A Personalized Plan Is the Key to Weight Loss Success

How to calm cravings, remove temptations, and learn to prioritize
By Stan Spencer, PhD

Most of us have lost weight by dieting only to gain it back again. The problem with diets isn’t that they don’t work, it’s that they don’t last.

You can lose weight with any diet that restricts calories, and all you have to do to keep the weight off is stay on the diet. In reality, though, most diets are so unpleasant, inconvenient, boring, complex, or expensive that they are difficult to stick with for very long. As you fall back into old habits, the weight returns.

Think of excess fat as a collection of bad habits. To lose weight permanently you need to make permanent changes in habits.

The key to successfully keeping the weight off is to create your own weight loss plan— one custom made to fit your particular needs, abilities, and preferences. When designed correctly, this custom plan marks your easiest path to becoming naturally thin by reshaping the habits that cause excess weight. While each person’s optimal plan is unique, every plan for permanent weight loss should have the following elements:

Personal preferences

There is no single formula for natural, permanent weight loss, so don’t make yourself miserable eating foods you don’t like. Eating yogurt can help you lose weight, but if you really don’t like yogurt, don’t include it in your plan. There are plenty of other things you can do to lose weight naturally.

Changes you can live with

Include in your plan only those things you are willing to make lifelong habits. Giving up desserts for a month to lose weight may accomplish that goal, but the lost weight will return just as soon as you start eating desserts again. A better approach might be to limit yourself to one dessert a day, with more allowed on a few special days, and to make it a lifelong habit. You’ll lose less weight, but the weight you lose won’t be coming back. Permanent weight loss requires permanent changes in habits.

Easy ways to control emotional eating

We often eat for comfort, not because we are hungry—this is called emotional eating. The best way to prevent emotional eating is to learn how to regulate your emotions in other ways. These may include getting more social interaction, learning how to think in a more healthy way, or using techniques such as meditation or mindfulness to calm your emotions.

Quick ways to calm cravings

Cravings for junk food can crush even the strongest resolve and wreck your attempts to lose weight. The key is not to have more willpower, but to know how to make the cravings weaker so the willpower you already have does the job. Taking a brisk, short walk has been shown in scientific studies to help reduce chocolate cravings. You can learn mental techniques for calming cravings that will work in almost any situation.

Simple weight loss recipes

You don’t have to be a gourmet cook to prepare natural weight-loss foods. Anyone can learn how to make a yogurt parfait or hot whole-grain cereal for breakfast. Making some simple changes to breakfast alone can help you shed pounds permanently. Simple, natural meals don’t have to be difficult or time consuming.

Remove temptations at home

It’s usually easier to remove temptations than to resist them, so get rid of the junk food in your house. Try to avoid places that tempt you to overeat. Stock your refrigerator with weight-loss foods such as fresh fruits and vegetables, yogurt, nuts, and whole grains.

Smarter exercise

Trying to lose weight by doing exercises you hate is a recipe for failure. Find ways to get exercise that you enjoy. Or, even better, exercise with someone else—you’ll stick with it longer. Do exercises that build muscle, not just burn calories directly. The new muscle will boost your metabolism so you burn more calories even while you’re sleeping.

Make the easiest changes first

Your weight-loss plan might include forming new habits such as meditating daily, eating more whole grains for breakfast, eating sweets only once a day, and exercising five days a week.

Don’t try to develop all of your weight-loss habits at once. Start with the ones that are easiest. After you have reaped the weight-loss rewards of the easier habits you will have extra motivation to tackle habits that require more effort. After two or three weeks with each new habit, it will begin to feel natural, and you will be a naturally thinner person.

Gradual weight loss

It’s better to lose twenty pounds over the course of a year than to lose twenty pounds in a month then gain it all back. Changing habits takes time. You probably gained your extra weight slowly, one habit at a time. Let yourself lose it the same way.


Stan Spencer, PhD, is a biological consultant, former research scientist, and author of The Diet Dropout’s Guide to Natural Weight Loss: Find Your Easiest Path to Naturally Thin.