Your New Approach to Weight Loss

It's that time of year again. Thanks to the holiday spirit, you've stocked up on the latest cold-weather gear and a new pair of shoes. You're also motivated by a new set of New Year's resolutions, and if you're like most women, health goals top the list.

For many runners, however, January's resolution to "eat healthy and lose weight" is a mere delusion by February. That's because losing weight and keeping it off depends heavily on two things: First, it requires a real change in mindset. This means saying no (once and for all) to enticing shortcuts, like fad diets or skipping meals. For long-term goals, such as permanent weight loss, what works is taking small, but purposeful, daily steps. Over time, it's the cumulative effect of these small steps that produce the desired outcome.

Linda Martello, an executive assistant in a busy metropolitan legal department, is living proof. It took Martello, 36, who just finished her fifth marathon, two years to lose more than 100 pounds and drop eight dress sizes. "I still always leave something on my plate just to remind myself that I'm in control," says Martello, who runs as a way to relax and stay connected with friends.

This year, whether you have a small amount of weight to lose or a lot, embrace a fresh approach. Instead of picking a weight goal and focusing on the scale, make a few small but measurable changes in your eating behaviors. Practice these behaviors daily and have faith that small steps really do add up and make a big difference in the long run.

Small Steps Produce Big Results

The science behind losing weight hasn't changed, and plenty of information exists about what people need to do: Consume more fiber-rich fruits, vegetables and whole grains, downsize portions to trim calories, and avoid mindless eating due to boredom or stress.

Of course, "knowing what to do" isn't the same as doing it. When it comes to losing weight, it's vital not to tackle too much at once. Establishing new eating habits takes considerable time and energy--just like training for an important race can entail months of preparation. It may take you a few weeks to several months before you feel you have successfully changed an old habit into a new pattern.

The following three areas focus on how to lose weight yet still consume enough fuel to run regularly and train for races. The key is to commit to at least one measurable (at the end of the day you can tell whether you've done it or not), action-oriented step within each area and practice it daily.

1) Arrange your world so you eat less. Set yourself up for success at trimming calories by eating more reasonable-sized portions. Martello swears by switching to smaller plates, as slimmed-down portions still look generous. She also uses measuring aids while cooking to portion out her favorite foods, like potatoes and pasta, so she won't end up with a hefty amount of leftovers--a significant factor for those cooking for just one or two.

Jennifer Parks, 48, a self-employed businesswoman, has enjoyed walking and running outdoors for more than 20 years. She also lost weight successfully without resorting to dieting or giving up any of her favorite foods. Parks' weight crept up 75 pounds in the two years following the death of her mother. One of the biggest "small changes" she credits was to create a pleasurable eating environment. "I made eating dinner special every night--even if it was just me--with a pretty place mat at the dinner table, or I ate outside on the balcony," Parks says. This helped Parks eat more slowly, which enabled her to tune in earlier to her body's fullness signals. "Getting out of the kitchen, where you tend to stand and eat out of containers, really helped me realize that I didn't need to eat nearly as much to feel satisfied," she says.

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