. Heart disease, arthritis and other medical conditions are not barriers to exercise, but they're something to keep in mind when designing a fitness program. The Centers for Disease Control offer exercise guidelines for people at different life stages.
Finding the right diet and exercise program may involve trying a variety of different things to see what works best for you.
2. Fad diets come and go, and the weight comes back.
Gimmicky diets involving narrow ranges of food types or arbitrary restrictions on food groups rarely bring lasting results. You may lose a lot of weight fast on the cabbage soup diet, but as soon as you return to normal eating patterns, it'll all come back.
The key to lasting diet results is redefining your "normal" based on good nutrition and your body's own responses. Some people get great results from cutting carbs, while others benefit from a low-fat diet. Start with the U.S. Department of Agriculture's dietary guidelines and then adjust your proportion of carbs and proteins in the way that gives you the best results.
3. Slight moderations to your day can make a big difference.
Incorporating activity into your everyday routine can help you burn more calories. Many of us spend most of our time sitting at desks doing sedentary work. Try standing for tasks that don't require your computer keyboard, such as reading or talking on the phone. Park at the back of the parking lot and walk to the door. Take the stairs instead of using an escalator or elevator. At restaurants, divide large portions in two and save some for the next day. At home, skip second helpings.
4. Listen to your body.
Our fast-paced society pushes us to be constantly working, but our bodies will tell us differently. Instead of working late into the night, sleep when you're tired. Eat when you're hungry, not when you're emotional. Understanding your own genetic structure can help you give your body the kind of exercise and nutrition it needs.
5. You're human.
Often when we have a weight-loss setback — missed workouts or a food binge — we can fall into the trap of writing off the whole weight loss effort as a failure, sliding back into old behaviors. Instead, acknowledge every setback as a mistake, but resolve to move forward and not let it hold you back on your journey. I will make mistakes, but I need to continue on.
And always remember: Weight loss isn't a one-time event. It's a journey that leads to healthy weight management, which lasts a lifetime.